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Baitfish Industry Spawned in Ohio

OHIO -- Ohio fishing enthusiasts, who bait their lines with imported shiners, may soon be catching that Lake Erie smallmouth bass, walleye or crappie with a native baitfish, spawned and raised for the first time in an indoor environment.

Ohio State University aquaculturists with OSU South Centers at Piketon have successfully induced the first known indoor spawning of the spotfin shiner and produced juvenile spotfins for the market. The research may mark the beginnings of a modest baitfish industry in Ohio.

According to the latest US Department of Agriculture Census of Aquaculture, Ohio ranks fourth in the nation in baitfish sales, skyrocketing 153 percent from 1998 to 2005. Ohio also ranks fifth nationally in the number of baitfish farms, behind Arkansas, Minnesota, New York and Wisconsin. Ohio imports most of its baitfish from those states.

Geoff Wallat, an OSU South Centers at Piketon aquaculturist, hopes that an Ohio baitfish industry could help reduce some of the dependence on imported baitfish from other states, especially when faced with occasional supply shortages.

"The principal bait used on Lake Erie is the emerald shiner, wild caught from the Great Lakes, including Lake Erie. But there are times of the year (late summer) when the shiner is not available in Ohio, and must be imported. With the VHS (viral hemorrhagic septicemia) quarantine, the fish can’t be held long enough for testing before being shipped to Ohio," said Wallat, who holds a research appointment with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

"So, sometimes we are facing a huge shortage of bait."

Wallat said that researchers began looking at the spotfin shiner because it looks similar to the emerald shiner, and previous studies have indicated that the native fish - which spawns in the wild in low numbers - performs well in ponds.

The research, part of the Bowling Green Aquaculture Program and led by research associate Shawn McWhorter, began two years ago. Within a year, researchers had successfully spawned the spotfin shiner beyond its normal summer spawning season, using thermal and light cycles to mimic spawning conditions.

By inducing spawning conditions multiple times indoors, researchers have been able to build a robust broodstock. Female spotfins can lay as many as 700-900 eggs in one spawning.

Researchers have disseminated the spawning and development techniques to Ohio fish farmers. They could be raising their own spotfin shiners by 2009. Ohio State University aquaculturists are also looking at spawning and developing golden shiners for land and inland reservoir fishing. Golden shiners, farm-raised in Arkansas, are also imported in large supply.

"The golden shiner is not well-suited for harvest at warmer temperatures, so Ohio faces shortages when it comes time to harvest the species in June," said Wallat.

Like the spotfin shiner, researchers are spawning the golden shiner indoors, hoping to extend the growing season, thereby creating a niche baitfish market in Ohio. "By raising golden shiners in Ohio, we can reduce transportation costs and produce high-quality baitfish that last longer in holding tanks and bait stores," said Wallat.

"With Ohio being a huge recreational fishing state, there’s value in pursuing a baitfish industry in the state."

The research, funded by USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, will continue for another five years.

Ohio baitfish sales are an integral part of Ohio’s aquaculture industry, which has nearly doubled from $1.8 million in 1997 to $3.3 million in 2006, according to the USDA.

Ellen Hardy

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