Nearly all of the channel catfish produced in the United
States are grown in earthen ponds because production costs are generally lower for catfish
grown in ponds than for any other culture system. Production of channel catfish in
systems other than ponds is profitable only when some special circumstance exists, such as
the opportunity to sell fish to a local market at an exceptional price or the availability
of an unusual resource.
A typical production sequence for channel catfish farming begins with
spawning of brood fish. Spawning begins in the spring when water temperatures
increase to above 70 degrees F.
At that time, brood fish held in ponds randomly mate and the fertilized eggs are collected
from spawning containers and moved to a hatchery. Eggs hatch after 5 to 8 days and fry are
reared in the hatchery for an additional 4 to 10 days.
|Fry are then transferred to a
nursery pond, fed daily through the summer, and harvested in autumn or winter as
fingerlings of about 4 to 6 inches. Fingerlings are then stocked into foodfish growout
ponds, fed daily, and harvested when they reach a size desired for processing (1 to 2
pounds). In the catfish-producing areas of the southeastern United States, where water
temperatures are below 70 degrees F for about 5 months out of the year, roughly 18 to 24
months is required to produce a food-size channel catfish from an egg.
The simple production sequence described above is complicated
by a number of management decisions that must be made to optimize the production strategy
for each farm. A few farmers specialize in producing fingerlings which are then sold to
farmers specializing in production of food-size fish. Many farmers combine all aspects of
production. Those farms will have broodfish ponds, a hatchery, fry nursery ponds, and
foodfish growout ponds. Specific management practices also vary among farms. This is
particularly evident in the variety of management schemes used in foodfish growout ponds.
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