High-tech farm for fish

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

US - The bass swimming in these glistening new 80-foot raceways are big enough to make most anglers drool.

Rick Stout, manager of the Florida Bass Conservation Center, oversees the hatchery that, besides bass, produces channel catfish, white catfish, striped bass, striped bass hybrids, bluegill and black crappie.

Although you'll never take one of these lunkers home with you, someday, somewhere, you may tangle with one of their offspring.

From this submarine stud farm come what might become tomorrow's trophy fish, the piscatorial prizewinners that will prowl Florida's lakes and rivers, part of the sport that lures people and their dollars by the millions.

And before their progeny are put into the wild, some of them will be fitted with micro-tags that will allow scientists to keep track of them for the life of the fish.

Florida's largemouth bass already are world-famous and growing more and more popular.

Opened a few weeks ago, Florida Bass Conservation Center is set to produce bigger, healthier hatchlings at three times the rate that was possible before.

That allows biologists to put fingerlings or four-inch ''sub-adults'' into the state's lakes and rivers at precisely the right time for the maximum chance for survival.

"If you go out with a beautiful fish that's four inches and there is nothing for them to eat, they will starve to death," said Rick Stout, a biologist who manages the hatchery, nestled deep in the towering pinewoods of the Withlacoochee State Forest southwest of Ocala.

The goal is to do it more efficiently than before in one of the most environmentally friendly facilities of its type. The new facility recycles 90 percent of the maximum 6,000-gallons a minute circulated through the 39,000-square foot building. It also recycles all of the water in its 63 outdoor ponds, totaling 48 acres of water.

"Seven years ago, we raised 200,000 four-inch largemouths, and that took up almost all our pond space. Now we can do the same thing in one 80-foot raceway," Stout said.