Mining for Fish?

September 17, 2008 at 9:15 am 2 comments

A few years back, John Denver sang the now immortal tune “Country Roads” which later became the theme song for West Virgina. It also became the fight song for the Mountain State environmentalists locked in battle against the coal companies that were eroding the landscape with the mountain top removal coal mining process.

Though not totally gone, West Virginia coal mining operations have been greatly diminished over the past twenty years leaving behind a lasting legacy, not to mention a labyrinth of mines just below the surface. Though considered a danger to most, the abandon mines have lately become a source of water for aquaculture operations such as fish farms.

Deep in the heart of the Appalachians, a growing number of “fish farmers” are raising trout, catfish, and even salmon using water runoff from deserted mines. Though many mines contain a toxic mix of heavy metals, some remain unpolluted and, in some cases, the water runoff is able to be piped directly to fish farms without requiring any treatment. Tests performed by independent experts have verified the cleanliness of the water and, in many cases, have found that the water is not only safe but cleaner than water used in conventional farming operations.

“The focus is less the mine water-we know it works, we know the fish are safe-and more of marketing,” said Ken Semmens, a West Virginia University aquaculture researcher who is promoting the mine-water operations.

Even once toxic runoff is able to be used for similar operations due to forward thinking legislation which requires coal companies build treatment facilities to purify the water to a potable condition. Such sources of water are abundant and growing in number as the region’s coal mining operations are decommissioned. It is estimated that a dozen potential mine sites could supply water for large-scale fish farming. The water sourced from those mines alone are enough to produce approximately 45 tons of fish per year. In addition, Semmens has identified and is currently assessing several hundred smaller sources for recreational fishing purposes.

Aside from repurposing a once ignored resource, the use of the mine runoff has several side benefits. For example, the water temperature remains a nearly constant 56 degrees (Fahrenheit) year round. Constant temperatures increase production and decrease the potential for disease. They also benefit from the fact that the water source is isolated from exterior pollutants reducing the need for antibiotics to ward of waterborne pathogens. Also, due to the fact that the farms are placed downhill from the source, the water does not need to be pumped or diverted, therby conserving energy.

“We plan to put a new farm online every year or two years. We see 10 years down the road between 1 and 2 million pounds of production. The water supply is that good in the state of West Virginia,” said Tom Ort, manager of Mountaineer Trout Farm in Princewick, WV.

In the hope of attracting investors, West Virginia University researchers are operating demonstration farms as well. One farm captures water that flows from a treatment facility reservoir. A second has converted a former treatment plant into a fishing park. The fish farms provide a beacon of hope by offering new opportunities for an area left depressed when the coal mines ceased operation. Many supporters envision these farms providing a new source of income in a state where 16.9 percent of people live below the poverty line, the second highest poverty rate in the United States.

“As long as rain falls on the state, the water will be there,” Hankins said. “If we manage it properly, a lot of the former mined area…makes for a sustainable business opportunity.”

By briansrapier

[via Worldwatch]


Entry filed under: Agriculture, Business, Case Studies, Conservation, Energy, Environment, Informational, Investing, Research, Starting a Business, Tests, Water Quality. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mining for Fish?  |  September 17, 2008 at 10:36 am

    […] Go to the author’s original blog: Mining for Fish? […]

  • 2. Mining for Fish?  |  September 17, 2008 at 10:38 am

    […] Read the rest of this great post here […]


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