How to Start a Catfish Farm

How to Start a Catfish Farm

Launching a catfish farm can be an interesting way to earn supplemental income or to start a whole new career. Catfish have been farmed for food for generations in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. Farm-raised catfish are so popular, in fact, that U.S. President Ronald Reagan established National Catfish Day on June 25, 1987. Those who want to learn how to start a catfish farm must decide what size operation they want; be sure adequate water is available; decide what type of sales they will do; work up a budget and develop a marketing plan.


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    Decide whether you will start out with a small operation or a large farm.

    • A large amount of start-up capital is necessary to launch a commercial catfish farm, potentially an amount in the neighborhood of a half-million dollars. Experts recommend at least 80 to 100 acres of ponds be established to increase the probability that a catfish farm will be successful. The upside to having a larger operation is that you can produce fish for less money per pound. This is because larger producers are able to buy supplies such as catfish feed in bulk, which leads to savings.
    • Determine whether or not catfish will thrive in the water you will be using. You will need to purchase an aerator; an electric aerator seems to work best for large farms, but if electricity is not available at your location, you may also use a gasoline or diesel powered aerator. If you are using an existing pond, it will likely require modification. For the best harvesting, the bottoms of catfish ponds should be smooth, clean and have gradual slopes.
    • Check to see if your ponds have spillways. Spillways must be kept free of debris. To keep fish in the pond in the event of excess water runoff, the spillway should allow for no more than 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5.1 cm) of water to run over at one time.
    • Experts recommend catfish ponds have soil that is 20 to 30 percent clay by weight. This helps to decrease seepage.
    • Water depth in catfish ponds should be no less than 3 feet (0.9 m) at the shallow end and no more than 8 feet (2.4 m) at the deep end. Water that is too shallow can lead to the growth of nuisance aquatic weeds.
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    Determine what types of sales you will focus on so you can get a marketing plan in place.

    • Larger producers should consider selling their product to fish processing plants. Many times, farmers are able to purchase shares of the plants to which they sell, and although the actual profit per pound is smaller, it can be made up for in volume.
    • There are also benefits to keeping your catfish operation smaller and doing direct sales to customers. Because fish spoils easily, consumers are often more likely to buy fresh fish instead of fish that have been frozen.
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    Construct a detailed budget. Be sure to include line items for catfish production essentials you will need each year: feed, fingerlings, work force, fuel, electricity, equipment, supplies, and repairs. If you have secured financing for your catfish farm venture, don’t forget to include the interest you will be paying on the borrowed funds.

    • Also make a list of estimated costs for items such as construction of additional ponds, pumps, wells, vehicles, feed bins, tractors, and buildings.
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    Research what permits you will need to launch your catfish farm. Check into building, retail, tax, drainage and other types of permits that may be required. Remember to check the zoning of the land on which the farm will be located; even if it isn’t zoned properly, you may be able to take your case to the local board of zoning appeals and get the zoning changed.

    • In some states, you may also need propagation and transportation permits.
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    Know the signs of fish disease, what actions you can take to prevent it, and what chemicals are safe to use to treat disease that does occur.

    • Look for open sores, yellowish, eroded areas on the bodies, fins, gills or mouths of the fish, swollen gills or bloody fins.
    • One way to decrease the incidence of disease is to not overcrowd ponds. Put no more than 2 pounds of eggs in an 8-inch hatching basket.
    • Check for dead eggs daily and make sure they are removed. Dead eggs can spread disease.
    • Several chemicals are FDA-approved for treating disease in catfish ponds. These are Formalin, hydrogen peroxide, povidone-iodine, and copper sulfate.

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