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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Science for Kids: Growing This Fish In Big Tanks Is A Big Challenge!

Growing This Fish In Big Tanks Is A Big Challenge!

Have you ever heard of Florida pompano (pronounced POM-puh-no)? It's a flat, silvery fish and it is very delicious! In fact, people who know a lot about fish say that Florida pompano is one of the best-tasting kinds of fish in the world to eat. Maybe that's one reason why it costs so much to buy pompano at the fish market or at a restaurant.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Florida are discovering many new and important secrets about this tasty fish. It lives in the warm waters off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Why are the scientists studying pompano?

Because they want fish farmers to be able to grow Florida pompano in big tanks, somewhat the same way that trout and catfish are grown in big outdoor ponds.

These pompano fish farms would be environmentally friendly. For example, the water that the fish would live in would be cleaned in filters and reused as many times as possible, instead of just being dumped into the ocean after it is used only once.

Raising pompano in big tanks inland, hundreds of miles from the sea, could help everyone be sure that there will always be lots of wild pompano in the sea. People could buy and eat the pompano from the fish farm instead of mostly only being able to buy pompano that had been caught from the sea.

Sometimes, if a fish is too popular, a problem called "overfishing" can happen. The fish could become harder and harder to find in the ocean. The fish might even disappear completely.

The trouble with pompano is that no one really knows very much about how to grow big, healthy pompano in big tanks at a fish farm.

That's why scientists like Chuck Weirich, formerly ARS, are trying to learn as much as they can about pompano.

In one study, Weirich worked with 50,000 baby pompano. That's a lot of little fish! He wanted to find out what these little fish eat so that they could be fed correctly as they grow in the big tanks.

In their earliest days of life, baby pompano are almost transparent. That means they are almost invisible.

So how do you see what kind of things the baby fish can or can't catch and swallow if you can't even see the little fish, even if you squint your eyes very, very hard?

For example, if you put tasty brine shrimp in the tank for the baby pompano to eat, what size would be just right for the little pompano to be able to catch and swallow?

At first, Weirich didn't know what to do to solve this problem. Then, he had an idea. He used digital cameras to take digital photos of the baby pompano. Then, he used a computer to analyze the photos. The computer could see what Weirich could not see. For example, the computer could help him measure the size of the tiny mouths of the tiny fish. That way, he could figure out what sizes of brine shrimp the baby pompano were able to eat as they grew and grew in the big tanks.

Weirich is a fish biologist. He worked with a team of ARS scientists who are stationed at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Weirich is happy that his idea of using a camera and a computer solved the problem of not being able to see and measure the baby pompano. He did a lot of thinking to come up with this solution. If you like thinking hard and not giving up when you have a tough problem to solve, maybe you'll want to be a scientist, too.

Now the scientists are trying to discover other things about pompano. Then, they will share what they know with fish farmers.

Maybe someday soon it will be easy to buy and eat pompano raised at fish farms, instead of pompano fished from the sea. When that happens, you may remember this story about these scientists who helped find out how to raise delicious pompano in a new, Earth-friendly way.

—By Marcia Wood, Agricultural Research Service, Information Staff

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Last Modified: 2/14/2011
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