In the 5th Century B.C. in China, Fan Li described the ponds used, the selection of fish, and the breeding season of common carp, together with its sex ratio and growth rate. By the Han Dynasty (3rd Century B.C. to 3rd Century A.D.), there were further developments in the production of common carp. In the Tan Dynasty (7th –10th Century) there was a transition period from common carp culture to the rearing of grass carp, black carp, silver carp and bighead carp. From the 10th to the 12th Century, expansion in the production of these four cyprinids was even greater, and the feeding habits and relationship between the species became better known. Subsequently, there has been great progress in pond-fish culture in China from the monoculture of common carp to the polyculture of grass carp, black carp, silver carp and bighead carp.
Since the 1950s, after a breakthrough in artificial breading, the culture of silver carp, as well as other carps, has spread tremendously into most areas of China. Silver carp has long been an important cultured species in China because:
Silver carp is a freshwater species living in temperate conditions (6-28 °C) and its natural distribution is in Asia. This species requires static or slow-flowing water, as found in impoundments or the backwaters of large rivers. In its natural range, it is potamodromous, migrating upstream to breed; eggs and larvae float downstream to floodplain zones. While it is fundamentally benthopelagic, as an active species it swims just below the water surface and is well known for its habit of leaping clear of the water when disturbed.Silver carp are typical planktivores, the gillrakers being the main means of filtration. Silver carp consume diatoms, dinoflagellates, chrysophytes, xanthophytes, some green algae and cyanobacteria ('blue green algae'). In addition, detritus, conglomerations of bacteria, rotifers and small crustaceans are other major components of their natural diet. Silver carp spawn in late spring and summer, when the temperature of the water is relatively high. From April to August, either because of the rainstorms or the swollen upper reaches of streams and rivers, its broodstock are concentrated in spawning locations where conditions are favourable, and the current swift, complicated and irregular. Spawning temperature is generally between 18 ºC and 30 ºC, with an optimum of 22-28 ºC. The eggs of silver carp, like all Chinese carps, are non-adhesive. After spawning, the eggs begin to absorb water through the egg membrane and swell until its specific gravity is slightly greater than that of water, so they can stay at the bottom (in the case of static waters) or float halfway in mid-water (in flowing waters) until the fry hatch.
Good quality broodstock eligible for induced spawning are essential for seed production. Only when adults have reached 4 - 6 years old with a body weight of over 2.5 kg, as well being free from serious diseases and injuries, can they be acceptable for creating broodstock for induced spawning. Generally, broodstock are stocked by weight, at 1 500-2 250 kg/ha, with a female:male ratio of about 1:1.5.
Under artificial conditions, the pituitary glands of broodstock do not secrete sufficient hormone for their natural propagation in ponds. Artificial methods have been devised whereby such broodstock are injected with estrogenic agents such as LRH (Luteinizing Release Hormone) or LRH-A (Luteinizing Release Hormone-Analogue), fish pituitary gland (fish hypophysis), HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin), etc., so as to induce the fish to secrete its own gonadotrophic hormone, or to provide a direct substitute for this. The standard dose of the estrogenic agents varies:
The environmental factors that affect hatching rate include a water temperature range of 22-28 ºC, with an optimum of 26 ºC. If it is lower than 17 ºC or higher than 31 ºC, embryonic development will cease, or be abnormal. After the emergence of the tail buds of the embryonic stage, oxygen consumption suddenly increases to more than twice of the amount of earlier stages. By the larval stage (68 hours after hatching) oxygen consumption reaches its highest peak, equivalent to 8-10 times that of the earlier stages. High dissolved oxygen levels are therefore highly important for the development of embryos and larvae.
Running water type hatching devices (hatching jars, vats and circular hatching tanks) are all designed in accordance with the characteristics of Chinese carp eggs and in order to fulfil the requirements of embryonic development. This enhances hatching rates and the availability of fry for stocking. Commonly, the volume of a hatching jar (vat) is about 250 l and the stocking rate is 2 000/litre. Circular hatching tanks are ring-shaped tanks built of cement or brick, with a size that depends on the scale of production. Small versions have a diameter of 3-4 m, while the larger type are 8 m in diameter. The rings are 60-100 cm wide and about 90 cm deep and the tanks may hold 7-15 tonnes of water. The stocking rate is in the range of 700 000-1 200 000 eggs/m³. Such tanks are suitable for comparatively large-scale production units.
Good water quality is very important to achieve a high hatching rate. Water that has been polluted by industrial activities or pesticides should not be used for hatching purposes. Small fish, tadpoles, shrimps and copepods are all very harmful to fish eggs and larvae. The degree of injury by predators is closely connected with egg density, the predator level, and the duration of contact with them. Predators may be eliminated by capture, filtration and chemicals such as quicklime, bleaching powder, rotenone etc.
The culture of fingerlings requires special care because fry are small and delicate, their feeding ability is weak, they do not adapt well to changes in external environment, and they are not expert in avoiding predators. Therefore, well-controlled intensive systems are necessary to maximize survival rate and to produce healthy fingerlings that will lay a solid foundation for high productivity at the grow-out stage.
