By Emily Rackers
CANAS, Costa Rica — Hacienda La Pacífica exports 4,000 tons of tilapia to Canada and the United States each year, Davis Marshall Elones, operation manager of La Pacífica said. With such a high demand for the fish, La Pacífica must work to maximize efficiency to ensure timely production.
In the initial stages of production, the tilapia are put in small tanks to fatten them up and prevent birds from carrying them away.
“They only need to eat and shit,” Elones said, laughing.
The tank must be small to prevent stressing the fish, which can kill them.
Once they’ve been properly fattened, the tilapia are moved to lake-like tanks, each with exactly 27,000 fish. The fish are counted using a special wheel that circulates water and adds oxygen to the tank.
During this time, the tilapia are fed a mixture of shrimp, fish, vitamins and protein to encourage growth. Workers must monitor the oxygen levels and pH balance of the tank every week or risk the death of the entire tank.
“If we lose one of these [tanks], it’ll be pretty serious because we won’t have the daily production,” Elones said.
Elones and the workers have made an unusual ally that helps keep the tilapia tanks clean: clams.
Elones said that one clam has the power to transform 20 gallons worth of dirty water into crystal clear in half an hour.
But the tilapia aren’t the only members of La Pacífica that need special care. Workers must take extra precautions to remain healthy as well. Most shifts are worked during the night to reduce the risk of skin cancer, which Elones said is a significant problem that farm workers face.
While the sun isn’t always good for the workers, La Pacífica harnesses the power of the sun to improve underperforming tanks.
When production at a tank is slow, and after the fish have been removed, workers drain the tank and let the sun heat the soil. They then wait for the ground to crack and start to absorb oxygen. After about a month, grass starts to grow. When this happens, workers know the tank has been revived and is ready for another batch of tilapia.
The last step in the process is transferring the tilapia to the packaging plant, where they will remain alive for three days. Fillets are packaged and sent to the United States and Canada. The bones and skin are sold to Japan.