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Fingerlings for fish culture can either be obtained from a supplier or produced in-house. Availability, price, number of fingerlings needed, and level of expertise are the main factors that determine the method of choice. Type of species cultured, season, and location can also heavily influence the methods.
Supply: The best option for small-scale producers is to buy from a supplier. Suppliers should maintain detailed breeding records, use high-quality broodstock, and implement Best Aquaculture Practices (BAPs). In the case of fish fingerlings, cheaper is not always better.
Knowing when fingerlings are available for purchase will help ensure quality fingerlings. Certain species such as bass, bluegill, and yellow perch fingerlings are considered seasonal and are easiest to find during the summer months after they have been feed-trained. Small fish that are available off-season will likely be stunted and would not achieve optimal growth rates. Species such as tilapia and koi can be bought consistently year-round.
Regardless of the supplier, anytime fish are purchased they should be handled properly, acclimated, and added into a quarantine system for 1-2 weeks to help prevent any disease/parasitic outbreaks within the main production system. If the fish are healthy at the end of the quarantine period, then they should be size graded and distributed into the main system. Addition of salt to the water during transportation and holding can prevent disease issues by reducing stress on the fish and result in a higher survival rate.
Information on salting for transport and holding can be found in SRAC Publication No. 390 (Wynne and Wurts 2011).
Production: If producing fingerlings in-house, the producer will need to determine the amount of fish needed to meet production demands. Typically, oversizing fingerling production is done to maintain maximum production capacity. Fingerling production will need to be done in a separate system to limit the spread of disease and to ensure optimal conditions for growth. The producer will also need additional tanks for broodstock, which should be of known lineage, age, and proper size (Egna and Boyd 1997).
Spawning can be natural or artificial but is typically natural in a commercial setting (Egna and Boyd 1997). The benefits of producing fingerlings in-house include cutting out the fingerling supplier, ensuring quality fingerlings, getting a quick supply of fingerlings, and potentially earning additional revenue from fingerling sales. Some downsides include the need for more space, need for quality broodstock, need for fingerling production expertise, and a higher initial investment.
Source: Janelle Hager, Leigh Ann Bright, Josh Dusci, James Tidwell. 2021. Kentucky State University. Aquaponics Production Manual: A Practical Handbook for Growers.