Breeding catfish is a delicate operation requiring timing, skill, and luck. Farming catfish is more a matter of money, time, and physical labor. Most catfish farmers do not breed the fish they farm but rely on the purchase of fingerlings to stock their ponds. Though large commercial catfish farmers can sell their product to fish processing plants, the small-scale catfish farmer must either farm for home consumption or rely on direct marketing to make the effort worthwhile.
Breeding and Farming Catfish
Train in aquaculture at your local college or work at a fish farm to learn the basics. You will also need to take business and marketing courses and learn about federal, state and local regulations on the fish farming industry.
Prepare to work long hard hours in all kinds of weather with very few, if any, days off. Tree roots, burrowing animals, and heavy rainfall can disrupt the smooth operation of a catfish pond, so daily inspections and repairs are needed. You will also need to test the water quality, dig levies, cut back vegetation, and keep out predators.
Purchase equipment necessary for catfish farming. Farming catfish requires a large pond with a netted flat bottom, water aeration, and cleared draining paths. So you'll want to have a tractor, netting, an electric or fuel-fed aerator, feed and chemical delivery systems, and water pumps.
Create the perfect environment for breeding. According to the University of Florida, catfish have an “elaborate breeding behavior” and are most fertile at 2 to 3 years of age. Stock the breeding pond, cage, or tank with enough males and females to provide for partner selection, at least four females to every one male. Females lay eggs in large masses from April to June but only if the water is clean with a pH of 6.5 to 9.0, and a temperature above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The male catfish incubates the eggs, which hatch earliest when water is between 79 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit. If your catfish breed successfully, expect at least half of the eggs to hatch and up to 85 percent of the fry to reach the fingerling stage.
Create a network of local restaurants, fish shops, and community organizations interested in purchasing catfish. Kentucky aquaculturist Dr. Robert M. Durburow suggests that small-scale catfish farmers primarily sell fresh catfish to churches for fish-fry fundraisers and to the general public for home consumption.
Contact your local USDA agent for more information on breeding and farming catfish. Check with local universities, agricultural schools, and aquaculture programs for assistance with breeding and farming food fishes. If fish farming isn't right for you, raise catfish in a backyard cage for your own use. See the Resource section for a 4-H pamphlet.
Expect a 15- to 24-month delay in receiving income as well as an initial investment of several thousand dollars per pond with a similar monthly upkeep cost.