November 08, 2005

Grant ensures continuing help for fish farmers

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A $200,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Agriculture will ensure hands-on help for Illinois fish farmers, according to Susan T. Kohler, associate director of SIUC's Office of Economic and Regional Development and director of its Community and Business Services, which works with area fish and prawn farmers.

Illinois Aquaculture TechSERV, headquartered at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, has received the grant to run a technical assistance program at least through June 2006. Staff members are advising on site selection; providing guidance on stocking density strategies, feeding regimes and water quality; offering health and pre-harvest quality control inspections; monitoring harvest sizes and weights; and linking buyers with producers.

"We've had a couple of meetings, but for those who haven't heard, I want them to know that these services are available, and they're free," Kohler explained. "Most of the requests come from the lower third of the state, but we've gone as far north as Rockford, as far east as Robinson and Pana, and as far west as Quincy."

SIUC had been a key player in the developing the industry through its READI project, which offered technical assistance to both existing fish farmers and those who were thinking about taking the plunge.

Kohler credited "our dear, dear, dear (state) Sen. (Dave) Luechtefeld," the region's fish farmers and the Governor's Opportunity Returns economic development program for working to secure funding for the project.

"The money is coming from the Illinois Department of Agriculture to Illinois Aquaculture TechSERVE, which is a growers' association that has a memorandum of understanding with SIUC to act as administrator of the program and its funds," Kohler said.

The program started out with two staff members, Chris Breeden and Paul Hitchens, both from Pinckneyville's now-defunct fish processing co-op.

"They were loved by all the growers, so it made for a smooth transition," Kohler said.

While Breeden has since moved on, Hitchens remains, as do several outreach staff members, who are conducting educational workshops and helping with business planning.

"Paul is totally involved with the marketing, technical assistance and technology transfer," Kohler said. "Most of his time is spent on actual farm visits."

Fish farming fits well in Southern Illinois' agricultural economy because of its relatively mild climate, its terrain, the ready availability of old mine lakes and the low cost of land, Kohler noted.

"It's a great way for row crop farmers to diversify their income," she said.

Farmers who wish to talk with Hitchens can reach him on his direct line at the University (618/453-5590) or on his cell phone (618/525-5857). His e-mail address is

Enhancing economic development in Southern Illinois is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the long-range plan the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.