Fish Farming with Cages


So you have always wanted to farm fish but your pond is too deep and full of stumps, so you could never pull a net seine through it to harvest the fish even if you raised them. Consider the cage… One of my first visits as a young fish farm supply salesman was to deliver an aerator to a farm in Lucedale, MS. The farm used floating cages to raise catfish. It was located deep in the woods and I asked about the difficulty of marketing the fish. Turns out they just made a “harvest day” announcement in town and people would line-up down the dirt road with ice chests on that particular Saturday. There was another farmer that made fish cages to sell in Alabama, just above Montgomery, Schepp Phillips. His net cages were shipped into several difference states, but were very popular in the region, helping people raise fish in ponds that would be difficult for traditional aquaculture.

Cages have been used to raise fish for centuries and it is a nice project to consider for your farm pond. This approach is not as popular as it was in the 90’s, and deserves more attention. With minimal supplies you could raise 350 lbs of fish in a 4 ft diameter cylinder cage. I am personally a frustrated fisherman, so harvesting fish from a cage appeals to me. This is also a great project for a young farmer in FFA or 4-H.

Netting, zip ties, irrigation tubing and fittings, floats (gallon jugs or swim noodles) weights, and mesh are all you need to make a basic cage. Read the following link to learn more about “cage culture” and how to get started. Click here to download the pdf.

Following are a few of my notes….
– Aeration:
Aeration and circulation are the limiting factor in most cage culture systems. If you don’t have electricity at the pond, consider locating your aeration compressor at a source and piping air to the pond. Aeration and the associated circulation keeps water quality high and your chances of success high as well. A recent study on catfish showed a 40% increase in growth rate from catfish in ponds with good aeration.

– Good Feed:
Your fish in the cage are getting all of their nutrition from the feed that you give them, so purchasing a good feed with better nutrition is key to health and a good growth rate. 32% protein is a minimum requirement. I recommend Optimal or Purina feed. The feed is the total diet of the fish and your major contribution, so get the best.

– Aren’t they too crowded?
No. Actually the crowding reduces the social problems of fish in cages. If they are stocked at a lower density, there will be some dominant fish, and large differences in growth rate, as well as injuries.

– Predators
Bringing fish into a confined space does attract more of their natural predators. Otters and alligators are the worst as they can destroy or damage a cage. Snakes also will prey on younger fish. Birds, if given an opportunity, also will help thin your crop. Use good cage construction technique. Always fasten the lid back on the cage when done feeding. Clean up any uneaten feed in the cage and any spills around the dock that would attract animals. Survey the pond for potential predators and research permits if you need to remove them.

So with the full picture of pitfalls and benefits in mind, maybe you can raise a nice crop of fish in that farm pond after all. For me and my poor fishing record, pound for pound, raising fish in a cage is much more affordable than my fishing trips.
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