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Aquaculture 480 (2017) 32–41

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Effects of mechanical aeration in the waste-treatment cells of split-pond MARK

aquaculture systems on water quality
Lauren N. Jescovitcha,⁎, Claude E. Boyda, Gregory N. Whitisb
School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849, USA
Alabama Fish Farming Center, Greensboro, AL 36744, USA


Keywords: Split-pond systems divide a traditional pond into a 1:4 relationship where 20% of the water surface area is
Split-pond designated to fish production and 80% is designated to waste-treatment. Water passes from the fish cell to the
Water quality waste cell for water quality improvement and flows back to the fish cell. The present study was conducted on a
Hybrid catfish commercial catfish farm in west Alabama that has eight split-ponds, each with a fish-holding section of about
Paddlewheel aeration
8000 m2. Two, 10-hp floating, electric paddlewheel aerators were placed in the waste cells of each of four ponds
– treatment ponds; while four ponds – the controls – had un-aerated waste cells. Analyses were made for pH,
dissolved oxygen (DO), temperature, Secchi disk visibility, chlorophyll a, total ammonia nitrogen (TAN; nitrogen
in NH3 + NH4+), ammonia‑nitrogen (NH3-N), nitrite‑nitrogen, nitrate‑nitrogen, total nitrogen, total phos-
phorus, soluble reactive phosphorus, chemical oxygen demand (total and soluble), biological oxygen demand,
and acidification potential. In Year 1 (2014) ammonia‑nitrogen was greater in treatment ponds than control
ponds. In Year 2 (2015), greater concentrations for control than treatment ponds were found for TAN, ammo-
nia‑nitrogen, total nitrogen, chemical oxygen demand (soluble and total). In Year 3 (2016), greater con-
centrations were found for control ponds than treatment ponds for TAN, ammonia‑nitrogen, total phosphorus,
and soluble chemical oxygen demand. Nevertheless, no differences were found between treatments and control
ponds for production, yield, and feed conversion ratio (FCR). Best management practices that could help the
farmer minimize fish mortality and improve production from previous research are discussed.

1. Introduction 2004). Split-ponds can be created using existing, traditional catfish

ponds through renovation rather than having to build new production
Alabama and Mississippi are the two‑leading catfish-producing facilities thereby lessening the cost of adoption of a new production
states in the United States; the production area in 2015 in Alabama was method. Split-ponds are formed when a levee is added inside an existing
15,100 acres, while Mississippi had 37,000 acres (USDA-NASS, 2016). pond to divide the pond based on a 1:4 relationship where 20% of the
Both states have experienced declines in catfish production since 2009 water surface area is designated to fish production and 80% is desig-
(USDA, 2016). These losses may be attributed to the competition of nated to waste-treatment. The water should be able to move freely
imported catfish from Asia (Bosworth et al., 2015; Hanson and Sites, between these two cells, and screens must be installed to isolate fish
2013). Some farmers who have had troubles with maintaining profit- within the smaller cell (Tucker, 2009).
able production during the last decade converted their farms to row Many advantages come from using an intensive system such as the
crop agricultural land (i.e. corn used for ethanol) or dedicated the land split-pond. Fish may be stocked at a higher stocking density, fish are
to other purposes. easier to feed and harvest, medicated water treatments can be isolated
In order for the catfish industry to become more competitive, new, to only the fish cells thereby reducing cost, and greater yields may be
innovative production systems such as the partitioned aquaculture achieved. In 2009, a split-pond with a stocking rate of 1334 kg/ha
system (PAS; Brune et al., 2004) and split-ponds are being promoted produced a yield of 17,880 kg/ha at a feed conversion ratio (FCR) of
(Tucker, 2009). Split-pond aquaculture is a version of the PAS that has 1.83. This split-pond consisted of a 0.4-ha fish cell and 1.42-ha waste
similar characteristics such as confinement of fish in a smaller area, cell. The 2009 study provided a promising alternative production
controlling dissolved oxygen in a smaller portion of the water area, and method for farmers struggling to make ends meet (Tucker, 2009).
aggressively treating for diseases and cyanobacteria (Brune et al., Farrelly et al. (2015) conducted a study comparing water quality

Corresponding author at: 203 Swingle Hall, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849, USA.
E-mail address: (L.N. Jescovitch).
Received 22 May 2017; Received in revised form 25 July 2017; Accepted 2 August 2017
Available online 04 August 2017
0044-8486/ © 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
L.N. Jescovitch et al. Aquaculture 480 (2017) 32–41

