Raising Pigfish

July 2, 2017
By Damond Benningfield
Episode:

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A juvenile pigfish, popular as a bait fish. Credit: Kathryn Thompson, University of Texas Marine Science Institute

The pigfish isn’t high on anyone’s list of good eating. Even so, it’s a popular purchase along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. That’s because the pigfish makes great bait for catching spotted sea trout and other sport fish. It’s available for only a few months of the year, though, and its popularity as a bait fish could lead to a decline in its numbers. So researchers are testing ways to grow the fish in tanks.

The typical adult pigfish reaches a length of about nine inches. But it’s the juveniles that are so popular. They’re a few inches long, which makes them a perfect size for bait. And bait shops stock up on them. By one estimate, stores in one small region -- around Port Aransas, Texas -- sell as many as 400,000 during the summer.

Over the last few years, though, scientists have been looking into growing pigfish commercially. In fact, researchers at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute are studying the possibility right now. The fish are a good candidate for aquaculture because they don’t need big tanks, they can handle a wide range of environmental conditions, and they reach market size in just a few months.

The researchers are raising pigfish in indoor tanks. They’re trying different kinds of feed, along with different temperatures and other conditions. When they’re done, the technical know-how will be turned over to fish farmers, who can add a new product to their business -- perhaps leading to abundant supplies for American anglers, while preserving the little fish in the wild.

This episode of Science and the Sea was made possible by Texas Sea Grant.