AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—Alabama has a reputation for cooking and serving delicious food. Barbecue, coleslaw and fried chicken are all southern staples. In the summer, though, nothing really beats a plate of fried catfish.
The state’s affinity for catfish goes beyond just cooking and eating. Alabama is the second highest catfish producing state in the United States, behind Mississippi.
Why is Alabama a great place to grow catfish?
The western Black Belt region is prime catfish farm territory, according to Luke Roy, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System associate aquaculture professor.
“The high concentration of clay in the soil makes the region a great place to build ponds that hold water well,” Roy said.
The state’s long agricultural history and warmer climate also make Alabama a desirable place for catfish farming. Alabama is home to 66 catfish farms, with more than 15,000 water acres of ponds. Hale, Dallas, Greene and Perry counties produce the most catfish in the state.
An Overview of Catfish Production
Catfish production isn’t too different from any other type of animal agriculture.
“Producers purchase catfish fingerlings from fish hatcheries in Mississippi and Arkansas,” Roy said. “There are no commercial catfish fingerling hatcheries in Alabama.”
The fingerlings are stocked in ponds at near 7,500 head per acre. Once stocked, they receive a high protein diet for one to two years. Aeration is important, and farmers often use electric or PTO-driven aerators to ensure proper oxygen levels in the water.
Preferred market size of the fish is between 1.5 – 2 pounds, at which they are harvested with large nets. Then the catfish go to a processing plant. Finally, the fish end up in grocery stores and restaurants.
Farmers choose catfish for more than just their sweet, mild flavor.
“The catfish industry is green and sustainable,” Roy said. “Most catfish food is plant-based, and the fish is packed with protein. It’s also a long-standing southern tradition.”
Catfish are fun to fish for, and the fish are enjoyed across the south.
Learn more about Alabama Extension aquaculture programming and catfish production by visiting https://www.aces.edu/.