Catfish farming takes a hit in Alabama

Posted by Bryan Henry  -  bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) --Alabama is said to be the second largest catfish producer in the country, an industry worth $500 million.

"I enjoy it. I'm not sure what else I would be doing," said catfish farmer Will Pearce of Dallas County.

Pearce is right there knee deep in the business. Pearce oversees a 6th generation family operation, 121 ponds covering more than 1,300 acres.. some 20 miles west of Selma.

"We have good loyal employees," Pearce said.

It's a demanding profession, a round-the-clock business, all against the tide of rising feed costs, up 30% since last year along with fuel and herbicide yet the demand for catfish is up.

Simply put, people still love to eat catfish and that's good for Pearce. Pearce has 17 full time employees who depend on him.

"We need to keep these prices up so we can start making improvements on the farm," said Pearce.

There's enough catfish at Pearce Catfish Farm to feed 13 million people. That is if they ate one pound of catfish at one sitting.

Records show 10% of the state's catfish farmers have gone out of the business because of the high cost of doing business. The drop out rate is much higher in Mississippi, 40% and 50% in Arkansas, all in the last 5 years.

"We've cut back on expenses," said Pearce.

At 37 Will Pearce can't imagine doing anything else. What's helped is the mere fact he owns the land and he's looking at buying more.

It's all part of trying to make it in the depths of challenging times.

Mississippi remains the country's largest producer of catfish. Alabama has 200 catfish farms.

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