Farm-raised Channel Catfish
A Reference Profile
Frank A. Chapman
Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida, Gainesville
John T. Woeste, Dean for Extension
I'-"'-'PSTY OF FLORIDA LIBRARIES
Frank A. Chapman, Assistant Professor, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, University of Florida
Taxonomy and distribution
Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) belong to
the family Ictaluridae, in the large catfish order
Siluriformes. The order includes over two thousand
species and most of them inhabit the fresh waters
of the tropics. In the United States, the family
Ictaluridae is native to the water drainages east of
the Rocky Mountains, and contains about forty-
three recognized species. Other important commer-
cial species in the family include the blue catfish
(I. furcatus), white catfish (I. catus), yellow bull-
head (I. natalis), brown bullhead (I. nebulosus),
black bullhead (I. melas), and the flathead catfish
The channel catfish is the primary species of
farm-raised fish in the United States. Leading
commercial catfish producing states are Missis-
sippi, Arkansas, Alabama, and Louisiana. The
ancestry of channel catfish farm-stocks is still
unknown, but the majority of them are believed to
have originated from Oklahoma stocks around
Life cycle characteristics
Channel catfish are reported to live up to forty
years, attain approximately 1 m (40 in.) in total
length and nearly 20 kg (44 Ibs) in body weight. In
the wild, however, fish over ten years of age, 53 cm
(21 in.) in length, and 1.5 kg (3.3 Ibs) in body size
are unusual. Channel catfish can be sexually differ-
entiated at about 6 months of age and normally
breed for the first time in their second or third year
of life. Thereafter, catfish will usually spawn every
year throughout their life time. The spawning
season of channel catfish is usually during the
months of April through June; females start laying
their eggs at water temperatures above 21C
(700F). The eggs of channel catfish are large (2.4-
3.0 mm or 0.1 inches in diameter), very adhesive,
and usually laid in a large egg mass. Females have
large variation in the number of eggs they produce,
laying between 3,000 to 50,000 eggs, depending on
the age and size of the fish; improved spawning
success (number of eggs produced, larger eggs, and
egg fertility) are observed in fish three to five years
of age. Catfish have an elaborate breeding behavior
and the male usually incubates the eggs.
The period of incubation (hatching time) of catfish
eggs depends on water temperature. Eggs hatch in
four to ten days at temperatures between 21 and
270C (70-810F); at optimum spawning and incuba-
tion temperatures (25-27C), embryos hatch in 4 to 6
days. Young absorb their yolk sacs and begin swim-
ming (swim-up stage) 3-4 days after hatching. After
yolk absorption, young catfish actively feed on a
variety of foodstuffs and readily accept artificially-
Several production and management schemes are
used to commercially produce channel catfish. Most
of the farm-raised catfish are cultured in ponds con-
structed with levees. Average pond size is 7.1 water
hectares (17.5 acres) on 8.1 hectares (20 acres) of
land. Although this large size pond is less expensive
to construct, it is more difficult to manage; pond
sizes between 5 and 10 acres are preferable. Catfish
are also raised in watershed ponds, and in high-den-
sity culture systems that make use of tanks, race-
ways, and cages. Raising channel catfish mixed with
other species offish (polyculture) is also practiced.
Figure 1 depicts a generalized description of a
catfish farming system.
Regardless of the production system employed,
efficient production of channel catfish requires a
dependable supply of large volumes of water. For
example, in pond production at least 185-280 /min
of water per hectare of pond surface (20-30 gpm/
acre) are essential. For intensive fish production in
raceways, 5.7-7.6 m3/min (about 235 ft3/min) of water
Nutrition and feeding
Channel catfish are efficient food converters and
will gain between 0.45 and 0.67 g of body weight per
gram of food consumed (e.g 1.5-2.2 lbs of feed/i lb of
fish). Growth of channel catfish to fingerling and
edible size is influenced by a variety of factors. Water
temperature, quality of the diet, feeding rate, age of
fish and stocking density noticeably affect the
growth rate of the fish. Catfish require a well-bal-
anced diet which is high in protein and energy.
Dietary requirements, however, are based on differ-
ences in age, size, water temperature, natural food
availability in the pond, daily feed allowance, and
stocking density offish. Recommended dietary levels
of crude protein vary from 25 to 36%, based prima-
rily on quality of the dietary protein and amount of
non-protein energy in the feed; starter diets for
young fry should contain 36 to 40% crude protein.
