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Catfish used to be the most common choice in the fish departments here in the Bay Area. And they were one of the cheapest.

I recently noticed I never see them anymore. What happened? Did tastes and cooking styles change? Did their farms get wiped out by the hurricanes of recent years?

I like catfish and grew up with them (used to catch 'em in our local waters). Plus, they are vegetarian and don't produce the pollution problems you get with farmed salmon.

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  1. I see catfish filets sporadically at Costco and Safeway. In the Bay Area, any Asian market that have live fish tanks will almost always have live catfish. The fishmonger will clean and cut up your fish upon request. At Ranch 99, they will also deep fry the fish at no charge.

    1. Like FoodTrippin, I see catfish filets at Costco. And FYI, cats are not vegetarian. They'll eat just about anything they can get into their ugly mouths. They've been known to eat ducklings, for instance.

      7 Replies
      1. re: ricepad

        Uh - that only goes for wild-caught catfish. 99% of the catfish sold in the U.S. are farmed, & fed a high-protein pelleted diet - which doesn't include ducklings.

        1. re: Bacardi1

          What, you wanted to say something but had to stretch to say THIS?? And what makes you think those pellets are entirely plant-based? Catfish WILL eat anything they can get into their mouths. In concrete lined ponds, that may mean only pellets, but that's not all they're willing to eat, given the chance. While nearly all the catfish SOLD in the US is farmed, there's a lot of catfish CONSUMED that wasn't farmed.

          1. re: ricepad

            My relatives that lived in Illinois always wanted us to have a catfish dinner when we were there. the fish was always muddy as hell and gross, there being (I'm convinced) no god coks in that town. I really like farmed catfish, since I've never had one that tasted like I just dragged my mandible through a river bottom. Farmed catfish is lovely, I just hope that the farmers don't pollute the hell out of the environment like they've done with the freshwater shrimp.

            1. re: EWSflash

              Re wild catfish -- mom would clean and skin them, and then soak them overnight in salty water. That took care of any muddy flavor problem.

              1. re: EWSflash

                EWSflash: Not knowing where in Illinois your relatives lived, I can't say for sure, but remembering the relatively few catfish I ate there (ours was mostly bass and bluegill) I think they probably LIKED it "muddy", because that's what they were used to. I do recall a distinct undertone of ditch water at a few fish-fries. A couple of my favorite catfish restaurants in Tennessee (very much later) were right on a river, but the fish were all farmed

                1. re: Will Owen

                  Will- it was Robinson.We went somewhere that uncle Walt like to get catfish and it was muddy and greasy- the two things I can't handle regarding seafod. They didn't eat catfish themsel;ves, but thought they would show us the Way it Was in IL, but I think the river they got it from was the Wabash, it being close to Robinson. I have had farmed catfish since that was absolutely great, no hard-core muddiness. Do some folks really like it muddy?

                  1. re: EWSflash

                    Robinson would certainly indicate Wabash, which would hardly be my river of choice for food fish! On the other hand, when we moved down to Evansville, the little adjacent town of Newburg, next to an Ohio river dam and locks, had at least three restaurants specializing in the river cats called "fiddlers". We never tried any …

                    Our home town was Marshall, maybe 30 miles north of Robinson; most of the river cats caught and eaten there I think were from Big Creek, a spring-fed tributary of the Wabash. I suspect our fish were a good deal less rank.

        2. Plentiful here....Prices up somewhat do to fuel/feed cost....

          1 Reply
          1. re: Uncle Bob

            Plentiful here as well, & VERY reasonably priced (I think I paid $5.99/lb a couple of weeks ago). Although I'm ALWAYS careful to make sure they're U.S. farmed catfish & not from overseas.

          2. Ate lots of catfish when lived in the south in the late 80s and early 90s. Farm raised and cheap often under $5 per pound. Catfish is white meat great to cook many ways. I enjoy blackened with tartar sauce. Used to see catfish more in Oregon often for a decent price, but have not seen as much around recently. The OP has a great question, "What happened?" Something seems to have changed.

