Fish Stocking Alternatives to Benefit Farm Ponds

A guide to stocking systems for the farm pond: predators, panfish, forage fish and the species of fish to avoid.


| March/April 1984



Fish Stocking Carp

Carp.


PHOTO: U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

The farm pond is something of an American institution. After all, we've been building ponds and fish stocking them for as long as there have been farms in this country. And for good reason: For a minimal outlay of cash and labor, a pond not only provides the enterprising homesteader with a means of home fish production but also furnishes water for livestock and crops, creates wildlife habitats, offers a source of recreation, and adds an aesthetically pleasing element to his or her property.

The considerable virtues of farm ponds were perhaps given their widest acclaim during the Great Depression-Dust Bowl years of the late 1930's and early 40's, when the newly formed U.S. Soil Conservation Service began to promote such bodies of water as aids to soil and water conservation, and as sources of food and recreation. As a consequence of the original SCS program, the term farm pond has come to mean a particular type of pond . . . specifically, a 1/4- to 5-acre artificial body of water stocked with warm-water fish that reproduce naturally within the pond environment. Because food production is just one of the many purposes of the pond, the fish populations are not intensively managed (as they would be in commercial aquaculture operations). Harvesting is done by hook and line, and the fish are intended for home use rather than for sale.

There are now more than two million farm ponds in the United States, and—as might be expected—an orthodoxy of farm pond management practices has developed over the years. One tradition concerns the stocking technique. SCS and state conservation agents almost invariably tell prospective pond-builders to stock their home-scale reservoirs with a mixture of largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) and bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus). When an inquisitive farmer asks about stocking other fish species, he or she is usually just told that it "won't work". In fact, experimental pond stocking is discouraged primarily for two reasons: First, since certain species or species combinations have been shown to be detrimental to the farm pond ecosystem, a concerted effort is made to avoid those possible groupings . . . and second, extension workers are trained in the current doctrine: Their job is to offer practical advice, not to oversee experimental projects.

However, as this article will point out, there are perfectly suitable substitutes for and supplements to largemouth bass and bluegills . . . and there's plenty of room for more experimentation, too. In the following paragraphs I'll discuss some of these alternatives, as well as a few of the popular fish that generally are not suitable for the farm pond. 

Pond Niches 

Before you begin to dabble with stocking alternative species of fish, it's important to have a clear understanding of how the typical scheme works. The bluegill, the smaller of the two members in the classic farm pond community, is stocked in greater numbers than the largemouth bass. As a panfish, the bluegill provides the bulk of the catch and serves as a food source for the bass. The bass, then, provides more exciting recreational fishing while acting as a predator, controlling the bluegill population so that stunting of these rapid reproducers doesn't occur. However, this theory works well in practice only when the pond owner aids the bass by regularly harvesting the bluegills. Furthermore, as long as the fish are reproducing naturally in the pond, this rule will hold true . . . regardless of what species are added or substituted. So although it may be more challenging to pursue the larger fish, you'll find that the key to maintaining a balanced population is to harvest a far greater proportion of panfish than predators.

Alternative species, therefore, may be predators (occupying a niche corresponding to that of the largemouth bass) or panfish (filling the role of the bluegill). There is also a third possibility: the addition of forage species—fish intended not for human consumption but as a supplement to the predator's diet—into the system. With this basic farm pond scheme in mind, let's start at the top of the food chain.

brian tucker
9/4/2008 7:18:21 PM

I have a farm pond and I am having big problems with alge! It is stocked with bluegil and bass. My question is, if I increase the amount of current going through the pond to clear up the alge will this harm my fish in any way?? I talked to a few people about my alge problem and have been told things like a fountain, a suction drain, and the increased current!! And the increase in current seems to be my best bet, but no one can tell me if this will affect the fish and I really dont want to exparament with my fish's well being!! Please advise me on the best route to take!! Thank you, Brian Tucker






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