The first commercial trout farm was established in 1909 near Devil's Corral just outside of Twin Falls. Today, Idaho is the number one producer of rainbow trout in the nation. On average, forty-one million pounds of rainbow trout are produced annually, supplying 75% of domestic production. In addition to rainbow trout, Snake River white sturgeon, catfish, tilapia, ornamental fish, and even alligators are farmed in the Magic Valley. Approximately 98% of Idaho's aquaculture production occurs in Twin Falls, Gooding, and Jerome Counties.
The Idaho aquaculture industry is vertically integrated and includes; equipment manufacturing, facility design and construction, production, processing, feed production, fish health diagnostic services, packaging, marketing, sales, and distribution. There are around 80 fish farms throughout the Magic Valley, with the majority of fish farms located in Twin Falls and Gooding Counties. Two processing plants and a value-added plant are located in Twin Falls County. There are also three processing plants in Gooding County. Nearly all the rainbow trout produced are processed for human consumption, with an increasing proportion in recent years being further processed into value-added products such as boneless fillets, ready-to-eat and microwaveable meals, jerky, spreads, and smoked products. Essentially all the tilapia grown in Idaho (>2 million pounds) are transported live to Asian markets on the west coast and in Canada. However, the majority of catfish and sturgeon are processed. The alligators are processed both for meat and hides. Two fish feed mills, located in Twin Falls County, supply 65-70% of the feed used by the fish farms. Overall, directly and indirectly, the industry employs 1,500 people and is valued at 90 to 100 million dollars annually.
During the past ten to fifteen years considerable improvements have occurred in feed manufacture and waste management as a result of university research and extension, which has resulted in improved water quality exiting fish farms thereby improving water quality in the mid-Snake. Total phosphorus discharge has been reduced by approximately 40% from 1990 baseline loads.
Although spring flows have declined since the mid-1950's, the current drought has greatly exacerbated the situation resulting in a water crisis for all water users. Hydrologists estimate the aquifer is being depleted by over 400,000 acre-feet per year. Managed aquifer recharge has the potential to reverse the decline of ground water levels and decreased spring flows. Recharge cannot be considered a panacea for all of the aquifer's problems. It is, however, one of the most important components necessary to restore this complex water system. Collaborating with Bill Hazen, Gooding County Extension Educator, the Idaho Water Alliance, and the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, we produced an informative and educational video on managed aquifer recharge. Called "The Invisible Drought," the goal of the video is to increase understanding of water quantity issues and to facilitate development of partnerships for more effective and sustained solutions toward solving our invisible drought. There are several obstacles that must be resolved before extensive aquifer recharge is implemented and the support of the counties in the Magic Valley will be vital to ensure success.
Environmental regulations, water quantity and profitability will be the driving forces that shape the future of the aquaculture industry. Efforts by research and extension in cooperation with industry, local, state, and federal agencies will attempt to ensure the vitality and continued sustainability of this important industry in the Magic Valley.