Local News

No Fish Story: Flounder Could Catch On With Farmers

Posted April 27, 2003

— They're some of the most bizarre creatures you'll find, yet some unusual flounder soon may be catching on with farmers.

Hundreds of flounder swim in the tanks at the North Carolina State Fish Barn. The fish are strange; they spend part of their life swimming, and then -- after their eyes roll to one side of their head -- they spend the rest of their life lying on their side.

"It has a very complex life history, and that's why it's been difficult to culture," said N.C. State zoologist Harry Daniels.

Aquaculture researchers began trying to culture flounder in 1994 with almost no idea of how to do it.

"We really had to literally bring fish in from the wild and figure out how to spawn them," Daniels said.

The Southern flounder native to the Albemarle Sound was the best candidate. It's the only type that can live in fresh water.

Another strange fact about flounder: they change sex depending on water temperature. Researchers use that to produce more females.

"We know that all females grow about two to three times larger," N.C. State zoologist Russell Borski said, "and this is really important from the production standpoint."

And more females means more fish in less time.

Now, researchers have to determine whether the process is worth the price -- whether it will work for farmers and whether consumers are willing to bite.

"It does have really high value because it's cultured," Daniels said. "It will have high quality. We could sell them live and year-round."

If everything goes as planned, the cultured flounder could make it to market within two to three years.

The idea may not be for every farmer. It would take $500,000 to get started, and it's a pretty complex crop to raise.

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