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SRAC Publication No.


February 2006

Managing Hatch Rate and

Diseases in Catfish Eggs
Brian C. Small1
Managing egg diseases and lication. The focus here is on development. The age or develop-
improving hatch rates in channel improving hatch rates and man- mental stage of the embryo can be
catfish hatcheries requires good aging common egg diseases. a significant factor in managing
husbandry and continuous atten- for disease. Stress can be more
tion to detail. The optimal health Understanding catfish harmful at early developmental
of developing embryos is best embryo development stages and can result in poor sur-
ensured with healthy broodfish, a vival. Understanding the progres-
good environment, limited han- The most productive method of sion of development is important
dling, and isolation from patho- producing catfish fingerlings is to for improving hatch rates, and
gens. Prevention should be consid- transfer eggs to a hatchery after estimating the age of catfish eggs
ered the first line of defense when spawning (Fig. 1). The manage- helps when planning chemical
managing egg disease and sur- ment techniques discussed in this treatments.
vival. publication focus on production
systems with dedicated hatch- The time it takes for catfish eggs
Simple management strategies, eries for incubating eggs. In these to hatch depends on water tem-
such as disinfecting the hatchery systems, spawning containers perature. Channel catfish typically
before the hatchery season, hav- (Fig. 2) are often checked every spawn in the spring, when water
ing separate nets and equipment day to every 3 days, so that eggs temperatures are between 70 and
for each hatching trough, disin- are collected at various stages of 84 °F (21 and 29 °C). At these
fecting hands, disinfecting egg
masses before bringing them into
the hatchery, and using a
pathogen-free water supply, help
prevent the introduction of infec-
tious pathogens into the hatchery.
The goals of a good hatchery man-
agement program should be to
prevent disease and provide the
optimal environment for embryo
development and survival.
Specific information on hatchery
management and water quality
can be found in the SRAC publica-
tions listed at the end of this pub-

USDA-ARS Catfish Genetics Research
Unit, Thad Cochran National Warmwater
Aquaculture Center, Stoneville, Mississippi Figure 1. Commercial channel catfish hatchery.
nings of a catfish fry) can be
observed (Fig. 4b). If eggs less
than 24 hours old are moved from
a pond to hatchery water of a sub-
stantially different temperature,
they must be acclimated to pre-
vent a high mortality rate.
If the water temperature of the
pond, transport container, and
hatchery differ more than 5 to
7 °F (2 to 3 °C), eggs should be
water-tempered for 15 to 20 min-
utes for each 5 °F (2 °C) of differ-
ence. Eggs can be tempered by
using a hose to slowly run hatch-
ery water into the transport con-
tainer until the water temperature
in the container matches that in
the hatchery. The optimal temper-
ature range for incubating catfish
eggs is 78 to 82 °F (26 to 28 °C).
Figure 2. Recently spawned channel catfish egg mass in spawning container. At temperatures above and below
this range, hatch rates will be
temperatures, the time from x 4 inches deep (20 cm x 41 cm x reduced by egg death and disease
spawn to hatch is 5 to 10 days 10 cm). Egg masses should not (Fig. 5).
(Fig. 3). The exact time of spawn- overlap substantially. Over-crowd-
ing usually is not known, so the ing causes poor water circulation Transport delays
age of eggs must be estimated and makes it easier for diseases to On larger farms, difficult logistics
visually. Figure 4 illustrates how transfer between egg masses. may cause eggs to sit in spawning
to estimate egg age at 78 °F cans at the pond side or in trans-
(26 °C) based on visual observa- Temperature port containers on vehicles for pro-
tions of embryo development. You Temperature is an important envi- longed periods of time. Eggs
will need to adjust for tempera- ronmental factor that affects egg should not be left on the pond
ture using the relationship in development, hatch rates and dis- bank for more than 15 to 30 min-
Figure 3 as a reference. ease susceptibility. Newly utes because long transport times
spawned eggs are more sensitive and poor water conditions during
Preventing egg death to temperature changes than eggs transport (e.g., temperature and
The factors that can cause dead more than 24 hours old, in which dissolved oxygen) result in egg
eggs (eggs that have stopped devel- the embryonic outline (the begin- death. In fact, it has been reported
oping) include excessive handling,
overcrowding, high temperature, 24
water hardness, and transport
delays. Important hatchery water 22
quality parameters are reviewed in 20
SRAC Publication No. 461, and
degassing is reviewed in SRAC 18
Time to hatch (days)

Publication No. 191.

