Despite catfish remaining a beloved staple of Southern dinner tables, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert said growth in the Texas catfish aquaculture industry remains static amid myriad challenges

Over the last two decades, stagnant market prices, changes in consumer preferences, increased production costs and foreign competition have slowed growth potential.

Over the last 25 years, the farm-gate price of catfish has ranged between 80 cents and $1.20 per pound, said Todd Sink, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension aquaculture specialist and associate professor in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Rangeland, Wildlife and Fisheries Management, Bryan-College Station.

At the same time, catfish feed prices more than doubled, from $250 per ton in 1996 to $525 per ton in 2023.

This year, Sink said producers are earning around $1.16 per pound while production costs ranged from 98 cents to $1.03 per pound.

“There is very little profit margin, and tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of fish must be sold per year to support a farm enterprise,” Sink said. “Catfish is a product that has not achieved the same market increase with inflation as other products have.”

Consumer preferences continue to shift

A key driver of this trend, which is seen not only in U.S. aquaculture but worldwide, is a change in consumer preference.

“People have become more affluent, and their taste in fish has changed over time,” Sink said. “Catfish is considered to be a lower-value fishand now people are trending more toward species they perceive to be of higher value like red drum, hybrid striped bass, corvina and Red Sea bream from Europe.”

Because of this change in perception, as well as the stagnant market prices, Sink said many catfish producers have either exited the profession or transitioned to different aquaculture species.

Initially, catfish aquaculture focused on channel catfish varieties. While native blue, white, flathead and bullhead catfish species have also been considered for aquaculture, Sink said they are largely inferior to channel catfish in terms of food fish production.

Efforts to capitalize on hybrid vigor, including improved growth rate and disease resistance, led to the development of the blue-channel catfish hybrids primarily grown today for the food fish industry.

Texas catfish production capacity

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture catfish production surveys, the top four catfish-producing states — Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas — accounted for 96%, or $419.5 million, of total U.S. sales in 2023.

Texas’ 1,500 acres of catfish production, located primarily along the Gulf Coastal Plain and northeastern portion of the state along the Red River, accounted for $22.8 million of those sales.

While Texas ranks in the top four states for catfish production, it trails far behind Mississippi, the recognized leader in catfish aquaculture, with 33,100 acres in production and more than $250 million in sales.

Although Texas may not be the top producer, the state does maintain an advantage that Sink said continues to defy explanation.

“Texas is able to successfully grow more catfish per acre than most of the top producing states,” Sink said. “In most states, producers can grow 10,000-12,000 pounds per acre, but we generally grow up to 16,000 pounds per acre. We’ve never been able to exactly explain the factors behind this.”

Sink said some Texas producers have pushed the envelope to beyond 20,000 pounds per acre, but this often results in increased disease and water quality issues.

Recent legislative assistance for the industry  

Over the years, federal legislation has helped U.S. catfish producers compete with foreign imports and provided protection from catastrophic losses.

In the mid-2000s, Congress passed legislation that enforced correct labeling on fish imports, a move that significantly increased demand for domestic catfish.

Aquaculture producers producing food fish for consumption are also now eligible for assistance under the USDA’s Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish, which helps producers who incur losses from disease or adverse weather events like flooding and extreme heat.

“This has helped catfish and other aquaculture producers dramatically,” Sink said. “Prior to this, there were no disaster protections for food fish aquaculture like there were for other commodities such as corn, cotton or cattle.”

Looking ahead for Texas catfish production

Sink doesn’t anticipate opportunities for growth in the catfish industry, but he doesn’t foresee it shrinking either.

For existing catfish producers, Sink said incorporating sportfish production into their farm can diversify and financially benefit their operations.

“Texas is home to 1.3 million ponds, and catfish has never fallen out of favor as a recreational fish people want to stock in their ponds,” Sink said. “People stocking farm ponds largely want the original channel catfish they grew up with.”

Sink said one producer he knows in the state grows channel catfish rather than hybrid catfish for that very reason.

“A lot of our other food fish industries don’t have that option as another outlet, but the catfish industry does,” Sink said. “That demand for pond stocking has helped keep some producers going strong.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:


The district reported hot conditions most of the week with scattered showers in some areas. Soil moisture levels were starting to decline, but pasture conditions remained good. Corn and sorghum crops were maturing rapidly, and the late corn crop may be planted soon depending on weather conditions. Corn silage harvest wrapped up, and producers were forecasting yields ranging from slightly below average to average. Cotton continued to improve and mature. Producers were reporting high insect pest populations throughout the district. Cattle conditions were good, and livestock prices were strong. 

Rolling Plains

The district continued to suffer oppressive heat conditions, and extreme temperatures were taking a toll on cotton crops and pasture grasses. Some areas received some rainfall, up to 1 inch in some locations. Non-irrigated cotton fields were starting to dry out and needed rain to boost growth. Emerging cotton fields were struggling. Grasshoppers were also seen on young cotton leaves. Corn and sorghum were suffering to the point of failure. Wheat harvest was complete, and yields were mostly below average. Pasture conditions were declining, but good grazing remained in many areas, however some producers continued to supplement livestock diets. First cuttings of Bermuda grass fields produced good yields, but second cutting yields were low.

