Proceedings of the Third World Fisheries Congress: Feeding the World with Fish in the Next Millenium—The Balance between Production and Environment

Intensive Culture of an Air-Breathing Fish, Snakehead (Channa striatus) during Larval, Fingerling, and Grow-Out Stages

Jian G. Qin, Arlo W. Fast


Snakehead Channa striatus is an air-breathing fish highly regarded as a food in Asia because its flesh is claimed to be rejuvenating, particularly for those recuperating from a serious illness (Mat Jais et al. 1997). Air-breathing fish have significant advantages for aquaculture, because they can survive and grow in oxygen-deficient water (Qin et al. 1997). Snakehead is very hardy and can remain alive for long periods out of water, if kept moist, because it possesses a pair of suprabranchial cavities for aerial respiration (Hughes and Munshi 1973). This characteristic is valuable for marketing, because live snakehead fetch considerably higher prices than dead fish (Wee 1982).

In the past, snakehead’s piscivorous behavior made it an undesirable intruder to other fish culture systems, and it was considered a pest, prompting eradication measures (Chen 1976). Recently, the high market price of snakehead’s firm, white, practically boneless flesh with a most agreeable flavor and hardiness to handling has made the culture of this species economically viable (Qin and Fast 1998). What was once farmed as a “police” fish in polyculture (i.e., to control smaller fish such as tilapias, or with carp to supplement the income of fish farmers) has developed into a major player in aquaculture.

Although snakehead has long been regarded as a food fish, snakehead farmers rely mostly on trial and error. Ecological rearing requirements of snakehead during larval, juvenile, and grow-out stages have not been systematically evaluated. Most commercial snakehead culture relies on the capture of wild fry, which are trained to accept prepared feed consisting of a trash fish paste and rice bran or wheat flour (Diana et al. 1985). These feeds have significant disadvantages because they do not keep easily and because the supply of trash fish is often limited, seasonal, and unreliable (Wee 1982). Therefore, using formulated pelletized feed is a vital factor for improved snakehead farming.

In the past, the supply of seed from natural sources was adequate to meet demands, but now, controlled fish breeding is essential to meet seed requirements. Expanded and consistent snakehead culture requires the development of improved larval rearing or, more specifically, training larval fish to accept pelletized feed during grow-out.

With this need in mind, we conducted a series of experiments using snakehead larvae produced in captivity. We studied their food use and culture techniques for larvae, fingerlings, and grow-out of juveniles to market size. The results presented in this paper indicate the biological and ecological preferences of snakehead and document important feed choices, feeding rations, and culture requirements for snakehead at various stages.