SATOP and Alliance Partner United Space Alliance (USA) have provided aquaculture company Proaquatix with an ingenious and no-cost solution to improve its shipping methods, thereby ensuring that aquarium fish reach their destinations in good health.

Proaquatix, located in Sebastian, Fla., is a science-based marine aquaculture company with 30 employees – mostly marine biologists – involved in culturing ornamental species. The world leader in the number of species bred in captivity, Proaquatix supplies high-value ornamental saltwater fish to retail pet stores, aquarium specialty stores and public aquariums throughout the United States and internationally. “By providing an alternative to wild-caught fish, we are helping to reduce human impact on ocean reef ecosystems,” said Whit Hazelton, Proaquatix Marketing Director.

Proaquatix faced a challenge, however, in the shipping process. Although fish are traditionally packaged carefully in polypropylene bags with ample oxygen and water, in some cases oxygen leaked out and the bags deflated. Even if enough oxygen remained to keep the fish alive, deflation caused the bags to shift during shipment, sometimes “pinching” the fish in the corners of the bag.

“We wanted to find a cost-effective way to improve our shipping methods and reduce the risk of injury to the fish,” Hazelton said. “We tried to solve this issue in-house, but failed to come up with a satisfactory solution.”

Hazelton happened to attend the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Manufacturers Roundtable luncheon, where SATOP Director Paul Secor spoke about the program. Hazelton decided to contact SATOP and ask for help with the shipping bag issue.

Helene Caseltine, Indian River County Chamber Economic Development Director was pleased that the Manufacturers Roundtable led Proaquatix to approach SATOP for assistance. “SATOP is a great program and one of the best business retention tools we have at the chamber,” she said. “We encourage our members facing technical challenges to take advantage of SATOP’s expertise.”

SATOP paired Proaquatix’s technical challenge with David Hermanson, Jr., a veteran member of the Industrial & Human Engineering department of United Space Alliance at the NASA Kennedy Space Center.

Hermanson studied the shipping method used by Proaquatix and researched options that would have utilized different sealing mechanisms, but which also were more expensive. Understanding the need for Proaquatix to control costs, Hermanson arrived at an elegantly simple solution. He recommended that the sealed bags be packed for shipping upside down, with the sealed side down. With water in between the oxygen and the seal, the air can no longer escape and the bags will not deflate. The fish thus consistently arrive in good condition.

“David’s solution didn’t increase packaging or shipping costs, or the time needed to package the fish,” Hazelton said. “It is a very simple idea, but one we just hadn’t thought of.”

In addition to decreasing mortality rates and injury to the hundreds of thousands of aquarium fish shipped by Proaquatix each year, the inverted bag solution will positively affect the company’s customer satisfaction. “Keeping fish stable during shipping reduces the amount of stress they experience, which is important because stressed fish don’t acclimate as well to their new surroundings,” explained Hazelton. “Our customers will notice that their fish are less stressed and quicker to adjust to their new homes.”

“Small companies can’t afford expensive solutions to their technical challenges,” states SATOP Senior Program Engineer Chris Gilfriche. “Our goal is always to offer recommendations that are as simple and cost effective as possible. David’s solution epitomizes that objective.”