Catfish farming is still one of the largest aquaculture sectors in the United States, however low-cost imports have driven prices to all time lows, jeopardizing the livelihoods of many farmers.
But science is paying attention and seven land grant universities in the United States are working to make the industry more efficient, more productive, and more competitive by enabling wide-scale commercial adoption of the hybrid catfish. Hybrid catfish – channel catfish females mated with blue catfish males – are a meatier and faster-growing fish.
"Although hybrid catfish farming can lower production costs, farmers need specific production and harvest technology," said Saied Mostaghimi, director of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station at Virginia Tech and administrative advisor for S-1031, the nomenclature for the multi-state research project "Hybrid Catfish Production & Performance" (S-1031), which is supported, in part, through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
In S-103, specifically, researchers have developed ways to improve hybrid breeding, such as extending spawning seasons, determining ideal temperature, and timing for hybrid embryo hatching, altering female catfish diets to increase fecundity, and selective breeding to select fish with valuable traits.
Hybrid fry catfish production has drastically increased since S-1031 researchers first began working on this project. In fact, last year, 200 million hybrid catfish fry were produced, which is more than 12 times the production rate in 2007, according to researchers at Auburn University. This year, hybrid catfish production is expected to account for more than 50% of catfish production.
Along with Auburn University, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, University of Maryland, University of Memphis, University of Minnesota, Mississippi State University, Southern Illinois University, have also contributed to the research which is ongoing.
– Erich Luening