EVANSVILLE – After a year of dealing with the previous owners of his company, working to gain back what he’d had previously, Mike Meeker is back in business with his aquaculture and related and fish composting operation and is busier than ever.
The aquaculture business had to shut down for a period as he dealt with former owners Blue Goose. “The problem wasn’t that I had a lot of difficulty in dealing with its former owners, Blue Goose,” Mr. Meeker, owner of Meeker’s Aquaculture, said. “It took a year of negotiating to buy back my composting, fish and Burnt Island operations. It was far more difficult than it should have been and until I legally owned everything, I couldn’t bring my employees back to work. As soon as I owned it, a number of people who had worked for me before accepted their jobs back. I was happy about that. It showed they had faith in me.”
“Everything’s been going well,” he said. The business encompasses a site at Burnt Island as well as fish cages and the Meeker’s Magic Mix composting operation in Evansville. Meeker’s leases the Burnt Island site from Purvis Fisheries. “They own the land and I own the equipment and fish,” he said. “I’ve always liked working with the Purvis family, especially George and Irene. If ever things go wrong, I make a call and we figure it out quickly.”
Mr. Meeker attributes his success in large part to the people he has working for him, including Jamie Matthews and Bruce Third at Burnt Island. “We are busier than ever before, working 16 hours a day and with probably close to 19 people.” Maie and Matt Gibson are back working at the cages in Evansville and Blaine Osterkruger has been working full time at the compost plant all year. Anna Armstrong covers office duties at least two or three days a week.
“They’ve all worked for me for a long time. I appreciate that they know how I like the operations to go.”
Meeker’s has net pens at Burnt Island where he is growing rainbow trout, 100 to 200 grams in size. “Buyers want bigger fish in the spring,” he explained. “I put them in the water in the spring and by fall they are two to three pounds. So there are fingerlings in the net pens, which is great, and all my fish are sold for the next two or three years.”
He sells them to a fish processing plant near Montreal, Quebec called Simmer International. Mr. Meeker has worked with them for the past 15 years. “What’s important to me is that my dealings with them have been good for years, and once the plant goes into production, they need more fish.”
Mr. Meeker plans to develop a hatchery at Burnt Island also. “We want to include the whole aquaculture business, have full vertical integration,” he said. “Raising brood stock, hatching our own eggs and providing sellable fish. We might get involved in the processing part at some point.” He’s in no rush to expand and will proceed slowly, in order to get it right, he added.
He’s been in talks with distributors in various countries like Ireland, Scotland and the United States which is “very bureaucratic and frustratingly slow,” he said. “Canada has a reputation for having the most bureaucracy, not only in the aquaculture industry but in mining, forestry and other industries too. Everywhere I go people tell me, ‘no, it’s too slow, it’s cumbersome and it’s expensive.’ It’s the truth. We’d better smarten up or we’re going to lose all of this.”
Talks with regulators from the US Gulf of Mexico and Florida are going well at this stage, although slowly, said Mr. Meeker. “I think our new storm-safe nets will be installed there. I’m lucky to have good guys in the right places.” He’s hoping the COVID rules will relax and he can go to the US with his cages and a crew soon. It will take a lot of his time once that happens, he said.
“Sharon (Meeker, Mike’s spouse) keeps asking me, ‘when are you going to retire?’” Mr. Meeker laughed. “I tell her ‘when I’m dead.’ I love the diving and working hard to stay in shape. I love what I’m doing.”