Commercial Catfish Production
Proper design and construction of ponds is critical to the success of a commercial catfish operation. Well-designed ponds, constructed on soil with a proper clay content and adequate water supply, have a useful life of at least 10 years.
Three types of ponds are used in catfish farming.
The first, called embankment or levee ponds, is the most common type of pond used in channel catfish farming. Embankment ponds are the preferred type for large-scale catfish farming because they can be built in large contiguous tracts, which aids in pond management. Embankment ponds are built on flat land by removing soil from the area that will be the pond bottom and using that soil to form levees or embankments around the pond perimeter.
The second type, watershed ponds, are built in hilly areas by damming a small stream. In the long term, the major source of water is runoff from the drainage basin above the dam, although a source of pumped water is desirable to help offset evaporation and seepage during droughts. Watershed ponds represent less than 10 percent of the total pond area devoted to channel catfish farming, but are common in some regions, such as western Alabama.
The third pond type is a hybrid between embankment and watershed ponds. These ponds may have two or three sides consisting of embankments (actually low dams) across a relatively small drainage basin. A significant amount of water may be obtained from runoff, but because the catchment area above the pond is relatively small, a source of pumped water also must be available. Hybrid watershed-embankment ponds are built in regions with gently rolling topography, such as the Blackland Prairie of east Mississippi.
The ideal size and depth of catfish ponds has changed in recent years. Fish farmers report that smaller ponds (8 to 10 acres) are easier to manage and feed than larger ponds (18 to 25 acres). Research indicates and producers confirm that deeper ponds (5 to 6 feet average depth) have a longer life expectancy and allow greater water conservation. A bottom slope of 0.2 to 0.3 inches per 100 linear feet along the long axis is recommended for adequate drainage.
Interior levees should have a minimum top width of 16 feet to allow vehicle access for management purposes even in wet conditions. Main access levees should have a minimum top width of 20 feet (preferably 25 feet) to accommodate fixed equipment such as wells, generators, and aerators while permitting passage of feed delivery and hauling trucks. These main levees should be graveled for all-weather access.
Slope is expressed as the horizontal distance (in feet) that results in a 1-foot change in height. For most soils, an outside levee slope of 3:1 is recommended. Inside slope for commercial ponds typically ranges from 3:1 to 4:1.
A single 10-inch diameter drain of heavy gauge, coated metal or PVC pie is adequate to maintain water level and drain a commercial pond. The drain should extend into the pond and past the outside levee toe by at least 5 feet. A perimeter drainage system should be constructed to receive effluents and to prevent water from standing outside levees.
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