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Aqum2rlrural Engitreering 14 1I995 i 15-27 0 199-IElsevier Science Limited Printed in Great Britain. All rights reserved 01-I-l-~60Y/Y.i/SY.50 + 0.


Daytime Mechanical Water Circulation of Channel Catfish Ponds

Craig S. Tucker* & James A. Steeby
Mississippi State University. Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Delta Branch Experiment Station, Stoneville, Mississippi 38776, USA (Received 5 June 1993; accepted 10 December 1993)

ABSTRACT The effect of midday mechanical water circulation on water quality and production of channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) was studied in six, I-62-ha, l-m average depth, earthen ponds. Ponds were stocked in spring 1990 and 1991 with 14800 fingerling charmel catjishlha; fish were harvested in late fall and winter each year. A horizontal, axial-flow, 2*24kW water circulator was placed in three ponds and nm for 6-S h daily during each of the two_summer growing seasons. Relati1.e to ponds without circulators, midday water temperatures arld dissoh*ed oxygen concentrations varied little with depth, demonstrating that circulators effectively mixed pond waters. Circulation did not reduce the incidence of critically low nighttime dissolved oxygen concentrations (P > 0.05), but reduced the total hours of supplemental aeration required to support fish production by a factor of 0,58. Phytoplankton abundance, total and un-ionized ammonia-nitrogen concentrations, and nitrite-nitrogen concentrations were unaffected by circrrlation ( P < O-05). Overall net fish production averaged 7640 kg/ha per year in circulated ponds and 7970 kg/ha per year in uncircrdated ponds; the means did not differ (P > O-05). Although the reduction in aerator use in circulated ponds was impressive, power cost savings for aeration were largel? ofiyet b? cost of daily circulator operation.

INTRODUCTION Ponds used for intensive aquaculture receive large additions of feed or fertilizer to promote rapid growth of cultured animals. Plant nutrients
*To whom correspondence should he addressed Center. P.O. Box 197, Stoneville, MS 33776. USA. 15 at: Delta Research and Extension


C. S. Tucker, J. A. Steeby

derived from those additions stimulate the development of dense phytoplankton communities that absorb, scatter, and reflect light. The resultant rapid attenuation of light intensity can cause pronounced vertical gradients of water temperature and dissolved oxygen during daylight periods of low vertical mixing rates. It is generally assumed that poorly mixed conditions are undesirable in aquaculture ponds (Rogers & Fast, 1988; Rogers, 1989; Boyd, 1990; Avnimelech et al., 1992) and mechanical devices to circulate and mix pond waters have been used in some systems in attempts to improve conditions for aquaculture. Most of the previous studies of circulation devices in warmwater aquaculture have been conducted in relatively deep ( > 2 m) fish ponds or in shallow (0.7-l-5 m) shrimp ponds. Deep ponds benefit from artificial circulation by disruption of stable thermal and chemical stratification. In essence, circulation increases the mixed depth relative to the euphotic depth, and the total dissolved oxygen supply in ponds is increased. More habitat is thus made available to the cultured animals and the probability of dangerous overturns is decreased (Quintero & Garton, 1973; Busch et al., 1978). Shallow ponds used for shrimp culture normally do not develop stable thermal stratification, but artificial circulation is generally believed to be beneficial and has become a common practice (Boyd, 1990; Hirono, 1992). Circulation increases dissolved oxygen concentrations at the sediment-water interface which may increase rates of bacteria-mediated processes (such as organic matter decomposition and ammonia oxidation) and generally improve sediment conditions (Avnimelech er nl., 1992). Those effects are felt to be especially important during culture of bottom-dwelling animals such as shrimp (Fast et al., 1988; Clifford, 1992). Most channel catfish (Zctalurus punctutus) are cultured in shallow levee-type ponds (Tucker & Robinson, 1990) that are physically similar to typical shrimp-culture ponds. Also, pond water quality dynamics, including dissolved oxygen budgets, are grossly similar in channel catfish and shrimp ponds at comparable culture intensities. Channel catfish are not, however, restricted to a bottom-dwelling existence as are shrimp, so it is difficult to infer the benefits of artificial water circulation in catfish culture. This study was therefore undertaken to evaluate the effects of daytime mechanical water circulation on water quality and fish production characteristics in channel catfish ponds. MATERIALS AND METHODS

