Pompano farm seen putting St. Lucie on the aquaculture map

A pompano farm on the Indian River Lagoon plans to start work on a $7 million facility early next year that’s projected to sell 120,000 fish per year to Central and South Florida restaurants and stores.

Aquaco Farms spent $3 million setting up a test operation in two industrial buildings at 208 Rouse Road, on a seven-acre site fronting the lagoon in northern St. Lucie County. The company expects its first harvest in February, when a crop of several hundred pompano are expected to reach their ideal market weight of about 1-1/4 pounds.

Aquaco Farms held an opening celebration last Friday to show off the test operation and its pompano tanks to St. Lucie County government officials and business leaders. The company achieved its goal of growing fish in tanks and shipping them to market, so it’s going forward with the expansion, said founder Joe Cardenas, a former investment banker.

“What you’re going to see today is our commercial proof of concept,” Cardenas told a crowd of about 60 people. “I wanted it big enough so we weren’t guessing a lot when we were expanding out afterwards, meaning we ran the same systems, the fish have grown and gone to market.”

Cardenas envisions Aquaco Farms eventually selling $100 million worth of pompano per year from four locations because of the demand for a steady supply of the tasty fish.

The company’s six employees explained the aquaculture system set up to raise pompano, including a group of large fish tanks for hatchlings and another group of large tanks where the fish mature. One of the buildings also houses a clam and oyster hatchery operated by Two Docks Shellfish.

The facilities are located in a heavy industrial property with a finger canal that provides a steady supply of clean water from the Indian River Lagoon that is crucial to the operation, Cardenas said.

Aquaco Farms expects to hire another 15-to-20 workers once the new facilities are operational, Cardenas said.

“We’re starting on the design and implementation right now, but really start to get ready first quarter of next year for a $7 million expansion in the back five acres of the property,” Cardenas said.

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