Cape fish farmer sees future in raising bait

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
13 April 2007, at 1:00am

US - Most aquaculture operations grow fish or shellfish to give seafood lovers an alternative to stocks caught in the wild.Pierces Point fish farmer Paul Waterman has taken it to another level. Waterman raises bait fish that anglers can use to go catch a fish in the wild.

“The future? It's minnows and spot, the preferred striped bass bait. There's much more money in bait. I'm the only one in the state interested in the bait aspect, as far as I know,” Waterman said.

Waterman, 56, has tanks full of mummichug minnows at one of his facilities in the Green Creek section of the township. He grows them in saltwater tanks to sell to fluke anglers. He is also starting up an operation in Newport, Cumberland County, to grow spot, also called croakers, which he intends to sell as live bait to striped bass and tuna fishermen.

Waterman said he is one of about 15 state-licensed fish farmers, but the only one growing saltwater finfish as far as he knows.

“These minnows were born and raised here,” said Waterman, as the tiny mummichugs seem to follow his movements around the tank.

It's taken Waterman five years of trial and error to grow the minnows. Success stories include the 8-inch mummichug he called “Godzilla” that was big enough to be filleted.

“She was big enough to eat,” Waterman joked.

Defeats included a fungus that attacked the minnow eggs almost immediately after the females deposited them. Nothing worked to kill the fungus.

He figured out the solution to that one by accident when he was on a marsh at a full-moon high tide and witnessed thousands of the minnows depositing eggs on saltwater cordgrasses at the waterline. He realized in the wild mummichugs don't deposit eggs directly into the water: They incubate in the air using the moisture from the cordgrasses; this is the natural control for the fungus. He replicated the natural method, and the fungus disappeared.

It is not the first time a common-sense approach saved the day. He noticed when tanks were cleaned, the fish would die. He realized they need the bacteria growing on the walls of the tanks. With the goldfish he grows for the backyard pond market, he even found the tannins released by decaying leaves were like “fish medicine.”

“We had sick fish and put them in a tank with decaying leaves, and they got better,” Waterman said.