Excessive handling 14
Embryos in the early development 12
stages are sensitive to handling
and should be handled as little as 10
possible to prevent mechanical
injury. 8

Many factors affect the maximum
loading rate a hatchery can sus- 2
tain. Generally, 1 to 2 pounds 55 60 65 70 75 80 85 90 95
(0.45 to 0.9 kg) of egg mass can be Water temperature (oF)
incubated in a single hatching bas-
ket 8 inches wide x 16 inches long Figure 3. Effect of water temperature on time to hatch for channel catfish
that egg masses left unprotected in should be turned over periodically Managing disease
cans on the pond bank for 30 min- in the hatching basket and inspect-
utes have up to 25 percent lower ed for fungus and bacteria. This More serious than dead eggs
hatch rates than eggs transported should be done at least twice themselves is the fact that they
quickly. daily, but no more than four times are often attacked by disease
daily, until hatching begins. pathogens that can then spread
If transport time may exceed 30 quickly to adjacent live eggs.
minutes, eggs should be put in
insulated containers with well-oxy-
genated water (> 5 ppm dissolved
oxygen). Fill transport containers
with pond water to help prevent
shock caused by differences in
water quality and temperature.
When the quality of pond and
hatchery water is significantly dif-
ferent, be sure to temper the eggs
by slowly exchanging the transport
container water with hatchery
Water hardness A: Egg age: 1 hour B: Egg age: 1 day
Color: pale yellow Color: pale yellow
The calcium component of water
Fry: not visible Fry: outline visible
hardness plays an important role in
catfish fry development. Hatch
rates from eggs incubated in water
with less than 10 ppm calcium
hardness during the first 24 hours
after spawning are reduced by as
much as 70 percent. Low calcium
hardness during later stages of
development can cause up to a 25
percent reduction in hatch rates.
For this reason, it is important to
maintain adequate calcium hard-
ness in the hatchery water—a mini-
mum of 20 ppm, especially during A: Egg age: 2 to 3 days B: Egg age: 4 to 5 days
the first 24 hours after spawning. Color: yellow Color: orange-red
During periods of low calcium con- Fry: distinct Fry: eyed
centration, as when a metering Figure 4. Development of channel catfish fry at 78 °F (26 °C).
pump fails, newly spawned eggs
(less than 24 hours old) can be left
in the pond an extra day or a calci-
um chloride solution can be added
to hatching troughs designated for 100
new spawns.
Relative hatch rate (%)

