Columbia pet stores prepare for decline in tropical fish supply

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 3:46 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 12, 2010

COLUMBIA — Freezing temperatures last week in Florida have hurt the cultivation and distribution of tropical fish on a national level.

That's bad news for Columbia stores that stock tropical fish and for people with aquariums in their homes and offices.

Local pet stores are bracing for a decline in tropical fish from the Sunshine State, which supplies about half of the tropical fish sold nationwide.

“So many fish come from Florida, it is unreal,” said Kayvon Ashrafzadeh, who has owned the Columbia Pet Center for 10 years. “We get guppies, swordfish, mollies and many livebearers from there, so the chances of this shortage affecting us is a definite 'yes.'”

While shortages of some types of fish are not unusual, they are by no means business as usual.

“We get about a shipment a week that comes up from there. So we will see shortages of the popular varieties, but this is not annually common for Florida fish farms,” Ashrafzadeh said.

When water temperatures dip below the 60s, tropical fish begin to experience problems, David Boozer, the executive director of the Florida Tropical Fish Farms Association, said. 

“For the past 11 days the temperatures have been freezing here,” Boozer said.  “Thursday and Friday they are supposed to warm up slightly, then another cold front is supposed to hit us once again.”

"Many of the fish outside have frozen to death on fish cultivation farms because they are not used to the climate so farmers have moved most of their breeding stocks inside," Boozer said.

Although the tropical fish population is taking a hit in Florida, it's only a “bump in the road for local businesses that need fish,” Ashrafzadeh said.

“This will be recoverable,” Ashrafzadeh said. “Maybe for two weeks our fish supplies will be short, but come spring, we will boost back up in sales."

Asia, the other chief producer of tropical fish for the U.S., will make up the difference, Ashrafzadeh said.

For Florida’s fish farmers, it could take “several months until there is a recovery from the cold snap,” Boozer said.

“It is a recovery of a different kind here,” he said. “Fish farmers are already suffering from the recession, and this cold does not help matters at all.”

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