A research study, partially funded by Alabama catfish farmers, could save tens of thousands of fish each year that die from common bacteria. Results of a six-month research project conducted by Auburn University (AU) on the Aeromonas bacteria were presented in December to catfish farmers in Demopolis.
The survival rate for infected fish increased from 5 percent several years ago to 99.6 percent for fish given a new vaccine developed through the project. Survival also was higher for fish fed a probiotic feed, the AU report said.
“Usually we don’t see these kind of results for field trials,” said AU’s Jeff Terhune. “The question now is how do we move to a vaccination method that is more commercially and economically feasible.”
The research project, funded in part by $65,000 in checkoff money from the Alabama Farmers Federation Catfish Producers, tested an Aeromonas vaccine developed by the AU School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences (SFAAS). In this study, the vaccine was administered by hand to nearly 18,000 young fish. The bacteria typically affect mature fish near harvest, and experts estimate it cost U.S. catfish farmers about $72 million in losses since 2009.
The vaccinated fish were released in raceways at Hale County farmer Randy Hollingsworth’s farm. The four-prong research project included vaccinated fish, those given probiotic feed, hybrid catfish and traditional catfish. Survival rates for vaccinated fish and those given probiotic feed showed the most promise. Terhune said researchers hope to conduct more assessments on older fish next year.
Catfish farmers and processors at the meeting said they are cautiously optimistic about the study results, adding they are eager to see more research on mature fish.
“Losses from Aeromonas have cost our farm a lot of money,” said Alabama Catfish Producers Chairman Will Pearce of Dallas County. “I feel like we’re making headway, but we need to see results on fish 18 to 24 months old, which is when Aeromonas is more prevalent.”
Federation Catfish Division Director Rick Oates said the checkoff program is funded by catfish farmers who contribute $1 per ton of catfish feed they purchase. Catfish farmers voted in February 2015 to fund the research project, he said.
“Aeromonas is a serious issue facing our farmers,” Oates said. “The record number of farmers and industry professionals who attended this meeting indicates the amount of interest in this research.”
Most of the meeting focused on the research report. However, the 130 farmers and processors in attendance also heard reports on the state of the catfish industry and discussed water aeration, water quality and catfish genetics.
AU’s Aquaculture and Fisheries Business Institute also hosted an awards luncheon as part of the meeting, where Federation members David Pearce and Randy Hollingsworth were honored for contributions to the catfish industry.