Catfish aquaculture is the commercial farming of catfish. The vast majority of farmed catfish are used for food, but a small number of certain catfish species are raised as aquarium fish. The majority of farmed catfish in the United States come from Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Worldwide, East Asia contains one of the largest domesticated catfish operations, followed by operations in Africa. As long as the fish and their waste are properly contained, catfish aquaculture has very little environmental impact.
Aquaculture is the domestication and use of sea creatures like fish or mollusks. These practices have existed since ancient times, but catfish aquaculture only started in the US in the early 1960s. In the times between the early aquaculture and the new one, practices have actually changed very little.
The majority of catfish aquaculture revolves around holding thousands of catfish within a confined space. Sometimes these spaces are simply netted off areas of a lake or stream; at other times, they are constructed holding pens. The catfish in these areas are fed a grain-based material that helps them grow quickly to a size as large as or larger than they would achieve in the wild. When they are fully grown, the fish are removed from the water and harvested for meat and filler products.
In the US, the majority of catfish aquaculture farming is done outside of standard waterways. There are laws that limit the amount of fish waste that may enter the actual water system. Since most operations would exceed this amount, all but the smallest of operations need methods to remove the waste before it enters the local system. The easiest way to do this is simply to remove the fish.
When farmers are still connected to the water system, they often operate in areas where the fish waste may be dealt with in some way. One of the more common methods is placing the fishery in a tidal delta. This allows the area to fill with new water as the tide comes up; during low tide, the sand helps to filter the waste out of the water.
A small number of catfish aquaculture operations raise their fish for use in aquariums. When many people think of a catfish, the image isn’t attractive, but these catfish look more like common decorative fish. They still tend toward the white, gray and black colorations of common catfish, but they have a much more streamlined body and defined fin structure. Other aquarium-bound catfish work well at the bottom of the tank as a cleaner—what they lack in appearance, they make up for in utility.