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Hormone Could Make Suckers the Baitfish of Choice

By Ben Hardin
July 17, 1997

An experimental hormone could turn white or spotted suckers into the finny crop of choice for many baitfish farmers.

Today, 7-inch-long golden shiners are the staple baitfish for very large sportfish. But they take two years to grow to maturity. Scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service say that white or spotted suckers will reach maturity in one year, increasing profits through speedier reproduction.

The problem: Suckers prefer to lay their eggs in running water, such as rivers. Scientists say dosing the fish with an artificial copy of the hormone called human chorionic gonadatropin (HCG) encourages the fish to spawn regardless of setting, allowing farmers to raise the fish in ponds.

In a laboratory study, ARS scientists injected HCG into mature suckers, inducing them to reproduce after being held captive a year. HCG is synthetically produced for medical uses by the biotech industry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved its use in fish only for experimental purposes. FDA would require further studies before considering its approval for use on food or brood fish.

White suckers grow best in cool waters north of Arkansas and are good bait for striped bass, muskies, black bass and other large game fish.

The white sucker cannot be introduced into some states, such as Florida, where it is not considered a native species. So, spotted suckers are a second option. Their native range includes Florida and all other southern states east of the Rocky Mountains where Florida strain largemouth bass are found.

In Arkansas, the major bait-producing state, the industry markets mainly golden shiners and fathead minnows with a value of about $47 million annually.

Scientific contact: Gerald M. Ludwig, USDA-ARS, National Aquaculture Research Center, Stuttgart, Ark., phone (870) 673-4483, fax (870) 673-7710.