Channel Catfish

(Chapter 17) General Information

Until relatively recently, channel catfish were not viewed favorable by the average consumer This species has now become the most important cultured species in in the USA:  In 2000, 50% of the commercial fish culture harvest was channel catfish  95% of this production occurs in 4 states: Mississippi (70%), Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana Channel catfish is second only to largemouth bass as sports fish

• • • • • • • Biology Commercial culture Culture facilities Production practices Water quality management Harvesting and processing The future of channel catfish farming

4 dorsal and 4 ventral Soft-rayed fins. Temperature very important. but spines on dorsal and pectoral fins Rounded anal fin contains 24-30 rays. in nature. used to distinguish channel catfish from other species. and ponds. family Ictaluridae (39 species – Canada to Central America) Channel catfish is native to central North America Slender and scale-less.Channel Catfish Biology • • • • • • • • • • • • Order Siluriformes. 2-4 years to achieve 0. lakes. males care for the egg masses until hatching (5-8 days) . normally pigmented fish are white to silvery on the undersides shading to grayish blue or black on the back.5 Kg Spawning usually occurs in late spring. sluggish rivers. prefer sand and gravel Omnivorous Hardy fish (temp: just above freezing to 34-35 C. Albinism is uncommon in the wild but is seen in domesticated strains Eight barbels. may live up to 20 years and reach up to 20 kg. deeply forked tail fin in younger individuals but not so much as they grow older (see figure) Native habitat includes clear and flowing streams. and chase them away after spawning. salinity: 0-11 ppt) Sexual maturity achieved at 2-12 years. bottom dweller. Males select spawning site and attract females to breed.

000 mt production Favorable attributes of channel catfish • • • Hardy fish.000 ha of ponds and 35.000 mt production 2000: 80.Channel Catfish Commercial Culture Origins • • • Channel catfish have always been a popular food fish in southeastern USA Regional popularity of this species stimulated interest in pond culture in the 1950s and 1960s Local markets remained the outlet for all production Expansion • • • • • Rapid rate of expansion started about 1975 In part due to declining profits from traditional agriculture (cotton.000 ha of ponds and 270. soybeans) and desire to diversify agriculture Establishment of large feed mills and fish processing plants also assisted in the expansion effort 1980: 15. broodstock relatively easy to spawn Grow-out stock do not spawn in culture ponds Do not require “special” feeds (commercial feeds available for all growth stages) .

source of pumped water is needed. See Fig.  Embankment ponds: built on flat land by “digging” a pond (1-2 m depth) and using the removed soil to form levees or embankments. This type of ponds used to some degree in Alabama. disadvantage is that large groups of ponds cannot be set up (because of water quality problems) and large scale operations of scattered ponds makes management more difficult. Most common type of catfish pond (90%).Channel Catfish Culture Facilities • • Over 98% of channel catfish in the USA are grown in earthen ponds because of lower production costs Two types of ponds are used:  Watershed ponds: built in hilly areas by damming small streams. typically 4-8 ha per pond. 17. Pond size is compromise between ease of management and operation costs.2. Typically. rectangular in shape. .

Channel Catfish Production Practices Spawning and breeding • Production sequence begins with spawning of broodstock         Spawning begins in spring when water temperatures reach > 20 C (2527 C seems optimal) Sexual maturity can be observed at 2-y-old fish weighing 0. at 13-20 C.3-17. Placement of the spawning containers can be used to control the timing of spawning. See Figs. they don’t feed much . However. egg masses are then moved to the hatchery.3 kg. unless planned crosses are desired Brood fish are maintained at low standing crops (< 2500 Kg fish/ha) Optimal sex ratios in brood ponds: 2 males for 3 females (see figure) Females only spawn once a year. but males can spawn 2-3 times At temperatures >20 C. less feed every other day.” such as buckets. 3-y-old fish weighing 1. 17. at <13 C. They are checked every 2 or 3 days for the presence of eggs.5 Kg are needed for reliable spawning. Prime spawners: 4-6-y-old fish at 2-4 Kg produce 6500-9000 eggs (relative fecundity decreases with age beyond this age bracket) Broodstock that are held in ponds will spawn in “spawning containers. there is no need for artificial induction of spawning (by hormone injections) and artificial fertilization. brood fish are fed daily 1-2% of their body weight (prepared diet).4 Normally.

the USDA began research to improve the genetic potential of channel catfish. no planned breeding was conducted other than selection of broodstock for general performance traits In 1986.Channel Catfish Production Practices Spawning and breeding (continued) • • Before 1986. This line has excellent growth compared with other strains available to the industry . The first general release occurred in 2001: NWAC-103 line.

but without the paddles.Channel Catfish Production Practices Hatchery practices • • • • Channel catfish hatcheries are simple facilities that use single-pass. sac-fry fall through the mesh of the basket and congregate in the corners of the tank MacDonald jars are also used in some hatcheries after separation of eggs from the egg mass by treatment with sodium sulfite (see figure) Fry are transferred to similar tanks.1) Shallow rectangular tanks are used for eggs and fry Eggs are placed in baskets along the length of the tank. which is equipped with a series of paddles attached to a shaft running the length of the tank to simulate the fanning of males guarding the nests. temperature may be most important single factor (Table 17. Incubation varies according to water temperature (5-8 days at 25-28 C). They are fed after they begin swimming (6-12 times daily) They are transferred to nursery ponds after 2-10 days of feeding in the hatchery tanks • • • • . See figure At hatching. flowthrough tanks for egg incubation and fry rearing Good water quality is required.