Supplemental energy in catfish diets is provided by
high quality lipids (fats) at levels between 3 to 16%
of the total diet. From a practical viewpoint, how-
ever, lipid levels in catfish feeds are kept below 6%.
Catfish can utilize a wide variety of types and
amounts of carbohydrates in their food, so their
levels are usually formulated at the least cost of the
diet. Vitamins and minerals are an essential
dietary requirement for channel catfish. Because of
the small amounts required and susceptibility to
degradation, catfish feeds are supplemented with
vitamin and mineral pre-mixes.
The daily feed ration for channel catfish is
affected by a variety of factors. The amount of feed
provided depends on water temperature, fish size,
and water quality. Newly-hatched fry should be fed
several times daily at 6-10% offish weight. The
daily feed ration for fingerling and broodfish catfish
should be divided into two or more feedings per day.
In general, fingerlings are fed between 2 and 5
percent of their body weight per day, and broodfish
1 to 2% of their weight.
Yields and stocking densities
Fish yields and stocking densities for channel
catfish are extremely variable and vary according to
system of production used, level of management,
and size and number offish desired at the end of
the growing season. The average yield of a fed and
aerated production pond is around 4,000 kilograms
of catfish per hectare of water (3,500 lbs/acre/year);
by multiple harvesting (when fish are periodically
graded and harvested) yields of 5,000-6,000 kg/ha/
year (around 4900 lbs/acre/year) can be obtained.
When raising catfish in floating cages, yields of 275
kg offish per cubic meter (17 lbs/ft3) have been
Young fry are stocked primarily depending on
the size and quantity of fingerlings desired at
harvest; stocking densities from 20,000 to 70,000
fry per hectare (average 18,211 fry/acre) are com-
mon. In final grow-out ponds, fingerling (10-50 g)
stocking rates average around 8,500-10,000 fish per
hectare (3,743 fingerlings/acre). In multiple har-
vest production systems up to 24,000 fish per hect-
are (9,713 fish/acre) are reported. In net enclosures,
stocking densities for 15-20 cm (6-8 in.) long catfish
fingerlings range from 212 to 424 fish per cubic
meter (6-12 fish/ft3) of cage. Net pens are usually
arranged in open patterns to allow sufficient water
circulation through them. When suspended in
ponds, total fish stocking densities inside the cages
cannot exceed those numbers which would be
achieved by growing the fish free-swimming in the
The time required to raise channel catfish to
market size is primarily dependant on water tem-
perature, age offish, fish density, quality of diet
and level of feeding. Estimated time to raise chan-
nel catfish from egg to food-size fish is between 15
and 18 months. In northern Florida, 7 to 9 months
are necessary to raise 10-20 cm (4-8 in.) long finger-
lings to around 453 grams (1 lb).
Most cultured channel catfish sold for food are
harvested at 340 to 680 grams (0.75-1.5 Ibs) in body
weight. The majority of the farm-raised
catfish production is delivered live for processing at
an annual average price between $1.35 and $1.65
per kilogram (61-75o per pound). Expected market-
able fish yield is about 60-65% dressed (headed,
gutted, and skinless) from live weight. The nutri-
tive value of channel catfish is estimated at about
116-128 kcal, 15-18 g protein, and 0.7-11 g fat per
100 grams of raw meat (a 3.5 oz serving). About
half of the farm-raised catfish is marketed frozen.
New product forms include skinless fillets and
breaded catfish. Also, a substantial demand for live
catfish exists within certain ethnic groups. Com-
mercial catfish growers often purchase "eyed" eggs,
yolk-sac larvae, and stock-size fingerlings.