            1. It is my understanding that Katrina did disrupt the production and distribution of catfish. Has not been a problem to get them here in the southeast for the past year or two. Maybe the west coast was not a primary market or maybe they aren't selling out there anymore.

              Never was a "trend" here. Been going to the local "fish camp" for better than 40 years now. All you have to do to order at my favorite place is to say "fish please".

              1 Reply
              1. re: kengk

                Did some research tonight and there is lots going on in catfish in recent years. Found more about catfish than expected going on in the news. US catfish industry seams have been hit hard by Katrina, the recent 500 year flood, foreign competition, corn prices, and catfish production is down by half in the last 10 years. Catfish production is the #1 aquaculture industry in the United States and it is getting hammered by foreign competition and nature at the same time. Founders of the US industry are pulling out not making ends meet. It seems more Americans may eat foreign catfish if trends continue. When buy catfish will try to buy a local made product, where our dollars are spent can vote for local jobs.

                Found it interesting reading that as the price of corn rises, US catfish farms go bust at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/18/bus...

                Recent floods hit catfish hard, there is only one line on it here: http://useconomy.about.com/od/critica...

                And in the news in the last day is that Alabama catfish farmers say foreign production is damaging the industry. In the last 10 years catfish production has declined 50% it seems foreign production is winning: http://southeastfarmpress.com/livesto...

                Imported catfish is not held to the same standards as that produced in the U.S.

 they may not be as good to eat. And to limit any confusion in winter of 2010 the US Catfish Industry launched a campaign against imported catfish: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/20...

                As of early 2012 Catfish is the leading aquaculture industry in the United States: http://msucares.com/aquaculture/catfi...

              2. Farmed catfish is always available in Chicago's seafood departments. The filet never has bones, catfish doesn't have nasty scales, and the meat is sweet and never fishy. It is a winner for people who don't much like fish. I fix it oven-fried---give it a squirt of PAM and roll it in bread crumbs then bake it at 425* so that the outside gets crunchy. Because it's so sweet it goes well with a tangy sauce so I either make a sweet-and-sour pineapple sauce (onion, green pepper, a can of crushed pineapple, vinegar, sugar, thicken with cornstarch and serve the fish with rice) or a fresh salsa and have the catfish Cuban-style with black beans and rice.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Querencia

                  That sounds really good, Querencia!

                2. "What happened?"

                  The Mississippi River Flood of 2011 (May of last year) caused extensive damage to some ponds in parts of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Many thousands, of pounds of fish were lost...swept away in the flood waters. When the water receded, the ponds had to be completely drained, thoroughly cleaned, and totally restocked. ~ It takes from 18 to 24 months to raise a fish to market size...Supplies should be up somewhat in the near future ~ Expect prices to remain elevated....mainly due to high feed (corn) and fuel prices.

                  1. The flood of Tilapia (which I like very much) and now Swai (which I don't like) certainly must have put a dent in catfish sales, I understand they all can be farmed in the same way.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                      mrbigshotno.1, Great information. Good point. You are right, another hit to the US catfish production is foreign competition bringing other farmed fish onto the market in a bigger way. Is true here in Oregon we can get Talapia most anywhere - is around when catfish is not. Both talapia and catfish are good, while would rather eat catfish. Maybe it is my "fish camp" with other catfish meal memories. Started eating catfish when lived in the South and it was everywhere working there after my college years covering FL, AL, MS, TN with the main office in TX - also enjoyed grouper, bass, flat nose mahi-mahi dolphinfish, shrimp, and other local seafood. Have never compared talapia to catfish prepared the same side by side. Catfish seems a slightly bigger thicker firmer filet resulting in flakier bigger bites. Catfish give a great fish to coating ratio if fry and is firm enough to not fall apart when you cook it. Another place with great catfish is an Oklahoma kinda short air strip dinner we used to hit flying in after our Dallas work days and back to Fort Worth in the dark. But anyway ...

