Can fish be bred to grow, mature faster?

1
170
yellow perch
The offspring of two female yellow perch that are artificially mated is a yellow perch that can mature to one pound (market-size) six months faster than yellow perch resulting from a standard mating of male and female fish. (OSU South Center photo)

PIKETON, Ohio — Inside cool water-filled tanks in southern Ohio, the laws of nature are being defied: Male yellow perch mate with other male yellow perch; female bluegills with other female bluegills.

This might make you wonder, unless, of course, your profession is selective breeding of fish, and your goal is to get them to grow faster.

Hanping Wang, who manages The Ohio State University’s Ohio Center for Aquaculture Research and Development, has succeeded in raising faster-growing fish by artificially mating them in a not-so-typical way.

On average, the resulting offspring reach market size six months faster than bluegills or yellow perch bred out of standard male-female mating. That’s because, among yellow perch, females grow quicker than males; among bluegills, males faster than females.

For an Ohio fish farmer, having fish that mature faster than average could be a significant savings in fish food and in time waiting to sell them, said Wang, whose center in Piketon is part of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Small, but growing, The aim of the center is to spur the state’s aquaculture industry, in part through research on two of the state’s most common fish: yellow perch and bluegill.

Aquaculture, the practice of raising fish in a controlled environment of indoor tanks or outdoor ponds, is slowly growing, but still a relatively small Ohio industry. In 2017, 227 people in the state had permits allowing them to sell seafood.

Any advances in farming that make it faster or easier to raise fish or shellfish could prove useful and profitable.

“We’re using the animals’ maximum potential to make them grow faster for human benefit,” Wang said. “We have to do it this way to meet the growing need for food, specifically protein. You need to have a process to produce more animals — more chickens, cows, pigs and fish.”

Improving perch

Hanping Wang
Hanping Wang and his team of researchers completed the genome sequencing of yellow perch and bluegill. The goal: Having fish that mature faster than average, which could be a significant savings in fish food and in time waiting to sell them. (OSU South Center photo)

Among yellow perch, the females grow 60 to 70 percent faster than the males, and they grow larger than the males. As a result, it makes sense that a breeder would want to produce the fastest-growing female yellow perch.

So Wang did exactly that. He mated females to females with the help of grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state-based Ohio Sea Grant program, which funds research in the Great Lakes and aquaculture.

On average, it takes a farmer 16 months to raise a yellow perch to reach market size. Now it can take as little as 10 months if neo-males are mated with typical female yellow perch, Wang said.

“The farmer saves on labor, saves on feed and saves on space,” he said.

Breeding bluegills

With bluegills, the males grow faster and bigger than the females. So, Wang took males and mated them with males through a process similar to what was done with the yellow perch, so they became what Wang calls “neo-females.”

The offspring of a neo-female bluegill and a male bluegill were all male fish that could grow to 1 pound, the size needed to sell them, in about a year, cutting three to five months off the typical time needed for them to mature.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a fish or a tomato or a soybean, if you can shorten the amount of time it takes to grow the item to market size while still maintaining the same nutritional quality, that will just improve the farmer’s profit margin,” said Matthew Smith, an OSU Extension aquaculture specialist.

Aquaculture can play a critical role as our oceans and Great Lakes are overfished, Smith said.

“It’s a way to provide a balance.”

STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!

Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!

1 COMMENT

  1. “We have to do it this way to meet the growing need for food, specifically protein. You need to have a process to produce more animals — more chickens, cows, pigs and fish.”
    No, we don’t, and increasing animal production is a counterproductive and grossly inhumane thing to do. All of the nutrients that humans need in order to thrive can be obtained more healthfully, humanely, and environmentally responsibly from plant sources.

    “It doesn’t matter if it’s a fish or a tomato or a soybean, if you can shorten the amount of time it takes to grow the item”
    Fish are animals not ‘items.’ Science has shown that fish are sentient, they suffer fear and pain. As fellow sentient beings they deserve to be treated with respect and compassion, not as commodities.

    It’s appalling that taxpayer dollars are funding such cruel and perverse experimentation. If these researchers are genuinely interested in responsibly increasing the food supply they should be working in the impressive and productive field of plant-derived protein production. Stop victimizing animals!

LEAVE A REPLY

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.