Ponds are built over clay-rich soils, where they are filled with pure freshwater pumped from underground wells. The rectangular-shaped ponds, averaging 10 to 20 acres each, are built above ground by constructing levees. These embankments contain water that can reach 4 to 6 feet in depth.
Besides the improved quality of the living conditions, a big difference between a U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish and its wild cousin is what they eat. These delicacies are fed a gourmet diet of puffed, high-protein food pellets, made of a mixture of soybeans, corn, wheat, vitamins and minerals. Farm-raised catfish have learned to feed on pellets that float on top of the ponds, unlike its wild bottom-feeding cousin. This feed not only helps in producing a healthier fish, but also a cleaner, milder tasting one.
Farming begins with the selection and mating of quality brood stock. A brood fish will lay from 3,000 to 4,000 eggs per pound of body weight over an average of 12 years. Fertilized eggs are collected and placed in controlled hatchery tanks. After seven days at a temperature of 78° F, the eggs hatch. The young, called “sac fry,” live off the food supplied by the yolk sacs.
When the yolk is used up, the fish begin to swim and are moved to a special pond where they grow into fingerlings. At 4 to 6 inches in length, they are transferred to catfish ponds in a ratio of approximately 4,500 per surface acre of water.
U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish are harvested in seines (large weighted nets) at about 18 months old and averaging 1 to 1.5 pounds. They are loaded into baskets and then placed in aerated tank trucks for live shipment to processing plants.
The catfish are kept alive up until the minute they are processed. The entire processing procedure in completed in less than 30 minutes. The fish are cleaned, processed, and placed on ice or frozen to temperatures of 40° F below zero. Frozen farm-raised catfish are individually quick-frozen (IQF), a method which preserves the taste and quality of the fish.
The TCI-Certified Processing Plants have a combined processing capability of more than 10 million pounds of U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish per week, every week of the year. This ensures a steady supply of catfish at an affordable price. These plants are regularly inspected by the U.S. Department of Commerce (USDC) and are certified by the USDC as a “Sanitarily Inspected Fish Establishment.” Recently, voluntary Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) guidelines have been set by the FDA which have been adapted by all TCI-affiliated catfish processors.
U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish is available in any of these general forms:
Whole Dressed (fresh)
Steaks (cross-section cuts from larger dressed fish, fresh or frozen)
Fillets (boned sides of the fish, cut lengthwise away from the backbone, fresh or frozen)
Regular and shank fillets (regular fillets have the belly section attached, shank fillets have the belly section removed, fresh or frozen)
Nuggets (boneless pieces cut from the belly section of the fillet, fresh or frozen)
Strips and fingers (smaller pieces of fish cut from fillets, fresh or frozen)
U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish may come in a variety of prepared forms including:
Delacata® Style Catfish Fillets
Farm-raised catfish is available to the foodservice operator in many forms, both frozen and fresh. Catfish processors are working constantly on developing new foodservice products and improving existing product lines to fill the ever-evolving needs of operators. This fish is extremely versatile, mild flavored and practically indestructible in the kitchen. Overcooking catfish is difficult to do, which is why it fits so well into so many types of operations.