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Catfish farming in the United States has experienced tremendous growth in the past
twenty years. Production has increased from 5 million lbs in 1972 to nearly 500 million
lbs in 1992. The majority of production is concentrated in the Mississippi Delta region
with an estimated 125,000 acres of ponds. Channel catfish is the most widely cultured
catfish species. Catfish farms in Florida differ greatly from the large, established
operations in the leading catfish producing states. Approximately 95% of Florida catfish
producers have less than 20 acres of ponds and view aquaculture as an alternate means of
supplementing their income.
Catfish production is capital intensive and involves many risks and has been described as
one of the most management intensive forms of farming. In addition to the high entry cost,
Florida producers are faced with the many growing pains of a young industry. Among these
are higher production costs associated with a small scale of operation and limited
developed infrastructure. Additionally, market conditions are influenced by large
producers and processors which pose new challenges for small producers in finding their
Proactive Pond Management
In the southern U.S., many catfish farms are managed to maximize production with high
stocking (5 - 10 thousand/acre) and feeding (75 - 150 pounds/acre/day) rates. Typically,
seasonal feeding rates are increased on these farms until mechanical aeration is
necessary. Often, therapeutants are required to manage the disease and parasite problems
which accompany or follow these poor water quality periods.
Important steps for implementing proactive management follow.
- Grade your fingerlings. Using graded 7 - 8 inch fingerlings (75 - 130 pounds per
thousand), in annual production systems, helps to ensure improved feed conversion and
fewer under sized fish at harvest. Small fingerlings have difficulty competing with large
fingerlings for food throughout the growing season. Despite the higher initial cost for
larger fingerlings, they are more cost effective than smaller fingerlings.
- Fewer harvest size fish (40%) were produced from mixed size fingerling classes (8, 6,
and 4 inch) than from single size 8 inch (93%) or 6 inch (49%) fingerling classes.
- Stock 3000 - 3600 catfish per acre. Higher stocking rates may be possible with this
management method but are unproven at this time.
- Stock fathead minnows (10 pounds per acre). Fathead minnows should provide polyculture
benefits similar to those from bighead carp. Fatheads feed on periphyton, zooplankton,
insects, waste feed and detritus. This behavior will help to moderate plankton blooms and
organic waste loading. Fatheads can also provide additional food for catfish and extra
farm income, if bait markets are established. Four, hardwood loading pallets per acre will
provide adequate spawning structures for the fatheads.
- Use high quality feed. Using a nutritionally complete, 36% protein, floating ration is
an important component in proactive pond management. Feed must provide complete nutrition
with maximum conversion efficiency. Extra protein is needed to ensure rapid growth without
reducing water quality. Lower quality feeds often have poorer conversion efficiency, which
results in more waste products.
- Use reduced feeding rates. Many commercial catfish producers feed to satiation (all the
feed the fish will eat) daily or use a feeding schedule based on estimated fish weight (3
- 5% of fish body weight per day). This feed rate amounts to 75 - 150 pounds/acre/day
through much of the peak growing season. Heavy reliance on mechanical aeration often
follows the obligatory water quality problems associated with this traditional management
method. Mortality from diseases such as Enteric Septicemia of Catfish (ESC) also increases
dramatically at high feeding rates. These problems combined with higher feed conversion
rates result in reduced profit potential for many growers.
- Feed input can be increased gradually as the water warms and when the fish eat the feed
within 5 - 10 minutes. Feed rates, during the peak growing season, can range from 20 - 40
pounds/acre/feed day. This feed rate can produce market size catfish (1.0 - 1.25 pound
average) in 180 - 220 days without aeration or disease problems.
- Spread feed evenly. It is very important to scatter feed over as much of the pond as
possible when using reduced feeding rates. Otherwise, aggressive, larger fish will
"hog" the feed and reduce feed efficiency. If your feed application system is
limited to a small area of the pond, divide the feed into two or more feeding passes.
Catfish will learn your feeding patterns, so occasionally reverse or alter your pattern,
to provide an opportunity for all fish to obtain feed.
- Avoid overfeeding. Feed input is the primary pond control mechanism a catfish producer
has once the pond is stocked. Catfish need adequate food for growth and health. However,
fat, overfed catfish are not more healthy than catfish fed in efficiently managed systems.
In most ponds with ESC outbreaks, the largest fish are infected initially. At what feeding
rate does overfeeding begin? Uneaten feed collecting on the pond edge is a sure sign of
overfeeding. Also, even if all the feed is eaten promptly, the fish may be overfed. When
consumed feed isn't efficiently converted into tissue, the fish are overfed.