To produce 20 g fingerlings. zooplankton will support fry for several weeks after stocking Fingerlings are then fed prepared diet 1-2 times daily to satiation about one month after stocking After 5-9 months fingerlings are harvested and transferred to grow-out ponds Size grading is usually necessary (by seine) to obtain a uniform population size for stocking Nursery ponds are drained and dried after harvest is completed . stocking rate should be 200000-300000 fry/ha Nursery ponds should be fertilized (inorganic N and P) 3-4 weeks prior to stocking.Channel Catfish Production Practices Nursery pond management • • • • • • Fry stocking density determines the average size of fingerlings after one season of growth (150-180 days).

can manage to avoid off-flavor (more ponds to chose from) – this is most important reason for this system being more commonly used than cleanharvest system. also.5 Kg) and completely harvested either all at once or over 2-4 seinings over several months. better disease management Advantages of understocking system: fish of marketable size available for most of the year.4-0. The faster-growing fish are harvested using a large-mesh seine and new fingerlings are added to replace those taken out.Channel Catfish Production Practices Grow out • Management of grow out varies considerable from farm to farm  Clean harvest system: goal is to have only one year class of fish in the pond. This process continues for years without draining the pond. This is by far the most widely used system  • • Advantages of clean-harvest system: fish tend to be more uniform in size. food conversion efficiencies tend to be better. grown to a desired size (0. a single cohort of fingerlings are stocked. Initially. This system still used by some farmers using watershed ponds Understocking system: provides year-round supply of food size fish. Fingerlings are stocked. . easier to maintain inventory (zeroed out after complete harvest). at least in theory.

large amounts of metabolic waste are generated. this waste can lead to environmental deterioration. Since water is not replaced during the culture period.Channel Catfish Water Quality Management • Because of high stocking densities and feeding rates at catfish farms. Three factors are of primary concern:    Dissolved oxygen Ammonia and nitrite Off-flavors .

Aeration is thus needed. problems of DO are uncommon. usually starting at night and continuing during the daytime until levels have recovered. Dense phytoplankton blooms can cause DO to fall to critical levels (3-4 mg/L) at night. Thus. At temperature <15 C.Channel Catfish Water Quality Management Dissolved oxygen • • • • Phytoplankton metabolism is most important factor affecting DO in catfish ponds. fluctuations in DO levels are not as wide when temperatures cool down during the cool/cold season. Metabolism is affected by temperature. Paddlewheel aerators are most common device used .

• • . nitrite has been known to occasionally accumulate in catfish ponds. especially in spring and fall when environmental conditions are rapidly changing. A ratio of 10mg/L of chloride for every 1 mg/L of nitrite-nitrogen is sufficient. about 0.Channel Catfish Water Quality Management Ammonia and nitrite • • • Ammonia excretion by fish is proportional to amount of feed consumed.03 Kg of ammonia per Kg of feed consumed Ammonia accumulation is usually not a problem in catfish ponds However. Nitrite combines with hemoglobin in blood to form methemoglobin and impairs oxygen transport and respiration (nitrite toxicosis) Nitrite toxicosis can be prevented by making sure that adequate levels of chloride (salinity) are present in water. Chloride competes with nitrite for intake by the gill.

Channel Catfish Water Quality Management Off-flavors • Off-favors    can be caused by: Feed ingredients Post-mortem rancidity Odorous compounds absorbed from the environment . Alternatively.this is the most common reason Geosmin and 2-methylisoborneol. fish may be moved to “clean” pond. Fish with off-flavors are simply left in the pond until the cyanobacteria disappear and the off-flavor goes away. are most commonly responsible for off-favors in farm-raised channel catfish It is standard practice to “taste-test” fish before scheduling pond harvests Reasons for the occurrence of odor-producing cyanobacteria are not fully understood. odorous metabolites produced by certain blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). but this process is labor intensive and stresses the fish. and thus at the present time it is not possible to reliable manage catfish ponds to prevent off-flavors. • • • • .

Frozen fillets account for the largest portion of total sales (about 40%).Channel Catfish Harvesting and Processing • • • Harvesting is usually accomplished using tractor-pulled seines with mesh sizes selected to capture the desired fish size.5-17. nuggets. 17. a square mesh size of about 4 cm is used to capture fish greater than about 0. normally.4 Kg. . steaks. See Figs. About 53% of the fish carcass can be processed into saleable product.7 A variety of products are marketed: fillets. and whole dressed fish.

Thus. Annual yields average about 4000 Kg/ha. Better understanding and management of off-flavors.Channel Catfish Future of Channel Catfish farming • • • • Channel catfish culture expanded at a remarkable rate from 1980 to 2000 Future growth may be constrained by large capital investment needed to enter the industry and increasingly strict government regulations concerning environmental issues. technological improvements at the farm may be able to lead to higher yields. which is half of what can be achieved under controlled. improved strains of fish and improvements in feeding practices may also help the industry . experimental conditions.