Catfish Industry Promises Shortage Will End in June

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The catfish shortage that's lately beset North Texas should be over by June, a catfish industry spokesman says.

As NBC's local affiliate first reported, all but one location of Babe's Chicken Dinner House locations have scratched catfish from their menus, citing inadequate supply. Jeff McCord, a spokesman for the Catfish Institute, says the nation's catfish farmers didn't anticipate such heavy demand.

"It's hard to predict demand," McCord says. "It's the Catfish Institute's job to help promote U.S. farm-raised catfish, and maybe we've been doing too good a job."

McCord guesses the increased demand has resulted from economic stresses: "It's possible when times are tough, catfish might seem more attractive. It's a comfort food."

But since the imbalance occurred only recently, it's more likely the heightened demand for domestic catfish is rooted in a startling decrease in Asian imports. Many Vietnamese catfish farmers claim they were pushed out of their trade by high interest rates and the expense of catfish feed. According to a report in The Vietnamese Seafood News, Vietnamese catfish exports are set to fall by 45 percent this year. The shortage has become more apparent as diners switch to seafood diets for Lent.

But McCord says the situation should right itself in a few months.

"Right now, there is a heavy demand for U.S. farm-raised catfish," McCord says. "However there will be a new crop harvested in June and July and things should be back to normal."

McCord is confident U.S. catfish farmers will be equipped to meet demand for their product if the Texas Legislature approves a bill requiring restaurants to identify the source of the catfish they serve. In other states with similar labeling mandates, many restaurants have switched from imported to domestic catfish to avoid embarrassment.

If the law passes, McCord says, it could lead to an expansion of catfish farming.

"There's the potential for more catfish farming in Texas," he says.

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