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Benefits Of A Well Managed Pond

By Kenneth Williams

ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF a pond can be substantial depending upon use. Over time, the pond can provide an income far in excess of construction costs. However, for many pond owners, recreation or aesthetic pleasure and not income are the prime reasons for building a pond. With knowledgeable management economic and recreational benefits can be enhanced and sustained for many years. Benefits to the pond owner or land owner considering construction of a pond include:

  • Food Production
  • Commercial Aquaculture
  • Sport Fishing
  • Fishing Leases
  • Livestock Production
  • Wildlife Habitat
  • Fire protection
  • Irrigation
  • Swimming and recreation

Food Production

A typical Oklahoma pond produces about 341 lbs of fish /acre. This average ranges from 57 lbs/acre to 931 lbs/acre With proper management, harvestable food fish production can be increased to 500 or more lbs/acre in many ponds. 

Home fish production for the table can be a fraction of the retail store cost. Small quantities of fish can be removed from the pond annually by angling at essentially no cost other than the amortized cost of pond construction and initial cost of the stocked fish. New or renovated ponds can be stocked with combinations of sport fish at no charge by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Up to 500 lbs/acre of food fish can be harvested annually if the pond is supplementally fed and fish stocks are maintained. Cost of fish from fingerling to table is less than $1.00/lb. for whole_dressed fish. (See the fact sheet titled  "Fish Gardening" for more detailed information on this topic.) For a variety of foodfish for table fare, stock combinations of channel catfish, hybrid blue gill and largemouth bass.

Channel catfish can be added to most ponds without affecting balanced fish populations if they are fed on a regular basis. This is a good fish to try if you are interested in raising fish for the home table. Do not stock channel catfish smaller than 9 - 12 inches if largemouth bass are already present in your pond. Studies show that large bass can consume up to 90% of catfish smaller than about 8 inches in ponds without adequate cover. Stocking small fingerling channel catfish in most established ponds is only providing largemouth bass with expensive fish food. Begin with low stocking densities of 100 - 300 fish per surface acre of pond to determine if food fish production is right for you. 

Fingerling catfish cost about 1 - 2 cents per inch up to 8 inch fish. Larger fish are usually sold by the pound at $1.00  -  $1.25/lb. Catfish rations are sold in 50 lb. bags at a cost of 18 -  24 cents/lb or $9 - 12.00/bag. A pond stocked with 250 catfish will cost $40 for fingerling fish. Assuming it take about 2 pounds of feed to produce a 1 lb fish over the growing season, 500 lbs. of feed at a cost of about $100 will be needed. An aquaculture permit is required in the state of Oklahoma at a cost of $10.00 annually. The total cost of production for 250 lbs. of channel catfish will be about $150 or $0.60 per lb. of live fish. Channel catfish dress out at about 60% whole dressed and 43% for fillets. At a total production of 250 lb. There will be 150 lb of whole dressed fish or 107.5 lb. of fillets for the table.

Commercial Aquaculture

Ponds that are seinable or drainable may have potential for commercial aquaculture production. Many watershed ponds have been used to raise fish for sale. Profit can range from $200 / surface acre of water or more depending on species and stocking densities. 

Small ponds are most profitable when used to raise high value fish. Fingerlings for farm pond stocking are always in demand and bring more profit per acre to the small producer than the production of commodity food or bait fish such as the channel catfish or golden shiner. Blue gill, hybrid blue gill, largemouth bass and channel catfish fingerlings have the most potential for small - scale production. Koi carp, aquarium fish and aquatic plants also can be raised profitably in many ponds.

Larger production potential can be achieved by renting suitable ponds within your local area. Rent rates should be no more than $25 - $100/ acre. A rented pond should have easy access but not of course, open to public fishing. Theft is always a possibility and that makes obscure locations best. Automatic fish feeders can be used to reduce travel frequency to rented ponds.

With sufficient ponds, commercial catfish production is possible, usually on a relatively small - scale that makes direct marketing of fish the only profitable alternative. Quantity sales can be made direct to individuals through advertising or word of mouth.

Monthly sales at a regular specified location have been proven profitable through research conducted at Langston University and by other fish farmers.

If fish farming is of interest, please see the fact sheet titled " Is Fish Farming For Me". Many question asked by potential fish farmers are answered in this publication.

Sport Fishing

Sport fishing is the most sought after benefit of most pond owners. However, many pond owners are disappointed in their catch and become frustrated or lose interest in angling. Without effective pond management, sportfishing is almost certain to decline in most ponds, Unmanaged fish ponds in Oklahoma often have few catchable fish and studies have found that some ponds may contain as few as 57 total pounds of fish in the pond.

Fish are often stunted and many undesirable species can be present. Sport fishing can be improved both in total pounds of fish caught and in size and numbers of fish caught. Sport fishing improvement is obtained by managing fish, water, nutrients and the watershed. A well managed sportfishing pond can produce 500 or more lb/acre of high quality sportfish annually if proper management strategies are followed. A new or newly renovated pond can produce catchable_sized channel catfish in one year and catchable panfish and bass in 3 years. Contact your state Fisheries Extension Specialist for detailed information about fish pond management techniques tailored to your goals.

Fishing Leases

High quality sport fish ponds offer both recreation and economic opportunity to the pond owner. Fishing leases are increasingly popular and can provide income to the land owner with the right mix of natural resources, location and management knowledge. Lakes,15 acre or larger, or numerous smaller ponds are best when considering a fishing lease enterprise.

