The regular customers for the fish are wholesalers who supply local markets and restaurants. Since these businesses are also closed due to COVID-19, the wholesalers are not currently buying. ACI will be ready when businesses open up soon and people across Arizona will be able to enjoy the Tilapia raised in its sparkling growing raceways.
Located in Florence, Arizona, and licensed through the Arizona Department of Agriculture as a fish farm, ACI raises tilapia and catfish on a commercial scale. This program helps train inmates on all aspects of fisheries, from building and maintaining the runways and ponds to raising and harvesting the mature fish. As with any working farm, it is a 24/7 operation where water temperatures need to be constantly monitored and the chemical and oxygen levels in the water need to be maintained within strict limits.
The fish farm was built in a location within the ACI Farm where it uses water, pumped from the ground for crop irrigation. After it flows through fish raceways and ponds, the precious water flows directly into irrigation ditches in the fodder fields. In other words, we use the irrigation water a second time without the expense of pumping water exclusively for the fish farm.
We mainly sell our fish to licensed wholesalers and transporters that resell the fish to restaurants, stores, and owners of lakes and ponds. All of our tilapia are sex reversed to attain quicker growth and keep them from repopulating and destroying Arizona’s natural lakes and fisheries in the event they should be stocked in those locations. The irrigation and canal systems (CAP, SCIP) use these fish in their systems to keep the waterways clear of plant material and algae.
Expanding ACI’s Owned and Operated businesses takes time, capital and significant research. These efforts are for the prospect of creating jobs for inmates to learn skills and receive training that can be used upon their release.
After touring a successful fish farming operation run by the Colorado Department of Corrections in Canon City, Colorado, ACI began its own feasibility study. With approval from leadership, fish farming has now come to the Arizona desert. After careful analysis as to where to locate its initial operation, ACI chose land outside the prison at Florence, Arizona. Once the site of the ACI Hog Farm, this land had two functioning wells and an abundance of effiuent water. This combination of abundant water, land, existing building infrastructure and current crops that could be irrigated with the flow water, was determined to be the best initial site for the project. Once established, ACI has future plans to build a second farm in Yuma, Arizona.
The Florence farm will be responsible for the breeding and raising of tilapia from babies to fingerlings (small young, baby fish). The fingerlings will be sold to a fish farm company for further raising and ultimately sold to an end user. Tilapia are hardy, disease-resistant fish that can survive in water with low oxygen levels and a wide range of salinity and water temperature. Catfish will also be raised until maturity and sold at approximately nine months. In future phases, ACI will explore other varieties of fish such as striped bass to determine the best possible mix.
Construction of the earthen ponds began in March 2013. Pond 1 was finished and stocked with 32,000 catfish in May 2013. Pond 2 was completed and stocked with 32,000 additional catfish in June 2013.
Construction of the raceways started in January 2013. The raceways are twenty feet wide and one hundred-eight feet long. In total there are twelve raceways and two earthen ponds making up this phase. In May 2013, the raceways were completed and the first test batch of one thousand catfish were placed into raceway 1 with one thousand tilapia placed into raceway 2.
The initial one thousand tilapia grew and bred very successfully. In September 2013, raceways 9 through 12 were filled with 50,000 neon (baby tilapia) fish approximately one inch in size. Another 50,000 were delivered in October 2013 to fill up raceways 5 through 8.