Waste products from catfish which are efficiently converting feed to tissue will enrich
the pond with nutrients, resulting in plankton blooms. Food conversion efficiency in
catfish goes down when they eat more than necessary for optimal growth. When the catfish
are overfed, these additional waste products stimulate the development of large,
unmanageable plankton populations. Nutrient and/or oxygen requirements of one or more of
the populations may exceed the supply rate, resulting in a crash. Nutrient concentrations
may reach toxic levels before these populations can recover. Aeration and therapeutants
may be required to limit the onset of fish disease or mortality.
It is very unlikely that all your ponds can be fed at the same maximum rate. The most
reliable way to determine your maximum feeding rate is to monitor water quality for each
pond. Daily dissolved oxygen (DO) and temperature, and regular (weekly or bi-weekly)
alkalinity, pH, total ammonia nitrogen (TAN), and nitrite-nitrogen measurements are
critical to develop a production profile for each pond. This water chemistry profile
coupled with daily and extended weather forecasts can help you avoid or lessen the effects
of critical water quality problems, and, improve profit potential through increased feed
conversion efficiency and reduced aeration expenses. Water quality test kits, which can
perform these tests for fish farmers, cost approximately $175 - $200. Time requirements
for daily DO measurements will average 10 - 15 minutes/pond/day.
Organic debris accumulates on pond bottoms as a result of any catfish production. Drying
and stirring this debris helps to oxidize organic wastes and may help curtail chronic
disease problems. Seining efficiency should improve also when the pond bottom is
reflattened. Make sure to repack the pond bottom before refilling.
Wastewater guidelines prohibit discharge of pond bottom sludge to streams. Pond bottom
sludge may be applied to fields or gardens as long as it cannot contaminate streams.
After cleaning, adding ag lime can improve the production potential of most ponds by
increasing their buffering capacity. In ponds with total alkalinity of 60 mg/l or less, 1
- 2 tons per acre are recommended. For ponds with total alkalinity of 60 - 100 mg/l, 1 ton
per acre is sufficient. If a pond leaks badly, liming isn't cost effective. As you record
and maintain information on your ponds, you can determine the quantity and frequency of
liming required for each pond. Ag lime may be purchased from most agri-chemical dealers or
from highway construction companies.
What to Observe
Average early morning (6 - 8 A.M.) DO concentrations will decline slowly through the
spring to summer period, even though the day to day concentrations may fluctuate. During
this period, morning pond temperatures and your feeding rate will slowly increase. Once
pond temperatures begin to stabilize, trends in DO concentrations become very important.
When morning DO decreases consistently for 3 - 5 days (3.0, 2.3, 1.8 mg/l, for example)
consider this a significant trend and reduce feed input. When the morning DO concentration
returns to pre-decline levels, increase feed input by 10%/day to original levels. Skip
feeding on days when morning DO is less than 1.8 mg/l.
A rapid increase in morning DO concentrations, when weather conditions are stable,
indicates that an algal bloom has begun. Increasing feed inputs during these periods will
usually result in a serious water quality event if the bloom crashes.
A weather forecast predicting cloudy (overcast), cool or stormy weather can be expected to
result in declining DO in many ponds, especially those with dense algal blooms. Reducing
feeding rates as a weather front approaches can soften the impact on DO, and, nutrient
concentrations and plankton populations. Despite the reduced feed inputs, plankton
populations can still crash if you push the pond limits during poor weather conditions.
Your ponds should recover within a day or two if you have not been overfeeding. Be sure to
measure DO and TAN frequently during these difficult periods. Keep a record of these
measurements for future reference.
Proactive pond management helps to prevent reliance on mechanical aerators. If your pond
develops a DO problem, use your aerator. As soon as weather or pond conditions improve,
stop aerating and allow the pond to recover normally.
Abrupt changes in pH and alkalinity usually indicate major changes have, or, are occurring
in the pond phytoplankton (algae) populations. As algal population carbon requirements
exceed available carbon dioxide levels, algae will use carbon from the pond buffer supply
and alkalinity will decline. Reduce feeding for a few days to allow algal populations and
alkalinity time to stabilize. Heavy rains can also cause alkalinity to decline. In either
case, alkalinity should stabilize at or near previous levels; if not, add ag lime as
As feeding rates and pond temperatures increase, TAN and nitrite-nitrogen levels will
increase. When you reach the target feeding rate (25 - 40 pounds/acre/day), TAN and
nitrite-nitrogen levels should stabilize near 0.4 - 1.0 mg/l and 0.002 - 0.3 mg/l,
respectively. However, ponds which are highly enriched from years of accelerated
production may have nutrient levels outside, usually above, these ranges. At this point,
changes in nutrient concentration indicate changes in algal or bacterial populations if
weather conditions are stable. Algae use ammonia readily when sunlight is available. If
feed rates are constant, an increase in TAN concentration usually means that algal
populations are declining. Weather changes that affect DO concentration, will affect TAN
concentration also, because algae are the primary DO contributors/users and TAN users.
||If you are interested in any of the titles below, click on the title
and it will take you to Amazon.com for ordering. Click on the icon at the left for more
Inland Fisheries, Aquaculture and the Environment - by K. Remane (Editor), Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - Hardcover - Publication date: August 1997
- Price information not available.
