Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) are primitive Chondrostean ray-finned fish that are found in freshwater environments in 26 states across America and are highly valued due to their caviar production. However, as a relatively new species to aquaculture, the taste and texture of paddlefish meat is not well known by consumers.
If paddlefish is well accepted by consumers then it could be the next big meat market and the new catfish of the Southern US.
A study by Siddhartha Dasgupta, Kentucky State University, looked at the success of vertically intergrated paddlefish aquaculture in Kentucky. This system provided good quality seed stock as well as market size fish.
Located on a decommissioned reclaimed water treatment plant, the facility produced 150-200g paddlefish juveniles (phase 2 paddlefish) six months after spawning. Cost of production was low, around $0.50/fish.
The Phase II fish were then stocked into ponds using similar stocking densities, feeding rates, and feed used in the intensive pond culture of channel catfish. After 18 months of growth, the Phase II fish reached an average marketable size of 600g.
Despite a good survival rate of 87 per cent, feed costs were high, making the cost of production around $5.81/kg. However, with a 10 per cent increase in feed efficiency the breakeven price would decrease by five per cent.
Mr Dasgupta also looked at reservoir ranching - extensive production using no feed or artificial aeration.
This system had a survival rate of 91 per cent. The male growing season was around three to five months. Females took a little longer - eight to ten months - as it allowed them to produce eggs for caviar.
However Mr Dasgupta noted that there are some hidden costs associated with this production technique including harvesting and hauling equipment and processing.
Is there a demand?
A market study by Alex Philipchik, Kentucky State University, found that 97 per cent of people liked the flavour of paddlefish and 100 per cent liked that the fish was boneless. Results showed that the Hispanic community favored the fish the most and would be willing to pay around $6.60 per whole gutted, for the fish.
With 76 per cent of the Hispanic community willing to pay over the breakeven price and 71 per cent willing to buy the whole gutted fish locally, there does seem to be a good market demand, making paddlefish farming in intensive monculture systems feasible.