US catfish companies leaving fish in the water longer

Workers at Heartland Catfish harvesting fish from an aquaculture pond.

U.S. catfish production is down year-on-year in terms of fish numbers, but up in terms of weight, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The report, released by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, indicates the water surface acres used for catfish production and the foodsize inventory of catfish in the three major producing states – Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi – are both down. However, live-weight statistics indicate that despite having fewer fish in the water, the overall weight of the fish is up.   

The water surface area to be used for catfish production in the three states from 1 July to 31 December, 2023, will be 50,300 acres, down 3 percent from the same period last year. While acres used for food-sized fish – fish between 0.75 pounds to over 3 pounds destined for sale as food – is up 1 percent. The area used for broodfish is up 12 percent to 2,050 acres, the area used for fingerling production is down 6 percent to 6,260 acres.

In terms of production volume, catfish companies in the three major states had 109 million foodsize fish on hand as of 1 July, 2023, down 6 percent compared to the same day the year prior. The USDA categorizes three sizes of foodsize fish: Small, from 0.75 pounds to 1.5 pounds; medium, from 1.5 to 3 pounds; and large, fish weighing over 3 pounds. 

The large foodsize fish inventory as of 1 July, 2023, stood at 3.55 million fish, up 15 percent compared to the same date in 2022. Inventories of medium foodsized fish stood at 38 million, down 3 percent, and small foodsize fish stood at 67.8 million, down 8 percent.

Despite the smaller inventories, the overall weight of fish in the water increased. The three-state total across all foodsizes reached 158.59 million pounds as of 1 July, 2023 – up from 156.9 million pounds on the same day in 2022. Large food-sized fish comprised of 6.1 million pounds, up from 5.6 million pounds, and the fish on average were 3.7 pounds per fish versus 3.6 pounds per fish in 2022.

Medium food-sized fish made up 74.5 million pounds of the total, up from the 72.2 million pounds in 2022. Average sizes also increased, up to 2 pounds from 1.8 pounds on 1 July, 2022.

Small foodsized fish was the only size category to see a decrease. The three states had 71 million pounds of catfish in the water as of 1 July, 2023 – down from 73.6 million pounds in 2022. The average size of each fish remained flat at 1 pound.

The three major catfish producing states had 855,000 broodfish on hand on 1 July, 2023, up 22 percent from 725,000 on 1 July, 2022. 

The amount of stockers has decreased compared to 2022, according to the USDA. Catfish companies in the three states had 252 million stockers on 1 July, 2023 – down 15 percent from 2022 when companies had 296 million on hand. Fingerlings and fry on hand also decreased – companies had 265 million on hand as of 1 July, 2023, down 11 percent from 1 July, 2022.  

Photo courtesy of Heartland Catfish


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