Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
Local fish producers shared their experiences using services provided by the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Fish Health Inspection Laboratory during a tour of the facility led by UAPB aquaculture and fisheries experts Tuesday, March 29. The laboratory, located in Lonoke, Ark., is one of nine facilities nationwide certified by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to conduct diagnostic testing that enables producers to acquire health certification for the export of aquaculture species.
During the tour, several members of the Arkansas House of Representatives, local dignitaries and Arkansas Agriculture Department representatives were able to see an APHIS inspection in progress.
The APHIS approved lab helps Arkansas producers receive the certification needed to ship their fish nationally and internationally, said Dr. Anita Kelly, associate director, Aquaculture/Fisheries Center of Excellence and Extension fish health specialist. The lab provides prompt service as specialists test each fish species a producer sells for viruses identified by the World Organization for Animal Health.
According to Arkansas Baitfish Certification Program regulations, Arkansas producers are required to receive APHIS certification twice a year. Over 80 farms statewide use UAPB’s fish health certification services, both at the Lonoke facility and the lab located on the UAPB campus, Dr. Kelly said.
“There are a lot of labs across the country that may be able to do one or two of the things we need done in terms of certification or diagnostics, but to have one all-encompassing lab right here in Lonoke, there are no words for how helpful it is,” Jamie Anderson, vice president of Anderson Minnow Farms, said.
Anderson said that Arkansas’ status as the biggest baitfish producing state in the country previously proved challenging whenever out-of-state companies identified a problem in a shipment of mixed fish from various vendors, as they first looked to Arkansas as the potential source of the problem. Any halted sales meant big losses. Now that he is able to settle any diagnostic or certification issues within his county, he can prove the quality of his fish and avoid financial losses.
“Being proactive with our best management practices, health certifications and our onsite inspections, keeps us from being the first target,” he said. “That’s where this lab, UAPB, the Extension service and the Arkansas State Plant Board have been instrumental in helping us.”
Rep. Camille Bennett, District 14, said she has heard very positive feedback from local farmers in regard to the lab’s ability to handle APHIS certification.
“The increased testing ability in Lonoke has been invaluable to our fish farmers both in the time that it takes to get here and the promptness of the response,” she said. “The amount of commerce that fish farming brings to our state is just outstanding. People think of baitfish production as a little pond with some minnows, but it is an incredibly sophisticated process that has turned into a real industry and employs a lot of people in our area.”