The 24 members of the farmer-owned co-op raise fish on approximately 2,000 acres. They primarily raise catfish, but some produce hybrid stripped bass, redfish, shrimp and crawfish.
Co-op member farms – in Matagorda, Wharton, Jackson, Victoria, Calhoun, and Brazoria counties – form a grassroots organization that has received technical assistance from the Lower Colorado River Authority's economic development department, Texas Cooperative Extension, Wharton County Electric Co-op, and the Texas Department of Agriculture.
"This project is just the kind that LCRA looks to be a part of because it diversifies the area's economy and creates new business and wealth for the region," said Frank Morgan, manager of LCRA's economic development department.
Brent Batchelor, Matagorda County Extension agent, noted the importance of helping the cooperative venture get started.
"Aquaculture is a growing industry and Extension is proud to have been a part of the formation of the co-op which is fostering a whole new industry for this region of Texas," he said.
Until the co-op was formed, there was only one steady buyer of live fish for the farms' products.
"This new processing plant is just what we need to grow the aquaculture industry, because now we farmers can control our marketing destiny,” said Mark Shimek, co-op president.
Co-op members expect additional producers because of the plant.
"These new farms will add tremendously to the area's economies," said Loy Sneary, consultant to LCRA's community and economic development department. "This new processing plant will contribute nearly $17 million to the area's economy and add 35 new jobs.
"The existing farms are already generating nearly $16 million in economic impact, and our goal is to add another 10,000 aquaculture acres within the next 10 years," he said.
Until 1 1/2 years ago, the 24 members individually farmed and marketed their product with no organized effort.
"The fact that these 24 farmers, who started only a little over a year ago, have come this far in so short a time is a real tribute to the tenacity, ingenuity and hard work of our farmers," said Jeff Boswell, co-op general manager.
The new location will allow the co-op to process up to 150,000 pounds of catfish per week.
"Our marketing efforts have been extremely successful," said Boswell. "Our customers are quickly learning that the co-op provides a quality product at a competitive price. Our fish are much fresher than fish raised in other states. In fact we can harvest in the morning and have those fish on the dinner plate in Houston, Austin or San Antonio the same day."
The Texas Aquaculture Co-op can be contacted at (361) 972-0327.