Local catfish farmers expect demand increase due to gulf shortage

Posted by: Melissa McKinney - bio | email

MARION JUNCTION, AL (WSFA) - As a sixth generation catfish farmer, Will Pearce is following in his family's footsteps.

The Pearce family catfish farm--just off Highway 80 in Marion Junction--is no small operation.

"We have 121 ponds in production on 1374 acres," says Pearce.

He raises 15 million lbs. of catfish per year.  Now with seafood from the Gulf of Mexico in jeopardy, he wonders if that number will climb.

"I have talked with one of the processors in the last couple weeks and they're ready if there is a spike in demand. We're just trying to feed our fish as much as possible and get them grown up to processable size."

Seafood suppliers expect shrimp and oysters to be hardest hit as oil moves closer to the coast.

Pearce admits it's hard to watch the gulf crisis unfold.  But, he says there are options.

"It may be an opportunity for the catfish to be tried in some markets that it hasn't been tried in before."

Pearce says he hasn't seen demand go up yet. He says it could be a month before it hits his farm.  Still, there's one reason he welcomes any possible increase.

"The last couple years have been pretty rough in the catfish industry. It's a declining industry and a spike in the price would bring a lot of smiles to the farmers."

Pearce says the price of catfish feed shot up 60% in 2008 making it hard to rebound now.

But a higher demand could bring relief while helping to keep struggling seafood stores in business.

"We welcome the idea of reaching to people who have not tried catfish before," adds Pearce.

Roughly 95% of the nation's catfish comes from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Alabama is the second largest producer in the country.

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