                      Not familiar with Swai, based on your comment will avoid. Why did you not like it so know why I am not eating it if anyone asks - was it mushy, strong taste, is it white meat, small wimpy thin filets, bones, does it have a neutral taste not fishy like talapia / catfish?

                      Usually not into eating farmed fish, when know what am buying don't. Natural salmon are better than farm raised to me so worth a bit of extra especially when eat as home made lox or sushi. NOTE: the US government recommends freezing fish to -4 degrees F for at least 8 days to kill natural parasites in it before thaw to eat raw fish like salmon.

                      1. re: smaki

                        Swai are also called a Vietnamese river catfish, they are mushy and flavorless to me, they breed like rats. I hope to God nobody releases them into north American waters. I worked on the Arkansas River for a couple of years back in the mid '70's and ate a ton of Catfish, bass and bream out of the river and surrounding waters, loved it.

                        A Swai:

                        1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                          mrbigshotno.1, Swai are ugly fat looking critters - thank you for the info they are mushy and flavorless when avoiding. Eating fish from a foreign country with different health standards is sketchy at best. Do not want Swai wild here either - non-natives that multiply too fast are often not good.

                          Carp around here and other junk fish are bad enough. Many of the natural fish runs are gone because of European settlers in a short century or so. With dams, logging, farming, and stuff. The used to be 'junk' fish are prized and even the annual stocked trout in local lakes are often fished out before have a time to multiply. A person around here used to be able to live off the land eating fish - do not think possible unless spend big bucks in fees, gas, boat, insurance, equipment, making it hardly worth fishing if to eat fish. While still know on foot where can catch salmon off a sandy Columbia beach. Or river. Also able to get buckets full of pan fish like crappie, bluegill, sometimes bass (usually only eat a few and let the others go grow). Trout in the lakes where stocked or is especially nice about 20+ inches long if travel to the wild rivers and less known lakes. Harvest fresh mussels off rocks at low tide, sometimes clams, and get dungeons crab. Direct from the pros when lazy when go to the Pacific coast. A favorite when in the area is: http://www.bornstein.com/index.php/lo... If have the stomach for it can pay to go out to catch your own bottom fish, go every few years and end up with a freezer full of fish. For a day of time and about $100. Especially enjoy eating ling cod, ugly green things with big mouths full of teeth: http://www.lingcodfishing.net/ Halibut are very tasty but usually catch by a different method, but get lucky sometimes. Those of us who fish enjoy being outside in nature or do it for the memories - with the actual fish or seafood caught if any a bonus. Sometimes when go fishing catch nothing still have a good time.

                          1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                            I'll be a dissenter here. Compared to American farmed catfish, swai is much better. Tastes about the same but the flesh is much firmer. The only reason I don't buy it is because I'm unsure about the hygiene standards of the Vietnamese farming.

                            Of the non-US farmed fish, I think swai is multiples better than Tilapia, which to me is truly tasteless and mushy.

                            That being said, I'll take wild catfish over both by a long stretch. I still remember growing up in the midwest and catching catfish for dinner. Yum...

                            1. re: FattyDumplin

                              It was always a special night when we got to stay up to go catfishing --- and you knew you were REALLY special if you got to go frog-gigging! :D

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                I used to love it. Great fighting fish that was underrated because it's ugly and not as sexy as bass or trout. I still remember my mom putting me in the bathtub with one of the fish we caught.

                                Never went frog-gigging but it looks awesome!

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  I caught an 18 pound channel cat in the Potomac River once, won a contest at the bait shop I patronized.

                        2. Well, I hope the American catfish growers get support from us consumers. They have produced a really superior product in the past years. I can remember going to the fish camp 25-30 years ago and never knowing what you might get. Some nights they would only have really big ones or there would be big and small mixed on the platter.

                          The last 10-15 years anyway we have been getting a very consistent and very delicious product.

                          IMO, catfish raised in still water need to be harvested at not much more than a pound of live weight., really, the smaller the better for fish to be cooked whole. Flatheads living in a river are tasty up to a quite large size.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: kengk

                            I agree completely.

