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Finfish Update: Catfish

Increased energy costs could cancel any savings on feed costs in 2006

Catfish
Stephen Heddericg
November 01, 2005

Domestic catfish sales through August are off slightly for the second consecutive year, but a nudge up in prices helped offset the downward trend in supply. While direct damage from hurricanes at catfish farms was minimal, look for increased energy costs to affect prices.

For 2005, sales by catfish farmers to processors are expected to come in at between 605 and 620 million pounds, down 2 to 4 percent from 2004, says Roger Barlow, president of the Catfish Institute in Indianola, Miss.

“Prices at the farm level are slightly above last year at this time,” he notes.

Catfish farmers are averaging about 72 cents a pound now, live weight, adds Barlow. That price is up 2 cents from 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which also reports the price received by processors for total fresh catfish rose during that same period to an average of $2.29 a pound, up 2 percent from 2004.

According to the Sept. 21 report released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the August 2005 average price received by processors for fresh whole fish was $1.57 per pound, down 1 cent from last year. The price for fresh fillets was up 10 cents, to $2.83 per pound.

Prices for frozen whole fish were up 2 cents from 2004, at $1.99, and frozen fillets at $2.68 per pound were up 5 cents from a year ago.

The long-term ramifications of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on catfish farmers are yet to be fully assessed, the USDA says, but catfish farmers can expect production cost increases.

“The storms hit all of us hard,” says Barlow. “The increase in natural gas will affect feed manufacturing. The cost to deliver the feed by truck will be huge. The electricity costs for processing will go up. Energy costs are a major, major component of our industry. It has us all worried. On the marketing side, the coastal area is a major single sales outlet for us.”

The cost of catfish feed staples, corn and soybeans, is projected to be slightly lower through the first half of 2006, says the USDA, but elevated energy costs will eclipse any savings there.

Rain and wind eroded the ponds at many catfish farms, Barlow says, and in some cases made it difficult to aerate them, which caused increased disease. Ironically, catfish farms and processors — most of them located inland — may benefit from increased demand as the Gulf Coast commercial fishing industry gets back on its feet.

For the third consecutive year, catfish growers plan to reduce farm- pond acreage due to market conditions, the USDA reports. Rob Mayo, president of Carolina Classics Catfish in Ayden, N.C., says there has been a steady step-down in production over the past few years due to lower prices in 2001-03.

Growers estimate there will have been 127,000 acres of ponds in full-scale fish production between July and December, which is down 10 percent, or 13,700 acres, from the same period in 2004. Most of the reductions were found in Mississippi and Arkansas. Some increases in pond acreage were reported for fingerling or broodstock production.
 

 November 2005 - SeaFood Business 

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