Wild ride for U.S. catfish industry

July 15, 2011 17:03

Consolidation, high feed costs and an ongoing recession have dogged U.S. catfish producers over the past several years and those issues were still present as 2011 unfolded, reports www.megafishnet.com with reference to SeafoodSource.

"It has been a little bit of a wild ride," says Rob Mayo, president of Carolina Classics Catfish in Ayden, N.C. Supply has never been tighter, he says, and with an industry that continues to shrink "we're still going to be tight going forward."

Feed costs have risen not just for catfish farmers, but for all aquaculture and farm animals, he says, which translates "to a new era of higher food prices, including farmed fish."

In 2010, catfish growers in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas had sales of $403 million, up about 8 percent from the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS). Market-size sales accounted for $375 million, with the remainder coming from sales of fingerlings, fry and stockers.

But while sales rose, there is a continuing decrease in the acreage utilized for catfish farming. NASS surveys showed water surface acreage for catfish production had declined 13 percent to 99,600, down from 2010's 115,000 acres. Among the producing states, only North Carolina and Texas didn't decrease acreage. Mississippi, which had by far the largest share at 64,000 acres in 2010, dropped to 55,500 acres at the beginning of the year.

"Each individual farm is analyzing the future of the operation," says Roger Barlow, president of The Catfish Institute in Jackson, Miss. "Input costs (such as feed) effect the industry tremendously," he adds, and the rising cost of fuel has also had an impact.

On the positive side, he says, "we have seen prices improve to the point where growers are seeing some profit. Because without profit, people will continue to exit the industry."

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