Catfish harvest in an aquaculture farm in Mississippi. (Photo: USDA/Stephen Ausmus)
Catfish farmers continue to struggle with imports and higher prices
Thursday, August 16, 2012, 00:20 (GMT + 9)
US catfish farmers are experiencing fluctuations in imports and costs due to raw material shortages. This is leading many seafood buyers to purchase lower-priced imported catfish or to turn to alternative fish species altogether, which is exacerbating the foreign competition that has sunk the US catfish industry for the last decade, according to an Auburn University-Mississippi State University (MSU) report.
On the other hand, the shortage was fortunate for farmers last year, as it brought prices up and they made more money than they had in years: the price paid by processors to catfish farmers averaged USD 1.18 per lb in 2011, after averaging just USD 0.78 a lb for the previous four years. The price kept climbing through early 2012, reaching USD 1.25 per lb in January.
Now, catfish prices are beginning to dip again just as the cost of feed is about to rise to this year’s drought. The latest US price average reported by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in May was USD 1.04 per lb, the American Farm Bureau Federation reports.
Nationally, US pond acres used for catfish production have dropped dramatically from the 2002 high of almost 197,000 ac to approximately 90,000 ac in 2011.
Catfish is the sixth-most consumed fish or seafood product in the country and consumption continues to increase.
At the same time, imports of the species have jumped from 20 per cent of catfish sold in the US in 2005 to 76 per cent in 2011.
“The southeast Asian aquaculture industry grew tremendously during the early to mid-2000s,” explained Butch Wilson, president of Catfish Farmers of America (CFA).
Vietnamese aquaculture is king, he said, and produces and exports a cheaper, catfish-like fish – pangasius – which is marketed in the US as basa or swai.
“This product is grown and sold at a fraction of the cost of domestic seafood products,” Wilson said.
Basa’s lower price has been popular with consumers particularly in the current economic climate.
But Wilson warns that the health quality of this product may not be as safe to eat as the one produced in US, which is grown in freshwater ponds and fed high-quality grain.
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By Natalia Real