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Channel catfish are easy to spawn, and large numbers of fry are readily obtained using simple hatchery methods. The fish does not require special food at any life stage, they are hardy, tolerate a wide range of temperatures and environmental conditions, and adapt well to all commonly used culture systems. The flesh of channel catfish grown in aquaculture is firm and white, with a mild flavor that is highly esteemed by American consumers.

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The Farm-Raised Catfish Industry

Channel catfish have always been a popular food fish in the southeastern United States and prior to 1960, most of the demand by traditional markets was met by harvest from local rivers and lakes. The regional popularity of the fish stimulated interest in pond culture in the 1950s and 1960s. By 1965, about 10,000 acres of ponds were devoted to channel catfish culture and production totalled about 15 million pounds. Nearly all production was sold to local markets.

The industry began to expand at a rapid rate in about 1975.   Expansion was stimulated, in part, by declining profits from traditional agriculture (mostly cotton and soybeans), and a desire to diversify agricultural production and make use of land marginally suited for row crops.  Strong cooperation among farmers, particularly in the development of large feed mills and fish processing plants, was central to the early development of the industry. Growth was also facilitated by the formation of a national grower’s association (The Catfish Farmers of America) in 1968 and by an extraordinarily effective national marketing effort directed by The Catfish Institute that began in 1986.  In 1980, about 35,000 acres of ponds produced 75 million pounds of fish; by 2003, about 190,000 acres of ponds were in production and over 630 million pounds of fish were processed.

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