Fish Farming Turns Pond Into A Money-maker

OUTDOORS

Striped Bass, Channel Catfish In Demand

May 22, 1991|By Marie V. Forbes

Most pond owners are content to throw in a line now and then or maketheir ponds available to family and friends for fishing.

But Franklin Koontz of Shiloh Road in Hampstead has turned his pond into a paying proposition, raising catfish, bluegills and hybrid striped bass for market.

From 1968 to 1989, his pond was used simply for family recreational fishing. But then, upon his retirement from the Industrial Equipment Division of Westinghouse in Sykesville, Koontz decided to diversify from the beef cattle and Christmas trees that were the 116-acre farm's income producers.

His operation employs a series of mesh tanks, each containing a species of fish, suspended from a pier into the waters of the pond. Each tank can produce 700 to 1,000 pounds of fish,at maturity.

Demand is highest for his striped bass, but channel catfish also are popular for eating.

"These are not bottom-feeders, so you don't get any of that 'muddy' flavor," he says.

With fishtouted by the diet-conscious for its low-fat, low-cholesterol content, Koontz is riding the wave of the future. Fish farming is becoming increasingly viable. In fact, a single newspaper ad brought Koontz somuch business that repeat customers now take nearly all the fish he can produce.

"I've got people calling me up, asking when the next batch of fish is going to be ready," he says.

Instead of foraging for food, the fish in the Koontz pond feed on measured amounts of pellets.

"It's a lot like dairy farming," Koontz observes. "You've got to be there to feed them at 9 in the morning and again at 4:30 in the afternoon."

The amount of food each cage receives is determinedby frequent surveys of the fish's body weight. The weight of 10 fishis averaged, and each fish is given 2 percent to 3 percent of that weight in food.

Almost as essential to growth is a good supply of oxygen. An aeration system ensures a sufficient supply and keeps ice from forming in winter.

"In hot weather, I run it constantly to keep the supply of oxygen high," Koontz says.

At this time of year, algae is a concern for Koontz. Spraying with copper sulfate, he says, is the best means of control.

This year, Koontz will produce approximately 5,000 pounds of fish for marketing.

"To obtain two 8-ounce filets, you need about a 2-pound fish," says Koontz, who supplies fish already fileted and ready for eating or freezing.

At present, the operation yields only enough fish to satisfy private customers. Plans for future expansion include a new 5-acre pond that would be able to supply commercial customers.

"I'm also looking into a closed indoor system where the water would be recirculated and purified," Koontz says. "Outdoors, when the water temperature drops

below 50 degrees, the fish stop eating. If there were a way to control water temperature, I could provide a steady supply of fish year-round."

While most pond owners will not attempt to emulate Koontz's commercial success, they probably will want to stock their ponds for personal use.

The Fish and Wildlife Division of Maryland's Department of Natural Resources offers pond owners fish for stocking. For $10 a species,the department will provide bluegill or large-mouth bass fingerlings. It also has red-eared sunfish available from time to time.

Striped bass generally are distributed the first week in June and bluegills in the fall, says the DNR's Ed Enamait.

Ross Williams, a biologist with the department's Fisheries Division, recommends that about 100 bass and 1,000 bluegill be introduced for a 1-acre pond.

Trout,while popular to eat, are not prevalent in area ponds. Trout mainly are limited to ponds in the western counties, where water temperatures remain low even in summer. Also, because trout will not reproduce in ponds, restocking is necessary every two to three years.

Maintaining a balance between bluegills and striped bass is critical.

Bluegills ordinarily feed on plankton and other microorganisms but will consume bass eggs during spawning season if allowed to proliferate. When a pond's bass population is depleted by overfishing, bluegills often become too plentiful.

In turn, bluegills form a major part of the diet of striped bass, so there must be enough to provide adequatefood for the larger fish.

While the Fish and Wildlife Division does not offer on-site assistance with fish management, agents are available for consultation by phone and printed information is available.

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