Lonoke is 20 miles east of Little Rock and is home to the world’s largest minnow farm – Anderson’s.
“Outside of Lonoke County, Arkansas, I would say there are very few people that would ever even consider the largest fish hatchery of any kind in the world to be located in Lonoke, Arkansas,” said Jamie Anderson, vice president at I.F. Anderson Farms.
Established in 1949, the farm has produced more golden shiners than any other for decades, but to remain viable, the Anderson’s needed to modernize their hatchery.
“Dad told me when I graduated in '98, January '99 we began construction of the hatchery. He said I know this can work, so this is our goal to make this work,” Anderson said.
“Annually we produce around 1.3 billion head of golden shiners alone. That doesn’t count goldfish and fatheads. The next largest hatchery in terms of head numbers is around 500 million head and I believe it’s in Washington State, a salmon hatchery according to UAPB.”
Through a process of trial and error, the Andersons learned how to improve their efficiency and increase the survival rate of the eggs they collected from their brood ponds.
“After a couple of years of running the hatchery, where we could really understand how many eggs are on a mat and the type of survival we were getting with the hatchery, we quickly figured out the old style of moving mats from a brood pond to a nursery pond that’s completely empty and let the eggs hatch out in that pond,” Anderson explained.
“We figured out we were getting at best about two percent survival from those eggs by doing it that way versus the hatchery where we’re consistently, easily getting 98 percent survival. And, a process that took 25 men doing, almost all day – moving 15, 20, even 25,000 mats a day. “Now we’re doing it with 5 to 6 men in a couple of hours and moving about 600 mats a day.”
The spawning and hatching season occurs in April and May each spring. Knowing a destructive storm could destroy the hatchery often creates some anxiety.
“Anything can go wrong. From water to power to weather. So it does. It makes it hard to sleep at night. Because, whether it be 250 to 300 million fish and eggs that’s hard to spin right around and get again. Because the fish are up and down. Mother Nature’s telling them what to do right now. You’ve got your full moon in April and they start ramping up and peaking. Then you’ve got your full moon in May and you know you’ve got about a 30-day window that’s prime so you want to get it within that window. So, losing 250 to 300 million fish all at once with a catastrophe it’s scary, not to mention the building being destroyed by a weather event. It makes it hard.”
Anderson Farms sells to customers nationwide and offers a variety of baitfish and forage species. For more information visit andersonminnows.com