Coastal Bend

The district received varied rainfall amounts with some areas receiving up to 2.5 inches with minimal impact from Hurricane Beryl. Corn was in the dry-down stage, and harvest was almost complete with above-average yields. Rice looked good, and plants were headed in most fields. Producers completed sorghum harvest, and cotton was nearing harvest with early planted fields likely harvested soon. Late-planted cotton looked good and should yield well. Soil moisture conditions were good, but producers in some areas fertilized hay fields in anticipation of tropical rains. Pastures conditions improved considerably after Tropical Storm Alberto, but additional rain was needed to sustain conditions. Livestock were in good condition with abundant forages, and cattle prices remained above average. 


Hay production in the district was in progress, and producers were trying to cut and bale before Hurricane Beryl affected the area. The district was still reporting dry conditions and more rain was needed. Soil moisture conditions were adequate, and pasture conditions remained good. High armyworm, grasshopper and Bermuda grass stem maggot populations were hitting district forages hard, and producers were having difficulty controlling armyworms with pyrethroids. Feral hog populations remained high, and damages were above normal. Livestock conditions ranged from fair to good, and cattle markets remained strong. 


The district reported hot and dry conditions with little rainfall. Hay production was in progress in many locations in preparation for Hurricane Beryl. Producers in most areas were reporting above normal yields. Cotton crops in most areas were in good condition, and corn was maturing and nearing harvest. Soil moisture ranged from short to adequate and pasture conditions varied from very poor to excellent. 

South Plains

The district received 1 inch of rain late in the week, and a cool front gave crops a much-needed break. Producers were also maintaining crops with irrigation, fertilizer and plant growth regulators applied to cotton. Cotton fields were squaring, and producers were reporting good retention. Black-eyed pea planting was nearing completion, and fields were progressing well. Sorghum fields were looking good, and cattle were in good condition. 


The district received widespread showers. Overall soil moisture ranged from very short to adequate with crop conditions reported as very poor to fair. Corn and sorghum silage harvests continued. Corn was starting to tassel, and cotton plants were beginning to square. Some corn plants were 10 days to two weeks behind schedule and needed additional heat units to help with growth. Producers completed wheat harvest in some areas. Pasture and range conditions were very poor to fair. 


The district reported hot and dry conditions most of the week with scattered showers in a few areas. Soil conditions were short to adequate in most areas with some counties reporting topsoil conditions as very short. There were reports of a few counties that received up to 3 inches of rainfall, but most areas were dry. Plants in most areas were beginning to exhibit heat and drought stress with grasses transitioning from vegetative to reproductive stage. Corn was rapidly maturing and many crops were turning yellow while soybean and sorghum crops were looking good. Hay production was in full swing, but grasshoppers were beginning to cause damage in pastures and on the edges of crops. Pasture and livestock conditions were good.

Far West

The district reported hot and dry conditions with low temperatures in the mid-70s and high temperatures above 100 degrees. There were some showers, but no measurable rainfall was reported. Cotton in most areas suffered from the hot and dry conditions, and dryland cotton was being plowed under. Corn and sorghum crops were deteriorating daily with grain trying to fill. Watermelons, cantaloupes and onions were being harvested and were reported to be in good condition. Pecans were starting to develop. Producers struggled with grazing cattle and continued to provide supplemental food and water for their herds. AgriLife Extension agents and specialists were working with producers to develop drought management programs due to the continued hot and dry weather. 

West Central

The district reported conditions ranging from hot and dry to warm and humid with rainfall rates ranging from 0.5-1.5 inches. Soil conditions were still good, but moisture was beginning to dry out in most areas. Crop conditions were good overall, but producers were having problems with insect pests. Hay was doing well with above average yields being reported in most areas. Corn was drying down quickly, and dryland sorghum was suffering from drought stress. Early planted cotton looked good, and younger cotton plants were in a holding pattern. Pasture and range conditions were adequate but under heavy pressure from weeds and grasshoppers. Cattle and livestock conditions were good, but sheep and goat producers continued to battle stomach worms due to the high moisture levels. Livestock markets remained strong.


The district received some light rain from Hurricane Beryl, but hot and dry conditions continued. Soil moisture was starting to dry down. The small amount of rainfall improved pasture conditions, but corn and sorghum harvests were slow. Row crops looked good going into late maturity. Hay looked good and producers completed cutting and baling. Reports of grasshoppers were increasing in pastures, and pecan aphid populations were expected to be high. Rangeland conditions were quickly drying but livestock were in fair condition under supplementation. Wildlife conditions looked good districtwide.


Weather conditions in the district ranged from mild to hot with little to no rainfall reported. Sorghum fields were maturing in most areas and ready to harvest in some locations. Corn harvest in most areas was progressing well and most fields should be harvested soon. Hay conditions were good, and producers were harvesting before rains from Hurricane Beryl. Sesame crops have not been harvested yet and bolls were beginning to open on most cotton crops. Watermelons and sunflowers were also being harvested and were reported to be in good condition. Pasture conditions ranged from fair to good condition and livestock conditions were good. Cattle markets remained strong in most areas.

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