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Grow your own bait: Sea Grant study seeks to raise more golden shiners

In Minnesota, golden shiners require two years to grow to maturity in the wild, and the state’s long, cold winters make raising them commercially for bait in natural ponds challenging.

Golden shiner 2.jpg
Golden shiners are a relatively small baitfish that reach a maximum size of about 6 inches.
Contributed / Barry Thoele, Lincoln Bait and Barry's Cherries Hydroponic Produce
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DULUTH – The University of Minnesota Sea Grant Program is exploring new ways to increase production of golden shiners, a baitfish in high demand by Minnesota anglers that’s often in short supply.

In Minnesota, golden shiners require two years to grow to maturity in the wild, and the state’s long, cold winters make raising them commercially for bait in natural ponds challenging.

“There is pressure from anglers, bait dealers, and legislators to import golden shiners from other states, though this is currently prohibited by law in Minnesota” because of disease concerns and the risk of introducing aquatic invasive species, said Don Schreiner, Minnesota Sea Grant fisheries specialist and project member.

The project from Duluth-based Sea Grant features four strategies:

  • Growing golden shiners from eggs to a market size of 3 to 4 inches in one growing season instead of the usual two, using an indoor aquaculture system that continuously filters and reuses water from the fish tanks, reducing the amount of water and space required.
  • Raising golden shiners to market size using aquaponics, a combination of aquaculture, which is growing fish and other aquatic species, and hydroponics, which is growing plants without soil. The roots of hydroponic plants function as a biofilter, stripping impurities from fish wastewater. Clean water then is circulated back into the fish tanks.
  • Raising golden shiners from egg to sac fry, fish about a half-inch to 1 inch long that are still attached to their yolk sacs. Sac fry are moved to outdoor ponds, where they feed on naturally occurring zooplankton and grow to market size over the summer before harvest in October.
  • Raising the eggs to “fryling” size and keeping them in indoor tanks, where they learn to eat progressively larger food. Feed-training can accelerate growth by 2 to 3 months over fish grown in the wild. Frylings then would be moved to outdoor ponds when they are 1 to 2 inches long to grow over the summer before being harvested in October.

The 2018 United States Department of Agriculture Aquaculture Census reported that golden shiners were the most valuable baitfish produced in the U.S., with $16.4 million in total sales and more than 3.9 million pounds sold.
The project is funded by a three-year, $188,000 grant from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.

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Trapping minnows in infested waters requires dealers to complete an online training course and follow a strict regimen of procedures in order to receive a license.

Project partners include Barry Thoele, owner of Lincoln Bait and Barry's Cherries Hydroponic Produce; Marc Tye, owner of Tye Fish Solutions; Tonny Vang, owner of Happy Fish Aquaponics; and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Section of Fisheries.

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