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Cool Spring Slows Catfish Growth
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A cool April and May have kept water temperatures low and slowed growth among the state's catfish.
Water temperatures recently have been well below 70 degrees, and by mid-May had only reached 67 to 72 degrees. Optimum temperatures for catfish growth is 80 to 85 degrees.
James Steeby, district extension agent for aquaculture in Belzoni, said cold water temperatures slow catfishes' eating and delay spawning. As cold-blooded creatures, water temperatures regulate catfish appetites, and they don't eat well when they are cold.
"We're headed into our year very slow," Steeby said. "We need sustained warmer temperatures and warmer nights to get catfish growth to where it should be at this time of the year."
If temperatures don't warm soon, it could affect the year's meat production and hatchery output. While large fish don't have to be fed daily, small catfish are adversely affected if they miss feedings.
Hugh Warren, executive vice president of Catfish Farmers of America, said farmers in the hatchery business are concerned that the lateness of the spawn may affect the eggs' condition.
"There is a possibility there will be a short supply of fingerlings for the next crop because of the cold weather," Warren said. "This could result in a reduced supply next year."
The catfish growing season lasts 180 to 220 days, depending on how quickly temperatures warm up in the spring and cool down in the fall. The growing season is marked by days when air temperatures are 70 degrees or higher.
"Normally, May warms up and stays warm, but this May is significantly cooler than it was last year," Steeby said.
While spring temperatures have not been favorable to catfish growth, it will not necessarily damage the yields, Warren said.
"A cool spring delays weight gain," Warren said. "It's an inconvenience, but catfish are very resilient and have the capability of making up some lost feeding time."
The state's catfish industry grew about 6 percent in 1997, with pond acreage increasing 10,000 acres to 177,360. Despite spring setbacks, Warren predicted a similar increase in 1998.
"I look for continuing growth in the industry, realizing that growth is coming not only from expansion of existing farm operations, but also improved yield per acre," he said.