Developing standardized procedures to increase production of saleable yellow perch fingerlings year-round

Final report for FNC22-1351

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $18,651.00
Projected End Date: 01/15/2024
Grant Recipient: The Farmory
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Annie Schmitz
The Farmory
Co-Coordinators:
Paula Schultz
The Farmory
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Urban Partnership Community Development Corporation d.b.a. The Farmory is a 501 c(3) not-for-profit yellow perch hatchery based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The organization was initially developed by its parent company, NeighborWorks Green Bay, to produce aquaponically grown crops. It has since become an on-going project concerning the commercial feasibility of off-season breeding of yellow perch in recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), a research endeavor that started in 2016.
To date, The Farmory has successfully spawned two off-season cohorts of yellow perch brood stock (October Spawners and January Spawners) once each by manipulating environmental temperature and photoperiod, and the organization is currently spawning its January Spawners for the second time. These two cohorts represent successes with their potential to revolutionize yellow perch aquaculture in the Midwest by providing a year-round supply of yellow perch fingerlings

Summary:

Freshwater fish have long been a part of Wisconsin’s economy and culture.. However, due to aquatic invasive species, over-fishing, and other environmental factors, the natural fisheries have been decimated. The Farmory aims to reintroduce locally-grown yellow perch and decrease the need for imported fish. The Farmory uses indoor tank aquaculture to spawn and raise yellow perch fingerlings, which are suitable to be grown out for food or used for stocking local ponds and lakes.

 

The Farmory continues to explore, document, and improve upon its processes with larval yellow perch. For that purpose, The Farmory proposes the installation of two shallow-set aquaculture tanks similar to the ones used at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. When compared to The Farmory’s taller tanks, shallow-set tanks have shown increased rates of proper swim bladder inflation in yellow perch larvae, as well as reductions in the resulting spine deformities. These improvements will significantly increase the number of saleable fish per hatch and provide a profit over the long term. While yellow perch are an uncommon choice for indoor aquaculture systems due to the difficulty of cultivation, The Farmory is dedicated to creating a reliable and replicable process that other aquaculturists may follow.

Project Objectives:
  1. Expand capacity of the current biosecure aquaculture system to increase the quality and quantity of percids produced.
  2. Track rate of deformities and increase the number of saleable yellow perch.
  3. Develop standardized processes for indoor spawning and hatching of yellow perch that are replicable for aquaculturists.
  4. Share standardized processes and lessons learned with fellow collaborators, FarmoryWorks students and other aquaculturists through its current FarmoryWorks program and webinars.

Research

Materials and methods:

For the April 2022 Spawn we used eggs harvested from Blue Iris Farms.  Outdoor temperature spikes spread the spawning time over several days which resulted in varying time of egg hatch.  We tested using lower levels of water in the larval spawning  tanks to test the hypothesis that a lower water column would result in fewer larval mortalities and fewer spinal deformities due to swim bladder inflation issues.  The tank levels were set at 36", (a lower level than previously used).

We also used continuous feeding system for both artemia and pelletized food, assuming more availability of food would increase larval survivabilaty.

 

 

Research results and discussion:

 

For the spring 2022 perch spawn eggs were collected from Blue Iris Farms on March 25th and 27th.  A total of 21 egg ribbons were collected, weighed and sanitized.  They were pinned on the spawning racks in 8 of the Larval tanks.  The tank levels were set at 36", (a lower level than previously used) in order to test the hypothesis that a lower water column would result in fewer larval mortalities and fewer spinal deformities due to swim bladder inflation issues.

The lower water columns caused several issues including poor water quality which resulted in higher larval mortality rates.  Surviving larval perch count was 560 at 30 days when the larval perch  were transferred to maturation tanks. Because of visibility issues caused by poor water quality and because larval perch are so difficult to count in the larval stage, we were unable to determine when the mortalities were occurring, and therefore unable to pinpoint the causes of the mortalities. 

