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Stock Enhancement Research Facility

aerial view of fish 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) consists of several key systems. These systems include a seawater pumping station, a 12,000 square foot hatchery building, 12 one-acre and six quarter-acre ponds, a discharge water effluent system, office, lab, and maintenance work areas.

The process of spawning and raising hatchery fish at SERF begins at a seawater pumping station. The station consists of a 100-foot wooden dock with a 10 square foot concrete platform. Seawater is supplied through one of two large 50-horsepower pumps through 1.2 miles of dual 12-inch pipes at 1,300 gallons-per-minute.

This pipeline also supplies water to the main hatchery building. Six 15,000-gallon and eight 100-gallon fiberglass tanks are used for water storage. This building also houses nine independent 3,000-gallon tanks in separate spawning rooms; these tanks are for holding and spawning sexually mature adult red drum. Within each room, water temperature and day length can be controlled, mimicking the natural parameters of light and temperature. This allows biologists to shorten each simulated season (winter, spring, and summer) and artificially prolong the spawning season (fall). In this way, red drum can be fooled into spawning on demand. Two boiler and chiller systems are used to manage the hatchery tank water temperatures. Timers on the light systems regulate the simulated day length. Each broodstock holding tank is equipped with biological, sand, diatomaceous earth, and ultra-violet light filters. Swimming pool pumps are used to circulate water, and an aeration system insures adequate oxygen level in the water. Once the broodstock spawn, their eggs are collected and placed into one of eleven incubation tanks to hatch. Shortly after hatching, the "fry" are transported to one of the growout ponds.

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

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