conditions between different pond production systems that included batch culture was practiced and most ponds were stocked and harvested
split-ponds and traditional ponds. Net production for traditional ponds at least twice during the present study. Fish were provided a 32% crude
was 4962 kg/ha and for split-ponds it was 13,390 kg/ha. This study protein, floating, pelleted feed from the Alabama Catfish Feed Mill
found that the feeding rate was significantly greater in split-ponds than (Uniontown, Alabama, USA) that was distributed by a truck-mounted
traditional ponds, but there also were greater concentrations of total feeder that propelled the feed into the fish cells only. Daily feed inputs
phosphorus, total alkalinity, and total hardness in the split-ponds. Both were recorded by the farm manager. The feed conversion ratio (FCR)
Farrelly et al. (2015) and Tucker (2009) reported that total ammonia was determined using annual production and annual feed inputs.
nitrogen (TAN) concentrations rarely exceeded 2.0 mg/L in split-ponds. The dissolved oxygen monitoring system for the farm was managed
Presently, there is limited information on water quality in com- by AerCon Technologies, LLC (Newbern, Alabama, USA). Electrical
mercial split-pond systems. Moreover, aeration has only been applied in sensors that controlled aerator operation and recorded DO concentra-
the fish cell of a split-pond. There is need to determine more about tion, water temperature, and time of aeration operation was installed in
water quality in split-ponds, and to ascertain if aeration in the waste the ponds. Fish cell aerators were turned on when a DO concentration
cell would be beneficial to water quality. The present study grew hybrid reached a limit set by the farm manager that was dependent on carrying
catfish – which have been favorable to farmers for their resistance to capacity of the individual pond (typically between 3 and 5 mg/L), and
disease, better feed conversion, tolerance of low oxygen, and faster the waste cell aerators were programed to turn on if the DO in the waste
growth (Dunham and Masser, 2012). The present study was initiated to cell fell below 2.0 mg/L and then off once the DO exceeded this
compare water quality in split-ponds with and without aeration in threshold. The farm manager did not provide details on the operational
waste cells. threshold of the DO range.

2. Materials and methods 2.2. Water quality analyses

2.1. Design Pond water was sampled at the inflow (in) and outflow (out) of the
waste cells for the control ponds and treatment ponds. These sampling
This experiment was conducted from June 2014 through September locations will be referred as control-in, control-out, aerated-in, and
2016. A commercial catfish farm in Hale County in west-central aerated-out. Secchi disk visibility and water samples were collected at
Alabama was selected for the study. The farm had six, split-ponds and each of these sampling locations. Water samples were collected from a
was in the process of constructing more ponds (total pond areas are depth of 18 cm with a dipper attached to a 3-m plastic rod. Samples
listed in Table 1). Ponds 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9 were in use as split-ponds in were transferred into 1-L plastic bottles that were held on ice in in-
May 2014, pond 10 became operational in August 2014, and pond 13 sulated chests for transport from the farm to the laboratory at Auburn
was operational in June 2015. All ponds had two or three, 10-hp pad- University's E.W. Shell Fisheries Center (Auburn, Alabama, USA).
dlewheel aerators for maintaining DO concentration in the fish cells. Samples were taken weekly between June and July 2014 and were
Ponds 4, 8, 9, and 10 (the treatment ponds) were designed to include called background samples, because aerators were not yet operational
two additional 10-hp paddlewheel aerators at the inlet of the waste cells in the waste cells. Aerators in waste cells were wired and operational at
as indicated by the symbols (Fig. 1). These ponds were operational by the beginning of August 2014. Samples were collected biweekly during
August 2014; the other ponds were considered the control group. summer months and monthly during cooler months until the end of
Pond water was recirculated using a custom-made axial-flow pump September 2016.
(Fig. 2). The pump was installed in a 90-cm diameter culvert extending Water samples were filtered through glass fiber filters (2-μm appa-
through either a concrete sluiceway or a corrugated pipe that separated ratus) and filtrates analyzed as follows: pH (Orion 3 Star Probe, Thermo
the fish and waste cells in each pond. The pump consisted of a 50-cm Scientific, Beverly, Massachusetts, USA), chlorophyll a by membrane
diameter propeller connected to a shaft driven at 400 rpm by a sub- filtration, acetone-methanol extraction of phytoplankton, and spectro-
mersible, 12.5-kW electric motor. The motor and propeller assembly scopy with Aquamate Model AQA 2000E (Thermo Fisher Scientific,
was mounted in the culvert to pump water from the fish cell to the Suwanee, Georgia, USA; Marker, 1972) TAN by the salicylate method
waste cell. Between the pipe and the screen, a levee was installed to (Bower and Holm-Hansen, 1980; Le and Boyd, 2012); nitrite‑nitrogen
maintain division and circulation between the cells. Screens were by the diazotization method (Boyd and Tucker, 1998); nitrate nitrogen
placed across the corner of the pond with the propeller pump to protect was measured by the Szechrome NAS reagent method (Van Rijn, 1993).
fish from the propeller and to prevent fish from moving into the waste Total nitrogen (TN) and total phosphorus (TP) were analyzed by the
cell. Water then returned without additional pumping back into the fish ultraviolet spectrophotometric screening method with Aquamate Model
cell through a 1.1 m × 6 m screen. There was no baffle in the waste AQA 2000E (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Suwanee, Georgia, USA) and
cells for all ponds. ascorbic acid methods, respectively, following digestion in potassium
Control ponds and treatment ponds (ponds with additional aeration persulfate solution (Gross et al., 1999; Eaton et al., 2005). Total and
in the waste treatment area) had an average of 6:1 waste cell: fish cell soluble chemical oxygen demands were analyzed by the heat of dilution
water volume ratio (Table 1) as determined by Google Earth Pro for technique (Boyd and Tucker, 1992). Ammonia‑nitrogen (NH3-N) con-
surface area and average depth as determined from measurement made centrations were calculated from TAN concentration, pH, and water
along an S-shaped pattern (Boyd and Tucker, 1998). Ponds were temperature using an online calculator (
stocked with hybrid catfish (I. punctatus ♀ × I. furcatus ♂). A multiple- Rechner/Ammonia.html).

