April 10, 2011

Future looking bright for tropical fish hatchery

By Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Soren Hansen, president of Sea and Reef Aquaculture in Franklin, points to a tank of clownfish. "A lot of these fish are being driven towards extinction, and if we can learn how to raise them, we can preserve them," he said.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Hansen said there were a few disasters. They lost a year of work early on when the fish mysteriously started dying. Hansen said they finally figured out that several inches of copper filament had entered one of the tanks when an electrician was doing work -- the remnants of the filament were discovered in a sump pump.

"But our biggest challenge was to persuade people this was a good idea for Maine," said Hansen.

Callan moved to Hawaii to do similar research while Hansen has managed to convince people there is a future for tropical fish farming in Maine. This month, he is moving the business from Orono to Franklin, with help from a $200,000 development award from the Maine Technology Institute and an $80,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Small Business Innovation award.

Hansen and his employees, and aquaculture center director Nick Brown, designed and renovated the existing building.

Today, the business is run by Hansen and two full-time employees. They are selling 1,000 fish -- 14 species -- a month to pet stores and distributors around the country by word of mouth.

Hansen's goal is to move 16,000 fish a month when the business is fully operational in its new quarters and launches its website during the next year. He will also be farming sea horses, marine ornamental shrimp and sea anemones.

The clownfish fetch about $5 each on the wholesale market. Several of the strains Hansen has developed, such as a brown and black Maine Mocha clownfish, retail for about $25 each, while all-white clownfish called the Maine Blizzard sell for nearly $500 a pair.

Hansen said raising tropical fish is actually easier than raising food fish, such as cod and halibut, which are raised in separate operations at the Franklin center. Tropical fish spawn year round, compared with groundfish, which take years to mature and spawn only three times a year.

Customers say the fish raised by Sea and Reef Aquaculture are superior to anything from the wild. They are disease-resistant and hardy, said Denis Ducharme, owner of Deep Sea Creation in Auburn.

"For us, it is awesome because the shipping time is literally within hours," said Ducharme.

The Maine-bred fish are in big demand as well, he said.

He sold three pairs of Maine Blizzards in the past two weeks.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:



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