Can’t beat catfish

Several years ago I made a commercial for the Catfish Institute.

Their office was in Belzoni, Miss. The commercial concluded, “…just write in care of Miz June. That’s B-E-L-Z-O-N-I. You learned to spell Mississippi in grade school!”

I have spent most of my life in the mountain west so trout has been my primary fish source. But I come from deep Oklahoma roots and, from my youth, I have been a frequent visitor to my Okie farmer kinfolks. Each one had a pond stocked with bass and catfish. Catfish almost tastes like meat, whereas trout tastes like fish.

Anybody who lives in the S.E.C., South East College Football Conference, appreciates that catfish beats country ham and red-eye gravy as the supper of choice, most of the time. Catfish is to the south what chile is to the southwest, brisket is to Texas, crabs to the Chesapeake Bay, pizza to middle-school soccer moms, and porridge is to Minnesota.

Catfish on the menu still flourishes but the local catfish farmer’s market is in decline for the 6th straight year. Reason: Cheaper imported catfish primarily from Asia.

Sound familiar? Just ask the three sheepherders still in the United States, or ask an American lumberjack if you can find one, or a shoemaker or steelworker. America is still capable of supplying all our catfish needs but raising them is now being “outsourced.”

The Catfish Institute blames higher grain prices as a factor, but I’m guessing even if soybeans and corn dropped to less than a dollar and the USDA and EPA removed all the catfish regulations, the Mong, Vietnamese and Chinese could still furnish it cheaper.

The Institute is pushing for a mandatory “Country of Origin” labeling law. It seems to be having a dampening effect on our Mexican beef imports.

But if Miz June called me and said, “Bax, what can we do to compete with foreign catfish farmers?” I would point to the most successful “value added” (which means you can charge more) program that I know; Certified Angus Beef.

On a private sector level look at Dole Pineapple, Diamond Walnuts, Omaha Beef, Washington Apples, Idaho Potatoes, French Toast, Belgian waffles and why are Florida Oranges worth more than Edmonton Oranges or Milwaukee Oranges?

Distinguish your product from imports with name brands like: “Cajun Catfish, raised on Zydeco music!”

“The Crimson Catfish, each granted an honorary degree from University of Alabama!” Talk about a school of fish.

“Bentonville Catfish, with the Wal-Mart Seal of Approval!”

How ‘bout “Mississippi River Baptized Catfish, sprinkled for Catholics and dunked for Baptists!”

Right now I’m getting hungry for some good ol’ catfish cookies, or a dish of catfish ice cream…with red eye gravy, of course.