Catfish is the most important aquaculture species in the United States, accounting for half of all farmed seafood by value.
However, catfish farmers face severe economic challenges, and improving farm efficiency is the key to remaining competitive. Hybrid catfish, produced by crossing channel catfish females with blue catfish males, is a superior fish that grows faster, is easier to harvest, and is more resistant to diseases than the channel catfish. Although the initial cross was made more than 50 years ago, production was limited to
esearch scale because hybridization rate, egg hatch rate, and fry survival were too low for commercial interest.
Drs. Brian Bosworth and Nagaraj Chatakondi, with the Warmwater Aquaculture Research Unit at Stoneville, Mississippi, systematically developed a suite of technologies to improve fry production efficiency. Technologies included improvements in broodfish selection; broodfish handling; hormone-induced spawning; blue catfish sperm preparation; egg hatching technology; egg treatments for disease prevention; and optimizing water chemistry for hatching and fry survival. These technologies were developed in scientific studies at Stoneville and cooperating farms in Mississippi and Arkansas.
Based primarily on research developed and transferred by Drs. Bosworth and Chatakondi, hybrid fry production increased in five years from fewer than 30 million to more than 160 million.
Drs. Bosworth and Chatakondi transferred the technology through research journal publications, trade magazine articles, presentations at scientific and industry conferences, and hundreds of personal farm visits. They have developed ten nonfunded cooperative agreements with farmers that have been particularly effective as mechanisms for refining technologies for commercial use and enhancing technology transfer. The unique aspect of this technology transfer activity has been the aggressive, persistent, and highly effective use of one-on-one farmer training.
Two significant examples of hybrid catfish technology are the development and commercial use of a novel jar-hatching technology by Dr. Bosworth, and the development and use of effective hormone-spawning regimes for improved ovulation in females by Dr. Chatakondi. Currently, of the eight major hybrid fry producers, three use Dr. Bosworth's technology for all hybrid fry production, two use it for a portion of production, and the other three have indicated they will use the technology in 2014. Approximately half of all hybrid fry produced in 2013 were hatched using Dr. Bosworth's hatching jar approach.
In 2009, improved hatchery protocols developed by Dr. Chatakondi were demonstrated and, in 2010, adopted by three hybrid producers. The other producers will adopt these improvements in the next two years. Based primarily on research developed and transferred by Drs. Bosworth and Chatakondi, hybrid fry production increased in five years from fewer than 30 million to more than 160 million. The combination of improved fry production and faster growth and better survival during grow-out resulted in hybrids representing nearly 50% of all catfish processed in 2013. Their research has been critical to helping U.S. catfish farmers remain competitive in the global seafood industry.