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Heat Wave Boosts Catfish Appetites
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Few catfish producers had reason to complain about this summer's heat as high temperatures have been good news for their industry's bottom line.
Jim Steeby, district aquaculture agent with Mississippi State University's Extension Service in Stoneville, said catfish eat more when the water is warm and put on weight quicker.
"We're 10 to 15 percent ahead of last year's feeding," Steeby said. "That means we'll have bigger catfish to take to market."
But high heat has slowed and shortened the spawning and hatching season. This will result in adequate, but not overabundant, supplies of fingerlings next year, Steeby said.
The ideal temperature for catfish is about 85 degrees, but water temperatures reached 95 to 97 degrees in June and early July. Temperatures have since moderated and if producers have their wishes, the weather will stay warm until mid-September, Steeby said.
Last year, more than 520 million pounds of catfish were processed nationwide, 65 to 70 percent of this in Mississippi. Producers are on track to top that figure this year. Processing is averaging about 10 million pounds a week, 1 million pounds more each week than last year.
Turner Arant, a catfish producer in Sunflower County, is harvesting an average of 100,000 pounds of catfish each week this year from his 1,200 acres of catfish ponds. The warm weather has helped his catfish growth.
"This has been an exceptionally warm year that started in early April," Arant said. "As of the first of August, we're feeding 49 percent more feed this year than last year."
If the weather cools in August and September as it did last year, feeding will slow considerably. Prices also have helped to make this year good for catfish farmers.
"If we can continue to market the fish for 75 cents a pound or better, we should be able to pay our debts," Arant said.
Steeby said fish prices this spring were up to about 80 cents per pound, but have since dropped to about 75 cents.
"This is a decent price, much better than the 68 to 72 cents a pound catfish brought last year," Steeby said. "The low price is a result of competition between wholesalers and the price of other white fillet fish that catfish compete with, such as flounder."
Lower feed costs also are helping profits this year. Catfish feed is selling for $210 to $220 per ton, down from $240 to $270 a ton last year. But Delta pond repairs are eating up some profits, Steeby said.
"Many producers who have been in the business since the early 1980s," Steeby said. "They're having to rebuild 5 to 10 percent of their acreage each year due to levy erosion."