Research seeks solutions to Big Fish problem
Alabama is the No. 2 catfish producer in the U.S. The state is home to dozens of catfish farms, with more than 15,000 water-acres of earthen ponds spread across the western region. Alabama’s catfish farmers and processors must constantly seek ways to improve their operations’ efficiency and profitability due to increased production costs and foreign competition. Processing plants prefer catfish smaller than four pounds because they are easily processed, and the fillet sizes can be sold to established markets. The Big Fish is the one that gets away, after the pond harvest, growing one, two or more seasons. Processors pay less for Big Fish, and large numbers can significantly impact a farmer’s profit margin.
An Auburn researcher focused on the economics of Alabama’s farm-raised catfish industry and identified three approaches to managing these so-called Big Fish in commercial ponds. The project goal was to examine high-value production problem issues and solutions to provide the most economic benefit to aquaculture producers, processors and consumers.
Researchers studied the economics of the three approaches to eliminating Big Fish. The first approach suggested hiring a seining crew to conduct a second partial seine to catch the ones that got away. This least expensive management strategy increased average net returns by $2,468 per water acre and is a good fit for cash-strapped farmers. The second approach combined a second seining with adding rotenone, a fish-specific poison, to kill any remaining Big Fish before restocking. This approach was more costly but resulted in higher net returns, averaging $8,428 per acre. The most expensive but most effective long-term option was to renovate the pond, smoothing the pond bottom and eliminating the “holes” or “trenches” where fish can hide and escape harvest. This approach was the only one that eliminated all Big Fish from the pond, improved seining efficiency and provided an average net income of $10,630 per acre. This approach is expected to prevent Big Fish escapes from seining for five to 10 years after pond renovation. This information has been disseminated to aquaculture producers, researchers and Extension offices.
Link to full statement on website: http://landgrantimpacts.tamu.edu/impacts/show/5824