Debbie Archer | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
Arkansas politicians, university officials and local fish producers spoke about the importance of fish health certification services provided by the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Fish Health Inspection Laboratory during an Open House and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony held recently.
Located in Lonoke, Arkansas, the lab is one of eleven facilities nationwide approved by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to conduct diagnostic testing that enables producers to obtain health certification for the export of aquaculture species, according to Dr. Anita Kelly, associate director and interim director, fish health services, Aquaculture Fisheries Center of Excellence and Extension fish health specialist.
“The APHIS approved lab helps Arkansas producers receive the certification needed to ship their fish nationally and internationally, she said. “The lab provides prompt service as specialists test each fish species a producer sells for viruses identified by the World Organization for Animal Health. “
Dr. Laurence B. Alexander, UAPB chancellor, said the opening of the Lonoke lab is possible after hard work, dedication and the support of many.
“Today is a day of pride, promise and prosperity for the Golden Lion Nation at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff,” Dr. Alexander said. “We are thankful that this day has finally arrived after months of hard work and dedication. There are many who have contributed to this day in one way or another.”
Senator Jonathan Dismang, President Pro Tempore, Arkansas Senate, said the Lonoke laboratory is of particular importance because of the impact of aquaculture in Arkansas.
“(Aquaculture) is a $160 million industry. We produce 80 percent of the U.S. baitfish here in Arkansas,” Sen. Dismang said. “Making sure we have the APHIS certification ability to ship fish out around the country and even the world is critical to our community here and to our economy locally.”
Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward said that agriculture is the largest industry in Arkansas with one in every six jobs in the state being tied to agriculture.
“The aquaculture industry is a very important piece of the overall agriculture industry,” Secretary Ward said. “We have a lot to be proud of in our aquaculture industry. Our overall agriculture community is strong because of our ability to work together. Arkansas is strong because of our ability to work together.”
Dr. Eric Park, president, Arkansas Bait and Ornamental Fish Growers Association, and Arkansas fish producer, said that 6 billion baitfish are produced every year in Arkansas. He said that baitfish go to 39 states in the country and that the gold fish that are part of the ornamental trade goes to all 50 states. He said that the certification program is very important to producers in the state.
“It is a voluntary program, but if somebody would accidentally have a cross contamination of something that shouldn’t be there, there would be no questions asked, the farm would be shut down within 24 hours,” Dr. Park said. “ By the time you could figure it all out, the farm would be out of business.” This underscores the critical services provided by the lab to ensure that contamination never occurs on an Arkansas fish farm.
Dr. Park said it is important that the lab be kept properly staffed and funded. “The ramifications for a mistake are enormous,” Dr. Park said. “It wouldn’t only put the farm out of business that’s negative, but put at risk every other farm in the state.”
Jamie Anderson, vice president of I.F. Anderson’s Minnow Farm, said his business is a fourth generation minnow farm that began in 1947. He said the certification program is very important to his farm.
“We would like to see a fifth generation, but a lot of that rests on this certification program,” Anderson said. “Last year we shipped to 40 states. It all starts with having our fish certified. As long as we have a history of that, we’re in pretty good shape. If something happened with an inspection, it would be multiple farms that we wouldn’t be able to ship to.”
Mike Freeze, co-owner of Keo Fish Farms, said their fish are certified twice yearly and that if one of those certifications is missed, there are several states they would be prohibited from shipping to for at least a two-year period.
“Having the lab in Lonoke, centered around the fish farming industry, is a positive for us, Freeze said. “We feel like our samples are being adequately processed at the center and we don’t have to worry about being out of business for two years. We are pleased with everything that has been done.”
Dr. Alexander said that the opening of UAPB’s Fish Health Inspection Laboratory is an affirmation of the university’s commitment to supporting Arkansas fish growers and their bringing their products to market.
“It is but one strand of the general mission of land-grant universities like UAPB, for we are committed as well to teaching, research and service to the State,” Dr. Alexander said. “Our Extension efforts at the lab, combined with the overall land-grant mission of the university, enable us to proudly contribute to the prosperity of our state through enhancing the economic growth and development of this sector of the state’s top industry.”