Southern catfish producers have had their best hatchery season in recent history, and they’re seeing the best market prices in more than a decade. Alabama Catfish Producers Chairman Butch Wilson of Dallas County said that’s good news for Alabama’s 230 commercial catfish farmers.”When quality fingerlings are more available, farmers can stock ponds at adequate levels earlier in the year,” Wilson said. “Stocking earlier allows the fish more time to grow which can translate into higher profits for producers.”According to catfish experts in Mississippi, the warm temperatures last spring were ideal for spawning. Catfish don’t eat when water temperatures fall below 65 degrees, so the longer the fingerlings have to develop, the greater growth potential they have.Tom Penton, general manager of Eagle Aquaculture, Inc. in south Montgomery County, said his company recorded a record hatch of its new Auburn Hybrid Catfish this year. Crossbreeding a female channel catfish and a male blue catfish produces the hybrid.”This year, we hatched 13.8 million fish,” Penton said. “People have been hatching hybrids for decades, but it is so labor intensive that no one has been able to produce them in large numbers. Each year our goal is to hatch more than the previous year, but this year’s results were more than a pleasant surprise.”Last year, the new company managed to produce 5 million fish to sell to farmers in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Hatcheries producing channel catfish fingerlings reported high hatch rates this year as well.According to Mitt Walker, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Catfish Division, it takes about 18 months to grow a fish from fingerling size (about six inches) to the target harvest weight of one and a half to two pounds.”With a larger hatch, we are hoping farmers will have all the fish they need for stocking this year,” Walker said. “Especially since there was a shortage of fish available for harvest last spring.” While the price producers are receiving for their fish has gone up, it’s important to remember production costs have increased as well, he added.”Fuel and other input costs have risen for catfish producers just like they have for most other commodities,” Walker said. “This year’s drought also increased costs to farmers.”Alabama has more than 25,000 water acres of fish farms with annual cash receipts of nearly $100 million. Add to that, the $80 million in feed, utilities, equipment and services purchased by catfish farmers and more than 3,000 jobs in the processing and production of catfish in the state, the total economic impact of the catfish industry exceeds $300 million in Alabama.Alabama ranks second in the U.S. in annual catfish sales, behind Mississippi. During the last 20 years, Alabama’s annual catfish production increased from less than 10 million pounds to more than 140 million pounds. Alabama still has the land and water resources to support an industry several times that size, Walker said. Average consumption of catfish has more than doubled in the past decade.
Catfish Producers Report Good Prices, Good Hatchery Season