Catfish Farming

Freshwater Aquaculture February 18, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF
Catfish Farm Management
Catfish Publications
Catfish Websites
Catfish Videos

Nathan Stone, Extension Section Leader-Aquaculture, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

Channel catfish (photo courtesy of David Cline, Auburn University).

Catfish is the "king" of U.S. aquaculture in terms of pounds produced and total value. The majority of catfish production occurs in the South, in the states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas. This southern delicacy is raised in earthen ponds filled with well water and fed a floating, grain-based diet. Catfish has a mild flavor and is high in protein and low in calories. According to the National Statistics Service, 471,683,000 pounds of U.S. farm-raised catfish were processed in 2010. Farmers received an average price of $0.861 per pound. Additional catfish were processed locally or sold for pond stocking and pay lakes (fee fishing operations).

The most commonly cultured species is the channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus, although a hybrid between the channel catfish and the blue catfish, Ictalurus furcatus, is growing in popularity. Channel catfish are a warmwater species with an optimal temperature for growth of 85°F (29°C). In the wild, catfish are omnivores, feeding on a wide variety of animal and plant materials. In culture ponds, fish are fed a complete diet, typically composed of soybean meal and other seed or grain products, with only a small amount of animal protein.

Catfish fingerlings (photo courtesy of David Cline Auburn University).

Most catfish production occurs in earthen ponds, typically 5 to 10 acres in size, with relatively small numbers produced in cages and raceways. A new production system developed at Mississippi State University, the split-pond system, has been shown to improve yields, and farmers are beginning to add these systems to their farms. Most catfish are raised in multiple-batch production. Small catfish (fingerlings) are typically stocked each spring and market-sized fish removed periodically by seining. Ponds are left for production for years without draining, as wastes are removed through natural processes within the ponds. In single-batch production, fingerling catfish are stocked and grown until almost all of the fish have reached market size, then the entire pond of fish is harvested at once, and then the pond is re-stocked. In catfish feed production, the ground feed ingredients are mixed and sent through an extruder, resulting in feed pellets that float. To feed fish, farmers use a truck or trailer-mounted hopper with a blower that shoots the feed pellets over the water surface. Thus, the fish feeding response is easily monitored to ensure that fish get fed enough but not too much. Dissolved oxygen concentrations in catfish ponds will decline over the night during the growing season, and farmers use aerators (typically electric paddlewheels) to increase oxygen levels in the water.

U.S catfish production had declined in recent years, in part due to competition from Pangasius species of catfish (all catfish are within the order Siluriformes), imported from Vietnam and sold under the names of Basa, Tra, and Swai. Some channel catfish fillets are also imported from China and Indonesia. Imported tilapia products also appear to compete with catfish in certain markets. High feed prices also increased the costs of production, especially since feed is a major operating cost. Recent increases in prices paid to farmers for catfish have made catfish culture profitable again, and farmers are increasing production to fill a shortage of U.S. farm-raised catfish.


Catfish Farm Management

Alearn Catfish Database html


Catfish Publications

ERS Catfish Processing Report
Catfish Species Profile (pdf).
Commercial Production (pdf).
Pond Culture of Channel Catfish (pdf)
A Practical Guide to Nutrition, Feeds, and Feeding of Catfish (pdf)
Arkansas Catfish Production Budgets(pdf)
Catfish Farmers Handbook (pdf)
Catfish Farming in Kentucky (pdf)
Catfish Nutrition: Feeds (pdf)
Catfish Nutrition: Nutrient Requirements (pdf)
Catfish Nutrition: Feeding Food Fish (pdf)
Catfish Protein Nutrition (pdf)
Channel Catfish Broodfish and Hatchery Management (pdf)
Channel Catfish Broodfish Management (pdf)
Channel Catfish: Dietary Effects on Body Composition and Storage Quality (pdf)
Channel Catfish: Life History and Biology (pdf)
Channel Catfish: Produced in Kansas Ponds for Profit and Pleasure (pdf)
Channel Catfish: Production Impacts of Diet Composition and Feeding Practices (pdf)
Comparative Growth and Yield of Channel Catfish and Channel x Blue Hybrid Catfish Fed a Full or Restricted Ration (pdf)
Construction of Levee Ponds for Commercial Catfish Production (pdf)
Cost of Small-Scale Catfish Production (pdf)
Design and Construction of Degassing Units for Catfish Hatch (pdf)
Developing a HACCP Program for the Catfish Processing Industry (pdf)
Effect of Nutrition on Body Composition and Subsequent Storage Quality of Farm-Raised Channel Catfish (pdf)
Feeding Catfish in Commercial Ponds (pdf)
Fry-Pond Preparation for Rearing Channel Catfish (pdf)
Fry Stocking Rates for the Production of Channel Catfish Fingerlings (pdf)
Impacts of Diuron Usage on the Mississippi Catfish Industry (pdf)
Incubating and Hatching Catfish Eggs in McDonald Jars (pdf)
Infestation of the Trematode Bolbophoros sp. in Channel Catfish (pdf)
Managing Hatch Rate and Diseases in Catfish Eggs (pdf)
Managing Off-Flavor Problems in Pond-Raised Catfish (pdf)
Microbial Rinse Technique (pdf)
Nutrient Characteristics for Pond-Raised Channel Catfish (pdf)
Off-Flavor in U.S. Catfish Operations (pdf)
Partial Budgeting and Decision-Making Tools for Catfish Production (pdf)
Pond Preparation for Spawning Channel Catfish (pdf)
Practical Channel Catfish Broodstock Selection and Management (pdf)
Processed Catfish: Product Forms, Packaging, Yields, and Product Mix (pdf)
Processed Catfish (pdf)
Processing Channel Catfish (pdf)
Producing Hybrid Catfish Fry: Workshop Manual (pdf)
Production of Hybrid Catfish (pdf)
Production Responses of Channel Catfish to Minimum Daily Dissolved Oxygen Concentrations in Earthen Ponds (pdf)
Refinement of Vitamin Supplementation in Diets for Pond-Raised Channel Catfish (pdf)
Restricted Feeding Regimes Increase Production Efficiency in Channel Catfish (pdf)
Testing Flavor Quality of Preharvest Channel Catfish (pdf)
Texas Catfish Production in Ponds (pdf)
USDA Catfish 2004: Part 1 - Reference of Fingerling Catfish Health and Production Practices in the United States, 2003 (pdf)
Catfish 2003: Part II- Reference of Food-Size Catfish Health and Production Practices in the United States, 2003 (pdf)
Water Quality for Pond Aquaculture (pdf)
Water Quality Management in Pond Fish Culture (pdf)
Water Quality Water Sources Used in Aquaculture (pdf)
Water Quantity and Quality Requirements for Channel Catfish (pdf)

The following article can be downloaded from the North Central Regional Aquaculture Center's website:
Pond Culture of Channel Catfish in the North Central Region


Catfish Websites

Financial Management of Catfish Farms

Cost of Small-Scale Catfish Production

Channel Catfish Production in Ponds

Catfish Vitamin Nutrition

Length-Weight Ratios for Catfish Fingerlings

Catfish Videos

Hybrid Catfish Feeding in an In-Pond Raceway with an Automatic Feeder

Male Channel Catfish Caring for 1-Day-Old Eggs in an Aquarium


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.