It's possible the increase in food also contributed to poorer water quality and increased turbidity of the tank water was experienced.

At previous hatch rates with 21 strands of eggs we would have expected 5,000-15,000 larval perch at 30 days.  Feed training proceeded with continuous feeding of artemia (brine shrimp) for 30 days, supplemented with AllTech larval food.  The artemia feeds were discontinued at 30 days.

Larval mortality bursts are expected at:

1-3 Days when egg sack is depleted and fish need to start eating artemia and pellet food

10 Days-swim bladder inflation should have occurred

30 Days Live feed (artemia) is discontinued, larval fish that haven't learned to eat the pelletized food will die

Because we don't have the technology to view what's happening to the larval fish in the tanks, we can't determine when the mortalities are occurring.  This would be great technology to develop long with a way to count the larval perch, currently larval perch can't be handled until their scaled develop at that 30 day stage.

The Fall (October) spawn was not successful, only a few egg strands were collected.  We sent egg strands to the University of Minnesota Sea Grant Team for research.  We were unable to collect additional egg strands for our spawning.  Because we lost our staff we were unable to do a production run.  Additionally, in August we had a had a tank temperature spike during the critical temp/light phase that affected the egg production, resulting in a spawning period that occurred over several weeks, and a high rate of egg reabsorption in the brood stock.  Ultimately, it resulted in no salvageable egg strands other than the initial ones that went to Minnesota.

The January brood stock are looking good, and the team that is taking over is waiting for the spawning to start any day now.  The eggs will go into the updated larval tanks.  

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Consultations
6 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
4 Online trainings
4 Tours
8 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

8 Farmers participated
2 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Farmory AquaCulture Class: 8 participants

Mondays 5:30-7:30 April 4-May 23 2022

Class consisted of 4 on-line webinars, 4 in-person sessions at the Farmory.  Enrollment information was posted on The Farmory's website.

Program Curriculum: AquaCulture Systems, Biosecurity, Water Quality Monitoring, Fish Health, Fish Husbandry Practices, Fingerling Production, harvesting your Fish

Instructors: Annie Schmitz & Cory Petri-Farmory, Greg Fischer-UW Stevens Point, Dr. Ken Webb-UW Green Bay, Mike Poquette-Ocean's Design, Bill West-Blue Iris Farms, Dr. Myron Krebus-UW Madison

Teen Leadership Green Bay-Environment Day   May 4th 2022 35 Participants  Paula Schultz & Carmen Dehn presenters.  

Presentation on Environmental  issues in Indoor fish production and how indoor Water quality issues relate to outdoor water quality issues

YWCA TECH Girls July20th  13 participants, Annie Schmitz presenter

Fish Life HistoryStress & Handling PPTYellow Perch Larval CultureFarmoryWorks AquaCulturuwgb talk with notes

Learning Outcomes

4 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

We learned that lowering the levels in our Larval Tank System did not result in increased larval perch survival rates, it created other issues that resulted in increased mortality and lower production rates.  We have another person (Topher Jacobson, Pepperboy Farms) taking over the hatchery production and care of the  perch brood stock, they are consulting with Dr. Ken Webb, the original designer of the Larval Tank System, to run and test the system as originally designed.  They will increase monitoring and measurements to determine where, when & how the larval mortality bursts occur.  

We hope their continued work with The Farmory brood stock enables subsequent off-season spawns multiply times a year, and will determine what indoor RAS larval systems offer the best production model.

Our failure to determine the timing and causes of the larval mortality bursts also points to the need for the development of monitoring and measuring systems for larval perch in RAS systems during the initial 30 days of life.  Until they can be observed and counted accurately during that timeframe, results will be guesswork.

