Report for FS05-194
One of the greatest costs associated with commercial production of catfish is the purchase of fingerlings. Commercial fish farmers normally stock ponds with catfish fingerlings that are three to four inches long. The current average price for fingerlings of this size in Virginia from the large commercial hatchery operations is 50 cents per fish. Prices charged for fingerlings vary a great deal depending on the volume purchased and the geographical location of the hatchery. Virginia landowners who want to stock farm ponds for supplemental income from catfish farming have seen that prices charged for fingerlings grown by commercial hatcheries in Virginia and North Carolina cost much more than the same size fingerlings grown in Arkansas, Alabama or Mississippi. Several fish farmers in Virginia have experienced unacceptable death losses and poor performance when they purchased the less expensive fingerlings from distant states in the deep South. Shipping small catfish long distances places too much stress on the fingerlings. The high cost of locally grown catfish fingerlings and poor performance of fingerlings shipped to Virginia from distant states is a problem that has reduced the profitability of catfish production. The low availability of healthy fingerling catfish at reasonable cost is a problem for aquaculture operations throughout the northern part of the Southern region especially in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. Landowners who are trying to raise catfish for commercial sales in farm ponds may be able to save money and increase income by learning how to produce their own fingerlings for stocking. Production systems used for growing fingerling catfish from eggs are well established. Commercial hatchery operators know exactly how to harvest the eggs, maintain proper temperature and aeration for hatching, how to feed the catfish fry, prevent diseases, etc. This information is widely available for private pond owners to obtain and follow. Information is not available, however, concerning the costs of operating a small on-farm catfish hatchery. Information is also not available concerning the costs and financial returns of marketing these fingerling fish in different marketing channels. Financial analysis of an on-farm catfish hatchery will be conducted so farmers can know whether they are better off to grow their own fingerlings or continue to buy them from the large commercial hatcheries. A test marketing program will be conducted so small-scale fingerling producers can know about the marketing requirements, market demand and costs of marketing with different kinds of buyers. Members of the Virginia Aquaculture Association will be especially glad to have local availability of catfish fingerlings in Central Virginia. In order to determine economic costs and financial returns, I will operate a small on-farm hatchery for production of fingerling catfish in 2005 and in 2006. I will harvest egg masses laid by the mature female catfish in my existing 16 acre pond. Placing open barrels along the pond banks, in four feet of water, for egg collection is a proven technique. The females will lay eggs in them and the males will fertilize them, almost as soon as the eggs are laid. I will hatch the harvested eggs in a steel trough using re-circulating water kept at 80 degrees F in my existing greenhouse. I will raise the tiny young fry for the first two weeks in this same trough. When the fry are ½ inch long and have consumed their yolk sacs, I will stock half of them into three 500 gallon tanks in my existing greenhouse. These tanks are eight feet in diameter and 26 inches deep. I will stock 2000 catfish fry in each tank and begin feeding them starter feed. Each tank will be aerated and kept at a temperature of 75 to 80 degrees F. I will stock the other half of my newly hatched catfish fry into two fine mesh net pens in a small shallow pond that I also own. These 6000 catfish fry will be subjected to natural summer temperatures and also fed a high protein starter ration. An aerator will be used to maintain oxygen levels in this shallow pond through the summer and fall. At the end of the project, I will use these records to develop an enterprise budget. I will also develop a report describing the results of the marketing study.