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Catfish Lovers: BEWARE!

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout' started by A_3PO, Jul 18, 2008.

  1. A_3PO

    A_3PO Member

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    This is very bad news for a serious catfish eating family like mine. Several years ago, I read somewhere that Mississippi supplied 97% of the catfish that was grown in this country and that Texas consumed 52% of all catfish eaten in the U.S. On average, my family eats catfish once/week.

    More corn and soybeans.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/18/b...&ei=5087&em&en=7976ef1118d3d547&ex=1216526400

    Check out this slideshow: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/07/03/business/0706-CATFISH_index.html

    July 18, 2008
    The Food Chain
    As Price of Grain Rises, Catfish Farms Dry Up
    By DAVID STREITFELD

    LELAND, Miss. — Catfish farmers across the South, unable to cope with the soaring cost of corn and soybean feed, are draining their ponds.

    “It’s a dead business,”
    said John Dillard, who pioneered the commercial farming of catfish in the late 1960s. Last year Dillard & Company raised 11 million fish. Next year it will raise none. People can eat imported fish, Mr. Dillard said, just as they use imported oil.

    As for his 55 employees? “Those jobs are gone.”

    Corn and soybeans have nearly tripled in price in the last two years, for many reasons: harvest shortfalls, increasing demand by the Asian middle class, government mandates for corn to produce ethanol and, most recently, the flooding in the Midwest.

    This is creating a bonanza for corn and soybean farmers but is wreaking havoc on consumers, who are seeing price spikes in the grocery store and in restaurants. Hog and chicken producers as well as cattle ranchers, all of whom depend on grain for feed, are being severely squeezed.

    Perhaps nowhere has the rise in crop prices caused more convulsions than in the Mississippi Delta, the hub of the nation’s catfish industry. This is a hard-luck, poverty-plagued region, and raising catfish in artificial ponds was one of the few mainstays.

    Then the economics went awry. Feed is now more than half the total cost of raising catfish, compared with a third of the cost of beef and pork production, according to a Mississippi State analysis. That makes catfish more vulnerable. But if the commodities continue to rocket up — and some analysts believe they will — other industries will fall victim as well.

    Keith King, the president of Dillard & Company, calculates that for every dollar the company spends raising its fish, it gets back only 75 cents when they go to market.

    “What’s happening to this industry is sad, but being sentimental won’t pay the light bill,” Mr. King said.

    Dillard and other growers take their fish, still squirming, to Consolidated Catfish Producers in the hamlet of Isola, where workers run the machinery that slices them into filets. With fewer fish coming in, Consolidated Catfish is resorting to layoffs.

    One hundred employees were let go in the last month, and an additional 200 will be cut soon. President Dick Stevens predicts that by the end of the year the company will have jobs for only 450, about half the number at its peak. That might not be enough to keep the plant open.

    “The industry is going to implode,” Mr. Stevens said. He blamed the government’s ethanol mandates for making fuel compete with food for the harvest of the nation’s farmland. “Politicians were in a rush to do something, and it became a terrible snowball.”

    Across the highway, one of the local feed mills, Producers Feed Company, has already shut down. The ripple effects have begun: between the grain mill and the fish plant was Peter Bo’s Restaurant, locally celebrated for, naturally, its catfish. Hanging on the door is a “for rent” sign.

    Some catfish producers recently switched to a feed based on gluten, a cheaper derivative of corn, to reduce their costs. But corn gluten transportation and prices were particularly hard hit by the Midwest floods.

    “As sick as we were over what happened to the Iowa farmers, we were also sick over what was going to happen to us,” Mr. Stevens said.

    It is a feeling echoed by others who depend on corn and soybeans.

    In the spring, hog farmers thought they were past the worst. Export sales to China were strong. Corn appeared to level off. Some farmers sought an edge by reformulating pigs’ diets and reducing the weight at which they sent the animals to the packer.

    “And then corn goes up another buck, and you’re back where you were,” said Dave Uttecht, a producer in Alpena, S.D., who raises 70,000 pigs a year.

    “I’m a farmer. I’m used to peaks and valleys.” Mr. Uttecht said. “But this is like falling into the Grand Canyon.”

    Smaller herds will eventually put a floor under hog prices, and there is already some liquidation going on. But in the short term, sending more hogs to market will increase the supply of pork and push prices down further. Every farmer is hoping his colleagues will liquidate first.

    “We’re all waiting for someone else to blink,” Mr. Uttecht said.

