2013 Catfish Report Reveals Challenges, Bright Spots for US Farmers

Terry Hanson (left), Auburn University, and Butch Wilson, Alabama catfish farmer.

Terry Hanson (left), Auburn University, and Butch Wilson, Alabama catfish farmer.

The recently released 2013 U.S. Catfish Database compiled by Auburn University aquacultural economist Terry Hanson paints a grim portrait of the U.S. farm-raised catfish industry overall, but a few bright spots, particularly for Alabama producers, are sprinkled throughout the report.

Since peaking in 2003, the U.S. catfish industry has been shrinking. American consumer preference for the fish declined from sixth among the top 10 fish and seafood products in 2009 to ninth in 2012. The acreage devoted to catfish farming in the U.S. continued its steady decline in 2013 and is now down 62 percent, or 121,135 acres, from its peak in 2002. Meanwhile, imports of frozen catfish fillets increased by 44 million pounds in 2013, to 281 million pounds, accounting for 78 percent of all sales of frozen catfish fillets in the U.S. Imports in 2013 were nearly 10 times what they were just eight years ago, while the number of pounds of U.S. catfish processed is down nearly 50 percent from that same year.

“Though the majority of the news for the U.S. catfish industry is bleak, 2013 did bring slight increases in both pounds processed, up 11 percent from 2012, and total producer income, also up 11 percent over the previous year,” said Hanson. “We are encouraged by these signs that the industry may be stabilizing.”

And, the news for Alabama’s catfish farmers is slightly better than for those in other states. Though the acreage devoted to catfish farming in the state has decreased steadily since 2004, Alabama has seen the lowest rate of decrease of the top catfish-producing states. In addition, while feed purchases have dropped dramatically in other states, signaling a sharper decline in the industry, Alabama’s feed purchases have remained relatively stable.

Butch Wilson, an Alabama catfish farmer and past president of the Catfish Farmers of America, says the trends in the industry are forcing farmers to innovate and diversify in order to remain competitive in a global marketplace.

“I’ve lived every one of these trends on my farm,” said Wilson, who in recent years has diversified operations and updated technologies on his Dallas County farm. He now raises tilapia in addition to catfish and has moved portions of his operation indoors to keep up with the industry’s latest technological advances.

Looking to the future, Hanson says some trends will likely continue, while others may see a sharp change. While the market share of imported fish and seafood will continue to rise, overall consumption of seafood products will keep to its downward trend unless efforts are made to educate Americans about the nutritional benefit of eating more fish. The increase in feed prices over the past few years has led to a lower in-pond catfish inventory in the U.S., which will result in a supply shortage in 2014. As of February, processors were paying much higher prices per pound for U.S.-raised catfish than just a year earlier, a positive trend Hanson hopes will continue at the production, processing and retail levels.

“If producers are able to invest these profits to improve infrastructure, adopt new technologies and reduce production costs, then U.S. farm-raised catfish will compete favorably with inexpensive imported products,” Hanson said.

Hanson, associate professor and Extension specialist in the School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences, has provided the annual catfish database for the last 15 years.  Much of the information in the report is a historical compilation of data provided by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, a branch of the United States Department of Agriculture. Dave Sites of Mississippi State University is co-author of the 2013 report, which can be downloaded at http://aurora.auburn.edu/repo/bitstream/handle/11200/45669/1%202013-catfish-database%20all%20sections%20combined.pdf?sequence=1.

For more information, contact Hanson at (334) 844-9207 or trh0008@auburn.edu.

Auburn Fisheries Pioneer Explains Why Alabama Agriculture Can’t Catch Up

shell

Jamie Creamer wrote about Dr. Wayne Shell in the latest issue of Ag Illustrated.

“Eddie Wayne Shell has a suggestion for folks who buy his new book.

“It makes a mighty good doorstop,” he says. “You sure can’t do much else with it.”

At first glance, you might be tempted to agree. The 880-page volume is just shy of 2 inches thick, weighs in at 5.2 pounds and, from cover to cover, is nothing but text. Not the first picture, table or illustration to be found, page after 8 ½- by-11-inch page.

The title—“Evolution of the Alabama Agroecosystem: Always Keeping Up but Never Catching Up”—might be off-putting, too. 

But don’t let those details scare you away, because the exhaustive narrative that Shell, an Auburn University professor emeritus in fisheries, has produced is an absorbing, surprisingly readable account of how geological, biological, cultural, economic and political characteristics over the past 350 million years have shaped the state’s agricultural ecosystem. Most of the book’s focus, however, is on changes that have taken place in the past two centuries …”

Read the rest of the article here

Former Fisheries Faculty Practices What He Preached Raising Inland Shrimp

David Teichert-Coddington working his shrimp farm.

David Teichert-Coddington working his shrimp farm.

Jamie Creamer featured former faculty member, David Teichert-Coddington in the spring issue of Ag Illustrated.

“About this time every year, David Teichert-Coddington packs his bag, loads his trailer and hits the road, bound for the Florida Keys.

If he were going for a few weeks of R & R, that would be one thing. But this is business, as will be evidenced four days and 1,850 miles later when a road-weary Teichert-Coddington returns to his west-central Alabama home, hauling a load of precious—and totally legal—cargo: 9 million pathogen-free, hatchery-grown baby shrimp. Shrimplets, if you will, each about the size of a gnat.

