May 28th, 2010
03:40 PM ET
Christian Charity Operation Blessing made a big splash in New Orleans after a Hurricane Katrina by stocking stagnant swimming pools with gambusia fish, a tiny minnow that gobbles up mosquito larva. Now the group is bringing the fish to Haiti to help prevent disease there.
Operation Blessing President Bill Horan played a big role in getting the mosquito fish out in New Orleans, Mark Schexnayder a coastal adviser and professor at Louisiana State University, told CNN.
"I don’t think he’s said no to anything we’ve asked him," he said recently in New Orleans, taking a break from talking oil spill. "I brought Bill into Orleans Parish Prison where there was an existing fish farm. We said, 'Man it would be great to set up a fish farm and to set up in the prison.'"
"Bill cut them a check on the spot for $25,000," Schexnayder said. "They were able to produce fish in the prison and got them into the neighborhoods. We had 6,000 swimming pools with rotten water. It was a breeding ground."
City officials credited the charity with stopping a major outbreak of mosquitoes.
"It’s not a silver bullet but in situation when you have new water without native fish, you can bring them back quickly with stocking the mosquito fish," Schexnayder said. "Spraying is good but if you can attack the source it’s even better."
"I had kinda bought into the idea it was a hopeless cause down there but when I went down there I got really involved personally," Horan said about Haiti. On a trip there last year Horan found himself chatting with a Haitian who was running a fish hatchery.
Horan and Schexnayder started talking about the gambusia fish and what it might be able to do in Haiti to help prevent the spread of the disease. "Everything takes a long time in Haiti under the best of circumstances," Horan said.
"Gambusia already exist in Haiti and we learned they’ve been there since the 1930s. We wanted to propagate fish already there and in a big way."
"We got the green light to bring in the fish in December," Horan said. "The earthquake hit in January.”
Call it a blessing or good luck, but the fish hatcheries suffered only minimal damage as a result of the massive January earthquake.
“Hopefully when this is all up and running it’s going to provide literally thousands of jobs," Horan said.
"We’re hoping to revitalize the whole fishing industry in Haiti.” Operation Blessing is tapping into U.S. donors to sponsor hatcheries in Haiti. In addition to the gambusia, they are also growing a hybrid tilapia that can live in salt water.
The Virginia Beach, Virginia-based Operation Blessing is an evangelical charity founded by Pat Robertson, a fact not lost on Schexnayder. “I haven’t switched churches yet but I’m a big believer in what they do.”
More on the fish farms here.
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