David Emerson & Family: POWERING Aquaculture in Douglas County

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Emerson Family trout farmers from Douglas County, Missouri

In newly #Agri-Ready Designated Douglas County near Ava, David Emerson serves as the vice-president of Crystal Lake Fisheries Family Trout Farm. In fact, Douglas County is the #1 ranked county for aquaculture production in Missouri according to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture. David’s father, Dwight, wanted to raise fish when he returned from voluntary service during World War II. Dwight began a search across the western U.S. for a suitable water source that led him all the way back to his original home of the Midwest. In 1952, Dwight and Mary Alice Emerson purchased a parcel of land near Ava that contained Crystal Spring, which has a flow of 10 million gallons of water each day. The Emerson family has been POWERING Aquaculture in Douglas County ever since.

How the trout are grown

Trout raceway at Crystal Lake Fishery near Ava in Douglas County, Missouri

The Emerson family has been mastering how to raise rainbow trout successfully and sustainably for seventy-two years. While some fish can be raised in “recycle systems”, where water is filtered and reused, trout must be raised in “raceway systems”, where water originates from a live source, such as a spring, and proceeds through a system of pools, waterfalls, and filters before it flows out into a natural waterway such as a creek. This system oxygenates the water, allowing the trout to thrive. The Emerson family is committed to utilizing the best natural filter technology so that the water exiting their fishery is clean and safe for people and animals downstream.

“Our family learned how to farm fish by visiting other fish farms as we traveled on family vacations. It took us 20 years to learn how to raise trout. It took us 20 years to learn how to market trout. Today we can focus on serving our regular customer base,” David said.

Growing a better trout

David Emerson, ready to deliver fish from Crystal Lake Fishery

Biosecurity is very important to the success of the farm to protect fish health, so Crystal Lake Fisheries only exports trout. They maintain their own brood stock, which includes about 3,000 females that begin reproducing near two years of age. Females spawn once a year. Through selective breeding, the Emerson family has developed trout that grow faster than average and are uniquely identifiable anywhere in the U.S. Crystal Lake Fisheries delivers hundreds of thousands of trout to fish and wildlife parks, recreational areas, community lakes, and others up to 1,000 miles from Ava each year. A trout normally takes a minimum of one year to grow into a marketable size, and Crystal Lake also markets large trophy trout. The Emerson’s grow their trout on a sportfish feed that makes a positive impact on their success in the wild and a difference in the quality experience that anglers have catching them across the U.S.

Passionate about the family trout farm

“Trout are high in omega-3 fatty acids, healthy to eat, and fun to catch. I like working on the family farm. I had a driving passion for the family farm to be successful. I like the teamwork our family puts into it. As kids, my three siblings and I helped dad and mom to build the business. Now we employ more than 15 people,” David said.

While David’s brother, Marvin, is CEO, and David is vice-president of Crystal Lake Fisheries Family Trout Farm, they look forward to the succession of the farm as members of the next generation of the family are already working in production and leadership roles. Beyond POWERING Aquaculture in Douglas County, the Emersons have worked with the Missouri Department of Conservation to improve timber stands, identify wildlife corridors, and install pollinator habitats on their property. In 2021 they were recognized as the Native Tree Farm of the Year.

Crystal Lake Fisheries has set up many ponds at events to share trout with families.

David is a member of the Missouri Aquaculture Association and serves on the Douglas County Farm Bureau Board. Missouri Farm Bureau is a partner of Missouri Farmers Care.