This study was conducted in 1990 and 1991 using six ponds at the Mississippi State University, Delta Research and Extension Center at

Dayime mechanical water circulation


Stoneville, Mississippi, Ponds were of the levee type, constructed on alluvial clay soils of the Yazoo Basin of the Mississippi River flood plain, and were 1.62 ha in area and 1.0-m average depth. Water was supplied from a well drilled into a dolomitic limestone gravel aquifer. Periodic additions of groundwater were made only to replace evaporation and seepage losses. Fingerling channel catfish (30-g average weight) were stocked into recently filled ponds in April 1990 and 1991 at 14 800 fish/ha. From April through November fish were fed a commercial, 32% crude protein floating catfish feed to near satiation daily. Fish were harvested in November through January following each production cycle by seining and complete pond drawdown. During harvest periods, fish in unharvested ponds were fed a maintenance ration of a 32% crude protein sinking catfish feed twice weekly at a rate of 1% of estimated fish biomass. From April through November dissolved oxygen concentrations were measured in all ponds at dawn, in late afternoon, and several times each night. Routine measurements were made about 30 cm beneath the surface with a polarographic oxygen meter. Each pond was equipped with a 7.5kW, electric paddlewheel aerator which was used when dissolved oxygen concentrations fell below 2-3 mg/liter. Most episodes of supplemental aeration occurred during nighttime and aeration was discontinued after dawn-(usually between 0600 and 0800 h) when rates of photosynthetic oxygen production became sufficient to raise dissolved oxygen concentrations above 2-3 mg/liter. Prior to filling ponds in spring 1990, a horizontal, axial-flow water circulator (Figs 1 and 2) was installed in the deepest end of three randomly selected ponds. Howerton et al. (1993) provide a complete description of the fabrication, power requirements, and discharge rates of this device. Briefly, the circulator consisted of a 122-cm long, 92-cm diameter metal casing with a flared entrance to streamline water flow into the casing. Two bearing housings were mounted near the ends of the casing on metal braces. A 127-cm long, 3+3-cm diameter steel drive shaft ran through the bearings down the center axis of the casing. Six 60 x 37-cm metal stabilizer surfaces were positioned in the rear half of the casing to streamline discharge flow. Three fan blade units (Grainger catalog no. 3C379, Grainger Co., Montgomery, Alabama, USA) were mounted in series on a hub near the front end of the drive shaft. Each fan blade unit was 76 cm in diameter with six 15cm wide blades set at 25C. A 2+24-kW, 230-volt, 90-rpm gearmotor was mounted on a platform above the casing. A 40-tooth, 3.8 l-cm pitch sprocket was attached to the gearmotor shaft and connected to a 30-tooth sprocket on the circulator shaft with a single strand no. 60 roller chain, providing a circulator shaft


C. S. Tucker, 1. A. Sreeby

Fig. 1.

Axial-flow water circulator.

speed of 120 rpm. This combination of shaft speed, number of fan units, and fan blade configuration provided a water discharge of 45 m3/min at a power requirement of l-8 kW (Howerton et al., 1993). Circulators were installed in the three ponds by securing adjustable legs on the circulator casing to a wood platform constructed on the pond bottom. Circulators were placed in a comer of each pond, about 30 m from the short bank and 14 m from the long bank, and were positioned to direct the discharge down the long bank, which ran east-west (Fig. 3). Circulators were operated 6-8 h each day (0800-0900 h to 1400-1600 h) from 18 June through 15 October in 1990 and from 30 April through 18 September in 199 1. Circulators remained in the same three ponds both years. During the periods of circulator operation, water samples were collected biweekly from all six ponds for measurement of total and unionized ammonia, nitrite, and chlorophyll a concentrations. Each sample consisted of four subsamples taken 20 cm beneath the surface, 5 m from the bank in each corner of. the pond. Analyses were initiated within 30 mm of collection. The following procedures were used for analysis: chlorophyll n by extraction into chloroform-methanol followed by spectroscopy (Lloyd & Tucker, 1988); total ammonia by the phenate method

Daytime mechanical water circulation Gear Motor

Motor Platform Water Level


Fan Blade Units

Fig. 2.

Side view, line drawing of the axial-flow circulator. Arrows show water flow.

/ A I( Sampling Station



Fig. 3. Pond layout showing location of circulator, aerators, and dissolved oxygen sampling stations in a typical uncirculated pond (left) and circulated pond (right). Arrow shows direction of discharge flow from circulator.

