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Production increases expected as ocean fish resources dwindle

Low feed prices, shortage lead to catfish profits

STONEVILLE — Catfish are not only one of the few currently profitable agricultural products in Mississippi. Sales of the pond-raised fish also help prevent the balance of trade deficit for imports of fish being even higher than it is at present by meeting part of the domestic demand for fish.

In 1998 the U.S. saw a record $6-billion seafood trade deficit that was attributed to the growing American appetite for fish and other seafood products combined with a strong U.S. dollar, and weak harvests of domestic wild-caught fish. The U.S. exported about $2.1 billion worth of fish, which was down because of the economic crisis in Asia.

About 70% of the world’s farm-raised catfish production comes from Mississippi. Sunflower and Humphreys counties alone have more acreage of catfish ponds than any other state, and Mississippi has more acreage than all the rest of the states combined.

Sunflower County Extension agent Thomas Baird said that feed prices for catfish are now at a 15- to 20-year low.

“The cost of feed is the largest factor in profitability,” Baird said. “We had a sizeable winter kill this winter. We lost some fish. That created a shortage, so pond bank prices are up a little bit from last year to about 70

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