Production & marketing considerations
The channel catfish has a wide range of tolerance to environmental fluctuations, however, optimum
growth and production efficiency are obtained within a narrow range ofphysical,chemicalandbiological
parameters. The following parameters are provided only as guidelines, and indicate expected life cycle
attributes of channel catfish under production conditions, and water quality criteria for best growth and
Life history characteristics
* Brood stock-
average weight/fish: 1.5-4 kg
stocking ratio for spawning:1-4 females to 1 male
pond spawning success: 50-90%
eggs/kg offish: 6,000-8,000
* Hatchery Survival-
egg to hatch: 60-95%
yolk-sac to fry (1.9-2.1 cm): 60-80%
* Pond Survival-
fry to fingerling (10-15 cm): 40-85%
fingerling to market: 75-90%
m Water temperature for
Optimum spawning and
* Dissolved oxygen:
a Gas (e.g. Nitrogen) supersaturation:
a Carbon dioxide:
* Hydrogen sulfide:
* Total alkalinity:
* Total hardness:
* Total ammonia nitrogen (TAN):
> 4.0 mg/1.
< 15 mg/1
< 1.0 mg/l
< 5 ppt
< 0.5-1 mg/1
Figure 1. Life stages and culture technology for channel catfish.
|Raised in | 25-65
Troughs to Yolk Sac/g
I Sale l
Sources of information and
Considerable information exists on different
methods for raising channel catfish to market size.
This information, however, is primarily in the form
of University Extension publications. For example,
the Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi Cooperative
Extension Services have several, very complete
publications on the culture of channel catfish.
Please contact your county extension agent before
ensuing any kind of aquaculture venture, and for
information on how to obtain Cooperative Exten-
sion publications. Listed below are several sources
of information and essential book references for
those seriously interested in pursuing channel
Alabama Publications. Department of Fisheries
and Allied Aquacultures. Auburn University,
Catfish and Aquaculture News. P.O. Box 199,
Ridgeland, Mississippi 39158.
Catfish Farmers of America. Aquaculture Associa-
tion. 1100 Hwy. 82 East, Suite 202, Indianola,
Catfish Production. National Agricultural
Statistics Service. ERS/NASS, P.O. Box 1608,
Rockville, Maryland 20850.
Telephone: (800) 999- 6779.
Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Department.
University of Florida,7922 NW 71st St.,
Gainesville, Florida 32606.
Telephone: (904) 392-9617.
Lee, J.S. 1973. Commercial Catfish Farming.
Interstate Printers &Publishers.
Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service,
Box 5446, Mississippi State, Mississippi 39762.
National Aquaculture Information Center.
National Agricultural Library, Room 304, 1030
Baltimore Blvd., Beltsville, Maryland 20705.
Seafood Business Magazine. Journal Publication,
P.O. Box 908, Rockland, Maryland 04841.
Seafood Leader Magazine. Waterfront Press Co.,
1115 NW 46th St., Seattle, Washington 98107.
Tucker, C.S. and E. Robinson. 1990. Channel cat-
fish farming handbook. Van Nostrand
Reinhold. Florence: Kentucky.
Tucker, C.S. 1985. Channel catfish culture.
Developments in aquaculture and fisheries sci-
ence 15. Elsevier. Amsterdam: The Nether-
Useful unit conversions
Temperature relations: OF = (oC x 1.8) + 32
oC = (OF 32) + 1. 8
You have Multiply by To get
meter (m) 39.37 inches (in.)
centimeter (cm) 0.394 inches (in.)
millimeter (mm) 0.039 inches (in.)
hectare (ha) 2.471 acres (A)
liter (1) 0.264 gallons (gal)
cubic meter (m3) 35.31 cubic feet (ft3)
gram (g) 0.0022 pounds (Ib)
gram (g) 0.0353 ounces (oz)
kilogram (kg) 2.205 pounds (Ib)
liters per minute
grams per liter (g/1) 1.0
gallons per min.
parts per thou.
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES, John T. Woeste,
Director, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this information to further the purpose of the May 8 and June 30,
1914 Acts of Congress; and is authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function
without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap or national origin. Single copies of extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are
available free to Florida residents from county extension offices. Information on bulk rates or copies for out-of-state purchasers is available from C.M.
Hinton, Publications Distribution Center, IFAS Building 664, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611. Before publicizing this publication, editors
should contact this address to determine availability.
The publications in this collection do
not reflect current scientific knowledge
or recommendations. These texts
represent the historic publishing
record of the Institute for Food and
Agricultural Sciences and should be
used only to trace the historic work of
the Institute and its staff. Current IFAS
research may be found on the
Electronic Data Information Source
site maintained by the Florida
Cooperative Extension Service.
Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University