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entrepreneur builds fish hatchery in tyler village, sells fresh catch to locals


Former high school biology teacher Mark Lyons quit his job to open a 5,000 square foot urban fish hatchery in Tyler Village in St. Clair Superior. Now the founder wants to teach the neighborhood -- indeed, the whole city -- how to fish, as well.

Cleveland Urban Aquaculture launched six months ago and is now selling 2,000 fish per month to Asian markets and restaurants. Market patrons can order tilapia from the tank where they're swimming and have them filleted by hand, knowing they're raised just blocks away. Now Lyons plans to expand to the West Side Market and start selling whole systems.

"Most fish come from outside the region, and Lake Erie has suffered from historic overfishing as well as contamination," says Lyons. "Most tilapia you buy at grocery stores or the West Side Market come from Ecuador, Vietnam, Thailand or China."

Lyons, who bought a used aquaculture system a year ago and was raising fish in his backyard in Maple Heights, knew there was a better way. With winter coming, he had to find an indoor location for 10,000-15,000 African tilapia -- and fast.

"The folks at Tyler Village were really willing to work with me on my timeline," he says. "Most brokers wouldn't take my call when they found out I only wanted 5,000-8,000 square feet. Some were concerned about the volume of water."

Yet with the rise of the local foods movement and few purveyors of locally-raised fish in Cleveland, Lyons knew that the time was right to launch his new business.

Cleveland Urban Aquaculture has five PVC-coated steel tanks inside of its Tyler Village warehouse. Each of them are 20 feet long by seven feet wide and four feet deep. Lyons also has a filtration system and several pools for moving water around. He breeds his fish in a 24-hour hatchery in his basement.

The aquaculture system, which Lyons was fortunate to purchase second-hand, cost him about $50,000. That's roughly half of the cost of a new one, he boasts.

It takes about eight months to grow tilapia until they are 1.5 pounds, a marketable size. Lyons will soon ramp up his capacity and begin selling 5,000 fish per month.

Future plans include adding an aquaponics system (growing veggies using LED lights and the nutrients from water filled with fish, believe it or not) and training others to raise fish. His goal is to create a stronger market for locally-raised fish.

"You can buy them at the Asian markets for $4.99 a pound," says Lyons. "They pull them out, dispatch them, gut them, clean them and scale them -- whatever you want them to do. They're fresher, they taste better and you can see the fish."


Source: Mark Lyons
Writer: Lee Chilcote
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