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Growing big fish in Hallettsville ponds (w/video)

By Sara Sneath
June 17, 2014 at 1:17 a.m.
Updated June 18, 2014 at 1:18 a.m.

Kenneth Henneke, owner of Kenneth Henneke Hatchery in Hallettsville, examines his hatching tanks.

If you Go:

• WHAT: Kenneth Henneke Hatchery

• WHERE: 1267 County Road 134, Hallettsville

• MORE INFORMATION: Call 361-798-5934 or email info@hennekehatchery.com.

HALLETTSVILLE - Kenneth Henneke's love of fishing with his bare hands gave him the inspiration to start a fish hatchery business 35 years ago.

Henneke, 74, of Hallettsville, previously sold water to oil-field companies, but a lull in business in the '70s led him to combine the excess water on his hands with his favorite pastime. More than three decades later, Henneke's hatchery has grown into a family business with about 70 aboveground, man-made ponds for breeding and growing fish, which he sells to stock ponds.

"Since I was an old under banker and loved to fish - though I don't eat fish much because it's the only thing that makes me burp - we went ahead and got into the fish business," Henneke said.

The hatchery began selling hump-back blue catfish but has expanded to include bass, sunfish, crappie and shad. About nine years ago, Henneke supplied breeding male channel catfish to a Mississippi State and Auburn University project crossing female channel catfish and blue male catfish.

Henneke now sells the hybrid blue catfish, which grow faster and put on more weight with less food than the two species from which the fish derive. The hybrid has made Henneke's hatchery a popular fish wholesaler across the state.

"It's our No. 1 selling catfish," said Kenneth's son, Brian Henneke.

The hybrids are also an exceptionally good species to use in aquaponics, which has become more popular in the U.S. with the sustainability movement.

"They're more aggressive, they grow faster, and they make more fertilizer," Henneke's son said. "They're a hardy fish, and in aquaponics, you're holding more fish in a smaller area, so you need something that can withstand the stress."

Despite the state's water shortage, Henneke expects to stay in the fish business for the long haul.

"We love it because you get to meet so many great people from all over Texas. It's an interesting business to be in," Henneke said.

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