(American Public Health Association et nl., 1989); un-ionized ammonia by calculation from total ammonia concentration, mid-afternoon pH, and mid-afternoon water temperature using constants for ammonia ionization in Emerson et al. (1975); and nitrite by diazotization (American Public Health Association et al., 1989). In June through September 1991, biweekly measurements of nearsurface (about 10 cm) and near-bottom (about 90 cm) dissolved oxygen


C. S. Tucker, J. A. Steeby

concentration and water temperature were made at midday ( 1300-1400 h) in all ponds. Measurements were made at two locations in each pond (Fig. 3) with a polarographic dissolved oxygen meter equipped with a thermistor. Water circulators experienced several mechanical failures in both years, with repairs requiring l-7 days to complete. If a circulator failed in a pond, those in the other ponds were operated as usual; however, water quality data for all ponds (circulated and uncirculated) collected during periods of downtime were not included in the data sets used for statistical comparison. Overall, 2-year treatment means were compared using analysis of variance (SAS Institute, Inc., 1985).

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION Circulators were positioned to discharge water from west to east to take advantage of prevailing light westerly breezes characteristic of summertime conditions in west Mississippi. Under those conditions, or on calm days, circulators appeared to create water movement over most of the pond area within an hour of circulator operation. When breezes from the East opposed circulator discharge, mixing was increasingly restricted to the western end of ponds as wind speeds increased. Quantification of the effectiveness of this circulator design in mixing water ponds is provided by Howerton et nl. (1993). Their results showed that water movement in 1*62-ha ponds is strongest near the surface and in the half of the pond area in which the circulator is located. Nevertheless, water movement did increase throughout ponds with circulators when compared to ponds without circulators. Midday near-surface and near-bottom dissolved oxygen concentrations and water temperature (averaged for the two locations in each pond) are presented in Fig. 4 for a circulated and uncirculated pond during summer, 199 1. Those data were chosen for comparison because, for a given wind speed and amount of solar radiation, the magnitude of vertical gradients of dissolved oxygen concentration and water temperature varies with phytoplankton turbidity (Boyd, 1990), and chlorophyll n concentrations were roughly comparable in those two ponds during the period of interest. Surface and bottom water temperatures never differed by more than 1C in the circulated pond and were usually within O*S Differences in C. water temperature were always greater in the uncirculated pond, although on one unusually breezy day in mid-August (marked by an arrow in Fig. 4), surface and bottom water temperature differed only by

Duyime mechanical wutercirctdatiorl

Circulated Uncirculated


Fig. 4. Average surface and bottom water temperatures and dissolved oxygen concentrations in a typical circulated and uncirculated pond during 199 1. Arrokvs indicate measurements taken on an unusually breezy day.

05C. The maximum difference in surface and bottom water temperature measured in any of the uncirculated ponds in 1991 was 4C. recorded on the first sampling date in August. That difference is roughly the same maximum temperature difference found in uncirculated Hawaiian shrimp ponds of similar depth (Fast et nl., 198s; Rogers & Fast. 19S8). The maximum temperature difference recorded in circulated ponds was l*OC. Data in FI,. 4 also indicate that near-surface 0 temperatures were lower and near bottom temperatures higher in circulated ponds than in uncirculated ponds on a given date. Average surface and bottom dissolved oxygen concentrations also were noticeably more uniform in circulated ponds than in uncirculated ponds (Fig. 4). The maximum difference between surface and bottom concentrations was never greater than 2 mg/liter in the three circulated ponds during 199 1. Concentrations often differed by 3 mg/liter in uncirculated ponds; a maximum difference of S-5 mg/liter was measured on several occasions. The magnitude of midday dissolved oxygen concentration gradients was similar to those found in uncirculated shrimp ponds (Fast er al., 1988; Rogers R: Fast, 198s). Also note that concentrations of dissolved oxygen, as with water temperature. kvere more uniform on the unusually breezy day marked in Fig. 4.


