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Stock Enhancement Research at Port Manatee

Aerial view of a large hatchery facility with three buildings, multiple water storage tanks, and several large ponds.

Florida's first state operated marine fish hatchery opened its doors in April 1988. The first red drum fingerlings were harvested 77 days later. The facility was constructed to support experimental stock enhancement research and to conduct research on hatchery propagation and rearing of marine and estuarine fishes.

Built on 54 acres provided to the state by the Manatee County Port Authority, the Stock Enhancement Research Facility (SERF) consisted of several key systems including a seawater pumping station, a 12,000 square foot hatchery building, 12 one-acre and six quarter-acre ponds, a discharge seawater retention pond and marsh, office, lab, and maintenance work areas.

Seawater needed for spawning and raising hatchery fish was pumped by a 50-horsepower pump through 1.2 miles of 12-inch pipe at 1,300 gallons-per-minute. Six 15,000-gallon and eight 4,000-gallon fiberglass tanks were used for water storage.

The hatchery building housed nine independent 3,000-gallon broodstock (adult spawning stock) tanks in separate rooms, used for holding and spawning sexually mature adult red drum. Within each room, water temperature and day length were controlled, mimicking the natural light and temperature cycle. Biologists shortened each of the non-spawning seasons (winter, spring, and summer) and artificially prolonged the spawning season (fall). In this way, red drum were manipulated to spawn at the time when biologists needed eggs. Two boiler and chiller systems were used to manage the water temperatures and timers on the lighting regulated the simulated day length. Each broodstock tank was equipped with biological, sand, diatomaceous earth, and ultra-violet light filters. Swimming pool pumps were used to circulate water, and an aeration system insured adequate oxygen level in the water. Once the broodstock spawned, their eggs were collected and placed into one of eleven incubation tanks to hatch. Shortly after hatching, the larvae ("fry") were transported to one of the growout ponds.

All the grow-out ponds were constructed with high-density polyethylene liners, and concrete drainage and fish collection basins called "kettles." Each pond was a "flow-through" system. Saltwater entered the pond through a 12-inch pipe and discharged through the kettle drain. Four of the one-acre ponds were fitted with bird exclusion nets. These nets are critical to production as birds can decimate a pond's fish population in a very short time. The quarter-acre ponds had electricity available enabling the use of aerators. Increasing the amount of oxygen in the water through aeration allows for much higher fish stocking densities and increases production capability. 

Discharge water (saltwater that has been used by hatchery systems) from both the grow-out ponds and hatchery building traveled through 2,300 feet of plastic lined drainage ditch to the primary effluent treatment system, a two-acre retention pond. A portion of the discharge water also moved through the secondary effluent treatment system, a 1 ½-acre salt marsh grass pond that was a "natural" water filter. Discharge water was returned to Tampa Bay in a condition better than it arrived.

In addition to raising redfish, the program also conducted hatchery research on spotted seatrout, common snook, bay scallops, and queen conch to support stock enhancement. SERF was decommissioned in 2021 and the Marine Fisheries Stock Enhancement Research program relocated to the Marine Fisheries Enhancement Center in Apollo Beach where both redfish and spotted seatrout will be grown for stock enhancement.