Removing dead eggs
Regardless of the cause of death, 80
dead eggs should be removed to
prevent disease outbreaks. Live
eggs are transparent and progress 70
from a pale yellow to an
orange–red color as they mature. 60
Dead eggs are often difficult to
identify during the first day or two
after spawning. But by the third
day, dead eggs typically appear
opaque and colorless. Some dead 40
eggs also may be enlarged. When 55 60 65 70 75 80 85 90 95
dead eggs are observed, they can
be removed by hand, being careful Water temperature (oF)
not to damage nearby live eggs. Figure 5. Effect of water temperature on channel catfish hatch rate.
Egg masses older than 24 hours
Once a disease outbreak has obtaining and using drugs and masses, the eggs should be placed
begun, it can quickly get out of chemicals in aquaculture can be in a quarantine trough during treat-
control. acquired through the FDA’s Center ment.
for Veterinary Medicine Environmental factors. Tempera-
Disease-causing organisms ( ture and water quality affect not
Bacterial and fungal infections are htm), which regulates the manufac- only the development and survival
the primary threats to catfish eggs. turing, distribution, and use of ani- of catfish embryos in the egg, but
Bacterial infections most often mal drugs. also the effectiveness and potential
occur when hatchery water tem- Biological, environmental and toxicity of chemical therapeutants.
perature is higher than 82 °F (28 physical factors all play a role in However, this is generally not a
°C) and when hatching baskets the effectiveness of chemical treat- problem over the range of water
are overcrowded. Bacterial egg rot ments and must be considered temperatures normally maintained
appears as a milky white patch, when developing a strategy for in catfish hatcheries.
often seen on the underside and in managing egg disease. Each hatch- The organic load in the water sys-
the middle of the egg mass. This ery is unique in its design, its tem is another environmental fac-
patch of bacteria will contain dead source and quality of water, its tor that can affect chemical treat-
and deteriorating eggs. It should capacity, and its management. ments. High concentrations of
be carefully removed, along with Visiting other hatcheries to discuss organics in hatchery water systems
the surrounding dead eggs. their disease management strate- should be avoided because they
Fungus is more prevalent at lower gies is a good way to gather help- provide a food source for patho-
temperatures, usually 78 °F (26 °C) ful information. The following gens and may increase diseases in
and below. It rapidly attacks infer- information on chemical treatment the hatchery. High levels of organ-
tile and dead eggs. Fungal infec- methods is based on research, ics also can reduce the effective-
tions are easy to spot; they appear experience, and personal commu- ness of chemical disinfectants such
as white or brown cotton-like nications with hatchery managers as formalin and hydrogen peroxide.
growths made up of many small and Extension specialists.
Physical factors. Water flow rates
filaments. If left untreated, these Biological factors. The primary and volume largely determine how
filaments can invade and kill adja- biological factor to consider in chemical treatments will be admin-
cent healthy eggs, expanding to treating eggs is the developmental istered and how effective they will
cover the entire egg mass and stage of the embryo (egg age). be. When determining the concen-
potentially every egg mass in the Many studies have been conducted tration of a disinfectant, the exact
hatching trough. Mechanically to determine the effects of treating volume of water being treated
removing dead and infected eggs eggs at various stages of develop- must be known. If eggs are to be
can be time consuming, but is ben- ment. In general, the egg is a very treated as a bath in the hatching
eficial. Chemical control of fungal protective environment for the troughs, the rate of water flow
infections is quite effective. developing catfish embryo and through the trough must be known
chemical treatments will be safe if to determine how long to expose
Chemical disinfection they are made at the correct con- the eggs to the chemical solution.
Regular disinfection of eggs with centration and are of the correct
duration and frequency. However, Turning off the water for bath treat-
approved chemical disinfectants is ments can be very risky, with mil-
a common practice in most com- newly hatched fry are vulnerable
to chemical disinfectants. lions of eggs possibly lost if water
mercial catfish hatcheries. The use flow is not restored. It is safer to
of drugs and chemicals for disin- Many treatment guidelines suggest conduct flush treatments by adding
fecting eggs in aquaculture facili- treating until the “eyed” egg stage, the chemical to the trough with
ties is regulated by various federal the time when eye pigmentation continuous water flow. The rate of
and state agencies. Treatments (black eye spots) can be observed water flow through the hatching
must be effective, safe and cost without magnification (Fig. 4d). trough will dictate whether the
efficient. There are four options for Since not all the eggs in a mass, chemical concentration must be
