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Marketing Alternative Aquaculture Species
George Luker Conrad Kleinholz Andrea Robbs Nikita Walker

CHANNEL CATFISH PRODUCTION, prompted by low farm prices in 1993, fell 4% in 1994. This decrease in production helped 1994 farm prices recover to near record levels.  Aquaculture forecasts for 1995 indicate a continuing increase in demand for aquaculture products, although farm prices for channel catfish are expected to fall slightly by year's end. Imports of tilapia, shrimp, crawfish, oysters and ornamentals are also expected to increase, while 'wild' production of cod, halibut and other marine species decline (Harvey, 1995). The future for aquaculture in Oklahoma should continue to improve if producers manage their production resources and markets efficiently.

Fish farms, like other agriculture ventures, may be able to increase profits by increasing their crop and market diversities. Many of the more successful Oklahoma fish farmers, have diversified their operations already. However, increased production and market management efforts usually precede a successful increase in income. Development of the hatchery and pond management skills required for producing new species is possible with training and modification of old techniques. However, marketing the additional species requires new market outlets, because commercial processing plants are constructed and managed to handle a single species, channel catfish. Are these alternative markets already available, and, if so, where are they located? Can these alternative markets move additional fish?

Recent market investigations suggested that metropolitan areas with diverse ethnic populations were favorable areas for marketing a variety of fish species (Robbs, 1995 and Walker, 1995). U. S. census data (1990) indicated the most diverse ethnic population in Oklahoma were concentrated in Oklahoma City (OKC) and Tulsa. Preliminary attempts by the authors to survey OKC and Tulsa fish markets using telephone methods proved to be ineffective. Language difficulties and business operations made market owners (managers) reluctant to talk with us on the telephone. However, we received permission to visit their businesses.

In Spring 1995, the authors conducted a dual purpose survey of six retail fish markets in Oklahoma City and three in Tulsa. First, we interviewed fish market owners (managers) about the types and quantites of fish sold. Later, we returned to survey retail customers from one market in OKC (n=19) and one in Tulsa (n=25).

Two kinds of retail markets were identified. Markets owned or managed by Asian persons were primarily interested in supplying their customers with live fish, although some fish were sold iced or frozen. These markets offered Chinese carp, large (2-4 lb) catfish, hybrid striped bass, tilapia and farm raised sunfish. The market owners (managers) were willing to supply space, power and water for a farmer owned tank system designed to support live fish from delivery to sale. Presently, these markets are understocked and are searching for more suppliers. The second market category was markets owned or managed by Caucasian persons whose customers were predominantly African-American. These markets offered whole-dressed channel catfish of various sizes, buffalo, striped bass, redfish and other freshwater and marine fish when available. In addition to fresh fish sales, some of these businesses featured cooked, carry-out orders of fish and side dishes. Additional, steady supplies of large channel catfish, buffalo, freshwater drum, hybrid striped bass and tilapia were desired. Potential sales of Chinese carp, such as grass carp, are likely once customers become familiar with the high quality of these fish.

Retail customer surveys were limited to one market in Oklahoma City and one in Tulsa. Communication difficulties encountered in the various Asian markets of both cities precluded gathering efficient and accurate information from the customers. Both markets chosen operate with similar management styles and offer similar products and service. Thus, contrasting survey results suggests inherent differences between Tulsa and Oklahoma City clientele.

Most survey respondents from Oklahoma City (OKC) ate fish once per month (47%) while those from Tulsa ate fish twice per week (48%). Customers from OKC were predominantly female (58%) but predominantly male (54%) from Tulsa. Customers from both cities overwhelmingly preferred fresh catfish (either fillets or whole-dressed), but Tulsa residents purchased a greater variety of fish.

Respondents were asked to rank (Table 1) the factors that might influence their purchasing choice; taste, appearance, price, texture and size.

Table 1. Respondents average rank of factors influencing choice of fish ( 1 highest - 5 lowest)

FACTOR                      OKC                     TULSA

Taste                             2.24                      1.04

Appearance                  3.13                       1.39

Price                             3.13                       2.09

Texture                         3.00                       1.85

Size                              2.88                       2.90

Clearly, taste is the most important choice factor for both locations, with Tulsans being more cost conscious and exercising other choice factors that might affect taste. Also, Tulsa customers were more willing to buy new types of fish than were customers from OKC (68% vs. 37%), if the new product(s) met their choice factor requirements.

Results from this survey indicate that existing OKC and Tulsa retailers would buy additional supplies of Oklahoma alternative aquaculture production. OKC and Tulsa markets which cater to Asian clients need an increased supply of live fish; preferably, tilapia, Chinese carp, hybrid striped bass, large catfish and farm-raised sunfish. Test markets for other species, such as buffalo, could provide for additonal sales once customer familiarity is established. Potential profits are possible for farmers willing to provide live-fish holding facilities and a steady supply of fish.

OKC and Tulsa markets which cater to African-American and Caucasian clients need additional suppliers of large catfish, tilapia, buffalo, hybrid striped bass and freshwater drum. For example, two retailers expressed a need for 500 - 1000 lbs per week of buffalo. Test markets for Chinese carp (grass carp) could provide for additional sales once their customers become familar with the product. These markets operate in both wholesale and retail arenas and specialize in fresh whole dressed product. Some of these markets will purchase live fish, others, processed product only.

Results of this survey show some of the characteristics of existing fish markets in OKC and Tulsa. Other markets may be operating in areas with similar diverse ethnic demographics. If existing markets are located in your area, negotiate with each market to meet their perceived needs.

Literature Cited

Harvey, David. 1995. Aquaculture Outlook 1995. Aquaculture Magazine. vol 21. no 3. pp 38-43.

Robbs, Andrea. 1995. Identifying Alternate Markets for Oklahoma Aquaculture Species: A Needs/Identification Survey Research Project. Thesis. The Capstone Experience Program. Langston University.

Walker, Nikita. 1995. Identifying Alternative Markets for Oklahoma Aquaculture Species. Thesis. The Capstone Experience Program. Langston University

 

 

 

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