                            I ALWAYS make sure the catfish I buy are U.S. farm-raised. NEVER buy overseas-produced "Swai" or "Basa". It's now a well-known fact that overseas farming standards are not only low, but downright dangerously unhealthy.

                            As for wild U.S. catfish, it appears around here once it awhile, but I won't buy it. Bottom-feeders that they are, it's hit-or-miss as to whether a wild-caught catfish will have that unmistakeable "muddy" flavor that renders it inedible.

                            1. re: Bacardi1

                              Look for Flatheads ~ AKA Yellow Cat, Opelousas, Shovelheads, Johnnies, Goujons, Applauchion and other names depending on your location. ~ These fish feed on live bait... small fish, crustaceans, etc...IMO the best tasting catfish in the River.,,,The only fish I will use to make Courtbouillon, (Coo-Bee-Yon) ~~ Size is not a factor....The 15+ pounder taste the same as the 3 pounder...Not so for blue cat, channel cat etc. ~ Never ate one that I would describe as tasting "muddy" regardless of size.

                              1. re: Uncle Bob

                                Yes, sir. A big yellow cat caught out of the river is very good eating just as you say.

                                1. re: Uncle Bob

                                  That's really good information that I had never heard before

                                2. re: Bacardi1

                                  We had gotten very fond of the US Grown catfish Sams Club was selling and ate it almost once a week. They suddenly quit carrying it, what a disappointment. And we hadn't seen it anywhere else. I am saddened to hear about the flooding ruining the domestic catfish industry, and hope it comes back in the future.l

                              2. Catfish is ubiquitous here as far as I know but I never buy it at the markets. I got tired of it several years ago and always look for something else. Once you've had wild caught, it's hard to be satisfied with the taste of farm raised. At least for me.

                                Tried basa a few times when it was available, also labeled Vietnamese catfish sometimes. I thought it was inferior and the main appeal was price. Never see basa anymore, now it's swai, which is cheaper and worthless. Tried it just once. According to the Wiki-oracle, swai is considered inferior to basa in SE Asia so they are keeping the basa to themselves and shipping the swai to us.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: brucesw

                                  I could swear I had heard that carp were going to be renamed swai for eating purposes. I paid such attention to it because we have a Koi Pond with beautiful babies and some 24" ers cruising around it.

                                2. Wait, how are catfish vegetarian? It's an animal and you are eating its flesh. That's not vegetarian. And please don't give me the pescatarian crap. That's just silly.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: gourmanda

                                    maybe OP meant the catfish themselves are vegetarian?

                                    1. re: FattyDumplin

                                      What I meant is that farmed catfish are fed a vegetarian diet, as I understand it.

                                      1. re: Sharuf

                                        I looked up what was in commercial catfish feed, because the use of the phrase "high-protein vegetarian diet" above is an oxymoron. Commercial catfish feed contains significant amounts of fish, bone and blood meal, so it is far from vegetarian.

                                    2. re: gourmanda

                                      The OP meant that farmed catfish are fed a vegetarian diet. NOT that eating catfish was part of a vegetarian diet.

                                    3. I'm a big fan of US farmed raised catfish. While I prefer salmon, sea bass, cod, tuna, snapper, etc., US farm raised catfish is way more sustainable.
                                      Can you imagine if cow, pigs, and chickens were still wild food?

                                      1. There are several large catfish swimming around in a tank in the Chinese market on 7th Street in Oakland. They are $4.99/lb. My grandson loves to watch them. He also enjoys watching the frogs.

                                        1. Anybody that spent time in the boonies of Viet Nam has another name for swai. Politely put, it is called feces fish, as they congregate under the outhouses hung out over the local stream. And yes they are caught and eaten by the locals. The ultimate recycling.

                                          Pardon me if I stick with US farm raised.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                            Yep, part of the daily feeding ritual....flush the toilet.....if it's flushable.

                                          2. I almost never see them whole, but catfish filets are plentiful and cheap in the DC grocery stores. It's my white fish of choice.