Baitfish Farming in the United States:  A Kentucky PERSPECTIVE

World Aquaculture, 31(2): 55-56.


William A. Wurts

Kentucky State University

Cooperative Extension Program at the

University of Kentucky Research & Education Center

P.O. Box 469, Princeton, KY  42445-0469


The word baitfish is a common term used to describe small fish used as bait for sport fishing.  Currently, approximately 60,000 acres are devoted to baitfish production in the United States.  This industry is the fourth largest among the various groups of aquaculture species farmed in the US.  Several species of fish are raised as bait, golden shiners, goldfish and fathead minnows.  Golden shiners are the primary species farmed for bait.  Similar techniques are used to produce each of the different types of baitfish.


Baitfish are usually purchased at local or regional bait shops (retailers).  Most of the minnows that are sold in the United States are raised on fish farms in Arkansas and several other southern states.  In Arkansas in 1989, an estimated 27,800 acres of ponds were solely dedicated to the production of baitfish or minnows.  The income generated from the sale of these baitfish was estimated to exceed US $25 million.  In 1989, baitfish production in Lonoke County, Arkansas brought US $16 million to the local economy.  By 1995, the farm gate value of baitfish sales in Arkansas exceeded US $47 million.


Techniques for the production of golden shiners


Golden shiner fry for pond stocking originate from broodfish ponds.  Mature adults are stocked into broodfish ponds at a density of approximately 400-500 lb/ac.  Spawning mats are placed in shallow water around the edge of the pond at a density of 100/ac when water temperature has increased to 65.  When the mats become covered with eggs, they are transferred (50-100/ac) to fry-rearing ponds and hatching is awaited.  After hatching of the eggs has occurred, the mats are removed from the ponds, dried, and stored.


Commercially prepared feed is initially fed at a daily rate of 5 lb/ac.  Feeding rates increase to 35 lb/ac by the end of the production season.  Pond management practices include liming of bottom soils and fertilization, as well as chemical applications to control the incidence of disease.  Water is pumped from wells to compensate for evaporative losses during hot, summer weather.


Baitfish are harvested by seining either the entire pond or a small area where fish have been concentrated for feeding.  With good pond management, harvests of 600 to 800 lb/ac can be achieved.


Baitfish are then transferred from the seine nets to live haul tanks that are mounted on trucks.  Fish are generally transported at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds of fish per gallon.  Upon arrival, at a holding facility, they are held in concrete tanks for approximately 24 h to acclimate them to crowding in a small volume of water.  Finally, the fish are graded according to size and delivered to either wholesalers or retailers.  Small minnows, referred to as crappie bait, contain 125 to 333 fish/lb.  With a harvest of 400 lb/ac and a price of U.S. $2.75/lb, annual returns from a 160-ac farm would be approximately U.S. $137/ac.


Baitfish Marketing


While all the baitfish species that were previously named can be farmed in Kentucky, reliable and consistent markets are the most important consideration for baitfish production.  Producers must decide whether they should either sell to wholesalers or haul and sell their crop personally.  Baitfish sales in the United States are characterized by organized marketing that is structured to prevent the entry of newcomers into the industry.  Those producers who have substantial acreage, possess more experience, and incorporate advanced technology control these large markets.  Baitfish farmers must remain aware of oversupply, shortage, changes in weather patterns that influence sport fishing, and the temporary whims of fishermen concerning the ideal bait at a particular time.


In Kentucky, large-scale producers and wholesalers deliver weekly to retail baitfish distributors and bait shops that surround large lakes and reservoirs.  Making return trips to an individual bait shop that has a shortage due to an unpredictably large volume of sales is impractical.  Small, local, baitfish producers could supply the intermittent shortfalls of baitfish at these locations. While small farmers do not have the capacity to produce sufficient amounts to supply the regular weekly needs of a retailer, they may be able to top off shortages that might occur during the weekend.


The best markets are located near large urban areas and newly established lakes.  However, these conditions rarely occur together.  Isolated fishing areas, that are difficult for large-scale producers to access, provide unique market opportunities for small, local, baitfish farmers.  A farm consisting of 60-70 ac that yields 800 lb/ac of high quality, small baitfish could generate an acceptable income for farmers selling directly to retailers or fishermen.


In Kentucky, small-scale niche marketing appears to be the best opportunity for baitfish producers.  Direct retail sales in remote fishing areas could provide additional market outlets.  Farmers who are interested in baitfish production should start with a small operation and gradually expand as their markets show stable and steady growth.  Successful baitfish farming is contingent upon providing well-established markets with a high quality product.


For related information click on the topics below:



Southern Regional Aquaculture Center, Publication No. 120


Southern Regional Aquaculture Center, Publication No. 121


Southern Regional Aquaculture Center, Publication No. 122


Southern Regional Aquaculture Center, Publication No. 123


Southern Regional Aquaculture Center, Publication No. 1200



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Stone, N., E. Park, L.W. Dorman and H. Thomforde.  1997.  Baitfish production in Arkansas: golden shiners, goldfish and fathead minnows. Cooperative Extension Program, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, MP 386.


Giudice, J.J., D.L. Gray and J.M. Martin. 1981. Manual for bait fish culture in the south.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, EC 550.


Pounds, G.L., L. W. Dorman, and C. R. Engle.  1991. An economic analysis of baitfish production in Arkansas. Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Arkansas, Report Series 321.


Dorman, L.W. and Gray, D.L. 1987. Spawning baitfishes, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Arkansas. Fact Sheet 9003.






Goldfish in concrete holding tank.




A golden shiner.



A rosey-red fathead minnow.



Wholesale delivery of minnows.




Bars used for the grading of minnows held in concrete tanks.



Concrete holding tanks.