Table 1 2.3. Non-routine analyses

Average pond measurements for control and treatment ponds using Google Earth Pro for
surface area and a calibrated rod for depth. Some other water quality parameters were measured three to four
times during 2015 and 2016. These variables were soluble reactive
Surface area (m2) Depth (m) Volume (m3)
phosphorus; total, carbonaceous, and nitrogenous biological oxygen
Fish Waste Fish Waste Fish Waste demand; calcium and magnesium hardness (as CaCO3); total alkalinity
(as CaCO3); total suspended solids and total suspended volatile solids.
Control ponds (n = 4) 6593 28,681 1.66 2.10 10,970 60,775
Analyses followed protocol described by Clesceri et al. (1998).
Ponds with aerated waste 6138 26,517 1.57 2.29 10,946 60,468
cells (n = 4) The acidification potential of the pond water resulting from ni-
trification (Boyd, 2015) was determined from alkalinity loss in samples

L.N. Jescovitch et al. Aquaculture 480 (2017) 32–41

Fig. 1. Study site in Hale County, Alabama. Control ponds: 3, 5, 7, 13; aerated waste-treatment cell ponds: 4, 8, 9, 10 as noted by symbols. Picture taken using Google Earth Pro.

during incubation in the laboratory. The alkalinity of water samples Forage, & Water Testing Laboratory (Auburn, Alabama, USA) for ana-
from the waste cells was measured. Four aliquots of each sample (2.5 L) lysis of pH, 18 elements (listed in Table 8), nitrate‑nitrogen, nitrogen,
were held in separate, open containers at 20 °C in the laboratory. The carbon, and organic matter concentrations.
pH and concentrations of total alkalinity and TAN were measured daily
until no further decrease in TAN concentration could be measured. The
2.4. Statistical analyses
acidification potential was estimated as the initial alkalinity minus the
final alkalinity.
Data were analyzed for means and standard deviation, repeated
A 24-h pH study was conducted to determine daily fluctuations in
measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) on ranks followed by Tukey for
pH. A portable pH meter (HACH Pocket Pro Tester; Loveland, Colorado,
multiple comparison procedure and t-tests by means of SigmaPlot ver-
USA) was used to measure pH levels at the inflow and outflow locations
sion 11.0 statistical software (Aspire Software International, Ashburn,
for all eight ponds. The pH of samples was measured every 3-h for 24-h
Virginia, USA).
in Year 3. Samples were taken in the same order for each time period to
assure 3-h separation between measurements because 1-h was neces-
sary to complete measurements at all locations. 3. Results
Soil was collected from the bottom of ponds by using a standard
Ekman dredge (Wildco, Yulee, Florida, USA) dropped from a boat at 3.1. Production
multiple places in each pond and compositing the dredge grabs to form
a single composite sample (Boyd and Tucker, 1998). The samples were Fish were fed only in the fish cells of the split-ponds, but to accu-
dried and pulverized to pass a 20-mesh screen and sent to the Soil, rately portray the area required for production, the entire area of the
fish and waste cells were used for production calculations. No

Fig. 2. Custom-made axial pump used to recirculate water

between fish grow-out to waste-treatment.

L.N. Jescovitch et al. Aquaculture 480 (2017) 32–41

Table 2
Average stocking rates, feed inputs, production, net yields, and feed conversion ratio (FCR) for control and treatment ponds for multiple-batch management system over 3 years
(2014–2016). Area includes both fish and waste cell assimilation. No Significant differences found (P > 0.05).

Stocking rate (kg/ha/yr) Feed input (kg/ha/yr) Total production (kg/ha/yr) Net yield (kg/ha/yr) FCR

Control ponds
3 1594 30,701 12,025 10,432 2.9
5 1828 31,686 16,027 14,199 2.2
7 1816 40,614 18,853 17,036 2.4
13 122 7357 3652 3530 2.1
Averages 1340 ± 819 27,590 ± 14,206 12,640 ± 6614 11,300 ± 5843 2.4 ± 0.4
Ponds with aerated waste cells
4 1518 33,452 16,955 15,437 2.9
8 1249 27,297 13,461 12,212 2.2
9 2784 29,198 13,398 10,613 2.8
10 1759 25,651 9163 7405 3.5
Averages 1827 ± 671 28,900 ± 3363 13,244 ± 3188 11,416 ± 3343 2.7 ± 0.6

differences were found for stocking rate, feed input, total production, Table 4
yield, and FCR between control and treatment ponds (Table 2). Net Average pH, Secchi disk visibility, and concentrations of water quality parameters in
control and treatment ponds for seven sampling data in Year 1 (August–December 2014).
yields for the control and treatment ponds were 11,300 kg/ha and
Significant differences are noted by letters (P < 0.05).
11,416 kg/ha, respectively. Both control ponds and treatment ponds
had high FCRs with 2.4 and 2.7, respectively. While survival or mor- Variable Control (n = 3) Treatment (n = 4)
tality was not measured (due to the complexity of the multiple-batch
system used, discussed in Section 4.1), there were fish kills in both In Out In Out

