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Smaller Catfish Ponds Intensify Production

Split-cell catfish ponds circulate oxygen-rich water from the larger lagoon through channels to the smaller side where catfish grow. On March 21, 2017, Mississippi State University Extension aquaculture specialist Mark Peterman, left, and Jeff Lee of Lee’s Catfish in Macon examined the fencing that contains fish in this Noxubee County catfish pond. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Kevin Hudson)


MACON, Miss. - Mississippi has a long history of catfish production, but recent advances in management and production are changing the way some ponds look and operate.

Catfish ponds have traditionally been rectangular, shallow and large, usually about 10 acres of water. Today, some existing ponds are split in half to make two equal-sized, intensively managed ponds. Another new approach is to use levees to split ponds into cells with fish raised in 20 percent of the area and the other 80 percent used as a lagoon that helps oxygenate water.

Mark Peterman, area aquaculture specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said many catfish producers in east Mississippi are intensifying their operations when renovating catfish ponds.

“Although they require more active management, the smaller, intensely managed ponds can be profitable in certain farm situations,” Peterman said.

catfish pond aerators

A traditional pond is stocked with 7,000 young, fingerling catfish per acre. While catfish can move about the entire pond, they tend to congregate in zones of richly oxygenated water created by aerators. Factors are unique at every farm, but traditional catfish ponds usually can break even when they harvest 9,000 pounds of catfish per acre.

“Many people continue to use and remain productive with the 10-acre ponds,” Peterman said. “Profitability depends on the cost of feed, pond bank fish price and the level of effort you are willing to invest.”

Each intensively managed pond, usually covering 4 to 6 acres, is made from a renovated 10-acre pond. These smaller ponds are stocked at 10,000 fingerlings per acre.

“Intensively managed ponds push the envelope,” Peterman said. “They are small ponds stocked and aerated at higher rates than traditional ponds.”

Although costs vary by farm and fluctuate with the cost of feed and other inputs, intensively managed ponds must produce about 12,000 pounds of catfish per acre to break even.

Split-cell ponds, a newer variation of the intensively managed pond, house fish in a small area, excluding them from the larger lagoon.

“A levee divides the pond sections, but it has open channels to allow for water exchange,” Peterman said. “During daylight hours, water moves from the lagoon where photosynthesis is occurring to the side containing the fish. When the sun goes down, the algae stop producing oxygen, so aerators