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Cat’s Out of the Bag: New Catfish Line Outperforms Others

By Jim Core
May 7, 2002

A new catfish line developed by Agricultural Research Service scientists promises to provide a shot in the arm for the U.S. catfish industry, according to producers who are already raving about its big appetite and superior growth rate.

Fish in this new catfish line, NWAC103, consumed 10 percent more feed and grew 10 percent faster than channel catfish now in production. Releasing this superior breeding line should provide greater profits for the industry, according to William R. Wolters, who leads the ARS Catfish Genetics Research Unit in Stoneville, Miss.

The new line was released jointly last year by ARS and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station (MAFES) at the Thad Cochran National Warmwater Aquaculture Center (NWAC) in Stoneville. Thirty-five selected producers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and North Carolina were chosen by lottery. Thus far, researchers have released nearly 750,000 pounds of two- and three-year-old broodstock to producers.

And producers are excited about the new line. According to Neil Bowen, owner of Plantation Fishery, Inc. in Pantego, NC, the new line is probably the best thing that ever happened to the industry. The fish are such aggressive feeders and mature so early, that the broodstock at his farm have doubled their size in one year.

Lester Myers, president of Delta Western Feed Mill, Inc., in Indianola, Miss., attributes his increased feed sales to the new line. He predicts this strain will be the predominant catfish produced in the Mississippi Delta in the next two to three years. The new line is a channel catfish, the most commonly raised catfish species.

ARS scientists selected the fish for fast growth and increased feed consumption in the Stoneville breeding program. ARS scientists identified genetic markers that allowed for rapid identification and certification to distinguish it from other catfish. Genetic improvement of channel catfish is essential for long-term viability of the U.S. catfish industry, according to Wolters.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.