Aquaculture In North Carolina

Aquaculture is the business of farming aquatic plants and animals. In North Carolina, farmers grow trout, catfish, hybrid striped bass, crawfish, yellow perch, prawns, ornamental fish, baitfish, clams and oysters.

Farms for freshwater fish typically consist of square or rectangular earthen ponds or, for trout, ponds or tanks which are much longer than they are wide. Farmers stock these ponds and tanks with small fish, then feed and care for them until ready for harvest and sale to the consumer. Clam and oyster farmers use the natural sea bottom as their growing environment, and either plant small shellfish or move existing shellfish to areas better suited for their growth.

Over 200 North Carolina families earn at least a part of their living through aquaculture, and the industry is worth nearly $25 million dollars to the state's economy in farm sales alone.

Coldwater - Trout

Trout farming is the oldest form of commercial fish production in the U.S., dating back over 150 years. Trout are usually grown in concrete raceways (narrow tanks) or ponds with a constant supply of cold, flowing water. North Carolina is second only to Idaho in U.S. trout production, and had 41 operations supplying nearly 3.6 million pounds (valued at about $5.5 million) in 2008. There are also about 45 farmers that either grow smaller trout to stock in private ponds or lakes, or have "fish-out" facilities where people can try their hand fishing with hook and line.

Catfish, Hybrid Striped Bass, Crawfish, etc. . .

The mountains of western North Carolina are as perfectly suited for growing trout as the eastern coastal plain is for pond culture of catfish and hybrid striped bass. Catfish is the major species raised in terms of pounds—in 2008, North Carolina farmers harvested about 8.4 million pounds of catfish, worth about $7.1 million to the farmer. The Southeast and Mid-Atlantic are still the biggest markets for sales of North Carolina catfish, but the largest processor in the state also exports to Europe and Asia.

While catfish have been grown in ponds for several years, farming of the hybrid striped bass began just 20 years go. Hybrid striped bass is a cross of two types of wild bass which are found in the ocean and brackish water bays. Both parents of the preferred cross are found naturally in our waters. Pond culture began in North Carolina in 1987 with the opening of the first farm. North Carolina now has over 763 acres of hybrids and 5 commercial hatcheries. Production for 2008 is estimated at 1.3 million pounds with farm-gate sales of $3.9 million.

Crawfish, ornamental fish, and baitfish are also grown in earthen ponds from the piedmont to the coast. These species still play a small role in North Carolina aquaculture.

Oysters and Clams

Traveling further east, to the coastal fringes of North Carolina, farmers grow clams and oysters on sea bottom which has been leased from the state. Over the past five years 18% of the state's total clam harvest and 14% of the total oyster harvest came from aquaculture leases. Tiny clams produced in hatcheries are"planted"on the bottom and harvested two to three years later when they have reached market size of 3/4" to 1" in width. Small oysters are often transplanted from crowded or poor growing conditions onto sea bottom that encourages faster growth.

In 2008, 4,467 bushels of clams and 10,048 bushels of oysters, with an estimated value of over $500,000 were harvested from 1,909 leased acres.

Safe, Dependable, and Nutritious

Fish and shellfish cannot be successfully grown in waters laden with pesticides or other contaminants. The fish farmer has a vested interest in obtaining and maintaining the best water possible. A healthy water environment and a well fed and cared for fish mean higher profits for the farmer and fresh and safe seafood to the consumer.

Fish are harvested as quickly as possible and immediately iced and boxed or transported in ice water to the processing plant or packing facility. Producers want to keep their fish cold so that the flesh stays as firm as possible. Any loss in freshness means the loss of a market.

Since land-based aquaculture businesses hold fish in ponds and tanks, they can sell their product all during the year. Consistency of supply, size, quality, and even flavor - since fish are fed a controlled and nutritionally complete diet—differentiates farm-raised fish from their wild cousins.

Fish has often been called "brain-food," and is rich in protein and nutrients, but low in calories. Catfish, for example, is lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol than chicken, beef, or pork.

A clean, safe, nutritious, and dependable product is the goal of the North Carolina fish farmer, and the benefit for consumers around the world!

Did You Know... ?

  • U.S. aquaculture provides nearly 15% of the U.S. edible fish and shellfish production?
  • The North Carolina Department of Agriculture has people and facilities to help fish farmers make financial decisions, market their product, and diagnose sick fish?
  • North Carolina State University and Sea Grant College Programs have 10 extension agents and specialists across the state to help existing and prospective fish and shellfish farmers?
  • North Carolina has facilities - ponds, hatcheries, and recirculating systems - used for both research and demonstration of fish and shellfish culture?
  • North Carolina holds it's Aquaculture Development Conference each January in Atlantic Beach. For more information on the next conference, contact Matt Parker at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 252-633-1477.

For More Information. . .

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture is the lead agency for aquaculture in the state. Contact the department for general information on aquaculture, required permits, the economics of aquaculture, and marketing information.


Peter Anderson
Aquaculture Business Specialist
North Carolina Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Division of Aquaculture

NC Coop. Extension Service
Craven County Center
300 Industrial Drive
New Bern NC 28562
(252) 633-1477
(252) 633-2120 (fax)

Cold-water species:
Debra Sloan
North Carolina Department of Agriculture 
and Consumer Services
P.O. Box 1475
Franklin, NC 28744
(828) 524-1264


John Aydlett
North Carolina Department of Agriculture 
and Consumer Services
Northeast Marketing Center
P.O. Box 2066
Elizabeth City 
(252) 331-4773