Virginia maintains five coldwater facilities (Marion, Paint Bank, Wytheville, Coursey Springs, Montebello) and four warmwater facilities (King & Queen, Front Royal, Buller, Vic Thomas) to grow fish for stocking in public waters
Source: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries - Geographic Information Systems, VDGIF Fish Hatcheries (as of October 17, 2014)
Growing corn and harvesting timber is land-based agriculture. Growing oysters, clams, trout, and tillapia under controlled conditions is water-based aquaculture, with fish hatcheries offering the greatest amount of control almost comparable to greenhouses for plants.
Managing wild stocks of fish and shellfish is a form of natural resource management, rather than controlled aquaculture. Harvest of aquatic resources in the wild is one of the few commercial operations still based on the old "hunting and gathering" approach. The inventory of underwater resources is poorly understood, though scientific sampling of selected species does allow state and Federal agencies to establish commercial/recreational harvesting limits.
Estimating the number of fish in the Atlantic Ocean near Virginia, in the Chesapeake Bay, and in various rivers - and how populations of different species grow/diminish each year - is as much an art as it is science.
It is far easier to estimate how much corn, wheat, or soybeans are growing in individual fields. For longer-term management, foresters use photography, remote sensing, and sampling to calculate how many trees are present on a company's timberland, and how fast they are growing through drought years or good years. Trees don't move.
Aquatic resources such as fish are "here today - gone tomorrow." The obvious temptation for a waterman needing to make payments on a new boat is to estimate a large population, justifying a large harvest. Until dramatic declines in key species triggered Federal agencies to require more-scientific management, there was little incentive to count and conserve.
If the harvest of trees on private forestland is postponed, then the landowner can reap profits later. In contrast, waterman have few mechanisms to stockpile fish for harvest later. Since fish move around, any conservation by a Virginia waterman may benefit someome else in Virginia - or in Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina. It required interstate compacts, sponsored by the Federal government, to balance the costs of conservation with the benefits and to ensure fair opportunity for watermen in each state to get access to the natural resources.
Aquaculture overcomes that chalenge by privatizing the resource. Virginia was a pioneer in leasing oyster and clam beds, now regulated by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. A waterman who controls the right to harvest from "private rocks" (submerged lands leased from the state) can afford to wait until the oysters/clams are older and bigger. Such patience may lead to a higher return on investment, assuming disease, fresh water from a hurricane, or theft do not reduce the population first.
The other major form of aquaculture in Virginia is fash farming, especially trout and tillapia. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries regulates the import of non-native fish into Virginia. Virginia State University (VSU), one of the two land grant universities in the state, is the focal point for aquaculture research and Cooperative Extension outreach. A hatchery and various research and instruction ponds are located at VSU's Randolph Farm near Colonial Heights.
The first fish hatchery in Virginia was constructed by the Virginia Fish Commission in 1879 at a spring on Tate's Run near Wytheville. The U.S. Fish Commission (which later became part of the US Fish and Wildlife Service) assumed responsibility for the Wytheville Fish Hatchery in 1882.
Rainbow trout eggs were imported from California, and the Wytheville facility pioneered the techniques for raising that species in hatcheries. A new facility was built nearby in 1966. The old hatchery was then developed into a private trout-raising operation, Brackens Fish Hatchery. The Federal hatchery was transferred to state ownership in 2006, after the US Fish and Wildlife Service shifted its fisheries program focus towards restoration of species and away from raising fish for put-and-take recreational fishing.1
The state assumed responsibility for growing fish and stocking streams for recreational activity. Funding for hatchery operations is provided primarily through sale of state fishing licenses, including a special license required for anglers who fish for trout between October 1 through June 15. Coldwater hatcheries raise rainbow, brook, and brown trout, at a cost of roughly $2 per catchable (greater than 7" long) fish. Warmwater hatcheries raise muskellunge, northern pike, striped bass, walleyes, catfish, largemouth bass, bluegill and redear sunfish.2
Warm-water aquaculture is successful in Virginia. It is possible to raise catfish and other species in outdoor ponds in Virginia particularly in 4'x4' cages. However, Mississippi and other states further south have warmer temperatures and aquaculturalists there generate more income from the greater productivity.
Indoor operations allow for greater control over conditions. Blue Ridge Aquaculture in Martinsville claims to be "the world’s largest producer of tilapia using indoor recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS)." It produces 4 million pounds annually, selling to "primarily Asian and Hispanic-American individuals with a cultural preference for live seafood" in the notheastern states and Canada.3
1. "The Old Wytheville Fish Hatchery," The Mountain Laurel - The Journal of Mountain Life, September, 1989, http://mtnlaurel.com/mountain-memories/1576-the-old-wytheville-fish-hatchery.html; Edward H. Davis, Edward B. Morgan, The Virginia Creeper Trail Companion: Nature and History Along Southwest Virginia's National Recreation Trail, Overmountain Press, 1997, p.30, http://books.google.com/books?id=qfQvQ61YU-4C (last checked October 17, 2014)
2. "License Requirements," Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing/trout/license-requirements/; "An Overview of Stocked Trout Management in Virginia," Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Powerpoint, 2013, http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing/trout/management-plan/presentation-overview-and-history.pdf; "State Hatcheries," Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing/stocking/hatcheries.asp (last checked October 17, 2014)
3. "About Us," Blue Ridge Aquaculture, http://www.blueridgeaquaculture.com/aboutus.cfm (last checked October 17, 2014)