Mr. Hays wanted to demonstrate that striped bass aquaculture is a viable alternative for West Virginia, where more traditional forms of agriculture are oftentimes not so workable, because of the difficult terrain. With the help of a SARE grant he established a demonstration fish farm, consisting of several small ponds fed by water from the Elk River. He dug the ponds by hand, and stocked them with goldfish, which he raises and sells as ornamentals. He built several cages, which he lowered into the ponds, and into which he introduced 5000 young hybrid striped bass, each only about ½ inch long. The cages serve several purposes—they keep the bass, which are predatory, away from the goldfish, they protect the bass from mammalian and avian predators, and they facilitate harvesting. Once the fish had grown to a length of 4 inches Mr. Hays sold about half of them to other aquaculturists; the remainder he will keep until they grow large enough to sell for food.
Mr. Hays’ project has aroused considerable local interest. He has been written up several times in the press, and was featured on a local TV show. He has given tours of his fish farming operation, and has distributed brochures and spoken about it on several occasions. He also says he has fielded more than a hundred phone calls about it. He has helped other people get started raising striped bass, and now finds himself on the board of the Mountain State Aquaculture Cooperative.
Though this project was essentially a demonstration, it did yield certain findings concerning aquacultural technique: 1) Though striped bass are cannibalistic, Mr. Hays reports that this was not a problem once the fish reached the fingerling stage, so long as they were well fed. 2) Selling half of them at the 4-inch stage proved a good strategy for optimizing use of resources, since at this point the rapidly growing fish were trying the limits of both space and the oxygen-carrying capacity of the water. 3) The goldfish helped to keep the wire-mesh cages clean. 4) Some bass escaped from the cages. These grew larger than those that remained inside, but Mr. Hays recommends using cages anyway, primarily for ease of harvesting. 5) Escaped bass did not appear to bother the goldfish. 6) Mr. Hays recommends hard water at moderate temperature, “warmer than you would have for trout, and colder than for catfish.” 7) He reports that he was able to keep parasites under control by application of rock salt. 8) He figures that a 15-20% mortality is to be expected.