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Types and Sources of Products
Farm raised domestic catfish has been one the top ten most frequently consumed seafood products in the U.S. for almost 20 years. Consumption levels over the past decade have been around 1 pound per person each year.
In the United States, the term catfish refers to the popular farm raised variety known as channel catfish (Ictalurus puntatus) native to the Southeastern states. These catfish are grown on farms located in the southeast, primarily in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Farm raised U.S. catfish are different from catfish species that live in the wild, and from various other catfish species that are imported from other parts of the world.
Catfish is the leading aquaculture produced seafood product in the U.S. The annual harvest of farm raised catfish in the U.S. is at least twice as much as the annual aquaculture production of all other species of fish and shellfish combined. Annual production over the past decade has ranged from about 500 to 650 million pounds. Catfish are grown in controlled ponds using special formulated feeds based on natural grains. On average, it takes approximately 18 months for catfish to grow to a harvestable size. During this period the fish receive constant attention, and water quality, growth rates, and health are monitored. Production is controlled and staggered to assure that fresh and frozen catfish products are available throughout the year.
Product Forms and Buyer Advice
Farm raised catfish is available in a variety of different forms. Whole fish that have been eviscerated (gutted) and headed with or without the skin intact are available in most markets. Fillets are cut to be skinless and boneless and do not contain the small pinbones found in many other fish. Smaller portions including nuggets, strips or chunks are cut from the whole fish or fillets. All product forms are available as fresh, refrigerated, or frozen raw fish or as products that may include breading, flavorings or other ingredients.
Domestically grown catfish should be identified as a farm raised product of the United States or a specific U.S. state. Imported catfish should be identified by the country of origin and the accepted market name for the species of catfish being sold. For example, the catfish species commonly raised in Vietnam should be called Basa, Swai, or Tra to distinguish it from the U.S. farm raised catfish whose acceptable market name is Catfish.
The edible meat of catfish (raw or cooked) should be free of any objectionable aromas or off-flavors. The raw odor is best described as neutral or mild. Some aromatic descriptions, best noted in the cooked form, are nutty, buttery, chick-like, and grain-like (corn). Off-odors or flavors in some catfish have been associated with the conditions of the growing waters (algae-like, woody and musty). Domestic catfish are subject to inspection by the USDA, and quality control procedures and sensory monitoring are used to assure a high quality product with uniform mild and neutral aroma and taste prior to harvest and market distribution.
Catfish is a moderately fatty fish that is also a good source of high quality protein. A nutrition label for a 3 ounce cooked portion of catfish is provided. Nutrient levels can be affected by the ingredients and cooking method used to prepare catfish fillets.
Sustainability and Management
Farmed production of domestic catfish exceeds demand such that additional production is possible and sustainable. Production concerns involve available feeds and production costs, but significant research is investigating options for continued and sustainable catfish aquaculture in the United States.
National Marine Fisheries Service, 2018. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/resource/document/fisheries-united-states-2017-report