"Underwater Livestock" Pays Off For South Carolina Farmer

Clay Chappell of Southland Fisheries thinks of Hybrid Bluegills as "underwater livestock" that pays off like the 4-legged variety on land.

The cross between a coppernose bluegill and a green sunfish can be sold to fish markets or to provide recreational fishing in farm ponds.

"They are voracious feeders, very hardy and tougher than bluegill or other panfish breeds. They grow a little faster, and for those who fish, they bite hooks aggressively and are an excellent table fish," Chappell says.

It's one of the breeds Southland Fisheries raises as fingerlings for customers who live within a 500-mile radius of Hopkins, S.C. The 1 to 2-in. fingerlings sell for 40 cents each and are delivered in oxygenated, insulated tanks. Typically, operators stock them at 3,000 fish/acre. Fed the right fish pellet ration, the fish are ready for harvest in about a year, at about 8 oz. each. Local markets retail the bluegill for $4.50 to $6.50/lb.

"They have done very well in the states around South Carolina. But he thinks the hybrid bluegills would also do well in colder areas after watching them continue to eat through this past winter's coldest weather when other fish went dormant.

The biggest issue with raising the hybrid bluegill is that the pond needs to be drained or sterilized every two or three years before adding a new crop of fish. Though they are hybrid, the fish are not sterile. The offspring they produce aren't suitable for food and don't grow very well "they are often cannibalized by the adults. The offspring that survive must be eliminated so they don't compete for food with a new batch of fish.

Despite that challenge, Chappell sees potential in the market.

"Until recently, there has been zero supply of bluegill for food fish and I think there's a good market for it. If you have marginal land, you can put in a pond," Chappell says. "Even from just a recreational standpoint they are good to catch and eat."