- Mississippi is #1 in U.S. catfish production
- Mississippi produces over 55% of the nation’s farm-raised catfish
- Mississippi ranks #2 in turtle production
- Mississippi is one of the top producing states in freshwater prawn production
- The state also produces tilapia, hybrid striped bass and bighead carp
A full 94% of all U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish are raised here in in Mississippi, as well as Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana. In 1985, the U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish industry in these four states employed about 6,000 people and contributed roughly $2.1 billion to the economies of each state. Today, the industry employs more than 13,000 people, and is responsible for more than $4 billion.
Ponds are built over the clay-rich soils of the delta, where they are filled with pure fresh water pumped from underground wells. The rectangular-shaped ponds, averaging 10 to 20 acres each, are built above ground by constructing levees. These embankments contain water that can reach 4 to 6 feet in depth. There are now over 40,000 acres of ponds raising catfish in the delta area.
Besides the improved quality of the living conditions, a big difference between a U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish and its wild cousin is what they eat. These delta delicacies are fed a gourmet diet of puffed, high-protein food pellets, made of a mixture of soybeans, corn, wheat, vitamins, and minerals. Farm-raised catfish have learned to feed on pellets that float on top of the ponds unlike its wild, bottom-feeding cousin. This feed not only helps in producing a healthier fish, but also a cleaner, milder tasting one.
Farming begins with the selection and mating of quality brood stock. A brood fish will lay from 3,000 to 4,000 eggs per pound of body weight over an average of 12 years. Fertilized eggs are collected and placed in controlled hatchery tanks. After seven days at a temperature of 78· F, the eggs hatch. The young, called “sac fry,” live off the food supplied by the yolk sacs.
When the yolk is consumed and the fish begin to swim freely,they are moved to a special pond where they can grow into fingerlings. When they reach 4 to 6 inches in length, they are transferred to catfish ponds in a ratio of approximately 4,500 per surface acre of water.
U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish are harvested in seines (large weighted nets) when they are about 18 months old and average 1 to 1.5 pounds. They are loaded into baskets and placed in aerated tank trucks for live shipment to processing plants.
Catfish are kept alive up to the minute they are processed. The entire processing procedure is completed in less than 30 minutes. The fish are cleaned, processed, and placed on ice or individually quick frozen to temperatures of -40° F to help preserve the taste and quality of the fish.