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Catfish markets looking better in '03

After facing their lowest levels in 20 years, catfish prices may be on the rise. “After about a year and a half of struggling with low prices, catfish producers may see prices rising from 55 to 60 cents per pound to around 65 cents per pound within the next few weeks,” said James Steeby, Mississippi State University Extension aquaculture specialist.

Catfish prices had declined due to an oversupply in the market. The supply should become short again soon, causing demand to exceed supply and prices to rise.

In previous months, catfish farmers cut labor and feed costs and cut back on stocking their ponds just to maintain production.

“MSU Extension agents helped farmers streamline their production, improve efficiency and institute cost-effective management to keep their farms going,” Steeby reported.

“Catfish is a solid product with a loyal buyer base. Producers hope that this is a turning point in the market, and that prices will reflect high demand for their catfish,” Steeby said.

Hugh Warren, executive vice president of Catfish Farmers of America, said catfish producers are hoping for a bright spot in the market.

“There is definitely cautious optimism that prices have bottomed out and are now headed up,” he said. The CFA recently brought an anti-dumping lawsuit against Vietnamese catfish producers who were glutting the U.S. market with catfish sold at deflated prices. The Department of Commerce issued a preliminary ruling in January imposing tariffs as high as 64 percent on the imports, which raised the foreign prices to more competitive levels. The International Trade Commission should make a permanent decision on the outcome of the case in the next few months.

In the meantime, there is reason to believe that the decrease in catfish imports has helped America's catfish producers.

“The implementation of those tariffs has had a positive impact on the market and could lead to higher prices for the U.S. producer,” Warren said.

Mississippi produces more than 60 percent of all catfish consumed in the nation, and the state's catfish industry amasses more than $2 billion per year. Steeby reported that U.S. processing reached an industry record of 630 million pounds of catfish in 2002.

Marketing efforts like those made by the Mississippi-based Catfish Institute have made farm-raised catfish the fourth-best-selling fish in the United States.

Laura Whelan writes for MSU Ag Communications.

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