C. S. Tucker, J. A. Steeby

Artificial water circulation had no effect (P> O-05) on the average number of times that supplemental nighttime aeration was required (Table 1). Overall mean dissolved oxygen concentrations measured at dawn (normally the lowest value each day) also did not differ (P> O-05) between treatments. Circulation did, however, reduce the average total hours of nighttime supplemental aeration required per pond (PC O-05, Table 1). Based upon the criteria used to initiate and terminate supplemental aeration, the aeration data indicate that dissolved oxygen concentrations were below 2-3 mg/liter for substantially less time in circulated ponds. The reduced requirement for supplemental nighttime aeration in circulated ponds suggests that, on average, more dissolved oxygen was available to fish during nighttime hours than in uncirculated ponds. Such a change in pond oxygen budgets is possible if inputs (photosynthesis or gas transfer from the atmosphere) are increased or if losses (community respiration or gas transfer to the atmosphere) are decreased by daytime circulation. Circulation could not substantially increase oxygen inputs by gas transfer because circulators were not designed to significantly increase the area of the air-water interface and were operated during midday periods when dissolved oxygen concentrations normally were
TABLE 1 Comparison of Average Supplemental Aeration Requirements and Dawn (a.m.) and Late Afternoon (p.m.) Dissolved Oxygen Concentrations in Uncirculated (Control) and Circulated Channel Catfish Ponds. Aeration Events are the Average Number of Times that Supplemental Aeration was Required per Pond. Aeration Hours are the Average Total Hours of Supplemental Aeration per Pond Variable Aeration events Control Circulated Aeration hours Control Circulated Dissolved oxygen (a.m., mg/liter) Control Circulated Dissolved oxygen (p.m., mg/liter) Control Circulated 1990 1991 0 verall

61 37 414 187 3.6 3-g 11.3 11.7

60 51 497 342 3.7 4.0

10-l 10.1

61a 44a 456a 265b 3.7a 3.9a 10.6a lO$a to the

uOverall means followed by the same letter did not differ (1 >0+05) according analysis of variance.

Daytime mechanical water circulation


near or above saturation concentrations. Increases in net dissolved oxygen available to fish must therefore be attributable to other factors. Net dissolved oxygen availability will increase if photosynthetic oxygen production (gross primary production) increases relative to oxygen used in community respiration. Mixing has been shown to increase gross primary production in some aquaculture systems by transporting nutrients derived from microbial processing of organic material at the sediment-water interface into the euphotic zone (Schroeder, 1987). In shallow catfish ponds, where high allochthonous nutrientloading rates make primary production light-limited rather than nutrient-limited (Tucker & van der Ploeg, 1993). it is doubtful if mixing of sediment-derived inorganic nutrients would increase autotrophic primary production. The lack of significant differences (P> 0.05) in average late afternoon dissolved oxygen concentrations (Table 1) and phytoplankton standing crops (as indicated by chlorophyll a concentrations, Table 2) also suggest that photosynthetic oxygen production was not increased by circulation. Investigations in other shallow, eutrophic aquaculture ponds also failed to demonstrate a stimulatory effect of vertical mixing on phytoplankton production (Costa-Pierce & Laws, 1985).

TABLE 2 Comparison of Selected Water Quality Variables in Uncirculated (Control) and Circulated Channel Catfish Culture Ponds. Values are Averages of Biweekly Analyses of Samples Collected during July through October. Un-ionized Ammonia Values were Calculated from Mid-afternoon Measurements of pH and Water Temperature
Variable 1990 1991 Overall

Chlorophyll a (pg/liter) Control Circulated Total ammonia (mg N/liter) Control Circulated Un-ionized ammonia (mg N/liter) Control Circulated Nitrite (mg N/liter) Control Circulated

301 324 0.78 0.43 0.12 0.08 0.16 0.08

361 368 1.05 O-86 0.02 0.02


333a 347a 0.93a 0.66a 0.06a 0.04a 0.19a 0.15a to the


Overall means followed by the same letter did not differ (I 0.05) according > analysis of variance.


