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Hybrid catfish has potential

US - Researchers at Auburn University have studied hybrid catfish for decades and, for nearly as long, have known its an outstanding food fish. While it may not be a silver bullet for what ails the catfish industry, the hybrid is capable of greatly enhancing production, sustainability and profitability for US producers.

“The hybrid is a fabulous fish for pond culture,” says Rex Dunham, Auburn professor. “They don’t do well in cages or small tanks. But for the traditional pond farms, they’re a vast improvement over channel cats.

“One of our goals is, within five to 10 years, to have a majority of the catfish industry utilizing the hybrid.”

To that end, Auburn’s research is focused in two areas:

  • Producing fry. Dunham says the reason hybrids aren’t already more widespread is the difficulty to getting the two species — channel catfish and blue catfish — to mate. “We’ve worked every year trying to improve the technique for artificially producing these hybrid eggs.”

  • Genetics. “Even though the hybrid is a great fish, it isn’t perfect. So, we’re working on selective breeding to develop lines of channels and blues that, combined, make increasingly better hybrids.”

The graduate

Roger Yant graduated from Auburn in 1975 with a master’s degree. His post-graduate research and thesis were on hybrid catfish.

“I guess that’s a long time to be interested in the hybrids,” says Yant, who runs Hybrid Catfish Company, a hybrid fingerling operation near Inverness, Miss.

Yant has taken a winding road to his current job. After managing a catfish processing company and trying his hand at farming, Yant went to work for Gold Kist, a large Atlanta-based farmer co-op, in 1990. At that time, Gold Kist was the second-largest U.S. poultry business and was interested in diversifying into aquaculture.

In the modern poultry business, a segment in the chain is called “primary breeders.” These breeders produce the chicks taken to large poultry houses to grow out. Because of their work in genetics, the poultry industry made huge jumps in efficiency.

Gold Kist figured Yant could help do the same with catfish.

Source: Delta Farm Press