Project Outcomes

1 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
4 New working collaborations
Success stories:

To date, The Farmory has successfully spawned two off-season cohorts of yellow perch brood stock (October Spawners and January Spawners) once each by manipulating environmental temperature and photoperiod, and the organization is currently spawning its October Spawners for the second time. These two cohorts represent successes with their potential to revolutionize yellow perch aquaculture in the Midwest by providing a year-round supply of yellow perch fingerlings. Additionally, these cohorts are a current resource for the collaborative research partnership between the Minnesota Sea Grant and the University of Minnesota as they create stocks during periods typically devoid of yellow perch research due to lack of available eggs and larvae.   Losing the cohorts would not only set the field back nearly three years but reintroduce a supply drought that will hamper current and future research and developmental efforts.

            Currently, there exists no other commercial supplier of yellow perch eggs, larvae, and fingerlings during the fall and winter seasons in the Midwest. As a result, ever evolving supply and demand chains, economies, and environments suffer from prolonged delays in yellow perch availability and aquaculture development. The October and January Spawners generated by the Farmory are an effort to alleviate this problem by creating the resources researchers need to conduct studies year-round rather than being limited to the narrow, natural, outdoor spawning months of spring.

            This project aims to maintain the current October and January Spawners located at The Farmory at 815 Chicago Street in Green Bay, Wisconsin under the assumption they will continue providing research-bound yellow perch eggs and fingerlings on an off-season schedule. This will be done by hiring a Hatchery Technician(s) that will perform routine care of the fish and system maintenance. Given that these two cohorts are adult brood stocks housed in mature RAS, minimal staff time will be needed each day to feed fish, collect water quality samples, and perform routine system servicing such as adjusting system temperature and photoperiod to reflect the calendar developed by The Farmory’s staff. Upkeep of these brood stocks will also require the Hatchery Technician(s) to preserve the bio secure nature of The Farmory’s hatchery by changing sanitation baths, cleaning the facility on a bi-weekly basis, and regularly assessing supply inventory needs.

            This project also aims to directly influence the off-season supply chain of yellow perch egg skeins by providing  the Minnesota Sea Grant and the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay with up to 800 mL each of The Farmory’s generated eggs at no cost for the spawns occurring in January and October of 2023. Furthermore, the weekly records of system temperatures, fish behavior, egg weights produced, and other variables will be kept and shared with aquaculturists, educators, and scientists in hopes of progressing the field of yellow perch aquaculture.

            The result of this project will be the threefold increase in annual availability of yellow perch eggs and fingerlings, creating a reliable supply of stocks during times of typical supply drought. As mentioned, this will directly provide the Minnesota Sea Grant researchers and the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay with a continuous stock of egg skeins and fingerlings that can be used to conduct ongoing research without delay. Pepperboy Farms, a Minnesota yellow perch producer, will also be directly impacted as a result of this by being provided the capability of purchasing yellow perch fingerlings during the fall and winter months, providing the opportunity for continuous revenue.

Additionally, the Minnesota perch producer is partnering with the University of Ohio perch researcher for additional studies in early stage perch nutrition in an effort to reduce mortality.

 

Recommendations:

While the perch production and research started by the Farmory has ended, the 2 successful off-season cohorts of brood stock live on and are being carried for by staff from PepperBoy Farms.  As previously mentioned they have secured working relations with the Minnesota Sea Grant team, the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, and the Ohio State University Cleveland team.

In spite of failing to secure funding for carrying on the Farmory enterprises, we are heartened to have secured a future for the fish and further research into perch production, and to see cooperation between 4 entities seeking to continue our efforts.

The fields of early perch nutrition, spawning tank design, and early mortality desperately need funding and research.  Additionally, the lack of technology for in-tank counting and measuring larval perch during that critical first 30 days remains a significant hurdle for both accurate research results and large scale production.  Those issues  will remain  obstacles preventing  successful large scale commercial perch production.

The need for funding to solve those issues is imperative, as illustrated by failure of The Farmory to produce enough perch to be sustainable, and the difficulty in securing funding, both governmental and  private.  Success is close, but elusive.  And as is the case in all farming, precarious.

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.