The nursery stage refers to the period from 3-4 day old fry to the production of fingerlings that can be stocked into the grow-out enclosures. There are two stages in nursery production. Firstly, in the fry rearing stage, they are grown until they are 15-20 days post-hatch and have a body length of 2.5-3 cm; these are usually called 'summer seedlings' in China. Secondly, in fingerling production, these 'summer seedlings' are reared for a further 3-5 months, when they become 8-12 cm in body length, which are known as 'yearlings'.
After draining the nursery ponds, mud and wastes need to be removed and dikes repaired, following which they must be sterilized with chemicals or herbs before the stocking of fry. The main purpose of these procedures is to eradicate predatory and other wild fish, harmful aquatic animals and plants, parasites and their eggs, and pathogenic bacteria. The chemicals used may be quicklime (CaO), bleaching powder, tea-seed cake, rotenone, etc.
After pond clearing, the pond water is fertilized by applying a basal manure, in order to produce natural food organisms before the fry are stocked. The time of application and the amount of manure vary with the pond conditions and the type of fertilizer. Fermented manure and compost, if used, may be applied within 3-5 days before fry are stocked, at 2 250-4 500 kg/ha. The water should look greenish brown, indicative of rich plankton population.
The fry stocking rate has an impact on survival rate. If it is too high, survival will be low; however, it should not be too low either, or space will not be properly utilized and production costs will be unnecessarily high. The correct stocking density is 1.5-2.25 million/ha.
The routine management of nursery ponds consists of:
A two-year-culture cycle is generally adopted in pond fish culture in China; the first year is for rearing fry into fingerlings and the second year is for rearing fingerlings into market-size fish.
Polyculture is very popular in the rearing of silver carp in China. The considerable skill of aquaculturists enables them to maximize unit production efficiently by using the characteristics of various species to utilize the whole water body efficiently.
Another popular system is continuous harvesting and stocking, sometimes referred to as 'catching and stocking in rotation'. This consists of stocking at a high density, partial harvesting of the larger fish, and the addition of new fingerlings; this keeps the carrying capacity of the pond high all the time. This also speeds up turnover and supplies fresh fish to the market in both summer and autumn. Silver carp and bighead carp are the main species used in this system; grass carp and a small amount of Wuchang fish are the next most used. If tilapia is polycultured, market-sized fish should be netted out, leaving the smaller ones, in order to stop them propagating in the pond.
Silver carp are typical phytoplankton feeders, consuming diatoms, dinoflagellates (Pyrrophyta), golden brown algae (Chrysophyta), yellow green algae, some green algae and blue green algae (Cyanophyta). In addition, detritus, conglomerations of bacteria, and rotifers and small crustaceans are major components of their natural diet. Generally, there is no need to provide formulated feed in silver carp culture.
In the continuous harvesting and stocking system the following aspects need care:
Silver carp are normally bought live, based on traditional consumption patterns in China. It is therefore essential to keep them alive from harvesting to marketing. Trucks and boats containing water are basically used as transportation tools in most areas.
The production costs for silver carp vary from country to country (and even place to place) and the scale of operations. The major factors are the cost of labour, culture facilities, water, seed, feed (fertilizer), power, and transport.
The major disease problems affecting silver carp are included in the table below:
In some cases antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals have been used in treatment but their inclusion in this table does not imply an FAO recommendation.
Suppliers of pathology expertise
In China, advice is obtainable (for example) from:
Hypophthalmichthys molitrix is generally cultured and consumed locally alive or fresh in most of the producing countries. No information is available on international trade. The market price in China for this species is relatively low compared to most other species, normally 4-5 Yuan/kg (USD 0.5/kg). There are no specific market regulations for silver carp; it is treated the same as most fish commodities in the markets.
Hypophthalmichthys molitrix is a native species in China and Eastern Siberia, but has been introduced to many other countries for aquaculture and its use in controlling algal blooms. It is not only utilized as human food but also appreciated by its ability to clean reservoirs and other waters from clogging algae.
The culture of silver carp has expanded steadily over the past decade, rising from 1.9 million tonnes in 1993 to 4.1 million tonnes in 2003. Further expansion is expected as its production costs are lower than most other cultured species since there is no need to provide supplementary formulated feed, and most ordinary people can afford to consume it regularly.
Recent research on silver carp is mainly focussed on integrated fish farming in small-scale aquaculture in developing countries.
In order to keep the product longer and further extend the markets instead of just consuming it fresh, processing technologies need to be developed.
Hypophthalmichthys molitrix is traditionally sold fresh for human consumption and has also been introduced into many countries where its ability to clean reservoirs and other waters of clogging algae is appreciated even more than its food value. However, several countries have reported adverse ecological impacts following its introduction. The main global issues currently are:
Silver carp production, since no supplementary feed is supplied, is a rather environmentally friendly way of animal protein production. Responsible aquaculture at the production level should be practised in accordance with the main principles of environmental and ecological protection, as laid out in Article 9 of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.
Qingwen, M., Jinxiang, S. & Xuezhu, M. 1995. Fish Taxonomy. China Agricultural Press, Beijing, China. 1158 pp.
Yujun, T. et al. 1981. Integrated Fish Farming (I). Fresh Water Fisheries Research Center, Wuxi, China. 407 pp.