FAA Faculty Research Featured in the December Issue of Ag Illustrated

Researchers Aim To Make Fish Ponds More Profitable

AT YOUR LEISURE Recreational fish ponds can be money makers for their owners, but management recommendations that two Auburn aquatic ecologists are developing should help make pay-to-fish operations even more profitable.

Some 280,000 recreational fish ponds dot Alabama’s landscape, claiming close to 650,000 acres and providing a significant source of income as part of pay-to-fish operations and fishing resorts located throughout the state. Two Auburn fisheries scientists are in the midst of Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station–funded work aimed at helping pond owners improve the management and profitability of those ponds.

“Given that pond fishing businesses are most often found in some of the most economically challenged parts of Alabama, any support that can help them enhance their fish pond populations and attract more anglers would be significant,” says Rusty Wright, Extension specialist and associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures.

In the project, Wright and departmental colleague Dennis DeVries, professor, are specifically focusing on two management practices commonly used to improve the growth and abundance of largemouth bass and bluegill in recreational ponds. The first is stocking threadfin shad as a supplemental prey fish for largemouth bass; the second is adding pelleted feed for bluegill.

“These enhancement techniques are often used, but it is not consistently clear whether they work or how they act in a pond food web,” Wright says. “This research will help us make better science-based recommendations as to the addition of pellet feeding and the stocking of threadfin shad.”

For largemouth bass, the addition of threadfin shad as a prey species translates into a more abundant, calorically rich and easily caught food source, Wright says; however, shad species can have a negative effect on the abundance and growth of other prey species, such as bluegill, through competition for food.

To offset that competition, or to enhance ponds without shad, pond owners often feed the bluegill with pelleted feeds. Direct feeding of bluegill can improve growth and increase egg production. Plus, feeding in a specific location can lure bluegill to anglers.

In general, however, study of the potential impacts of pellet feeding has only been partially tested scientifically, and often

in laboratory settings. Wright says such research is best carried out in the field, where conditions are the same as those pond managers are going to experience. For their project thus far, he and DeVries have conducted a pond experiment at the E.W. Shell Fisheries Center and have sampled fish from established ponds at the fisheries center as well as some that are privately owned.

“We get a lot of questions about pond management, and our main goal in this research is to truly determine the efficacy of these practices, to refine rate recommendations for stocking and feeding and to understand how the enhancements work,” Wright says. “Our science-based assessment of pond enhancements should help pond managers avoid spending money on overfeeding or excess prey fish additions.

http://ag.auburn.edu/comm/AI/2012/December/documents/December2012_AgIllustrated.pdf

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