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Current Issues in U.S. Catfish Industry

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October 22, 2018

Guest: Jimmy Avery, Aquaculture Professor


Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about current issues in the United States catfish industry. Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today were speaking with Dr. Jimmy Avery, Mississippi State University Extension aquaculture professor. Dr. Avery, what is the status of the catfish industry as of mid-year 2018?

Jimmy Avery: We've got about 66,000 acres in the US. Mississippi of course leads that with about 36,000 acres, and we're up slightly from 2017, when we were about 34,000 acres in the state. Currently, we're looking at a little bit of an oversupply of catfish, particularly oversupply that's still in ponds, and our price is beginning to drop.

Amy Myers: As we all know, an oversupply of catfish is ultimately damaging to the market. Is there any way producers can avoid problems with oversupply?

Jimmy Avery: The producers themselves have little control over oversupply. They have a point to where they have to put fish in the pond, and so it's really had to say that I'm going to cut back 5%. It's not like a lot of row crops where we can either switch to a different commodity or something else. We put fish in and within about 18 months we've got to get them out.

Amy Myers: Okay. There's a new type of catfish called the hybrid catfish, and this big fish issue, is it common to both hybrids and regular channels?

Jimmy Avery: Correct. About 70% of our producers now are using a hybrid catfish, and this is a cross between the blue catfish and the channel catfish, and we also have producers that raise just channel catfish. This big fish issue is common to both hybrids and channels. Essentially, the fact that we've got an animal now, this hybrid catfish, that grows fast, it's aggressive eater, and we've got some better production systems out there now, and so both of these things kind of lead us toward a more of a big fish. We get out there and we've got an animal now that's three, maybe four pounds.

Amy Myers: Why is having a big fish a problem when it comes to catfish?

Jimmy Avery: Well, the problem we get into with big fish is that when you process it, it tends to make a big filet. If you look at most of our product is really ... The premium product is about a three ounce and a seven ounce filet, okay? And that comes off something about a pound and a half to a two pound fish. When we're growing a four pound fish, it means we may have an 11 to 14 ounce filet, and there's just not a lot of market out there for that type of product. Most people, either when they're frying it or they want a center of the plate kind of presentation, they're in that probably seven ounce filet. This becomes a problem because we have a product there that it's really hard to push through the supply chain.

Amy Myers: Now that we know more about large fish, what are some points you want to emphasize to producers as they manage their ponds?

Jimmy Avery: Now, this is one thing that I think farmers do have a little bit of control on. We've always had an issue in the catfish industry about inventory management. It's not like cattle; our animals aren't running around there with tags and we can count them and these kind of things as we go forward. The problem we have is that we put them in and, especially with hybrids, we take them all out at the same time.

Jimmy Avery: I think inventory management is very, very important, and the way farmers can do that is they can try to make sure that when the average size fish in that pond is ready to go to market, they do the best job they can to get them to market. Make sure they're on flavor, make sure they've got a home for them, and make sure that every fish comes out. Because if that fish doesn't get harvested that time, then it's going to continue to grow and it's going to be a problem down the line.

Amy Myers: So should we throw them out if we see them?

Jimmy Avery: Well, I think what were looking at is, let's say we get to the end and we've got 10,000 pounds left in a pond, we need to move those out of there and consolidate these holdover fish. Don't feed them anymore, we don't need to grow them any more. Keep them together and make sure all those animals get taken out and get sent to a processing plant.

Amy Myers: Where can we go for more information about current issues in the catfish industry?

Jimmy Avery: You can certainly look at we have several catfish pages there that you can look at. It's under agriculture, you can pull down, it'll say catfish. Or you can call me at [Stoneville 00:04:30].

Amy Myers: Okay, so what would the Stoneville contact number be?

Jimmy Avery: Stoneville contact would be 662-686-3272.

Amy Myers: Okay, and the new extension website is Is that correct?

Jimmy Avery: That's correct.

Amy Myers: Today we've been speaking with Dr. Jimmy Avery, aquaculture professor. I'm Amy Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.


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