the legal use of chemotherapeu- and certainly not all the eggs in a increased or decreased. Most rec-
tants in the United States: 1) The hatching trough, are at the same ommendations for disinfecting cat-
chemical has been approved by the developmental stage, some eggs fish eggs suggest that the eggs be
FDA; 2) The chemical is the subject may begin hatching shortly after exposed to a treatment for 15 min-
of an Investigational New Animal most of the eggs appear eyed. utes at a given concentration.
Drug (INAD) exemption; 3) The Stopping treatments at the eyed During flush treatments, faster flow
chemical has been determined by stage is good practice because the rates must be compensated for by
the FDA to be of low regulatory risk of killing hatched fry typically increasing the chemical concentra-
priority; or (4) The chemical is not exceeds the risk of disease at this tion, while slower flow rates require
a low regulatory priority, but regu- late stage of development. The a reduction in the concentration of
latory action has been deferred exception is when disease has over- chemical used.
pending the outcome of ongoing whelmed the egg mass. When try-
research. More information on ing to salvage severely diseased egg There are many opinions as to how
long and how often eggs should be
treated. Treatments that are too peroxide). Hydrogen peroxide is infections. Povidone iodine is,
short or infrequent will not kill extremely caustic in its concen- however, a very good preliminary
the disease-causing pathogen, but trated form and can be purchased disinfectant to use when transfer-
treatments that are too long or too as 3 percent, 35 percent and 50 ring eggs from the pond to the
frequent may be toxic to the eggs. percent solutions. The most practi- hatchery. Bathing new egg masses
In both cases, hatch rates will be cal concentration for use as a for 10 minutes in a 100-ppm
unacceptably low. A good hatch- chemical disinfectant is the 35 iodine solution before adding
ery manager will use the guide- percent solution, which often can them to communal hatching
lines below as a starting point and be purchased in 55-gallon quanti- troughs can substantially reduce
adjust treatment methods accord- ties. The effectiveness of hydrogen the transfer of pathogens from the
ingly. peroxide appears to be affected by pond to the hatchery and may
temperature; toxicity may be a improve hatch rates by as much
Chemical disinfectants problem at higher temperatures. as 10 percent when used with
Formalin. Formalin is an FDA- When hatchery water temperature daily treatments of either forma-
approved drug for the control of is 78 °F (26 °C), a daily 15-minute lin or hydrogen peroxide.
fungi on fish eggs. Some formalin bath of 250 ppm active hydrogen Povidone iodine should not be
products are available under the peroxide (715 ppm of 35 percent used on catfish eggs with visible
trade names Formalin-F® (Natchez hydrogen peroxide) is as effective eye spots.
Animal Supply Co.), Paracide-F® as formalin for disinfecting eggs Copper sulfate. Copper sulfate is
(Argent Laboratories, Inc.), and and improving hatch rates. It is currently considered an investiga-
Parasite-S® (Western Chemical, important to note, however, that tional new animal drug (INAD),
Inc.). The maximum concentration twice as much hydrogen peroxide and regulatory action has been
for disinfecting catfish eggs is 2000 at this temperature is toxic to deferred pending the outcome of
ppm for 15 minutes as a flush treat- eggs. At cooler temperatures, ongoing research. The FDA’s
ment. Under typical hatchery con- hydrogen peroxide is less toxic Center for Veterinary Medicine
ditions, with an average of one vol- and higher concentrations are awards exemptions to allow for
ume exchange every 45 to 60 min- more effective. Recommended the purchase, shipment and use
utes, 2000 ppm can be toxic to hydrogen peroxide treatments are of investigational new animal
channel catfish eggs. In most hatch- presented in Table 1. drugs so that data about their
eries, fungus can be controlled by Povidone iodine. Povidone effectiveness and safety can be
treating with 100 ppm formalin for iodine is also an aquaculture drug collected. Data in support of cop-
15 minutes as a bath treatment. of low regulatory priority. per sulfate as an egg disinfectant
Turn the water off during treat- Povidone iodine compounds can is currently being collected for
ment, but leave the paddles turning be used to disinfect catfish eggs in use in the drug approval process.
or air flowing from airstones. Flush a solution of 100 ppm for 10 min- Preliminary data suggest that cop-
completely with fresh water when utes. Daily iodine treatments are per sulfate is an effective disinfec-
treatment time has elapsed. For not as effective as daily formalin tant for controlling fungal infec-
flush treatments, concentrations treatments for controlling fungal tions of catfish eggs when used as
between 100 and 400 ppm formalin
have been successful at tempera-
tures of 75 to 86 °F (24 to 30 °C). Table 1. Recommended volumes of formalin and hydrogen peroxide
Hatch rates tend to improve when for use as flush treatments to disinfect channel catfish eggs in a