Natural Resource Conservation flood control structures often have potential for high quality, leased fishing. Smaller specialty ponds can add variety to the catch or provide panfishing for youngsters. Camp sites, hunting, archery ranges, hiking trails and other outdoor recreational activities can be combined with leased fishing to enhance the outdoor experience and increase lease sales.

Livestock Production

Ponds are indispensable for livestock production in most areas of Oklahoma. Ponds used for livestock water supplies can be enhanced to better maintain water during periods of drought.

Drought protection is always an important topic in the south central plains and may become more so as we contend with the uncertainties of global warming climate changes. Pond water loss can be reduced by removing most large trees from pond banks, deepening the pond, particularly in areas that are less than 3 feet deep and increasing water shed area by construction of small, plowed berms. (See the fact sheet titled "Conserving Water In Ponds" for more information on this topic.)

Pond water quality can be improved to the benefit of cattle and the pond. In most situations, the pond is the only practical means of obtaining water for livestock. Cattle access restriction and watershed management can help improve water quality and prevent pond bank destruction. Keeping cattle waste out of ponds is an important step in any pond management plan. Pond access can be restricted by fencing the pond to allow cattle to water in a specific location or by providing a float - controlled watering trough below the pond.

Restricting livestock access to pond dams and levees prevents development of eroding trails. Erosion may become severe enough to breach pond dams and spillways ruining or reducing the life of the pond. 

Excessive cattle waste in ponds can reduce or prevent quality sportfishing. Cattle waste in the pond is an excessive source of nutrients for noxious algae and other plants. Aquatic plant and algal growth often becomes too dense for pleasurable angling.

Fish die-offs are likely to occur due to low oxygen levels caused by heavy algal blooms. Turbidity caused by cattle entering the pond reduces production of organisms in the aquatic food chain and limits fish production and growth of sight feeders such as largemouth bass.

Wildlife Habitat

Wildlife habitat improvements can be a part of most pond management plans. Pond wildlife can be selected for or against. Many people object to a large number of snakes near or in their ponds. Mowing pond banks and removing logs, rip rap, cattails and other debris from around the pond reduces snake habitat and reduces, but may not eliminate snake populations in the pond.

Shallow weedy areas provide food for migrating water fowl and hunting grounds for Herons and other fish stalking birds; while redwing blackbirds can be found nesting in cattail thickets bordering ponds. Grass Carp are often stocked to control aquatic vegetation, however, they compete with water fowl for food. Compromises may be necessary to promote wildlife and meet other pond management objectives. It is often possible to reduce the number of grass carp stocked and still maintain partial or adequate control of aquatic vegetation while leaving sufficient habitat for wildlife.

Turtles are sometimes considered a nuisance in ponds because it is believed that they feed upon large numbers of fish. This idea is largely a myth. Most turtle species found in Oklahoma feed mainly on aquatic vegetation and the remains of dead fish and other animals. The red eared slider is the most common turtle of our state. It can be found, sometimes in large numbers, sunning on logs in or near ponds. Sliders have little impact on fish populations and should not cause concern to pond owners. 

The snapping turtles are the most predaceous species of turtle and they do consume small fish. Their numbers are usually quite low in most ponds and do not greatly affect fish populations.

Many other species of wildlife are attracted to ponds for water, cover and the food they provide. Attention to habitat and food requirements of sought after wildlife can increase their numbers and the viewing pleasure to be obtained by the pond owner.

Fire Protection 

Fire protection is a major benefit of pond ownership for many rural residents. A pond located near a rural home may provide fire protection through construction of dry hydrants for use by fire departments. A dry hydrant near a home can reduce the cost of home insurance policies and perhaps save life in an emergency.

A gasoline powered water pump and hose near the pond also serves as a valuable fire protection tool and should be considered for any pond near the home, barn, or other structures.  

Irrigation

Ponds provide water to irrigate commercial crops, orchards and home gardens at reduced cost to the land owner when compared to costs of pumping water from deep wells or buying it from rural water districts. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board regulates surface water use in our state and they indicate that, "In the state of Oklahoma all surface water is considered the property of the state. It is different with ground water which is considered a property owner's right. For all uses of surface water other then domestic, the user must obtain a water use permit from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. Domestic use is limited to household, irrigation up to 3 acres and livestock up to the carrying capacity of the land. If the intended use is for irrigation, then you would need to apply for a permit to use surface or stream water. If you need more information on how to obtain a permit, how much they cost and regulations concerning water rights and uses the best source of information is our website: Contact the Oklahoma Water Resources Board www.owrb.state.ok.us to obtain applicable permit applications".

Swimming And Recreation

Many land owners use their ponds primarily for recreational activities, picnics, barbeques and swimming. Sand beaches for swimming are easily constructed and maintained. Livestock should not have direct access to ponds designed for swimming. Animal waste fouls water with excess nutrients and creates noxious algal blooms that detract from the desired recreational pleasures. A properly designed and managed pond can provide clean water and beaches for swimming and an attractive landscape for outdoor activities. 

Many of these benefits discussed in this article can be derived from the same pond, while some may conflict with each other; such as food fish production and pond use for a home drinking water supply. The purpose of a good pond management plan is to derive benefits desired by the land owner from the pond and maintain quality use for the life of the pond.

To learn more about getting the most benefit from your pond, contact:

Ken Williams Fisheries Extension Specialist,  The Langston University Cooperative Extension Program P.O. Box 1760 Langston, OK   73050

Phone: (405) 466-3836

email: kwilliams@luresext.edu

On-site visits and evaluations can be scheduled for people living in the state of Oklahoma.

 

 

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