    Hog farmers at least have the advantage that bacon and pork chops are solidly rooted in American cuisine, and if you want either there is no replacement.

    In this and many other ways, catfish farmers are not so lucky.

    Catfish started out as a local delicacy, widely celebrated in the lore of the Deep South. Mark Twain saluted it in “Life on the Mississippi.” A character in Eudora Welty’s story “The Wide Net” says after stuffing himself, “There ain’t a thing better.”

    Mr. Dillard, whose operation at its peak was one of the country’s five biggest catfish companies, came to the delta 50 years ago to farm cotton. He put in some catfish ponds a decade later almost on a whim. “I liked the way they tasted,” he said. “Fried.”

    Other farmers had the same idea. At first the ponds were put on soil too dry for cotton. When they proved a better crop, they took over cotton ground, too. For a long time, everyone made money.

    In 2005, according to the Agriculture Department, catfish farming was a $462 million industry, far exceeding any other American farm-raised fish. The industry employed more than 10,000 people at its peak, almost all in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas.

    Times were too good, perhaps. In retrospect, the name probably should have been changed. Chilean sea bass would not have eclipsed the catfish if it were still known as the Patagonian toothfish, nor would orange roughy have become so esteemed as the slimehead.

    “We didn’t focus on the market or on the product,” said Mr. Stevens, the processing factory president. “We’re the first culprits here.”

    The industry’s decline accelerated when producers from Vietnam and China flooded the domestic market, putting a ceiling on prices.

    Efforts by American producers to portray the imports as unclean and potentially unsafe did not work. The campaign did, however, achieve a measure of vindication last summer when the Food and Drug Administration announced broader import controls on Chinese seafood, including catfish, saying tests had shown the fish were contaminated with antimicrobial agents.

    Rising feed prices were the final straw for Dillard & Company, which decided to close last January. Eighty of its 10- to 20-acre pools are empty already. An additional 170 will follow as soon as their fish are big enough to sell.

    “It’s easy. You just pull the plug,” Mr. King said, surveying a pool that was nearly dry. Nearby, half a dozen men were running their nets through a pond, then hoisting the last of its catfish onto a truck.

    “I’ve been doing this for 23 years,” said one of the workers, Craig Morgan. “I don’t know what I’ll do now. And there are a bunch of me’s out there.”

    It is unclear what can replace catfish as easily as catfish replaced cotton. Attempts to make a tourist industry out of the fact that the delta was the birthplace of the blues are still embryonic.

    “If we don’t do something, there will be nothing but tumbleweed here,” Jimmy Donahoo, a former catfish farmer, said. He, like others in the industry, thinks the producers should be supported by government subsidies, just like other farmers.

    At Dillard & Company, they are not waiting for help.

    “You focus your resources where you can maximize your profits,” Mr. King said. All the empty ponds will be planted with soybeans and corn, those two commodities for which there seems boundless appetite.
     
  2. Lil Pun

    Lil Pun Contributing Member

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    Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, and Louisiana produce 94% of the nation's catfish. Mississippi has the most acreage out of those states, more than the other three combined. I remember reading about this a few weeks ago because around my area this is a pretty big business. You can drive for 10 minutes in any direction and get live catfish freshly filleted or steaked in places like Lake City or Paragould. I have not been in a while so I don't know what the effect is around here really.

    It looks like the ethanol push has not worked at all. It hasn't brought down oil/gas prices, as those are at all time highs. It has helped pushed food prices to records as well. I don't think people actually realize how much corn and products from corn are in the foods we eat. High fructose corn syrup is in just about everything, corn is fed to chicken, cattle, pork, fish, etc and all of those have by-products we use such as milk, eggs, butter, etc.

    But really, what are the options?
     
  3. HAYJON02

    HAYJON02 Contributing Member

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    I don't like the texture of catfish. Salmon is my weapon of choice, but even tilapia is tastier and better baked.
     
  4. Lil Pun

    Lil Pun Contributing Member

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    Catfish is better breaded and deep-fried. That's not to say baking is out of the question. I have had some great catfish cooked by baking and blackening but the most common way catfish is eaten is deep-fried. Salmon and tilapia are not commonly deep-fried. I think salmon would be nasty deep fried as it is an oily fish to begin with.
     
  5. LonghornFan

    LonghornFan Contributing Member

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    NOOOOOO!!!!!!

