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The gold standard 

Raising goldfish by the numbers in Lonoke County.

goldfish.jpg

If you got a goldfish anywhere in America in the past 10 years, Danny Pool figures, there's about an 80 percent chance it belonged to him first.

No, that's not a typo. Eighty percent. And yes, when we say anywhere, we mean anywhere: Phoenix, Key West, Bangor, Juneau, the pet store down on the corner or a goldfish in a bag won by tossing a ping-pong ball into a bowl at the county fair.

With his brother Ronnie, Pool runs Pool Fisheries, just outside of Lonoke. There, on 1,150 acres of ponds cut into the cardboard-flat earth, the third-generation fish farmer rides herd over one of the largest goldfish ranches in the world, shipping, trucking and air-freighting between 3.5 million to 5 million tailfins per week depending on the season. Pool Fisheries is FedEx's largest customer in Arkansas, flying out 50,000 to 60,000 pounds of fish every week to cities in the West. They're the exclusive supplier to the more than 1,000 stores in the Petsmart chain, and — via wholesalers — they supply the vast majority of the fish found at big retailers like Walmart.

Looking into one of their holding tanks is to see life on a massive scale, and is maybe even a little stunning for someone used to seeing a solitary goldfish in a bowl. Pool has every part of it down to a science.

It was Pool's grandfather, Ruben Pool, who started the company. One of the early pioneers of the fish farming industry in Lonoke County (along with men like I.F. "Fay" Anderson — who Danny Pool calls the grandfather of aquaculture in Arkansas — Euell Nixon and Tony Carruth), Ruben Pool helped build the first state fish hatcheries in Arkansas during the Great Depression.

"That's where he learned," Danny Pool said, "as far as putting in the drainage system, putting in the water system and building the levees."

After a stint building submarines at a California shipyard during World War II, Ruben Pool came back to Arkansas and worked building grain dryers. He eventually bought a 40-acre farm outside of Lonoke and started digging fish ponds, utilizing the chain-driven bucket pans that had been brought in to build levees for the rice industry.

The video above was produced by Little Rock film production company Mindful Media Productions in conjunction with the Arkansas Times.

By then, the fish farming industry in the area was already becoming established. Though Danny Pool's account is bound to be controversial among the fish farming families in Lonoke County, he pins the credit for creating the minnow industry in Lonoke County on Euell Nixon, a rice farmer and avid fisherman who eventually became one of the county's largest minnow producers. At the time, Pool said, Nixon was just looking for more lively bait.

"Back in that time, most of your fishermen would trap wild minnows out of the river," Pool said. "They weren't very good. They wouldn't live very long. Euell Nixon, being a fishing enthusiast — he loved to fish — he heard that the minnows at the hatchery that they were using were much better than the wild minnows out of the river ... they were the best fishing bait you could find."

One day, Pool said, after a hatchery had drained its ponds and left a school of minnows in a ditch, Nixon drove there, dipped up a bucketful, and put them in a rice field irrigation canal on his property. They spawned there, and anytime he wanted to go fishing, Nixon would net out a few. Word soon got around about Nixon's tough, hearty minnows, which had spawned by the millions in the rice canals, and he started selling them. Soon, he was making more money from fish than he was from farming.

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