C. S. Tucker, J. A. Steeby

Reduction of community respiration rates, independent of effects on gross primary production, would also result in improved dissolved oxygen conditions. There is no reason to assume, however, that circulation decreases respiration rates of any component of the pond community. On the contrary, circulation may increase oxygen consumption by improving conditions for organic matter decomposition at the sediment-water interface (Avnimelech ef al., 1992). The increased availability of dissolved oxygen in circulated ponds likely results from decreased loss of oxygen from surface waters during supersaturated conditions that often occurred during the afternoon. Dissolved oxygen produced at the surface during periods of intense photosynthetic activity presumably was mixed into deeper waters and conserved for nighttime use (Busch et al., 1978; Szyper & Lin, 1990). Although average late afternoon surface dissolved oxygen concentrations (Table 1) did not differ between treatments, data in Fig. 4 clearly show that afternoon dissolved oxygen concentrations were more uniform with depth in circulated ponds. Thus, more total dissolved oxygen was available for nighttime use by fish. Mean concentrations of total ammonia-nitrogen, un-ionized ammonia-nitrogen, and nitrite-nitrogen did not differ (P> O-05) between treatments (Table 2). There is evidence from small-scale experimental systems that circulation combined with effective aeration can decrease ammonia accumulation in water by providing better conditions for nitrification at the sediment-water interface (Avnimelech et al., 1986, 1992). Apparently the improvement in dissolved oxygen availability provided by circulation in the present study was not sufficient to affect nitrogen transformations. Circulation and the level of supplemental aeration (about 4 kW/ha, or roughly the same as commonly used in most commercial channel catfish ponds) did not prevent frequent episodes of low dissolved oxygen concentrations, conditions known to inhibit development of efficient populations of nitrifying bacteria (Diab et al., in press). Despite the improved nighttime availability of dissolved oxygen, overall mean fish production and feed conversion efficiency were not improved (P> O-05) in circulated ponds (Table 3). This finding was unexpected based on other studies of the relationships among dissolved oxygen concentrations, aeration, and channel catfish production characteristics in ponds (Hollerman & Boyd, 1980; Lai-fa & Boyd, 1988; Thumforde & Boyd, 1991). Average fish production was quite good, so it is possible that supplemental aeration alone prevented degradation of environmental conditions to a point sufficient to have a substantial adverse affect on growth of channel catfish. Also, personnel responsible

Duyritrze tnechutkd

wuter circdution


TABLE 3 Average Net Fish Production (Harvest Weight Minus Stocking Weight) and Feed Conversion Efficiency (kg Feed Offered + kg Net Fish Production) in Uncirculated (Control) and Circulated Channel Catfish Ponds

Net fish production (ko/ha) = Control Circulated Feed conversion efficiency Control Circulated

6205 6683 1.77 1.76

SO19 6957 1.71 I41

7117a 6820a 1.7Ja 1.7Sa to the

Overall means followed by the same letter did not differ (P> 0.05) according analysis of variance.

for feeding fish reported some difficulty in judging fish feeding response in circulated ponds. Currents produced by the circulator quickly swept feed away from the feeding area making it difficult to determine the proper feed allowance. It is possible that this adversely affected production in circulated ponds. Of course, if this is a problem, circulators can be turned off while fish are being fed. The reduction in aerator use and corresponding improvement in dissolved oxygen conditions argue for the use of mechanical daytime circulation in channel catfish ponds. Nevertheless, use of this technology cannot be unequivocally recommended for commercial use because net fish production and feed conversion efficiency were not improved. Further, power cost savings due to decreased aerator use were substantially offset by long-term circulator operation. Based on the nominal po\ver requirement for aerators (7.5 kW) and circulators (l-8 kW), the average overall power use per pond over the Z-year study period was 6S10 kWh for uncirculated ponds and 6144 kWh (3975 kWh for aeration plus 2169 kWh for circulation) in the circulated ponds. Thus, little savings accrue from use of the circulator, particularly if electricity costs are discounted during late-night, off-peak hours when most supplemental aeration is used. Of course, use of daytime circulation for shorter periods of time each day or use of circulators with lower power requirements (Rogers & Fast, 1988) might improve savings. Also, benefits of daytime circulation would probably be improved in deeper ponds that experience greater vertical gradients in water quality than the ponds used in the present study. Species other than channel catfish. which are relatively tolerant of periodic, low dissolved oxygen concentrations, may also show more benefit from daytime circulation of culture ponds.


C. S. Tucker,J. A. Steeby

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This work was supported in part by the United States Department of Agriculture through Grant No. 88-34121-3800 and Grant No. S7CRSR-2-3218 through the Southern Regional Aquaculture Center. We thank Dave Straus, Sue Kingsbury, James Bledsoe, and Lee McIntire for technical assistance and Judy Norwood and Debbie Boykin for help with data analysis. Mention of a trademark or proprietary product does not constitute a guarantee or warranty of the product by the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and does not imply its approval to the exclusion of other products that also may be suitable.

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