Intensive monoculture is the least sustainable production method available for paddlefish production because this method is highly dependent on the use of pelleted feed, mechanical aeration and chemicals. However, the largest segment of United States aquaculture is the production of channel catfish (212,000 metric tons, 233,000 tons annually) in intensive monoculture. Production of catfish has declined in the US over the last decade due to cheaper imports of catfish from other countries (i.e. Vietnam, China). This has caused farmers to search for alternatives to catfish that are unique, new to the marketplace and capable of appealing to high end consumers. Paddlefish has potential to fit these requirements; therefore, intensive monoculture of paddlefish is now being investigated at Kentucky State University.
In a preliminary study completed in 2009, paddlefish averaging 300 g were stocked in 0.02 ha (0.05 acre) ponds at 7500, 15000, and 22,500 fish/ha (3,000, 6,000 and 9,000 fish/ac) and fed a 32% protein catfish diet for 98 days. The object of the study was to compare performance in the three stocking densities. The 6,000 fish/ac ponds yielded the greatest percentage of fish achieving the target size (1 kg, 2.2 lbs)) within the growing season. The amount of feed required to produce one lb of fish was also lowest in these ponds. Current studies are investigating paddlefish growth performance at this density in greater detail.
Paddlefish do not feed as aggressively as channel catfish; however, they grow at a faster rate. Preliminary results indicate that paddlefish can reach market size in a lower number of days on feed than channel catfish. Since the cost of feed remains the primary consideration in “break even” analysis of fish production and assuming that markets can be established, preferably high value markets, the fast growth rate of paddlefish could result in a new and profitable crop for traditional catfish farmers in the USA.
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