Sales of Idaho trout 12 inches and longer during 2013 totaled $44.3 million, up 2 percent from 2012.
The increase was the result of higher prices, which rose an average of 7 cents a pound to $1.24, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The sale of three large fish farms, however, decreased total production in the state, down 1.1 million pounds to 35.5 million pounds.
The number of food-size trout — those 12 inches and longer — sold was also down 3 percent to 30 million. Sales of food-size trout accounted for 99 percent of all trout sales.
The decline in production is likely related to three large fish farms changing hands under a water mitigation settlement, said Randy MacMillan, vice president of research and environmental affairs for Clear Springs Foods, Buhl, Idaho.
Restarting an operation and producing food-size fish takes a while, he said.
The change in ownership was the result of junior ground-water pumpers mitigating their out-of-priority use of Clear Springs Foods’ spring water. The coalition of ground-water users purchased three trout farms owned by Kay Hardy, transferring one farm and leasing one farm to Clear Springs Foods and leasing another to SeaPac of Idaho, he said.
It took a while for Clear Springs Foods to redesign its leased facility for greater efficiency, and SeaPac had a water-distribution problem that took a while to correct, he said.
With two additional farms, Clears Springs’ fish numbers are up 25 to 30 percent, he said, but that didn’t add to Idaho’s total number of fish sold last year.
Idaho’s trout losses, at 18.3 million in 2013, were in line with historical losses, and most were deaths of young fish, which are susceptible to infectious hematopoietic necrosis disease, which is found in salmon and trout, he said.
NASS attributes 86 percent of total losses to death.
Nationwide, the value of sales by trout growers — including trout for processing, recreational stocking and retail — grew 4 percent to $96.4 million, up 6 percent from $68.3 million. The number of food-size trout dropped 2 percent to 41 million fish. Production was up from 55.5 million pounds to 56.3 million pounds.
The average U.S. price for those fish was up 4 percent, from $1.55 to $1.61 per pound, running as high as $4.03 per pound in some states.
The lower price in Idaho is due to the efficiency of trout production in Idaho and different markets, with most of Idaho’s production going to processing, he said.
A big advantage is Idaho’s high-quality water. Trout are grown in pristine spring water that’s at an ideal temperature. Idaho doesn’t have to pump the water and it stays the same optimal temperature for trout production year round, MacMillan said.
Clean water provides optimal conditions for trout growth, said Gary Fornshell, University of Idaho Aquaculture specialist.
Consistent optimal water temperature provides for year-round growth and greater output compared with other production areas, where growth is limited or stalled by cold or heat at different times of the year, he said.
That gives Idaho a lower cost of production compared with other areas, MacMillan said.
An increase in the price of Idaho trout last year is encouraging, showing good demand in the marketplace, but the question is whether trout farmers are profitable, he said.
Fornshell said he doesn’t have verified independent data on cost of production.
But based on conversations with fish farmers, farm gate prices have kept ahead of production costs, even with a significant increase in the cost of feed over the past several years, he said.