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Fire at Mote Aquaculture Park, Florida

Researchers lost sturgeon to fire

July 23, 2006

A building that held tanks of sturgeon was destroyed by a fire at Mote Aquaculture Park in eastern Sarasota County, Florida, USA on July 20.

Mote is still assessing the damage. Early estimates indicate that about 53,000 pounds of fish were lost. Some of the fish were at least five years old and close to harvest, though the facility still maintains other similarly aged fish in other buildings on the site.

The sturgeon were being farmed as part of a commercial demonstration project designed to research and develop new methods to farm-raise fish for food and for restocking efforts designed to help replenish fish in the wild.

No Mote Marine Laboratory staff members were injured.

Mote Aquaculture Park is focused on studying the commercial-scale production of sturgeon, caviar, pompano and shrimp and studying the production of snook, coral, queen conch and red snapper for marine restocking efforts.

The park is a state-of-the-art modern farm with more than 100,000 square feet of research space where work includes scientists studying the best way to produce marine species in freshwater. The goal is to create an environmentally and economically sound facility that can help meet the growing demand for seafood even as wild fish stocks are harvested at full capacity. Another goal at the park is to help support the rebuilding of wild fish stocks by growing fish for food and for restocking efforts.

Firefighters  remained on scene throughout the night. Investigators with the state fire marshals office have finished reviewing the scene of Thursday’s fire and said they will continue to review records into next week before issuing a final report on the cause.

Detective Max Melendez said he has ruled out arson. He also determined that the fire began in the attic in the center of the building. The fire destroyed only one of 17 buildings at the aquaculture park.

Two-thirds of Mote’s stock of Siberian sturgeon, housed in other buildings at the site, were unaffected by the fire. “While this is a setback to our Sturgeon Demonstration Program and all the hard work our staff has put into the project, much of our stock was unaffected, as were the many other research projects happening at Mote Aquaculture Park,” said Dr. Kumar Mahadevan, president of Mote Marine Laboratory. “The most important thing is that the staff and volunteers are safe.”

Mote Aquaculture Park is a state-of-the-art modern farm with more than 100,000 square feet of research space where work includes scientists studying the best way to produce marine species in freshwater. The goal is to create an environmentally and economically sound facility that can help meet the growing demand for seafood even as wild fish stocks are harvested at full capacity. Another goal at the park is to help support the rebuilding of wild fish stocks by growing fish for food and for restocking efforts.

Scientists work on marine species such as snook, shrimp, coral, queen conch and red snapper.

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