treatment and control ponds that had a negative effect on the FCR. Feed pH 7.85 7.94 8.05 8.02
was used to produce the dead fish, but only the weight of live fish Secchi disk visibility (cm) 3.81 3.98 4.82 5.39
harvested was used in calculating FCR. Chlorophyll a (μg/L) 171.68 183.34 187.60 203.14
Total ammonia nitrogen (mg/L) 4.357 4.684 3.406 3.475
Ammonia‑nitrogen (mg/L) 0.144a 0.197ab 0.205b 0.146ab
3.2. Background water quality Nitrite (mg/L) 0.209 0.187 0.347 0.325
Nitrate (mg/L) 0.279 0.277 0.340 0.335
Problems with delivery and installation of the aeration system de- Total nitrogen (mg/L) 5.843 5.730 5.303 5.048
Total phosphorus (mg/L) 0.344 0.273 0.362 0.361
layed the beginning of the study. During June and July 2014, routine
Chemical oxygen demand, total (mg/L) 31.04 32.07 31.15 31.49
water quality parameters were measured to determine background le- Chemical oxygen demand, soluble (mg/ 25.88 25.78 27.39 27.70
vels before the aerators were installed in the initial six ponds (Table 3). L)
All other water quality variables were analyzed to ascertain if there
were differences between treatment and control ponds. The only dif-
ference was that nitrite‑nitrogen was at greater concentrations in aer- (Table 4). There were no differences between the outflows for either
ated-in with 0.13 mg/L compared to 0.05 mg/L in the control-out lo- control or treatment.
cation. In Year 2, data were collected from January through December.
During this time, differences were found between TAN, ammonia‑ni-
trogen, total nitrogen, and total and soluble COD (Table 5). The TAN,
3.3. Water quality
total chemical oxygen demand, and soluble chemical oxygen demand
followed the same trends of having no differences between in and out
All waste-cell aerators became operational at the beginning of
locations within the control and treatment pond groups, but the treat-
August 2014. During Year 1, data were collected from August through
ment ponds had lower concentrations than the control ponds. Average
December 2014. The only difference in water quality for Year 1 was
concentrations of TAN were 2.73 mg/L and 3.13 mg/L for the control-in
that the ammonia‑nitrogen concentrations were greater in locations for
and control-out locations, respectively, and 1.67 mg/L and 1.74 mg/L
the aerated-in with 0.21 mg/L than the control-in with 0.14 mg/L

Table 3 Table 5
Average pH, Secchi disk visibility, and water quality parameters in control and treatment Average pH, Secchi disk visibility, and water quality parameters in control and treatment
ponds with aerated waste cells for six sampling data as background data (June–July ponds for seven sampling data in Year 2 (January–December 2015). Significant differ-
2014). Significant differences are noted by letters (P < 0.05). ences are noted by letters (P < 0.05).

Variable Control (n = 3) Treatment (n = 3) Variable Control (n = 3) Treatment (n = 4)

In Out In Out In Out In Out

pH 8.33 8.36 8.47 8.15 pH 7.90 7.88 7.93 7.87

Secchi disk visibility (cm) 4.17 3.96 5.12 4.83 Secchi disk visibility (cm) 4.08 4.41 4.03 4.81
Chlorophyll a (μg/L) 196.93 193.56 157.05 169.61 Chlorophyll a (μg/L) 212.92 262.63 202.37 208.11
Total ammonia nitrogen (mg/L) 1.340 1.313 1.142 1.287 Total ammonia nitrogen (mg/L) 2.734a 3.132a 1.671b 1.738b
Ammonia‑nitrogen (mg/L) 0.133 0.083 0.174 0.116 Ammonia‑nitrogen (mg/L) 0.119ac 0.146a 0.067bc 0.059b
Nitrite (mg/L) 0.062ab 0.045a 0.131b 0.112ab Nitrite (mg/L) 0.211 0.208 0.203 0.193
Nitrate (mg/L) 0.194 0.161 0.333 0.222 Nitrate (mg/L) 0.268 0.227 0.425 0.433
Total nitrogen (mg/L) 4.314 4.122 3.705 3.731 Total nitrogen (mg/L) 5.378ab 5.979a 4.320b 4.657ab
Total phosphorus (mg/L) 0.395 0.289 0.266 0.258 Total phosphorus (mg/L) 0.519 0.681 0.471 0.672
Chemical oxygen demand, total (mg/L) 9.43 9.54 8.55 8.23 Chemical oxygen demand, total (mg/L) 38.72a 40.31a 33.06b 34.12b
Chemical oxygen demand, soluble (mg/ 7.02 7.41 6.46 6.69 Chemical oxygen demand, soluble (mg/ 32.25a 35.95a 27.73b 29.04b
L) L)

