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.