The nation's first specific-pathogen-free fish hatchery is up and running at Mississippi State University. Located adjacent to and operated by MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine, the 4,500-square-foot aquatic hatchery is a state-of-the-art facility for rearing catfish and other species in a disease-free environment.

“The fish hatched and reared in the facility have not been exposed to diseases and can be used in our fish-disease research projects,” said Jerald Ainsworth, CVM associate dean for research. “The hatchery can produce any species, but our primary interest is in rearing fish for use in research to benefit Mississippi's farm-raised catfish industry.”

The facility has been operating since late 2002, but it was officially dedicated during a recent tour by Mississippi catfish producers and processors.

“Specific-pathogen-free fish are not commercially available for laboratory use,” said associate professor Lora Petrie-Hanson. “The hatchery was designed to meet the stringent animal-housing specifications of the American Association for the Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.” Petrie-Hanson and her husband, CVM professor Larry Hanson, designed the facility — the first of its kind to go into operation.

“We merged the requirements for vertebrate animals with the physical needs unique to fish to create the hatchery,” Petrie-Hanson said.

The facility's three main labs can accommodate 20 tanks ranging in size from 10 to 100 gallons for use in egg hatching and fry development. Two additional holding rooms can house 16 tanks from 100 to 800 gallons. The temperature and flow rate of each tank is individually controlled. The facility also houses labs for in vitro fish spawning and plankton production for use in larval fish and fry feed.

Anyone who has been around fish ponds or other areas where he may have been exposed to aquatic diseases is required to shower and wear protective clothing before entering the hatchery.

Petrie-Hanson and other CVM personnel conduct a variety of projects in support of the catfish industry, including development of oral delivery methods for catfish vaccination, diagnostic methods and work with fish pathology and immunology.

“The addition of the specific-pathogen-free hatchery improves the capability of our research program,” she said. “It allows us to work with fish that have not previously been exposed to the diseases we are studying.”


Bob Ratliff is a science writer for University Relations at Mississippi State University.