- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

LONOKE, Ark. - Fish pathologist Eric Park grabs a net and skims it along the surface of a 1,500-gallon pool holding 10,000 goldfish, then picks through them to find the perfect specimen.

“Everything in here is going to be going to an aquarium store,” Mr. Park says as the fish flip about in the net.

There is a good chance that the colorful carp you won at the county fair or picked up at the local pet shop came from Pool Fisheries, which sits in the middle of an Arkansas field in Lonoke County, the self-proclaimed baitfish capital of the world, where more than 6 billion minnows and goldfish are bred each year.

Florida produces high-end ornamental goldfish, some with colored lumps on their heads, flowing tails or bug eyes, but in terms of regular goldfish production, Arkansas is king. The state had $5.3 million in sales last year out of $9.3 million nationwide, said Nathan Stone, a fisheries specialist with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Pool Fisheries is the center of that industry, producing 250 million goldfish each year in a warehouse that holds 28 huge concrete tanks full of the finicky fish.

It is Mr. Park’s job to keep the conditions perfect for them. He pulls a bronze one from the net.

“This is the original color,” he said, running his thumb along a side fin. “All goldfish start off this color. As they mature, about 90 percent of them will turn orange and 10 percent of them will stay this color.”

Mr. Park can achieve any color combination, even spawn fish with two tails or a fat body.

“Say I want red and white,” Mr. Park said, “I can hand pick through thousands of fish and find the perfect example of what I want and let them breed with each other.”

Even for Mr. Park and his crew, there is no easy way to tell the gender of fish. The only real test is when the fish are spawning. That’s when the males develop little bumps on their gills.

“We call them whiskers,” he said.

Mr. Park helps decide how to breed the goldfish to get exactly the type consumers want to take home. Pool Fisheries supplies most of the fish for PetSmart stores nationwide.

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