: The Farming and Husbandry of Freshwater and Marine Organisms - by John E. Bardach -
Paperback - Publication date: December 1, 1995 - List: $74.95
and Water Resource Management - by Donald J. Baird (Editor) - Hardcover Publication
date: September 1, 1996 - List: $110.00
in the United States : A Historical Survey - by Robert R. Stickney, Robert Stickeny -
Hardcover - Publication date: January 1, 1996 - List: $64.95
The publisher, John Wiley & Sons:
A provocative look at the past, present and future of a troubled industry. Describes how
public opinion has changed from viewing aquaculture as a friend of the environment to
considering it an enemy. Presents the conflict between what is technically possible and
what is economically and environmentally sound. Explains why aquaculture is thriving
outside the U.S. but is facing difficulties in this country.
Sourcebook : A Guide to North American Species - by Edwin S. Iversen, Kay K. Hale -
Hardcover - Publication date: September 1992 - List: $67.95
and Water Supply for Pond Aquaculture - by Kyung H. Yoo, Claude E. Boyd Hardcover -
Publication date: October 1, 1994 - List: $99.95
Book News, Inc., 10/01/94:
A text for a course in water supply for aquaculture or for individual study. The
volume is divided into two parts. Part I, Hydrology, Morphology, and Soils, is concerned
with hydrological phenomena that affect pond design, construction, and management. Part
II, Design of Water Supply and Pond Systems, deals primarily with engineering techniques
used in design and construction of pond aquaculture facilities. Annotation copyright Book
News, Inc. Portland, Or.
to Aquaculture - by Matthew Landau - Hardcover - Publication date: September 1, 1991 -
The publisher, John Wiley & Sons:
Although the science of aquaculture has been around for centuries, it has only recently
attained popularity. This textbook introduces a wide spectrum of aquaculture-related
subjects. Topics covered include the history of aquaculture, water quality and sources,
culture systems, economics, law, engineering, chemistry, biology and more.
Book News, Inc., 01/01/92:
Introductory text for a college or university course covers a wide spectrum of
aquaculture-related topics and, because many different fields play a part in aquaculture,
includes sections on history, economics, law, engineering, chemistry and biology. No
assumptions are made about the background or education of the reader. Annotation copyright
Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.
of Aquaculture - by Robert R. Stickney - Hardcover - Publication date: March 1994 -
The publisher, John Wiley & Sons:
Based on the author's previous work, Principles of Warmwater Aquaculture, this text
updates and expands upon the basic principles of aquaculture. Encompasses a wider
diversity of aquatic animals including coldwater fishes. Focuses on the practical aspects
of water quality, feeding and nutrition, reproduction, breeding, diseases and operations.
Deals with the environmental, social and economic aspects of aquaculture. Many of the
examples feature species of both sport and commercial interest.
Book News, Inc., 06/01/95:
A text that presents the underlying principles of aquaculture and provides examples that
underscore the principles and demonstrate the variability that exists among species of
culture organisms. It extends the scope of Stickney's Principles of Warmwater Aquaculture
(Wiley, 1979) to encompass a wider variety of aquatic animals, including such coldwater
fishes as trout and salmon. The emphasis is on species being reared around the world by
commercial aquaculturists. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.
of Warmwater Aquaculture - by Robert R. Stickney - Hardcover - Publication date: April
1, 1979 - List: $84.95
The publisher, John Wiley & Sons:
Provides the basic concepts and techniques required to rear warmwater animals in both
fresh and marine environments and under controlled or semi-controlled conditions. Utilizes
examples from various species to demonstrate how specific general principles can be
applied throughout the field. Focuses on commercially important species that are being or
can be reared in the United States. The concepts can also be applied to animals reared for
laboratory use. Includes a comprehensive bibliography to the literature.
Aquaculture - by John E. Bardach (Editor) - Hardcover - Publication date: May 1, 1997
- List: $69.95
- Better Trout
Habitat : A Guide to Stream Restoration and Management - by
Christopher J. Hunter - Publication Date: November 1991 - List: $30.00
- Handbook of Trout and Salmon Diseases - by Ronald J.
Roberts, C. Jonathan Shepherd - Publication Date: July 1997 - List: $110.00
- Fish Health
Blue Book, Number 4 : Suggested Procedures for the Detection and Identification of
Certain Finfish and Shellfish Pathogens - by John C. Thoesen (Editor) -
Publication Date: June 1992 - List: $82.50
- Handbook of Nutrient Requirements of Finfish - by Robert P.
Wilson - Publication Date: August 1991 - List: $179.00
This page was last updated on
November 15, 2002