Channel Catfish and Production

Notes from Fundamentals of Aquaculture, James W. Avault, Jr., Ph.D.

Channel Catfish, pgs. 72-75
Channel catfish is primarily grown in the southeastern United States with more than 1100 commercial growers in 15 states. (National Aquaculture Development Plan, 1983).

In 1984, more than 68,182 metric tons (=75 thousand tons) of catfish were produced.
In 1985, a major fast food chain added farm-raised catfish to the menu, which required apprx. 13,636 metric tons (=15 thousand tons) for the first order).

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Catfish farming expanded at an annual rate of almost 20% during the 80's.
Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and California are other important catfish producing states.
  • In 1990 processing plants received 180,000 tons of catfish (valued at 323 million), an increase of about 20% over 1989.
  • In 1993, growers sold 229 thousand tons of catfish to processors.

    Channel catfish, a freshwater species, readily spawns in captivity when water temperatures reach a minimum of 70 F. It generally fails to spawn when held at year-round high temperatures.

    A six inch fingerling will reach 1.25-1.5 lb., in approx. 210 days when water temperature is above 65 F.

    Fish are batch harvested or cull harvested. In batch harvesting, ponds are drained and fish harvested all at once. Cull harvesting, practiced by most farmers, marketable fish are removed over a three week interval. This process involves seining marketable fish, allowing smaller fish to escape through a mesh in the seine. Fingerlings are restocked to replace the fish which are removed.

    Catfish farmers have marketed fish to processing plants, stores, restaurants, live haulers who resell, fee fishing operations, hatchery production and sale of fingerlings and brood fish.

    As production increases, water quality decreases from fish waste. An example is oxygen depletion, high ammonia and nitrate levels. Diseases such as enteric septicemia of catfish (ESC) and brown blood disease, along with off-flavor are of major concern. Bird predation is a chronic problem.

    Opportunities exist for new farmers, provided the capital exists for investment. Land and suitable ground water, economics and marketing are major considerations. Some years, prices paid to producers dropped to barely break-even cost.

    Genetics can play an important role for increasing production by making superior fish available to producers. Channel catfish has became a versatile commodity, being promoted to fast-food restaurants, upscale restaurants and for home consumption.

    Other Catfish Species
    Blue catfish and white catfish have been produced commercially, but to less extent. White catfish is hardy but slower growing and develops a large head as it reaches maturity, lessening dressout percentage.
    Blue catfish has a high dressout rate, but more sensitive to distubances and matures later than channel catfish. First year growth is slower, but will outgrow channel catfish in the second year. This is important due to a market trend preferring fillets over whole-dressed catfish. Female channel catfish crossed with male blue catfish produces a faster growing fish than either parent. Methods to cross the two species commercially should be considered.

    Other Ictalurids, such as the yellow bullhead, brown bullhead and flahead catfish have been tested. Bullheads are slow growing, flathead catfish are carnivorous, making it difficult to raise fingerlings. Other species of catfish are being cultured around the globe.

    Clarias batrachus and C. macrocephalus are two valuable species found in Southeast Asia, Indian sub-continent, Africa and parts of Near East. Clarias batrachus escaped in the United States and became known as the walking catfish. Both species spawn well and grow well in captivity.

    Some other species, around the globe:
    Parts of Africa and Netherlands, Sharptooth Catfish Clarias gariepinus
    Asia, Pangasius spp., P. sutchi have culture potential.
    Thailand, Pangasius sp. is polycultured with O. niloticus.
    Cambodia, Pangasius spp., cultured in floating cages, fry and fingerlings stocked in floating bamboo cages.
    Europe, Plotosus anguillaris, P. canius, and Tandanus tandanus considered for culture in the Indo-Pacific region.
    Liberia, Heterobrancus bidorsalis grown in combination with O. niloticus.
    Brazil, Rhamdia quelen and R. hilarii offer potential aquaculture.
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