L.N. Jescovitch et al. Aquaculture 480 (2017) 32–41

Table 6 aerated-in and aerated-out locations, respectively. There were no dif-

Average pH, Secchi disk visibility, and water quality parameters in control and treatment ferences between control-in and aerated-in for ammonia‑nitrogen;
ponds for eight sampling data for Year 3 (January–September 2016). Significant differ-
however, aerated-out locations were lower (P < 0.05), 0.06 mg/L than
ences are noted by letters (P < 0.05).
control-out concentrations at 0.12 mg/L. Total COD had greater values
Variable Control (n = 4) Treatment (n = 4) for control-in and control-out than aerated-in and aerated-out:
38.72 mg/L, 40.31 mg/L, 33.06 mg/L, and 34.12 mg/L, respectively.
In Out In Out Similarly, soluble COD had slightly lower average concentrations of
pH 7.86 7.84 7.94 7.92 32.25 mg/L, 35.95 mg/L, 27.73 mg/L and 29.04 mg/L, respectively.
Secchi disk visibility (cm) 3.71 4.20 3.01 3.60 In Year 3, data were collected from January through the end of
Chlorophyll a (μg/L) 251.29 253.96 245.92 292.23 September 2016. Differences were found between TAN, ammonia‑ni-
Total ammonia nitrogen (mg/L) 1.886a 2.088a 0.787b 0.866b trogen, total phosphorus, and soluble COD (Table 6). Concentrations of
Ammonia‑nitrogen (mg/L) 0.042ab 0.048a 0.024b 0.025b
TAN were less in the treatment ponds. Averages for TAN in control-in
Nitrite (mg/L) 0.217 0.225 0.202 0.195
Nitrate (mg/L) 0.013 0.014 0.031 0.031 ponds were 1.89 mg/L and control-out ponds were 2.09, while aerated-
Total nitrogen (mg/L) 4.540 4.550 3.893 3.985 in ponds were 0.79 mg/L and aerated-out ponds were 0.87 mg/L. There
Total phosphorus (mg/L) 0.459a 0.481a 0.284b 0.332ab were no differences between control-in, aerated-in, and aerated-out for
Chemical oxygen demand, total (mg/ 43.98 42.97 39.71 40.75
ammonia nitrogen; however, control-out locations were higher with a
Chemical oxygen demand, soluble 35.60a 34.38ab 30.65b 31.89ab concentration of 0.05 mg/L. Total phosphorus had average concentra-
(mg/L) tions of 0.46 mg/L for control-in ponds and 0.48 mg/L for control-out
ponds, with significantly lower concentrations in aerated-in ponds with
0.28 mg/L, but not with aerated-out ponds with a concentration of

Fig. 3. Water quality averages (pH, Secchi disk visibility, and

chlorophyll a) for background, and Years 1–3 of study for con-
trol-in, control-out, aerated-in, and aerated-out sample loca-

L.N. Jescovitch et al. Aquaculture 480 (2017) 32–41

Fig. 4. Water quality averages (total phosphorus, total and so-

luble COD) for background, and Years 1–3 of study for control-
in, control-out, aerated-in, and aerated-out sample locations.

0.33 mg/L. Soluble COD only had differences between control-in and Year 3. Soluble COD followed the same pattern as Total COD for control
aerated-in ponds with concentrations of 35.60 mg/L and 30.65 mg/L, ponds; however, treatment ponds did not increase following Year 1.
respectively. Chlorophyll a, nitrite‑nitrogen, and total phosphorus had no differ-
There were distinct variations based on time between background ences.
data and Years 1, 2, and 3 within the same ponds for the following
parameters: pH, Secchi disk visibility, TAN, nitrate, total nitrogen, total
COD, and soluble COD (Figs. 2–4). Overall, pH decreased from back- 3.4. Non-routine analyses
ground data into the rest of Year 1 and 2 for control-in, control-out, and
aerated-in; aerated-out did not differ over this time. Secchi disk visi- Additional water quality parameters were collected during Years 2
bility decreased from Year 1 to Year 3 for only the treatment ponds. The and 3 of the study. These parameters include soluble reactive phos-
TAN concentration increased from background data into year one, but phorus, total biological oxygen demand (BOD5), carbonaceous biolo-
then decreased until year three for all locations. Nitrate had greater gical oxygen demand (CBOD), nitrogenous biological oxygen demand
concentrations for treatment ponds in Year 2. Total nitrogen also (NOD), total hardness, calcium hardness, magnesium hardness, total
showed greater concentration in Year 2 for the control-out treatment. alkalinity, total suspended solids (TSS), and totals suspended volatiles
Total COD had very low concentrations during the background, but solids (TSVS). These parameters exhibited no differences (P > 0.05)
these concentrations drastically increased for all ponds by Year 1. between treatments, but their averages and standard deviations are
Control ponds and aerated-out concentrations continued to increase to shown in Table 7.
The acidification potential of control and treatment waters was

