The Aquarist Club at USF recently hosted a talk by Beth Privett, who raises seahorses on her farm in Riverview.
By Laura Kneski
TAMPA, Fla. (May 8, 2013) – Interested in marine life? Want to have the best aquarium in the neighborhood, or seek a career in the aquaculture business?
The Aquarist Club at USF strives to provide those interested in salt- and freshwater marine life an outlet in which they can learn about aquarium life as either hobbyists or professional aquarists. While the group participates in social trips and service projects throughout the academic year, it also invites guest speakers to come to its monthly meetings.
A recent guest speak was Beth Privett, one of the few commercial seahorse breeders in the country. Club founder and former University of South Florida student Samantha Groene invited the often titled “Seahorse Lady” so that club and community members could hear from an industry professional.
Privett owns her own captive bred, seahorse farm called Seahorse Corral in Riverview.
Privett hoped to get across to students that “there are ways to access a market using the Internet and using your skills that might be more profitable than working for a paid job in a fish farm.”
Due to the fact that seahorses are born without immune systems or spleens, Privett’s farm is run much like a hospital. Anyone who enters must wear special gear, which is why the business does not have a storefront.
Privett saves up her stock so that she can conduct monthly foreign exports and whole orders, as well as retail from her website. She tries to post as many pictures as she can of her colored seahorses so that her customers can see the wide selection available to them.
When Privett graduated with a bachelor’s degree in aquacultural science, her goal was to try to “feed the world” by helping to raise the best captive bred seafood. However, she quickly found that following tricky legislation and competing with foreign imports was not her idea of a happy life. So, she joked, the obvious choice for her next step was seahorses.
Privett and her team breed their seahorses for color and the formation of cirri, which look like leafy antlers on the tops of the animals’ heads. They hope to create a signature seahorse of color with cirri, but both traits are heterozygous. Therefore, even when two lemon-yellow seahorses are paired, there may be few—if any—yellow babies in the batch of hundreds. A few generations later, though, the color may reappear, and so an intricate logging system is used at the farm, along with dozens of labeled, 50-gallon tanks.
It is a lot of work in the lab, but it is also a lot of work in the airport as well. This went along with another message that Privett wanted to relay to the aquarists: while she loves working with seahorses, she still has a lot of tricky regulations to deal with.
When Privett exports outside the country, for instance, she must fill out 15 separate documents (costing her $1,000 total per shipment), have her shipment approved by three veterinary inspections, and pay the Fish and Wildlife Service $330 for the trip that they make to inspect her seahorses.
Privett is not only shipping living organisms; she is shipping endangered species.
The two breeds that Privett and her team raise are the Hippocampus erectus and the Hippocampus zosterae.
H. erectus and H. zosterae are still being collected from Florida waters and across the globe. Wild caught seahorses may be cheaper, but they do not do well in captivity and often carry diseases, risking the life of the rest of the tank, Privett said. In addition, taking anything from a natural ecosystem could damage it.
Groene founded the Aquarist Club at USF in June 2011 to provide an outlet for aquarium enthusiasts to share ideas, experiences and best practices for aquarium-related projects. There are hundreds of clubs and organizations at USF that appeal to a wide range of interests and hobbies.