The low temperatures that’s been holding the state of Florida in a firm grip this winter is causing troubles for tropical fish raised in outdoor ponds. Aquarium fish farmers report losing up to 50% of popular tropical species to the cold, and a severe guppy shortage has already emerged – boosted by the fact that Americans are more inclined to purchase guppies and other aquarium inhabitants during the winter season.

Roughly half of the tropical fish sold in the United States is raised in Florida, a state heavily dependant on its warm climate. The fist fish farmers showed up here as early as the 1930s when it was still possible to purchase cheap land around Miami, but nowadays a majority of the fish Florida farms is found in the lake-rich part of Florida located between Tampa and Orlando. Up until a few years ago, the number one cargo shipment out of Tampa International Airport was tropical fish.

Fish native to tropical parts of the world normally find it difficult to stay alive if the water temperature drops below 60 degrees F (15 degrees C) and even temperatures around 70 degrees F (20 degrees C) may have a detrimental effect on their immune system. It is therefore easy to imagine what happens if the air temperature suddenly drops below the freezing point – as it has done in Florida this winter.

And even in situations where the cold isn’t severe enough to instantly kill the fish it can send them into a sedentary state where they fail to hide from predators like hungry birds, especially if living in unplanted ponds offering few places to hide. Many fish eating birds have been forced to see their normal hunting grounds being sealed off by ice and fish farms struggling to keep the water temperature up constitute a highly appealing alternative when the hunger sets in.

In desperate attempts to save their fish from freezing to death or being eaten by predators, Florida farmers have been covering their ponds with plastic sheets and pumped in warm water. When the cold turned out to be more than just a short dip, those who could scrambled to get as many fish as possible indoors. Many farmers have been forced to prioritize older fish close to the size needed for shipping, leaving younger fry behind to die.

Farmers that have lost more than 50 percent of their fish are entitled to financial relief from the Department of Agriculture if they file a crop insurance claim.