Dilke resident Viorel “Vee” Sandru tried his hand with greenhouse vegetables when he first moved from Romania five years ago, but lately, he’s been up to something a little “fishier.”
After taking a two-year program in Aquaculture Technology through Rainy Lake Ojibway Education Authority, Sandru has been breeding and raising a strain of the common “fathead” minnow—the orange minnow.
The bright colour is the result of selective breeding, in which the dominant “black” pigment is bred out of the stock, isolating the recessive “orange” trait present in some fatheads.
Although the orange minnows, also called red minnows and “rosie reds,” are not uncommon in the southern U.S. and southern Ontario, they are new to this area and people have reacted accordingly.
“When people first see them, they think they’re goldfish,” noted Bill Perreault, who also took the aquaculture program and now sells Sandru’s minnows at Couchiching First Nation.
“Some American tourists actually though we had dyed the fish,” grinned Sandru, shaking his head.
Sandru noted the orange colouring provides high visibility, making the bait irresistible to predators.
“Predators love to investigate anything unusual,” he explained, noting they are “livelier on the hook.”
“[And] they are an environmentally-friendly product,” Sandru added, noting he feared there was too much pressure on the wild minnow harvesting.
Sandru built a one-acre pond for the minnows behind his home. After getting turned down by several banks, Sandru used ingenuity and hard work to build the pond on his own. Using a skidder with a converted front-end loader, he spent one month doing a task that a construction crew could have done in two days.
The pond is equipped with an air compressor to keep the pond stirring if there is no wind, and there is variation of depth at the pond’s bottom to ensure fish don’t freeze during the winter.
One million minnows live in the pond, with a new spawn every 23 days. It takes about one year for the minnows to reach their selling size. Sandru doesn’t sell the females to ensure the stock maintains its breeding capability. Females comprise only one percent of the population.
Sandru devotes much of his time to the raising and selling of the minnows.
“He feeds them all every day,” said his wife, Gina.
He also sells minnows at the Clover Valley Farmers’ Market every Saturday, and sometimes hauls bait as far as Kenora and Thunder Bay.
He also remains busy monitoring the minnow population, keeping an eye out for predators such as kingfishers and garter snakes, and “weeding out” minnows that have started to show the dominant dark pigmentation.
John Loewen, one of the people who helped the Sandru family out when they first arrived in the community, was impressed with the effort his neighbours have put into this new business.
“They’ve really gotten onto their feet,” said Loewen.
Although he has been raising them for four years, many have not heard of the orange minnows yet. Sandru hopes to remedy this with more exposure. Recently, he donated minnows to last Sunday’s “Kids for Fishing,” and Perreault has spoken of possibly getting a stand set up at the upcoming Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship.
“Vee is on the cutting edge,” Perreault noted, who also feared wild minnows were being depleted. “There’s going to be a time when wild minnows won’t be available.
“It happened with the whales, with the buffalo. . . you never know,” he added.