formalin treatments are adminis- hatching trough containing 100 gallons of water.
tered twice daily. Recommended
formalin treatments are presented Milliliters (fluid ounces)
in Table 1. Formalin
Hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen Water flow (37% formaldehyde Hydrogen peroxide
peroxide is currently an aquacul- (GPM) solution) (35% solution)
ture drug of low regulatory priori- 1.0 10 (0.3) 40 (1.4)
ty according to the FDA. It is
expected that hydrogen peroxide 2.0 30 (1.0) 75 (2.5)
will eventually be approved by the 3.0 50 (1.7) 110 (3.7)
FDA as a new animal drug and
that the label will include the 4.0 70 (2.4) 150 (5.1)
treatment of catfish eggs. As a 5.0 90 (3.0) 190 (6.4)
drug of low regulatory priority,
hydrogen peroxide can be used to 6.0 110 (3.7) 225 (7.6)
control fungi on all life stages of Chemical volumes are provided as starting points and may require adjustment for unique
fish, including eggs, at concentra- hatchery conditions. Recommended treatment frequency is twice a day for formalin and once
tions of 250 to 500 ppm active a day for hydrogen peroxide. DO NOT treat eggs that are hatching.
ingredient (100 percent hydrogen
a once or twice daily 15-minute 8. Be familiar with the laws regu- Steeby, J. and J. Avery. 2005.
bath treatment at concentrations of lating the use of chemical disin- Channel Catfish Broodfish
2.5 to 10 ppm. Higher concentra- fectants. Selection and Hatchery
tions of copper sulfate have been 9. Treat catfish eggs daily with an Management. SRAC
found to reduce hatch rates and approved chemical disinfectant Publication No. 1803. Southern
may be toxic. Crystalline copper to manage diseases and improve Regional Aquaculture Center.
sulfate should be dissolved in hatch rates. Tucker, C.S. and J.A. Steeby. 1993.
hatchery water in a separate con- A practical calcium hardness
tainer, such as a 5-gallon bucket, 10. Develop a management plan
that meets the specific needs of criterion for channel catfish
and then added as a solution to the hatchery water supplies.
hatching trough. Do not use cop- the individual hatchery.
Journal of the World
per sulfate in aluminum troughs Aquaculture Society. 24:396-401.
because it reacts with the alu- Additional resources
minum and causes the trough sur- Hargreaves, J.A. and C.S. Tucker. Tucker, C.S. and E.H. Robinson.
face to become pitted. 1999. Design and Construction 1990. Channel Catfish Farming
of Degassing Units for Catfish Book. Van Nostrand Reinhold:
General recommendations Hatcheries. SRAC Publication New York, New York.
Although many factors can cause No. 191. Southern Regional Tucker, C.S. and J.A. Hargreaves.
poor hatch rates, knowing the opti- Aquaculture Center. 2004. Biology and Culture of
mal conditions for handling and Small, B.C. 2004. Accounting for Channel Catfish. Elsevier:
hatching channel catfish eggs and water temperature during Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
following good hatchery practices hydrogen peroxide treatment Tucker, C.S. 1991. Water Quantity
will reduce problems of disease of channel catfish eggs. North and Quality Requirements for
and poor survival. American Journal of Channel Catfish Hatcheries.
Recommendations include: Aquaculture. 66:162-164. SRAC Publication No. 461.
Small, B.C., W.R. Wolters and T.D. Southern Regional Aquaculture
1. Learn to identify the general Center.
stages of embryo development Bates. 2004. Identification of a
in the egg. calcium-critical period during Walser, C.A. and R.P. Phelps. 1993.
channel catfish embryo devel- The use of formalin and iodine
2. Avoid delays and prevent water opment. Journal of the World to control Saprolegnia infec-
quality and temperature shock Aquaculture Society. 34:313- tions on channel catfish,
when transporting eggs from the 317. Ictalurus punctatus, eggs.
pond to the hatchery. Journal of Applied Aquaculture.
Small, B.C. and W.R. Wolters.
3. Disinfect egg masses with povi- 2003. Hydrogen peroxide treat- 3:269-278.
done iodine before placing them ment during egg incubation Wedemeyer, G.A. 2001. Fish
in the hatching trough. improves channel catfish Hatchery Management, 2nd
4. Maintain hatchery water tem- hatching success. North edition. American Fisheries
peratures between 78 and 82 °F American Journal of Society: Bethesda, Maryland.
(26 and 28 °C). Aquaculture. 65:314-317.
5. Avoid unnecessary handling of Small, B.C. and T.D. Bates. 2001.
eggs during the first 24 hours Effect of low-temperature
after spawning. incubation of channel catfish,
6. Do not overcrowd egg masses in Ictalurus punctatus, eggs on
the hatching baskets. development, survival and
growth. Journal of the World
7. Maintain adequate water hard- Aquaculture Society. 32:49-54.
ness (> 20 ppm) in the hatch-

SRAC fact sheets are reviewed annually by the Publications, Videos and Computer Software Steering
Committee. Fact sheets are revised as new knowledge becomes available. Fact sheets that have not
been revised are considered to reflect the current state of knowledge.

The work reported in this publication was supported in part by the Southern Regional Aquaculture Center
through Grant No. 2003-38500-12997 from the United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperative State
Research, Education, and Extension Service.