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Catfish Processing, Sales Strong in '95
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
STARKVILLE -- As Mississippi catfish producers head into their busiest time of the year, processing and prices are up, while fish supplies remain tight.
Both catfish processing and sales have been strong for the first quarter of 1995.
"Catfish processing is up 6.4 percent -- an increase of 9.4 million pounds from the first quarter of 1994," said Bill Allen, president of the Catfish Institute in Belzoni.
Allen said fish supplies have been tight through this spring, which is normal for this time of year.
Catfish supplies have been relatively tight since '94, leading to a price boost for growers. Prices have climbed steadily upward after hitting a low point for the industry in 1992.
Dr. Marty Brunson, extension leader of wildlife and fisheries at Mississippi State University, said the scarcity of harvested food-size fish is keeping prices to growers high.
"Average prices are about 79 cents per pound for food-size fish," Brunson said. "The big question is how many food-size fish are in ponds now. Supply and demand of food-size fish available for processing will determine the future of catfish prices over the next few months."
The new crop of food-size fish will be ready for harvest during mid-July and August. Catfish are harvested year-round in Mississippi's 100,000 acres of catfish ponds.
Fingerling production for 1995 also is a concern for the industry. Cool, wet temperatures through April and May delayed catfish spawning activity.
"Catfish really need the water temperature to be between 78 and 82 degrees for spawning. June's warm temperatures should help them catch up," Brunson said.
June's warm temperatures also mean the beginning of pond oxygen level and water quality concerns for growers.
"As the water temperatures rise, keeping adequate oxygen in ponds becomes a challenge that lasts until September," Brunson said. "This is a time of intense management for farmers -- a time to watch water quality and a time for heavy feeding."
Catfish demand will get an extra boost during summer's harvest season as The Catfish Institute kicks off a $2 million national advertising campaign.
The advertisements will appear in consumer magazines and on cable television stations, and are expected to reach consumers all over the United States, with 285 million total advertisement impressions.
"In a further push to boost catfish demand, we're sponsoring a mid-June seminar in Hamburg, Germany to target German seafood buyers," Allen said. "So far they have shown great interest in catfish products."
The Catfish Institute is a non-profit corporation funded by $5 per ton contributions from catfish feed mills in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas.