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U.S. farm-raised catfish are environment-friendly
By Robert H. Wells
Delta Research and Extension Center
STONEVILLE -- U.S. farm-raised catfish land top honors as an environmentally friendly product in the fish and seafood category.
Researchers Craig Tucker and Jimmy Avery explained some of the benefits of these accolades to a crowd of catfish producers and researchers at the National Warmwater Aquaculture Center fall 2006 seminar held recently at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville.
Major environmental watch groups including the National Audubon Society and the Environmental Defense Fund list U.S. farm-raised catfish as one of the most environmentally friendly choices for consumers seeking seafood when shopping or dining out.
“Catfish is always high up on their list,” said Tucker, who is head of the NWAC in Stoneville. “U.S. farm-raised catfish is a fish that the environmental groups have considered to be a preferred fish.”
Avery, an MSU Extension catfish specialist also based in Stoneville, said the environmental groups use these preferred choice lists to pressure consumers to only support sustainable fisheries and aquaculture operations.
“They feel that the only way they can drive these industries into more responsible use is from the consumer end of it,” Avery said.
The Extension catfish specialist suggested that the rankings could be used to market catfish as a seafood choice that is good for the environment, especially in light of a recent article in the journal Science that predicted the collapse of wild fisheries by 2048.
“We think U.S. farm-raised catfish is an alternative to some of these species that are getting hammered in the press right now,” Avery told the crowd.
Tucker cited multiple reasons that environmental groups consider U.S. farm-raised catfish production eco-friendly. These reasons include the use of native fish in production, low water use compared with other types of aquaculture, low fish meal use in feed and low pollution discharge.
Dean Pennington, executive director of the Yazoo-Mississippi Water Management District, or YMD, said the environmental impact of catfish production is less than other types of farm production systems in the area.
“Basically, a catfish pond is a water management system,” Pennington said. “Catfish operators have done a pretty good job learning how to manage those ponds so a minimum amount of water and nutrients escape from the system.”
The YMD is a multi-county water resource agency charged with managing the water resources of the Mississippi Delta.
Pennington said water usage by catfish producers has decreased over the past decades.
“They use much less than they did 10 or 20 years ago,” Pennington said. “We don't have a lot of water-use data from the '70s and '80s, but we expect today's water use per acre could easily be one-fourth of what it was then.”
Tucker said the perception of U.S. farm-raised catfish as a wholesome product with an environment-friendly reputation is important to buyers of catfish, whether they are large grocery firms or consumers.
“This perception could impact marketing catfish in the future,” Tucker said.