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In The News…

Fishy Venture

By Jean Bilodeaux
September 22, 2002
Herald and News

Modoc County aquaculture farm sells 41,000 pounds of catfish every year

ALTURAS -- Dick Mackey is using warm, gravity flow spring water to raise channel catfish on his Canyon Creek Ranch in Modoc County's Warm Springs Valley.

He sells lots of fish every year -- 41,000 pounds of catfish, to be exact.

The aquaculture operation started several years ago when the county farm advisor wanted to experiment raising a tank full of catfish and sturgeon.

Mackey buys 10 to 12 day old swim up fry and puts them in two 16-foot diameter tanks inside his converted dairy barn. He feeds the fry three times a day and when the fish are about three inches long they are moved outside into earthen raceways.

Raising catfish, even inside the barn, is not without risk from predators and disease. Mackey loses approximately 20 to 25 percent of his fish each year.

Ick is a disease that can kill the fish in spring or fall when the temperatures change. Birds and bats also can carry a bacterial disease that also kills fish. Catching and treating the diseases early can cut losses dramatically.

Predators, such as raccoons, kingfishers, pelicans, cormorants and other birds, can also take a large toll. Large cloths placed over the five earthen lined raceways to shade and protect the fish when they are outdoors.

When the fish reach a weight of two pounds, and are about a foot long, they are considered to be the optimum market size.

Mackey sells all the fish he can raise in and around Alturas, Tulelake and Klamath Falls, including Nipa's California Cuisine, an Alturas restaurant that features Thai food. Mackey believes the market has room for expansion.

Although he sells to anyone who stops by his ranch, Mackey says most of his customers are Hispanic. Traditionally, Hispanics prefer to eat fresh fish and they like seeing the fish scooped from the raceways and purchased live. Live fish sell for $2.50 a pound.

The catfish's spines are rubbed off in the raceways, which makes handling much easier.

Mackey is also raising some sturgeon, although his 78-degree water is about 10 degrees warmer than the optimal temperatures for those fish.

"We've harvested some caviar and the market is good, with the wholesale price at $15 an ounce," said Mackey. "We've eaten the caviar and it's good."

After experimenting with raising koi, another speciality fish, Mackey decided he needs to know more about the species, markets and raising them. Koi can bring up to $500 per fish.

Mackey's operation is not Modoc County's only commercial aquaculture operation. Kelly Hot Springs near Canby raises bass and carp. A semi-truck load of fish is shipped to San Francisco's Chinatown once a week.

In addition, sturgeon are raised near Likely, where water temperatures are optimum. The operation markets semi-truck loads of the 30 to 40-pound fish and is one of California's largest sturgeon dealers.

The tour of Mackey's ranch, including his riparian rehabilitation and wildlife management in conjunction with his fish and cattle raising operation was a part of recent Migratory Bird Festival activities.