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Agricultural Marketing Resource Center

Golden Shiner Profile

By Dan Burden, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, djburden@iastate.edu.
Profile revised July 2011.

Revised May 2012 by C. Greg Lutz, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.


The distribution of the golden shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas) includes virtually all of the United States and southern Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. Additionally, it occurs west to the Dakotas and Texas. The preferred habitat of golden shiners includes shallow, weedy, quiet regions of lakes and ponds where they move in large schools. Wherever they occur, they are a primary food source for black bass, pike and other game fish. They consume a wide variety of plant and animal matter including filamentous algae, and aquatic and terrestrial insects.

Golden shiners currently are the most important species to the nation’s bait fish industry.  In 2005, 76 farms in the United States reported raising golden shiners, posting total sales of $17.1 million. Arkansas remained the home of the largest number of farms, but that number declined from 35 in 1998 to 22 in 2005. Likewise, the number of farms in Maine producing golden shiners declined from 26 (1998) to 2 (2005). However, the number of farms in Minnesota expanded from 5 to 14 during the same period, making that state the second largest producer of golden shiners. (Census of Aquaculture 2005.)  More recent statistics are generally lacking, due to suspension of the aquaculture census in 2011 due to budget constraints.  Industry observers suggest there has been a contraction in recent years, although not as dramatic as that seen in the catfish industry.  

Aquaculture Methods

Golden shiner broodstock are typically spawned using special mats in outdoor spawning ponds.  Eggs are deposited in the latex-coated coconut fiber mats which are then brought to indoor hatchery tanks for hatching under controlled conditions (temperature, oxygen and water quality).   A single female may produce up to 200,000 eggs and may spawn more than once during the breeding season. Newly-hatched fry are stocked back into ponds at up to 1 - 2 million per acre, and fed a finely-ground commercial meal for the first several weeks after stocking.  Subsequent transfers to other, lower-density ponds for grow-out to market size usually occur some 4 to 16 weeks after stocking.  As size increases, the diet shifts to crumbled and pelleted rations.  Density is a major tool to allow for control over growth, which in turn allows growers to provide various sizes of fish to customers at specific times of year.  

Golden shiner ponds are characterized by comparatively low yields, and harvests of 450 pounds per acre are generally required for profitability.  Fixed costs of over $1 per pound are typical in shiner production, so the impacts of lower-than-projected yields and unexpected production problems can be catastrophic from an economic perspective. 


Marketing is the most problematic aspect of the golden shiner business (and the live bait business in general).  It has been stated that the weather on five weekends during each spring (and therefore the demand for live bait) can determine profitability for the entire year for golden shiner producers.  Successful shiner producers generally need to be able to deliver a variety of sizes at various times of the year. Seasonal preferences are the rule in golden shiner markets – smaller fish are in demand in the springtime, medium-large fish are popular in the summer, and large sizes are most marketable in the winter months.  But there are exceptions to the rule, with certain markets demanding specific sizes and quantities, often on short notice.

Due to the dominance of long-standing distribution networks, new producers often find it very difficult to enter markets.  Since a live product is not worth much without a distribution system, those producers who can distribute efficiently rule the market. 

Problems facing the golden shiner industry include competition from wild bait and artificial lures, as well as increasing scrutiny of interstate commerce in live fish due to concerns over the spread of diseases which could impact wild populations.  Additionally, fewer retailers specialize in live bait today compared to twenty or even ten years ago.  Changing demographics and trends in public opinion regarding the use of live fish as bait may also impact the industry in the future. 


Baitfish: Feeds and Feeding Practices. Southern Regional Aquaculture Center Publication No. 121. 4 pp. (pdf) Lochmann, R., N. Stone, and E. Park. 2002.

Baitfish Production in the United States, G.J. Burtle, L.W. Dorman and D.L. Gray.

Census of Aquaculture 2005, USDA, 2006.

Common Farm-Raised Baitfish. Southern Regional Aquaculture Center Publication No. 120. (pdf) Stone, N., and H. Thomforde. 2001.

Dietary Protein and Lipid Requirements of Golden Shiners and Goldfish. 1998. Southern Regional Aquaculture Center Publication No. 124 (pdf)

Forage Fish – Introduction and Species. Southern Regional Aquaculture Center Publication No. 140. (pdf) Stone, N. 2008.

Golden Shiner Culture: A Reference Profile. University of Florida, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute for Food and Agriculture Publication No. FA-34. 4 pp. (pdf) Lazur, A.M. and F.A. Chapman. 1996.

Production Enterprise Budget for Golden Shiners. Southern Regional Aquaculture Center Publication No. 122. (pdf) Stone, N., C. R. Engle and E. Park. 2008.

Other Links

  • Aquaculture (Domestic Production and International Trade Information), FSAonline, USDA.
  • Aquamedia, An Internet information and resource for aquaculture and fisheries. Contains directories, news, statistics and other related information.
  • Baitfish Production in the United States, G. Burtle, University of Georgia, and L. Dorman and L. Gray, University of Arkansas, undated - History of the industry, overview of production systems and marketing strategies.
  • Census of Aquaculture (2005), USDA, 2006.
  • Aquaculture, Economic Research Service, USDA.
  • Great Lakes Aquaculture (Sea Grant): Aquaculture and Sea Food Safety - Overview of various programs and initiatives of the Great Lakes Sea Grant Program. Sea Grant researchers are studying several fish species suitable for aquaculture in the Midwest, including walleye, sturgeon, hybrid striped bass, sunfish, bait fish, yellow perch, tilapia, bluegill, crappie, bullhead, crayfish and a variety of salmonids. A variety of techniques are being examined, including pond culture, cage culture and indoor contained systems. The Great Lakes Sea Grant Network also has developed a regional resource list of aquaculture publications and audiovisuals for current and potential aquaculturists.
  • Pond Dynamics/Aquaculture - The Pond Dynamics/Aquaculture Collaborative Research Support Program (PD/A CRSP) represents an international, multi-disciplinary effort to improve human nutrition through pond aquaculture research. The work of the PD/A CRSP benefits both domestic and international aquaculture.
  • World Aquaculture Society - International society of aquaculturalists working to improve education and communication within the industry.

LInks checked: August 2013


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