U.S. catfish farmers will generate $421 million in sales in 2021, up 12% from $377 million a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The top four states (Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas) account for 97% of his total US sales.
With support from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Land-grant Universities researchers are working to support the catfish industry, the largest component of U.S. aquaculture, and build a more resilient food system. I am doing research to help.
Understanding the impact of increased water hardness on catfish farming
In Arkansas, the birthplace of the commercial catfish industry, University of Arkansas Pine Bluff Scientists have discovered water hardness levels that are lethal to catfish. Hardness is he one of the essential water quality parameters that determines the success of aquaculture. Adequate water hardness is required for bone development, blood clotting, enzymatic activity, eggshell integrity, and fish embryonic development. Most fish species perform well over a wide range of hardness values, but too low or too high hardness values can cause problems. Optimal requirements are often species-specific.
In southern states, including Arkansas, fish producers encounter significant changes in overall firmness due to evaporation of water during the summer months or dilution of pond water during periods of high precipitation. . This ultimately affects overall fish productivity. For successful fish farming, it is important that the increased hardness stays within safe limits for the farmed fish species. However, for catfish and other fish, information is lacking regarding the maximum safe allowable level of hardness.
Researchers found that even though channel catfish have a way of dealing with high hardness, they are toxic when exposed to levels of calcium carbonate above 1500 mg/L. It provides guidelines for the “maximum level” of hardness that operators can safely increase in catfish farming systems. As such, the results of this work are applicable to aquaculture worldwide.
Improve catfish health
Mississippi State University Researchers are investigating diseases that limit the production efficiency of commercially raised catfish. Scientists are developing rapid molecular-based diagnostic tests used for disease surveillance, disease treatment and prevention, and best management strategies to reduce the impact of communicable and non-communicable diseases.
This study focuses on the practical issues of catfish health and disease that limit catfish production in the southeastern United States. These include emergency pathogen identification and disease diagnostic method development in field surveillance studies. Development of primary catfish cell lines for identification and confirmation of fish viruses. We determine the distribution of channel catfish virus (CCV) and assess the developmental and virulence trends of different genotypes of his CCV in channel catfish and hybrid catfish. Optimize vaccine delivery and assess the economic impact of live attenuated vaccines.
Prevention of losses in catfish aquaculture due to algae poisoning
Fish loss due to toxic algal blooms continues to be a significant problem facing aquaculture in Arkansas. In the late 1990s, Arkansas catfish producers were losing an estimated $900,000 worth of catfish annually to this problem. Today, those losses are worth her $1.68 million.
The Aquaculture/Fisheries Program at the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff has taken a proactive approach and initiated an algae monitoring program. This program continues to this day. Extension specialists visit farms weekly for over 40 weeks during the growing season. Algae samples are collected weekly from approximately 166 ponds. Examine the sample under a microscope for the presence and abundance of the algae Aphanocapsa. If the algae population exceeds an estimated 5 million algae per liter, treatment with an approved algicide is recommended. In some cases, flushing affected ponds with copious amounts of water from adjacent ponds also helped reduce the number of offending algae.
Over 2,800 algae samples were processed during the 2021 production season. The owner of the pond was advised to treat the algae he had 10 times. The program will make his 2021 a success. There were no economic losses due to algae poisoning. Treating the affected pond saved an estimated $200,000 worth of catfish.
Top photo: Left image of a catfish farmer holding a caught catfish. Right image of a catfish swimming. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.