STONEVILLE -- Catfish production is off to a good start in Mississippi in 2007 after a successful spawning season and warm weather that is promoting regular feeding.
“For the year overall, we are up on feed sales and feed to our fish,” said Jimmy Avery, Mississippi State University Extension aquaculture specialist based at the Delta Research and Extension Center National Warmwater Aquaculture Center in Stoneville.
“We were able to feed a lot of fish in March until cold weather in April slowed feeding significantly,” Avery said. “But May warmed up, and we're on track to another good feeding year.”
Avery said catfish that are fed consistently grow rapidly to processing size.
“Fish are still in short supply,” Avery said. “Our processors have been processing less fish because the supply has not been there. This has kept fish prices in the neighborhood of about 84 to 85 cents per pound. It's important that the price of catfish stay high because we have been dealing with increased feed and fuel costs.”
Catfish feed costs are up nearly $30 per ton more in 2007 than in 2006 due to market trends and the demand for corn, a primary ingredient in catfish feed.
Catfish fingerling production has been vigorous, said Jim Steeby, Extension aquaculture specialist based in Belzoni.
“We had an excellent spawning season last year, and it looks like our survival to this year was very good,” Steeby said. “We've gone from a shortage of 4- to 6-inch fingerlings in 2006 to an abundance of fingerlings in 2007.”
Steeby said many hatcheries closed at least two weeks early in 2007 due to carryover of the previous year's fingerling crop, last year's good spawning season and limited pond space this year. “The demand for fingerlings has been met,” Steeby said.
The Belzoni-based specialist said some east Mississippi and west Alabama producers did not buy catfish fingerlings this year because of the drought.
“I suspect if they had adequate water supply or a good rainfall, we might be seeing a little more restocking going on over there,” Steeby said.
Mississippi produces about 70 percent of the industry's catfish fingerlings, making it the largest fingerling supplier in the country.
Imports of channel catfish, basa and similar fish have increased dramatically over the last six years with March 2007 seeing a 97 percent increase in foreign catfish imports over March 2006, according to recent U.S. Census Bureau data.
Avery said the challenge to the consumer is knowing the source of their seafood product.
“The consumer rightfully expects the product to be safe and nutritious,” Avery said. “Some of these imported fish have been found to contain banned substances, primarily antibiotics. So it's not only a food safety issue, but it's also a fair trade issue.”
Avery said imports also threaten the price of U.S. farm-raised catfish.
“Our supply has been pretty tight, so imports haven't really started impacting our fish price yet,” Avery said. “But as we ease that tight supply, we're afraid we're going to see some price pressure from these foreign supplies.”
Mississippi leads the nation with about 94,000 water surface acres in production in 2007, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.
Catfish production added nearly $273 million to Mississippi's economy in 2006.
Producers harvest catfish throughout the year, with production occurring in the warm months from April to October.