Products

Catfish

Ictalurus punctatus (Channel catfish), Pangasius bocourti (Basa catfish) Alaska

Market Name(s): Catfish, Mississippi catfish, Vietnamese catfish, basa, Brazilian catfish

Contact Purchasing
Catfish
  • Primary Source: Domestic: Mississippi, Alabama, Texas. Imported: Vietnam, Brazil.
  • Season: Year-round
  • Primary Fishing Method: Farmed

Size Range:

Max Size: 50 lbs

Avg. Size: Less than 5 lbs

Product forms:

H&G, skinless, boneless fillets (graded in 2-oz. increments), nuggets, breaded and marinated fillets.

Storage & Handling

Frozen fillets held at -5 to -15°F will last a year.

Cooking Suggestions

While frying is the most popular way to cook catfish, there are many other options for this versatile fish. Pan-frying or sautéing, for example, perhaps with a parsley pecan sauce, works quite well. So does poaching in a flavorful liquid such as a rosemary orange bouillon. Baking and even grilling can also be used to cook this increasingly popular fish.

Selling Points

  • Catfish has a wide appeal, as it is served in some of the finest restaurants in the country from New York to L.A.
  • Fresh or frozen, the quality and the price of farm-raised catfish are both remarkably consistent, making catfish one of the most marketable seafoods around.

Defects

  • Muddy, off-flavor.
  • Poorly trimmed fillets.

The Pacific Advantage

  • Direct truckload deliveries from plants in Mississippi ensures freshest possible product at very competitive price

Summary

Catfish is the great American aquaculture success story. The first catfish were farmed in Mississippi in the late 1960s, but the industry didn’t really come into its own until the 1970s after a series of crop failures motivated soybean farmers to give fish farming a try. With the strong support of local banks, universities and state and federal agriculture agencies, the catfish industry has never looked back. Since 1980, catfish production has grown from less than 20,000 tons to more than 250,000 tons. With that much fish to fry, it’s not surprising that Americans now eat more catfish than cod.

The catfish industry, which is based on the Mississippi Delta, farms channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus, a native species that is widely distributed throughout North America from southern Canada to northern Mexico.

Although channel catfish can reach 50 pounds in the wild, catfish farmers harvest them at an average size of 2 to 3 pounds after growing them for about 18 to 24 months. Catfish ponds are big (16 acres) and shallow (less than 4 feet). One pond can produce about 3 tons of catfish a year.

Catfish are an ideal fish to farm because they’re exceptionally hardy and they can be raised relatively inexpensively on a grain-based diet (species like salmon, on the other hand, require more expensive fish protein in their diet).

Since the industry’s inception, catfish prices have been remarkably steady. The ex-processor price for skinless, boneless fillets, for example, rarely moves beyond a range between $2.70-$2.90/lb. The catfish industry has taken a page from the poultry industry in its efforts to produce a uniform, high-quality product in highly mechanized plants. Catfish are delivered live to processing plants, where they are processed into a wide variety of fresh and frozen products including fillets, nuggets, portion-controlled breaded products and value-added marinated fillets.

Quality-wise, the big challenge with catfish is a muddy taste, which comes from a blue-green algae in the water. Most processors will taste test catfish both at pond side and in their plant before the fish hits the processing line. If any off taste is detected, the fish go right back in the pond. Still, during periods of tight supply, some processors have been known to relax their standards a bit. Significant amounts of catfish fillets are also imported into the U.S. Traditionally, Brazil has supplied as much as 1,000 tons a year of frozen catfish fillets from a wild fishery, however in recent years imports have fallen by a third. The Brazilian catfish, which is from the Synodontis family, is considerably larger than farmed channel catfish. The Brazilian catfish fillets are also not as uniform in size and they have a much higher oil content.

The major source of imported catfish these days is Vietnam, where a large catfish, Pangasius bocourti, is farmed along the Mekong River. These fish, which are farmed to an average size of about 5 pounds, yield very white fillets that average between 6 and 12 ounces. In an effort to give Vietnamese catfish a more exotic, upscale appeal, it is marketed by some importers under the name “basa.”