By Tamas Mondovics
Hillsborough County has joined forces with local and state agencies to restore the former Bramco Tropical Fish farm in Gibsonton into an ecosystem designed to improve uplands and Tampa Bay’s coastline.
The planned hydrological restoration of the long-abandoned 25-acre land located just north of Kracker Avenue on the west side of U.S. 41, also known as The Kracker Avenue Fish Farm, is a cooperative $1.4 million project between the Hillsborough County Conservation and Environmental Lands Management Department (CELM), Hillsborough County Public Utilities Department, the Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) program of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) funding through Ecosphere Restoration Institution, a non-profit entity.
The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust is also providing design consultation.
According to county officials the project’s purpose is to turn the farm back to coastal wetlands and native upland habitat.
During a recent public meeting at Suncoast Youth Conservation Center, 6650 Dickman Road, Apollo Beach, officials explained that following of its closing in the mid-1970s, the farm’s more than 220 small linear ponds have overgrown with Brazilian pepper and other invasive non-native species, as well as native species such as oaks, pines and cabbage palms.
Reportedly, ninety-five percent of tropical fish raised in the United States still come from Florida, and more than half of them are raised in Hillsborough County, mostly on farms with rows of stocked ponds in Gibsonton, Ruskin, and Riverview.
Unfortunately, many such tropical fish farms have closed in recent years or have been bought by larger companies.
Once restored, the site will include freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, and a tidal lagoon channels and is anticipated to provide valuable nursery areas for recreational and commercially important species such as seatrout, redfish, mullet, tarpon, shrimp and crabs.
A one-acre butterfly garden and additional simple public amenities such as a short trail, picnic table and benches are also planned. Fencing is also anticipated.
“The restored landscape will provide valuable wildlife habitat for wading shorebirds and other coastal wildlife species,” Todd Pratt with Hillsborough County Communications stated in a recent press release. “Additional benefits include easier public access, reduced mosquito habitat, and improved visual aesthetics.”
Construction is expected to begin next fall and is anticipated to take 6-8 months.
No impacts to private property are anticipated, but officials said that if it becomes necessary to work on or impact private property, prior approval will be obtained before work begins and all areas affected by the construction will be restored.
Officials said that site maintenance by an independent contractor will occur for a 3-5 year period, followed by long-term management by Hillsborough County ELAPP staff.
For questions and more information about the project please visit www.HCGOVFL.net.