Minnows and other Bait Fish

Notes from Fundamentals of Aquaculture, James W. Avault, Jr., Ph.D., pgs. 81-83

Minnows and Other Baitfish
Commerical production of bait minnows was worth more than $100 million in 1983 (Dupree and Huner 1984). Arkansas accounts for about half of the U.S. supply and in 1982 had fifty six acres in minnow production (National Aquaculture Development Plan, 1983). In 1980, Minnesota had 731 farms totalling sixteen thousand acreas.
Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri had more than 1000 acres devoted to baitfish culture. Minnow production has averaged about 600 lbs per acre and net profit about $200 acre. (National Aquaculture Development Plan, 1983). Of about 100 species of sportfishing bait commonly used in the U.S., only four are used in quantity:
1. golden shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas)
2. fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas)
3. white sucker (Catostomus commersoni)
4. goldfish (Carassius autatus)

Golden shiner
Golden Shiner
Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas)
Based on image at Minnow Family, Cyprinidae

This fish gets its name from appearance of gold flashing, is principally cultured in the mid-South. One strain with orange or red fins has a nervous temperament and jumps from bait containers. An ovarian protozoan parasite (Plistophora ovariae) is a problem, but selecting young broodstock (about 1 year old) helps avoid the parasite. This species reaches sexual maturity at one year, when it is about 2.5 inches in length. Each female can spawn up to 10,000 eggs when temperatures reach 70°F. Spawning mats are used to collect their adhesive eggs and then placed into nursery ponds to hatch.
In growout ponds, stocking rates vary from between 50,000-200,000 per acre. With feeding, production ranges from 600 to 800 lbs/acre. At harvest fish are graded to size. 6.4 cm or less is considered small and used for crappie (Pomoxis spp.) bait. Larger sizes which range up to 10 inches, are used for baiting largemouth bass and catfish on trotlines.

Fathead Minnows
Fathead Minnow
Fathead Minnow (Pimephales promelas)
Based on image at Minnow Family, Cyprinidae

Cylindrical and seldom grows larger than three inches. Principally raised in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Arkansas. Reaches sexual maturity at one year and spawning begins when water temperature reaches 65°F. Females lay between 200 to 500 eggs each spawn. One female reportedly produced 4000 eggs from 12 spawns during eleven weeks. Eggs are attached to substrate debris. Fry are stocked at 50,000 - 300,000 per acre in growout ponds. Some catfish farmers stock broodponds with adult fathead minnows at 2000/acre which provides winter forage.

White Sucker
White Sucker
White Sucker (Catostomus commersoni)
Based on image by Joseph Tomelleri Minnow Family, Cyprinidae

This species is native to the east of the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada, south to Colorado, Missouri and Georgia. Principally it is produced for bait in the upper Midwest, for crappie, muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), yellow perch (Perca flavescens) and northern pike (Esox lucius).

Goldfish (Carassius autatus)
Based on image at Minnow Family, Cyprinidae

Goldfish, well known as an aquarium fish with its color variations, is also cultivated as a bait fish. It begins spawning at 61°F, and a female may lay anywhere between 2000-4000 eggs over a period of several spawns. Goldfish are cultured in many ways similar to the golden shiner, but not as widely accepted for bait because it is sluggish. However, it is hardy and makes a good trotline bait. Goldfish are also grown to feed tropical carnivorous fish.

Other Baitfish
The bull minnow (Fundulus grandis) is used along the Gulf of Mexico for saltwater sportfishing. Suppliers of live bait rely almost completely on wild fish. Other bait fish are the top minnows (Poecilia vittata and P. mexicana) as bait for skip jack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis). Tilapia have also been used as baitfish with both fresh and salt sportfish.

Minnow farming has good potential, but markets must be carefully studied and the existing competition with artificial bait. Farmers should determine market demand and seek to fill a niche, rather than produce a product then seeking a market. The most viable market with bait minnows is use for saltwater sportfishing. The downside is that minnow culture is capital intensive and more labor is required than with other types of aquaculture due to grading and extra effort required in shipping.

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