Catfish farming is an important agricultural industry in the United States, with more than 60,000 acres of water devoted to catfish production. These catfish are being grown under several production systems and with various degrees of management. Successful catfish farming generally requires constructing facilities; controlling water quality; rearing, stocking, and feeding fish; and harvesting and marketing the fish crop.
A fish farmer must decide what type of catfish farming enterprise to establish based on the desired level of fish production and the availability of capital, land, and water resources. The size of the fish farming operation and the farmer's commitment to management will determine the efficiency and profitability of the enterprise. Catfish farming may provide a major source of income, diversify an existing farming operation, or satisfy family food and recreational needs.
A fish farmer can grow catfish in ponds, cages, or raceways. The fish can be marketed in several ways-as small fish for stocking, aspan-size fish for food or recreational fishing, or as large fish for broodstock.
Careful planning is an important part of any operation. A well designed catfish farm is the result of proper planning to suit individual needs. Catfish farm planning and application assistance is available from the Soil Conservation Service.
This bulletin discusses the production of channel catfish (lctalurus punctatus), the most commonly grown species. Other species, such as the blue catfish (I. furcaws) and the white catfish (I.catus), have similar cultural requirements. All three species grow well where water temperatures are above 70°F for at least 4 months each year. They are native to America and have a good conversion ratio of feed to flesh.
Methods of Catfish Farming
Pond culture is by far the most common type of catfish production. Ponds can be installed on sloping upland valleys or on nearly level land. The number, size, and shape of ponds are often limited by soils, topography, and available water supplies. Catfish farms may range in size from 20 acres or less to 640 acres or more depending on available resources.
A catfish farm needs a water-distribution system, convenient drainage facilities, complete protection against floodwater, and a system of all-weather roads. Careful attention to pond size and design, elevation of drainpipes, and adequacy of outlets and spillways is important.
The earth-fill levee or dam is probably the most expensive item of construction when a catfish pond is installed. The design of the damor levee depends on the site selected. The watershed or drainage area, the height of the dam, the need for a roadway along the top, and the soil under the dam, as well as the soil material to be used in the dam, must be considered. Dams are built of soil material excavated from inside or outside the pond area, or both. Soils in certain locations are unsuitable for catfish ponds because of their low water holding capacity and/or cavernous conditions underneath the pond.
The side slope of the dam or levee must be able to withstand erosion from the wave action. All trees, stumps, and brush should be removed from the water area. Smooth the bottom and gradually slope it to the harvesting area. Establish grass cover on dams and levees.
Do not locate ponds on land where pesticides have been regularly applied to crops, especially to cotton. If there is any question concerning pesticide residues, have the soils tested.
An overflow pipe is needed to discharge runoff water and prevent loss of fish through the emergency spillway. This pipe establishes stable waterline and allows temporary storage to be accumulated and disposed of without excessive use of the emergency spillway. To prevent a loss of fish through the overflow pipe, place around this pipe a sleeve of larger pipe that extends up to the level of the emergency spillway.
This sleeve acts as a trash rack and allows deeper water containing less oxygen to be discharged. If runoff water periodically enters a pond, a properly designed spillway is needed. When water flows through a spillway, catfish may swim out of the pond. To prevent losing fish, the spillway must be wide enough that the flow is less than 3 inches deep. A screened over fall installed in the spillway keeps undesirable fish from entering the pond from downstream.