L.N. Jescovitch et al. Aquaculture 480 (2017) 32–41

Table 7 conclusion can be made about whether aerating split-ponds waste-cells

Average values for non-routine parameters (2015–2016). No significant differences found improve water quality. However, in the present study, the water quality
(P > 0.05).
was not improved. In the present study, Secchi disk visibilities were
Variable Control (n = 4) Treatment (n = 4) similar to those reported by Brune et al. (2004) in the algal cell of a PAS
In Out In Out There were, however, differences between treatments and controls
seasonally. The most significant (P < 0.05) water quality finding re-
Soluble reactive 0.154 0.175 0.185 0.189
phosphorus (mg/L) lated to TAN concentrations. The greatest averages for TAN in all
Total biological oxygen 9.39 ± 4.03 11.10 ± 6.48 treatments were during September and October in Year 1 – ranging
demand (mg/L) from 6.1 to 7.6 mg/L. By this same time in Year 2, treatment ponds had
Carbonaceous biological 7.71 ± 3.51 7.58 ± 3.81 significantly lower concentrations of TAN than did control ponds. Peak
oxygen demand (mg/
TAN concentrations were above 6 mg/L for both inflow and outflow
Nitrogenous biological 2.95 ± 2.60 3.36 ± 4.65 control locations, while treatment ponds had concentrations between
oxygen demand (mg/ 1.8 and 2.1 mg/L (Fig. 4). The higher concentrations of TAN were the
L) results of intensification of production that lead to high inputs of ni-
Total hardness (mg/L) 83.43 ± 37.30 80.54 ± 26.99
trogenous waste from high feed inputs and high stocking rates. Con-
Calcium hardness (mg/L) 70.27 ± 34.47 68.21 ± 25.41
Magnesium hardness (mg/ 13.16 ± 6.22 12.33 ± 3.81 centrations above 5.0 mg/L are common among farms in this area of
L) west-central Alabama (Zhou and Boyd, 2015). Brune et al. (2004) also
Total alkalinity (mg/L) 116.54 ± 31.06 125.20 ± 28.61 had TAN results comparable to those of the present study throughout
Total suspended solids 46.7 ± 18.5 51.3 ± 21.7 the year in the PAS system with greater fluctuations in August.
Zhou and Boyd (2015) found that TAN concentrations were not
Total suspended volatile 46.1 ± 17.3 51.4 ± 18.7
solids (μg/L) correlated with aeration, total feed input, and weight of harvest fish.
However, they stressed that low DO concentrations inhibited ammonia
oxidation by nitrification, thus increasing the TAN concentration and
different based on the average regressions of four, separate trials. There favoring NH3 toxicity. Ammonia‑nitrogen often exceeded the EPA acute
were no differences between the control ponds and treatment ponds for and chronic limits (Fig. 6), but no values exceeded the no-observed-
acidification potential. Control ponds had a potential of 1.14 mg/L effect level (NOEL) of 1.0 mg/L determined by Zhou and Boyd (2015).
CaCO3/day and treatment ponds of 1.32 mg/L CaCO3/day. Thus, fish did not show detectable adverse alterations to their health
The 24-hour pH study revealed that pHs of all treatments fluctuated, below 1.0 mg/L NH3. Treatment ponds had significantly lower pro-
on average, between 7.38 and 9.31 (Fig. 5). No differences (P > 0.05) portions of ammonia in the water that was coming out of the fish cell;
occurred between treatments. this suggests a reduction in TAN concentrations and that aeration of the
Average values for typical soil parameters for control and treatment waste cell may improve ammonia management.
ponds for Year 2 and Year 3 are shown in Table 8. The only observed High TAN concentrations were reduced through the nitrification
difference (P > 0.05) occurred between treatment ponds for barium process (Fig. 4). Reduction in nitrogen can occur as a result of fluc-
(Ba) with 4.5 mg/L present in Year 2 that was reduced to 1.5 mg/L in tuation in pH, temperature, concentrations of ammonia, oxygen, and
Year 3. fish size and age (Kroupova et al., 2005). Channel catfish can typically
tolerate oxygen concentrations that fall below 5 mg/L, but according to
4. Discussion Bowser et al. (1983), this concentration is not sufficient for channel
catfish in the presence of elevated nitrite‑nitrogen. There was one oc-
4.1. Production currence where the nitrite‑nitrogen concentration was above 1.0 mg/L
on two consecutive sample dates. However, no differences were found
Fish are stocked and harvested at various intervals in a multiple- between control ponds and treatment ponds for nitrite‑nitrogen during
batch culture system. Thus, the longer the period over which the data the present study.
are collected and the more ponds that are included, the more accurate is Total phosphorus concentrations were lower in aerated-in compared
the prediction of average, annual production. Net yield estimations to the control ponds in Year 3. Soluble reactive phosphorus values
included a wide range in yields, 11,300 ± 5843 kg/ha/yr for control (Table 7) showed no differences between treatments.
ponds (n = 4) and 11,416 ± 3343 kg/ha/yr in treatment ponds Total and soluble COD concentrations remained < 15 mg/L and
(n = 4). The net yield data from the split-ponds of this study were more 9.0 mg/L, respectively, before September in Year 1. By the beginning of
than that usually reported from traditional ponds (Heikes, 1996), but September, six initial ponds had already been in full operation for three
the production was at the lower end of yields that have been previously months, but aeration in the treatment ponds had only been provided for
reported for split-ponds (Farrelly et al., 2015). The FCRs in the present 1 month. By the beginning of September in Year 1, total and soluble
study for treatment and control ponds of 2.7 and 2.4, respectively, must COD increased as high as 44 mg/L and 34 mg/L, respectively. Total and
be considered a relatively poor result – especially for commercial hy- soluble COD concentrations continued to increase and there was a
brid catfish. Dunham and Masser (2012) reported that the FCR of hy- greater difference in control pond concentrations than treatment ponds
brid catfish was 10–20% better than for channel catfish. Channel catfish in Year 2. By Year 3, all values increased but the only differences be-
typically have a FCR of 1.6–1.8 in research (Boyd and Tucker, 1998), tween control and treated ponds were soluble COD. This contributes to
and commercial farmers have a 5-year average of a FCR of 2.5 the concern of organic matter accumulation in split-pond systems.
(Robinson and Li, 2015). Despite there being no differences between control and treatment
for Year 1, it is interesting to note the differences in water quality data
4.2. Water quality were found starting between Year 1 and the background data (or before
treatments occurred and the few months in Year 1 when aerators were
No differences in water quality between control-in and control-out operational) when treatments were compared across years. This should
or between aerated-in and aerated-out were observed (Tables 3–7). The be interpreted cautiously, as most of the parameters that showed dif-
lack of differences shows that water quality entering the fish cell was of ferences (TAN, nitrate, and total nitrogen) followed the trend to in-
the same quality as the water exiting the fish cell. Due to the mod- crease at this time of year. However, COD increased three-fold after the
ifications from the proposed model split-pond (Tucker, 2009), no split-ponds were operational. The ponds that were constructed during

