When Dave Cline pulled the February issue of Outdoor Alabama magazine from his mailbox, it made him want to shout.

There on the cover was his “Frog’s Eye View,” an awesome up-close frog photo he took in the pond in front of his Auburn home.

The shot won first place in the reptiles/amphibians/fish category of the magazine’s 2006 photo contest, edging out another great Cline frog photo for the top honors.

“That it won the contest was great, but to have them pick it over a thousand other entries to be on the cover, that really boosted my confidence,” the Extension aquaculturist and AU master of aquaculture 1991 alum says. [Read more...]

Fishing for Answers? Try ALearn!

Got a fish-related question? It’s a whole lot easier these days to catch an answer thanks to a new Web site sponsored and developed by the CoAg Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures (FAA). [Read more...]

Alabama venture employs intensive raceway system

 BROWNS. Ala. – The raceway at Wilson Farms could be the future Indianapolis for farm-raised fish.
  Alabama’s first commercial and demonstration in-pond raceway was
stocked in May with raising fish in the fast lane in mind.
  “We’re doing a six-acre pond with six raceways in it, and we hope to
triple annual production (to around 25,000 pounds per acre or more) and lower the cost by eight to 10 cents per pound,” said Butch Wilson, a Dallas County fish farmer and chairman of the Alabama Catfish Producers (ACP).
The partitioned aquaculture system contains concrete-block “raceways” or cells. The cells are 16 feet wide by 40 feet long and six feet high, each representing one acre of water that is four-feet deep and stocked with 10,000 to 12,000 fingerlings varying in size from one-tenth to three-tenths pound. The size difference will prevent all the
fish from maturing at the same time.
Wilson compared the system to taking chickens out of the yard and putting them in a benbouse. Just as chicken houses are managed intensively, the raceway is a highly streamlined version of pond production.
  “Imagine the pond as a whole ecosystem,” he said. This system grows multi-batch fish in segregated single batches, removes waste for use as fertilizer, continuously exchanges its water and has its own
automated feeding and monitoring systems.
  While a few raceways have been employed in the catfish industry over the years, none has been as advanced as Wilson’s. Four of the
cells contain channel catfish. One has hyhrids from Eagle Aquaculture,
and the other will be used for tilapia. Four-inch lhick concrete paves the foundation, and an aerator is connected to a grid of hose at the bottom. Each cell has its own rotor for water circulation, and a fence in the pond’s center serves to direct the water around the pond before it
enters the cell. Waste is trapped in slots at the back of the cell, flushed
hourly and pumped into a holding tank. Another key to the system’s
ecosystem is the use of paddlefish to feed on plankton, shell cracker to eat snails and parasiles and grubs to keep the bottom clean.
  The project’s startup was in its final phases last month when backup
and automated systems were nearly ready for operation.
  The joint project among Wilson Farms, Auburn University, Alabama
Catfish Producers and the Black Belt Initiative was designed by Dr. Jesse Chappell. Extension Fisheries Specialist at Auburn, and based on
work previously done by Dr. Dave Brune at Clemson University.
  Chappell followed Brune’s work in South Carolina. and “when I got
back bere to Alabama, it was obvious that multi-batch stocking was
killing the industry.” he said. By comparison, “It is very difficult to
grow biddies and half-grown chickens in the same house, and you can’t put feeder pigs in with half-grown hogs.
  “The whole thing is a feeding game, and if you are not getting feed
conversion ratios in line with what that animal can do, you are leaving
money on the table.” He contends that multi-batch systems result in
“big fish getting more than their fair share of the feed, and the big guys overeat, and your feed conversion just went south.”
  Unlike traditional multi-batch ponds, tbe raceway system is designed for several batches in the same pond at the same time but in segregated cells. An automated feeding system with pre-determined
amounts of feed will allow fish to eat while they can assimilate but not just consume all they can hold. “They can eat it all in 10 minutes or take 10 hours,” Chappell noted. Improved feed conversion is expecled to be beller than 2:1 and perhaps down to 1.7:1.
  Every time feed conversion can be improved by just one-tenth, that is
more profit. Greg Whitis, director of the Alabama Fish Farming Center at Greensboro, said that if conversion rates drop from 2,3 to 1.7, “that is a six-cent difference. Al another six cents a pound and 100,000 pounds, that’s $6,000,”
  Another advantage will be streamlined movement of fish and harvesting. The fish can easily be inventoried and graded if necessary, and harvesting can be accomplished in just a few minutes with two people rather Lhan the usual five or six, Chappell said.
  Oxygen concentration is slightly higher and energy costs lower. Wilson said the whole system operates on about 15 hp of electricity where two paddlewheels would normally take 20 hp of electricity. Each
rotor runs at just one rpm, where older ones ran at 1800 rpm,
  Disease prevention and treatment should be easier and more cost effective. The amount of chemicals needed to treat “is a small fraction of what il would take to treat the whole pond,” Chappell said, and because the amount is less, that allows the use of more expensive and effective products.
  Manual labor will be relieved with automnted monitoring for oxygen
levels and temperature. Farmers can check the readouts via computer.
Another advantage, Wilson noted, is control of bird predators.
  On the downside, construction is expensive. The system cost about
$75,000, but it is hoped that imroved production will cover those expenses.
  Power outages can also he quickly devastating, “The farmer only has
a few minutes rather than 30 minutes to an hour to respond,” according to Whitis, “and backup systems must be working.”
  Wilson has already experienced a six-hour power outage when the
backup generator and liquid oxygen weren’t yet online, “It happened at 2 a.m” the worst time possible,” Wilson said, “We gal up and hooked up the tractors, but this pond was stable enough with oxygen and didn’t get real low. But we did put a tractor in.
  Drought is another concern. Many ponds in west Alabama rely on rainfall as a significant part of their annual water resource. These ponds are better served with partitioned systems that use a fiberglass
and plastic floating structure rather than fixed concrete and will he built elsewhere in the state,
  “One or the things we are going to do is a pretty thorough analysis,”
Chappell said, “We are looking at different systems doing the same
thing. We view this apparatus at Butch’s as a T-Model Ford compared
to where it will go.”

