North Central Region Paddlefish Polyculture

Final Report for FNC01-338

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2001: $14,378.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $29,456.00
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


My wife and I own and operate a 75-acre farm with two existing ponds. Our farm consists of 55 acres of tillable ground. Our crops consist of corn, soybeans, wheat, and clover. The only livestock we had before the SARE grant was one pond stocked with food fish -- largemouth bass. We would consider this startup pond a sustainable agriculture practice since we were experimenting with alternative agriculture crops. This pond was only in its first year of production.

The goal of this regional project was to enhance the fish farmers’ income through polyculture of paddlefish with multiple species raised in this region.

We needed a two-year plan to be able to determine the growth record of the paddlefish and also to monitor the water quality as the fish grew during different conditions. We used four different ponds all with different water sources and stocked with different species and various stocking rates. We used all these different situations to determine the best growth rate and the best survival rate of the paddlefish. We stocked the juvenile paddlefish in all the ponds except the last pond when they were comparatively the same size. The goal was to determine if the paddlefish would reach marketable size in this region’s farm pond within a two-year period, which is the time frame it takes for them to grow to market size in native water. Water quality also had to be monitored weekly to determine if the paddlefish had any effect on improving the nitrate level in any of the ponds. We also needed to see the effects poor water conditions and low oxygen levels had on the paddlefish. Paddlefish feed on zooplankton and live in the bottom depths of the pond. They do not eat man-made feed but filter our material from the water for their feed, which later can produce nitrates. Oxygen was a very important component since your oxygen level is lowest in the bottom of your pond.

We utilized our two existing ponds for this project and two other ponds donated by area farmers. One of our ponds was a spring-fed pond, stocked at a normal rate for a non-production pond with a variety of species, which included: bass, bluegill, perch and catfish (Pond 1). Our other pond is a creek-fed pond and is a production pond stocked with largemouth bass (Pond 2). One of the other farmer’s pond (Dan Miller) was a spring- and tile-fed pond and was a non-production pond stocked at a normal rate with bass, bluegill, and catfish (Pond 3). The last pond, donated by a farmer (Dewayne Craig), was a tile-fed pond and had to be reconstructed before it could be stocked (Pond 4). This was done late in the year due to weather, but once it was completed, it was stocked with catfish for a production pond. Stocking rates for production ponds vary from 3,000 fish to 6,000 fish per acre depending on species. The stocking rate for a non-production pond used as a recreational pond would be approximately 1,000 fish per acre, depending on the species.

Besides the donation of the ponds, the two farmers that that helped with the project also donated their time for the reconstruction of the one pond and also helped when we seined the ponds for measurements and field days. We also recruited various volunteers from the area to help with the pond days. These volunteers took pictures, helped pull the seines, measured the fish, and transported fish. We used different volunteers each time to involve as many new people as possible.

The Edgar County Extension Unit Leader was very instrumental in providing all publicity for us.

We measured the results by conducting weekly readings and posting them on a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is included in this report. [Editor’s Note: For a copy of the spreadsheet, contact the NCR-SARE office at: [email protected] or 1-800-529-1342.] The results of this project are that you can successfully polyculture paddlefish with other species and reach a marketable rate within the first year. Our fish reached between 3 and 5 lbs in the first year, which is very close to the growth rate in native waters. These fish may also be grown up to this size at the stocking rate of 100 per acre for the first year and used for stocking reservoirs or lakes if they are not wanted for food fish. The survival rate of the paddlefish diminished quite radically after the first year due to the growth of the fish and its oxygen requirements. We experienced a fish kill in pond 1 due to low oxygen, and lost several paddlefish in pond 2 due to overstocking after the first year.

Once the fish were harvested down to the rate of 5 per acre, they grew rapidly and the survival rate was at 90%. At the last measurement of these fish, they averaged 16 lbs in all ponds.

By monitoring the water quality weekly, we did find that stocking ponds with paddlefish did improve the water quality in all ponds. The biggest difference was in ponds 1 and 3. We experienced very little problems with surface moss. The other ponds never had surface moss due to the water treatments required for production ponds. We did have nitrate problems in ponds 2 and 4 when heavy feeding was conducted and the water temperatures were high. Other than that, we felt the paddlefish also helped filter out some of the nitrates in the water.

We were disappointed by the severe loss which occurred with the paddlefish, but now know how to overcome this problem. We have proved that these fish are quite useful and can produce an added income for fish or non-fish farmers that have farm ponds. This grant was such a success that Kentucky State University is now asking us to restock our ponds with paddlefish juveniles and raise these fish up to 3 lbs at the high stocking rate. Then they will buy them back for the stocking of reservoirs and streams.

We learned that the stocking density was very crucial in all the ponds. Pond 1 was a non-production pond and was stocked with a high density of paddlefish at 125, but had a low rate of stocking with other species. The paddlefish survival was terrible and the fish grew slower. Pond 3 was a non-production pond and was stocked at a very low rate with paddlefish (25) and other species. The survival rate was good but the growth was very slow also. Pond 2 was a production pond stocked with 110 paddlefish and 3,000 largemouth bass. The growth rate for these fish was double the growth rate of the other ponds, but the survival rate was the worst in this pond. The survival rates are after a one-year period. The survival rate for the fish up to 3 lbs was over 90%, but then went to 10%. When they were moved and stocked at a rate of 5 per acre, the survival rate went back up to over 90%. Now these fish may remain in the pond until their sexual maturity, which occurs in 5 more years. That is when these fish produce eggs or caviar.

The social and economic impact is that we have proved that you can raise paddlefish in our region, which will improve the profit margins for the aquaculture farmers in our region.

The biggest environmental impact is the restocking of various reservoirs and streams that we will be involved with through the Kentucky State University project.

04/08/02 Submitted written report to Kentucky State University on fish growth.
06/24/02 Held Pond Day with 29 people of all ages in attendance sponsored by Edgar County Extension.
06/25/02 Speaking engagement in Pinckneyville, IL for the NCR-SARE Administrative Council.
07/09/02 Speaking engagement for Edgar County Soil and Water Conservation Plot Day with 22 area farmers in attendance.
10/07/02 Submitted update to Dan Selock of SIU on our paddlefish polyculture.
10/08/02 Pond Day for District 95 1st and 2nd graders. There were 39 in attendance, including mothers, teachers and students. Sponsored by Edgar County Extension.
10/10/02 Submitted an oral report to Ed Billingsley at Rend Lake College regarding paddlefish polyculture with other species.
10/26/03 Harvest Day with 18 people in attendance, sponsored by Edgar County Extension.
03/06/03 School presentation to Unit 4 first graders. There were 27 students and a teacher in attendance.
08/17/03 Harvest Day with 26 people in attendance, sponsored by Edgar County Extension.
10/16/03 Field Day with 35 people in attendance. Channel 10 Television provided coverage. Newspaper coverage was provided prior to the event. The event was sponsored by Edgar County Extension.

SARE brochures were distributed at all of our events. Photos and news releases are enclosed for each event. [Editor’s Note: For more information or copies of the news releases, contact the NCR-SARE office at: [email protected] or 1-800-529-1342.]
We have four field days planned for next spring due to the increased interest in our project. We will complete and report on these field days even though our grant period will be over.

We think this is a wonderful program. It gives us the encouragement to try something we would have never tried before. We also feel that not only have we gained an abundance of knowledge from this grant, but our region as a whole has also. We appreciate the SARE council giving us the opportunity by funding this aquaculture project.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.