L.N. Jescovitch et al. Aquaculture 480 (2017) 32–41

Fig. 5. Water quality averages (total nitrogen, TAN, nitrite‑ni-

trogen, nitrate nitrogen) for background, and Years 1–3 of study
for control-in, control-out, aerated-in, and aerated-out sample

and integrated into the study were not used during the first year they which showed no differences between treatments. Soil samples, TSS
were in operation because of the delay with fish presence. This allowed and TSVS did not show differences between control and treatment ei-
for only n = 4 for both control and treatment pond groups to only occur ther. This does not support the observation that treatment ponds had
during Year 3. more organic and particulate matter. Of course, these parameters were
not analyzed as frequently as those in Tables 3, 4, and 5, and if more
4.3. Non-routine water quality samples had been analyzed, possibility of a difference could have been
shown in BOD, CBOD and NOD.
All other non-routine water quality variables measured were within Acidification potential was not different between treatment ponds
acceptable ranges for fish culture with no differences between control and control ponds. More trials during peak seasons of TAN and NH3
and treatment (Boyd and Tucker, 1998). These include variable BOD, concentrations could provide further insight to the treatments acid-
carbonaceous BOD (CBOD), and nitrogenous oxygen demand (NOD) ification potential. Thus, it is important to have ample supply of

L.N. Jescovitch et al. Aquaculture 480 (2017) 32–41

Table 8
Average values of soil parameters for eight sampling data in Year 2 and Year 3
(2015–2016). Significant differences are noted by letters (P < 0.05).

Year 2 (2015) Year 3 (2016)

Control Treatment Control Treatment

Ca (mg/L) 5911.25 7855.75 12,133.75 23,935

K (mg/L) 166.5 171.75 312.25 449
Mg (mg/L) 167.75 173 397 497.25
P (mg/L) 14.8 8.825 87.5 272.75
Al (mg/L) 80.25 29.75 104.5 43.5
As (mg/L) 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
B (mg/L) 0.425 0.3 0.275 0.25
Ba (mg/L) 3.5ab 4.5a 1.5b 1.5b
Cd (mg/L) 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
Cr (mg/L) 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
Cu (mg/L) 15.75 10.25 1.75 1.0
Fe (mg/L) 43.5 15.5 67.25 8.275
Mn (mg/L) 104.25 106.5 81.75 53.75
Mo (mg/L) 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
Na (mg/L) 446.5 527.25 294.25 387.5 Fig. 7. Average pH measurements. Measurements were taken every 3-h for 24-h for
Ni (mg/L) 0.1 0.1 0.325 0.225 control-in, control-out, aerated-in, and aerated-out sample locations.
Pb (mg/L) 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
Zn (mg/L) 4.75 3.75 1.25 1.025
NO3-N (mg/L) 3.65 3.35 5.23 5.13 way would have increased circulation and proper mixing in the fish
N (%) 0.255 0.345 0.085 0.171 cell, as well as reducing erosion on the dividing levee. Moreover, the
C (%) 1.575 2.475 0.765 1.43 propeller pumps were not operated between October and May. During
OM (%) 2.725 4.25 1.325 2.45 the summer, the propeller pumps only operated when the waste cells
pH 7.08 7.21 6.32 7.19
DO concentrations were > 4 mg/L; thus, reducing mixing and circula-
tion from fish cells to waste cells during some periods of poor water
dissolved oxygen in order to increase nitrification rates since the quality.
treatment ponds have a greater potential to nitrify more of the TAN The multiple-batch system made analyzing actual fish production,
than the control ponds. This statement is supported by the evidence that FCR or survival difficult on an annual basis. The weights of the dead
TAN concentrations are reduced in the ponds that have additional fish were not included in the production data contributing to a higher
aeration. FCR. The FCR was also further skewed because of recurring fish kills
The 24-hour pH study showed that the daily low and high pH value because of Microcystis poisoning (personal communication, Bill
follow the typical pattern for aquaculture ponds (Boyd and Tucker, Hemstreet, Alabama Fish Farming Center). Pond-grown catfish have
1998; Fig. 7). However, it should be noted that the routine sampling had unexplained deaths for many years, but mortalities have been re-
was done between 1000 h and 1100 h. Thus, the routine pH sampling cently linked to cyanobacteria toxins that are ingested during feeding or
was taken 2 or 3 h before maximum daily pH usually occurs. assimilated through gills (Zimba et al., 2001). Mortality can occur
suddenly, and the fish that survive can have an off-flavor taste (Shrader
and Dennis, 2005).
4.4. Complications
The motors of the paddlewheels that were placed in the waste cells
of the split-ponds failed for one month each during year 2 and 3 of the
Design and construction parameters of the split-ponds, aerator/
study and had to be replaced. Thus, the waste cell aerators were not
pump placements, and aeration rates were done by the farmer and fo-
operational for 4–6 weeks while waiting for motor replacement. These
cused on convenience of installation, operation at ease, and cost re-
motor failures were thought to have affected the water quality results.
duction. For instance, to reduce the length of wire from the aerator to
the electrical box, the aerator in the fish cell was placed such that water
impinged on the embankment between the cells. These aerators ideally 5. Conclusions
would have been at 90° with the inflow from the waste cells to direct
the water along the long axis of the fish cell. Placing the aerators this Overall, water quality was improved over the 3-year study in ponds