Protecting the Catfish

Alabama could institute new rules for catfishing
BY BRYAN BRASHER — Special to the Ledger-Enquirer

  With a slimy exterior and a whiskered face only a mother could love, catfish were once regarded as second-class citizens.
  But year by year — and perhaps, bite by bite — that perception has changed.
  Many restaurants now have catfish as a regular menu item, and some have special all-you-can-eat nights devoted solely to fried catfish fillets.
  Fishermen have slowly come to respect catfish because they fight hard and because they’re often easier to catch than the finicky largemouth bass.
  Even some tournament anglers are focusing their efforts on catfish with big money on the line.
  All that added attention has done wonders for the image of a once-disrespected species — and it has Alabama conservation officials asking themselves if they should do more to protect the slimy, old catfish.
  “Right now, we really don’t have any catfish regulations to speak of,” said Phil Ekema of the Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources. “We have no creel limits, no size limits. But several of us within the department agree that fishing pressure on catfish has reached an all-time high. That’s the reason we’ve been kicking around some ideas for new regulations.”
  Ekema was quick to point out that no official proposals are on the table for protecting Alabama’s catfish. But two public meetings were held to discuss the matter in mid-January, and the meetings drew a diverse crowd with a wide range of opinions.
  The meeting held in Guntersville drew mostly commercial fishermen who make their livings fishing public waterways for catfish. The meeting in Tuscumbia drew mostly tournament fishermen and recreational anglers who would like to see some measure of protection for trophy-sized catfish.
  Ekema said the varying opinions were proof that interest in catfishing has grown.
  “When you talk about catfishermen, you’re talking about many different types of people,” he said. “There are fish farmers. There are commercial fishermen. There are recreational anglers who just enjoy catching catfish with rod-and-reels on the weekends. Then there are serious tournament anglers.”
  That means a lot of opinions would have to be considered if new regulations are implemented.
  “We don’t want to do anything that would adversely affect any of those groups,” Ekema said. “We want to do what’s right for everyone.”
  Auburn University recently studied the catfish population on Wilson Lake — a popular catfishing destination on the Tennessee River — and determined the fish were in extremely good shape despite heavy fishing pressure.
  Ekema said further studies could be done on other lakes in the future, but there is no timetable for implementing new regulations. It’s simply an idea they’re kicking around.
  Though no official proposals have been made, Ekema said some fishermen would like to see Alabama take the same steps taken by neighboring states to protect its catfish.
  Four years ago, Tennesssee passed a measure that limits commercial and recreational anglers to one catfish per day that measure 34 inches or more.
  The measure has been popular among diehard catfish tournament anglers, but unpopular among commercial fishermen who make big money selling live catfish to “pay lakes” in the Midwestern United States.
  The folks who operate major catfishing tournament trails are all in favor of protecting catfish.
  “Catfish have quickly become the most recognizable species of fish in the world,” said Ken Freeman, who operates the popular Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest Tournament Trail. “A kid looks at a bass and says, ‘That’s a fish.’ That same kid looks at a bream and says, ‘That’s a fish.’ But then the same kid looks at a catfish and says, ‘Hey, that’s a catfish.’
  “Those whiskers really stand out. They’re becoming the real face of fishing, and catfish need some kind of protection.”

Dignitaries from Uganda visit Auburn University

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<p>Top Photo: College of Ag Dean Richard Guthrie (far left) and David Rouse (far right), head of fisheries and allied aquacultures, meet with Ruhakana and Jocelyn Rugunda, fish farmers from Uganda who have been working with the AU FISH (Fisheries Investment for Sustainable Harvest) project in Uganda. The Rugundas visited Auburn ca,pus in June to see Auburn University’s fisheries and allied aquaculture program firsthand. They have been working with Karen Veverica, an AU emlpoyee who is serving as chief of party for the FISH project, a 40-month effort begun in 2005 cand funded by a 2.5 million U.S. Agency for International Development grant to jump-start commercial aquaculture development in Uganda. </p>
<p>Bottom Photo: Randell Goodman, director of the E.W. Shell Fisheries Center in Auburn, hosted the Rugundas during their visit. </p>
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