    Srsly, I eat Catfish at least once a week to feed my addiction. How much more can you make me hate the George Bush? :mad:
     
  6. Cannonball

    Cannonball Contributing Member

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    I think I've been eating mostly Tilapia for the past year after eating mostly Catfish my whole life.
     
  7. A_3PO

    A_3PO Member

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    Condolences.

    Seriously though, while tilapia doesn't taste as good, if I ate it over a long period of time without eating any catfish, I'd probably get used to it. My wife fixes tilapia for herself. It just doesn't have the taste of catfish.
     
  8. bejezuz

    bejezuz Contributing Member

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    As in it tastes good, and lacks that distinctive mouthful of mud taste that catfish has? :D
     
  9. A_3PO

    A_3PO Member

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    I have to reply to this whether you are kidding or not.

    Those of you who haven't had farm raised catfish don't know what you are missing. Growing up in Indiana, my father and I caught, cleaned and ate catfish, carp (yes, I said carp!) and crappie. The catfish wasn't anything special and actually crappie was my favorite of the 3.

    When I moved to Houston 22 years ago, the concept of farm raised catfish was unknown to me. It introduced me to a fish I didn't know before. Farm raised catfish tastes so much better than what you catch in nature it isn't funny. I won't go into gory details about wild catfish, but all I'm gonna say is you need to think of the farm-raised variety as livestock. That is what they are. They are spawned, fed, raised to a perfect size and then harvested. They don't spend 24 hrs/day scavenging in mud on the bottom of the farmed pond.

    If you find the right place to buy them and season them right, I promise you will like it. Our personal favorite place is HEB. If you've been over to someone's house/restaurant and eaten catfish that wasn't 100% fresh, it's terrible, I know. But don't let that experience spoil your opinion forever.

    One restaurant that always does catfish right is Pappas Seafood (Pappadeaux also). Try it and see. It's on me if you don't like it. ;) I strongly recommend not putting anything on it, but if you insist on slather on something, use Louisiana hot sauce. DO NOT use ketchup. Putting ketchup on catfish is like putting it on steak, which is gross.
     
  10. DaDakota

    DaDakota If you want to know, just ask!

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    For crying out loud stop making fuel out of corn, it is inefficient, the most efficient bio fuel is sugar cane.

    DD
     
  11. bejezuz

    bejezuz Contributing Member

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    Except nobody grows sugar cane in quantities like they do corn, because high fructose corn syrup has replaced sugar as the sweetener of choice for processed foods.

    Corn is in almost every food we eat. Read Omnivore's Dilemma, it's a great book about the evils of America's dependence on corn.
     
  12. BiGGieStuFF

    BiGGieStuFF Contributing Member

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    Yes Pappa's!! That is the first time I had me some GOOD catfish. It was like eating a steak the thing was huge and plump!!
     
  13. AGBee

    AGBee Member

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    Not really going to miss catfish (don't care for it), but I grew up in Mississippi and it's sad that the catfish farms will be drying up. What's next?
     
  14. robbie380

    robbie380 ლ(▀̿Ĺ̯▀̿ ̿ლ)
    Supporting Member

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    have you heard of a country called brazil? have you heard of corn ethanol subsidies?

    anger rising...hate destructive corn subsidies....
     
  15. the futants

    the futants Contributing Member

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  16. solid

    solid Contributing Member

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    Isn't sugar cane the number one bio fuel in Brazil? And they began switching in the 70's. Remember Carter, energy crises, etc. and our government that did essentially nothing?!
     
  17. Surfguy

    Surfguy Contributing Member

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    That whole story is just sickening. I suppose catfish will be in shorter supply with higher prices now. I wish the government would step in and do something for those in this profession. Why does it feel like this country is continuing to go in the wrong direction all the time now? A f-ing catfish farmer can't even stay in business. Unbelievable. This f-ing ethanol bs...I'm sick of hearing about it. Is it even worth it? It seems to have more downsides than anything else. Corn-based ethanol seems to have led to a myriad of other problems. Pick another crop for the ethanol program...one that makes more sense and is not just the most convenient. For crying out loud.
     
  18. MadMax

    MadMax Contributing Member

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    Fixed

    you're right about omnivore's dilemma is a fantastic book.
     
  19. Lil Pun

    Lil Pun Contributing Member

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    Where the ponds once were they will grow crops like corn.
     
  20. Lil Pun

    Lil Pun Contributing Member

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    I'm sorry but can somebody explain corn subsidies or subsidies in general for me?
     

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