Fig. 6. Ammonia‑nitrogen averages for background, and Years

1–3 of study for control-in, control-out, aerated-in, and aerated-
out sample locations. US EPA (2013) limits for acute and chronic
ammonia‑nitrogen concentrations are illustrated.

L.N. Jescovitch et al. Aquaculture 480 (2017) 32–41

with paddlewheel aerators positioned at the inflow of the waste cells of Aquaculture Systems. SRAC Publication No. 4500.
Clesceri, L.S., Greenberg, A.E., Eaton, A.D., 1998. Standard Methods for the Examination
split-ponds. The TAN and COD were lower in the treatment ponds of Water and Wastewater, 20th edition. American Public Health Association,
compared to the control ponds. Ionized and un-ionized ammonia‑ni- Washington, D.C.
trogen proportions were the same concentrations in the water that were Dunham, R., Masser, M., 2012. Production of Hybrid Catfish. SRAC Publication No. 190.
Eaton, A.d., Clesceri, L.S., Rice, R.W., Greenberg, A.E., 2005. Standard Methods for the
leaving the fish cell; however, ammonia‑nitrogen concentrations were Examination of Water and Wastewater, 21st edition. American Public Health
lower in water entering the fish cell in the treatment ponds rather than Association, Washington, DC, USA.
the control ponds. Production was not affected by the observed differ- Farrelly, J.C., Chen, Y., Shrestha, S., 2015. Occurrences of growth related target dissolved
oxygen and ammonia in different catfish pond production systems in southeast
ence between control and treatment, but lower un-ionized ammo- Arkansas. Aquac. Eng. 64, 68–77.
nia‑nitrogen concentration should have reduced stress to fish. Gross, A., Boyd, C.E., Seo, J., 1999. Evaluation of the ultraviolet spectrophotometric
There were no statistical differences between quality of water going method for the measurement of total nitrogen in water. J. World Aquacult. Soc. 30,
into the waste cells and that of water leaving the waste cells in either
Hanson, T., Sites, D., 2013. 2012 Catfish Database. Fisheries and Allied Aquaculture
control or treatment ponds during the present study. This could have Department Series No. 1 Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, Auburn,
been the result of lack of circulation in these large ponds. Split-ponds Alabama.
should be designed and managed to facilitate complete mixing of water Heikes, D., 1996. Catfish yield verification trials. Final Report. May 1993–December 1996
In: Arkansas Cooperative Extension Program. University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff,
within each cell and good circulation between cells. It is likely that if Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
the waste cell was too large for the specific pump used in the present Kroupova, H., Machova, J., Svobodova, Z., 2005. Nitrite influence on fish: A review.
study with no baffle in the waste cell, so short circuiting of flow be- Veterinary Medicine-Czech 50 (11), 461–471.
Le, P.T.T., Boyd, C.E., 2012. Comparison of phenate and salicylate methods for de-
tween the fish cell and waste cell resulted in a redirection in remedia- termination of total ammonia nitrogen in freshwater and saline water. J. World
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Marker, A.F.H., 1972. The use of acetone and methanol in the estimation of chlorophyll in
the presence of pheophytin. Freshw. Biol. 2, 361–385.
Acknowledgements Robinson, E.H., Li, M.H., 2015. Feed conversion ratio for pond-raised catfish. In:
Mississippi Agricultural & Forestry Experiment Station Information Sheet No. 1364.
The authors would like to show appreciation to those who have Shrader, K.K., Dennis, M.E., 2005. Cyanobacteria and earthy/musty compounds found in
commercial catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) ponds in the Mississippi Delta and
critically reviewed this manuscript as well as those that helped, espe-
Mississippi-Alabama Blackland Prairie. Water Res. 39 (13), 2807–2814 (https://
cially the farmer and farm manager, in supporting this study. This re-
search was supported by the USDA/NIFA [grant number 2012-38500- Tucker, C.S., 2009. Southern Regional Aquaculture Center: Twenty-second Annual
Progress Report. Southern Regional Aquaculture Center, Stoneville, Mississippi, pp.
USDA, 2016. Insurance program development for catfish margin protection. D15PD00514
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