Production and Economic Comparison of Single Versus Multiple Harvests of Hybrid Catfish in a Commercial In-pond Raceway System in West Alabama Targeting Two Market Outlets

This study evaluates the production and economic feasibility of a fixed-floor, in-pond raceway system (IPRS) to supply processor and niche live catfish markets while also highlighting production issues that arose by targeting these two markets. A west Alabama catfish producer grew hybrid catfish (♀ Ictalurus punctatus x ♂ Ictalurus furcatus) to market size in two production cycles (2012–2013 and 2013–2015). Management and harvest of IPRS-raised catfish changed from production cycle 1 to production cycle 2 due to higher market prices received from niche-live fish market buyers. The high density of fish in the IPRS and the small size of the raceway cells made it easier to frequently harvest small quantities of catfish for niche markets. Small quantities of catfish cannot be harvested efficiently from the large ponds traditionally used in the U.S. farm-raised catfish industry. Catfish pro- cessors, being the second market outlet, preferred a single harvest of fish from the raceway cells because they could take large quantities of fish at a time; but they also paid a lower unit price. While the farmer viewed the niche market opportunity as a success, several production issues occurred, including incidences of disease, that reduced survival, growth, and profitability of hybrid catfish raised in the IPRS. Production and net returns varied by year, and even when the producer was receiving a higher fish price from the niche-live fish market buyer than from the processor, overall net returns were greater from the higher survival, lower priced, single harvest catfish production system (processor market) than for the lower survival, higher priced, multiple harvest catfish production system (niche market).

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