August’s Fish of the Month is US Farmed Catfish.

In the Mississippi Delta, catfish reigns supreme for both farmers and diners.  Over half of all catfish produced in the U.S. comes from the delta region. After cotton production moved abroad, large areas of agricultural land were available for the U.S. catfish industry to lay its roots in the 1960s and 1970s. Closed-system ponds were built in the clay-rich soils of the delta and filled with freshwater from aquifers, or underground wells.

Today, catfish is the largest aquaculture industry in the United States and is found on Shedd’s “Best Choice” list for sustainable seafood. Despite catfish’s history, growing fish on a farm is still a new idea for many seafood lovers. As our world’s oceans face increasing pressure from overfishing, acidification and climate change, responsibly-farmed fish must be part of the solution to burgeoning human demand for seafood. Whether cornmeal-crusted or oven-baked with a side of rémoulade, US farmed catfish has a mild flavor for all taste buds and gets thumbs up from Shedd’s sustainable seafood program! 

Surprisingly, what a farmed catfish eats makes it both environmentally-friendly and delicious. In the wild, catfish are omnivores, feeding primarily on insects, crawfish, snails and aquatic plants. On a farm, they are served a vegetarian diet which makes a cleaner tasting meat. Say goodbye to that muddy bottom-feeder reputation! Even more, compared to other farmed carnivorous fish, vegetarian fed fish reduce the total marine life taken from our waters.

Catfish are also a sustainable choice because they are farmed using closed-system aquaculture. In the U.S., local and federal laws require all wastewater to be recirculated and tested before returning to our water supply. In comparison to open-system oceanic farming and most imported farmed fish; U.S. closed-system aquaculture has minimal pollution effects.

Did all this catfish knowledge leave you hungry? Try out our latest recipe, Crispy Catfish with Apple-Beet Slaw, a quick, eco-friendly and tasty adaption on southern cuisine. 

crispy catfish
Crispy Catfish with Apple-Beet Slaw 
Serves 4

1 cup all-purpose flour 
1 ½ teaspoons salt 
½ teaspoon pepper 
2/3 cup flat beer 
4 medium beets, peeled 
2 tart apples, peeled
1 teaspoon grated ginger 
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 
3 tablespoons olive oil 
Vegetable oil (for frying) 
4 US farmed catfish fillets, cut into strips

Directions:

1. Mix 1/2 cup flour, 1 tsp. salt, and ¼ tsp. pepper in medium bowl to blend. Slowly whisk in beer until batter is smooth.
2. Cut beets and apples into thin slices using grater or food processor. Add grated beets and apples to medium bowl with the ginger and toss until ginger is evenly distributed.
3. Add vinegar, ½ tsp. salt, and ¼ tsp. pepper to bowl and toss to coat evenly. Add olive oil, stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings.
4. Add 1/2 inch of vegetable oil to pan and heat oil over medium-high heat until 350 degrees, or about 3-4 minutes.
5. Coat fish with extra flour. Dip in batter, letting excess drip off. Fry fish until golden brown and crisp, about 4 minutes per side.
6. Remove & pat off excess oil with towel. Serve warm with apple-beet slaw.

Posted by Brooke Havlik, conservation