And thus begins another growing season at Greene Prairie Shrimp, a fitting name for a farming operation that’s in Greene County on 250 acres of prairie soil and for which the sole product is Pacific white shrimp …”

Read the rest of the article here.

Fisheries’ Wilson Wins Honor as Undergrad Research Mentor

Man standing in a pond by buckets

In the seven years he has been on the faculty in Auburn University’s School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences, associate professor Alan Wilson has introduced more than 70 undergraduate students from Auburn and beyond to the fascinating world of scientific research.

These students have been more than passive observers in Wilson’s warm-water aquatic ecology laboratory; they have been actively involved in the research process, as is evidenced by their scholarly output, which includes co-authoring with Wilson 10 journal publications and 36 conference presentations.

“I am passionate about creating meaningful research opportunities for undergrads,” said Wilson, who began mentoring undergraduates in research as a graduate student at Michigan State University in 1998. “I’m always thrilled to share my love of science with students and engage them in the scientific method.”

For his outstanding record as a mentor, Wilson has been named winner of the 2014-15 Provost’s Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship at Auburn and will be recognized formally during the university’s faculty awards ceremony this fall.

“This award is in recognition of your sustained efforts to promote excellence in undergraduate scholarship through research,” Auburn Provost Timothy Boosinger said in a letter notifying Wilson of his selection.

In addition to Auburn students from across the campus, Wilson’s young scientists have included 34 undergraduates from other universities across the state and region who, from 2011 through 2013, spent summers in Auburn working with Wilson through his National Science Foundation–funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates program in aquatic ecology.

“These students were here strictly for the opportunity to do research, because that isn’t an option for them at their home universities,” Wilson said. “I trained them in a variety of skills, such as experimental design, scientific ethics and the how-tos of developing presentations.”

Wilson said training the undergraduate researchers “to do good science” is his primary goal.

“But after that, I want to get them interested in and excited about science,” he said. “I want them to see that science is fun.”

The provost’s mentoring award was established in 2010 to highlight a faculty member’s significant commitment to undergraduate scholarship and creative work outside the classroom.

 

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Fish Raise Their Voices to Shout Over Noise

Courtesy of April Reese and Discover Magazine –

image of a shiner fish


Cyprinella lutrensis, or red shiner, is a cousin of the black shiner.

 

Every day, thousands of cars and trucks rumble across bridges all over the U.S. Their drivers probably don’t give much thought to the fish swimming in the rivers, lakes or bays below. But the fish notice them: They can hear those noisy engines passing overhead, and according to a new study, they are having to shout to communicate over the din.

The effects of sonar and other human-made sounds on the communication of marine mammals such as whales and dolphins is well documented. But fish “talk” too – so far, researchers have identified about 800 different species of fish that use vocal signals. One of them is the blacktail shiner, which lives in parts of the Southeast, Midwest and in Texas. Dan Holt, a fisheries biologist at Auburn University in Alabama, wondered how the shiner responds to the loud traffic on bridges in the area.

“You don’t hear much about freshwater systems,” he says. “But I drive over three or four bridges just coming to work, and a lot of times, we’re out collecting data by bridges, and we hear that noise. This fish is exposed to a lot of different types of sounds — boat traffic, 18-wheelers, lots of bridge noise,” he says.

Louder Purrs

Holt and his co-researcher, Carol Johnston, wanted to find out if the blacktail shiner communicates differently in noisy areas. They knew that male shiners “purr” to attract potential mates and “pop” to fend off competitors. Would they move closer to one another, Holt and Johnston wondered, so they could be heard more easily? Would they repeat themselves? Or would they just “talk” louder, the way people shout over the music at a rock concert?

For their initial study, published in the April issue of Behavioral Ecology – which Holt says is the first to examine a fish’s response to elevated noise levels – the researchers exposed the fish to white noise, a common method for testing hearing. They found that the fish simply turn up the volume.

“This is the first fish in which it’s been found,” Holt says. But blacktail shiners don’t pump up the volume by very much, and it’s unclear whether they can still communicate effectively in noisy environments, he adds. Holt and his team are now studying the fish in their natural environment to find out whether traffic noise is interfering with mating or other behaviors.

After that, the next step will be to study how other types of fish respond to elevated sound levels, he adds.

“There are a lot of fish out there that make sounds, especially in these small freshwater streams,” he says. “A lot of questions remain to be answered.”

Communication Breakdown?

Across “the pond” in England, another team of researchers studying acoustic communication warn that noise interference can have tragic consequences for species that rely on verbal signals for survival. A review study by a team led by biologist Andrew Radford of the University of Bristol, published in the same journal last month, looked at previous research on the responses of birds, amphibians and marine mammals and suggested that fish, which account for more than half the world’s vertebrate species but whose responses to noise are not as well understood, may be adversely affected by noise and should be studied more closely.

Since fish make up more than half of the world’s vertebrates and provide the main source of protein for one billion people, the British researchers note, studying their response to a noisy environment will be important for people too. The human population is expected increase by 1-2 billion by 2050.

“The world is getting noisier,” Holt says. “It could have a lot of impacts.”

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