Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Agriculture I: Catfish

photograph taken in 2013: the wall has been repainted since

When Walker Evans and James Agee worked in Hale County, agriculture was cotton. Tenant farmers also grew corn, as well as fruits and vegetables for their own consumption. Cotton days are long gone now. Cotton was replaced by pine trees, grasslands for grass-fed cattle, and catfish.

Catfish farming is possible due to the thick layer of clay underneath the black soil that provided the Alabama Black Belt region with its name. The clay layer does not permit water to go through which makes it relatively easy to create large ponds: Dig a hole and wait for rain. There are also many rivers and creeks to maintain water quality.

Alabama catfish industry started in Greensboro in 1960 with a small hatchery. That is why Greensboro is advertised as the Catfish Capital of Alabama. Today many catfish ponds cover the area. However, Alabama catfish industry keeps facing difficulties due to the competition from Vietnam that ships cheap catfish to the US.

Catfish is relatively easy in maintenance, they need to be fed only once a day. After about two years the fish can be harvested, a procedure I was able to watch near Greensboro last week. The fishes are taken out of the pond with a huge net and brought into a tank filled with cool fresh water and oxygen. They are then driven to a processing plant in Mississippi where they are electrocuted and further processed for shipping.

And this is how a small one looked that somehow slipped out of the net.

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