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Split pond system may be economical option for catfish farmers

Catfish farmers consider split pond plans.

U.S. catfish farmers continue to face challenges including hefty feed costs and stiff competition from Chinese and Vietnamese imported products. To become more competitive, some producers are considering innovative technologies for fish production. One new technology is a split pond production system where a pond is divided into two sections.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff recently hosted a split pond tour to keep catfish producers, UAPB graduate students, researchers and Extension personnel abreast of developments. Stops included the Mississippi State University Facility at Stoneville, Miss.

Craig Tucker, director of the National Warmwater Aquaculture Center, emphasized design considerations for the system and presented his research based on nine years using the system.

Tucker said a split pond system typically uses two sections. In one section, or about 20 percent of the pond, the fish are contained, fed, aerated and harvested. A barrier prevents fish from escaping from the containment area to the other side of the pond. However, water is allowed to flow out of the area.

During daylight hours, oxygen levels build up in the non-fish area. Gates or barriers are opened and water is allowed to flow through the entire system. At night, when oxygen drops, the water flow is halted allowing only the area where the fish are to be aerated.

Because only the section containing fish is aerated and the area is limited in size, production may be increased and costs may be lowered using a split pond system versus a traditional pond system, he said.

"Energy wise, I think this is a very good system," Tucker said, adding that "harvest was really easy because it’s such a small area."

Tucker cautioned that producers who opt to install a split pond production system "really have to adhere to certain design criteria to make it work." It also requires retrofitting ponds. However, conversion during routine pond renovation will reduce costs significantly. So far, the system has been used to grow hybrid catfish and there are disease issues to consider.

America's Catch Fish Farm was the second stop on the tour. Farm Manager Steeve Pomerleau, a UAPB graduate and former Extension specialist, talked about a production facility that will utilize about 600 acres for the split pond system. Attendees saw a split pond that has been operational for a year and saw several more under construction.

"The system is beneficial," he said. "We are moving forward with this." Pomerleau added that once more people decide to use the system they will be able to share information about the best way to do it.

UAPB researchers plan to work with Pomerleau this summer to look at water quality in a split pond system compared to water quality in a traditional pond, fish production and the possible economic benefit.

 "UAPB will be modeling oxygen dynamics in several variations of split-pond systems on commercial farms and will develop an economic analysis to compare the overall economic trade-offs between the split-pond systems and traditional catfish production systems," said Carole Engle, director of the UAPB Aquaculture/Fisheries Center of Excellence.

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