The U.S. catfish industry is in the midst of a supply crunch due to the reduction in acres dedicated to catfish ponds, Riley said.

“U.S. water acres have declined, on average, 10 percent over the past 5 years and a stark 22 percent from 2009 to 2010,” he said. “Mississippi accounts for 55 percent of the total U.S. channel catfish acres.”

As farmers sold out of the catfish business, there was a glut of fish on the market, which held the prices down, said Craig Tucker, director of MSU’s Thad Cochran National Warmwater Aquaculture Center.

“Those who remained in catfish farming were faced with a low price for their product and more cost for their feed due to high grain prices – they were in a real bind,” he said.

Once the glut was over, there was not enough fish to meet the demand of grocery stores and restaurants, which has not diminished. Consequently, prices paid for catfish rose to all-time highs.

“The producers who maintained their catfish production were finally seeing some profit, and now some have to deal with the flood,” Tucker said.

While the flooding is a cause for great concern among Delta catfish producers, part of the strength of Mississippi’s channel catfish industry is that ponds are scattered statewide.

“Farms that will have their levees overtopped have sold fish or moved fish to ponds outside the flood zone,” Avery said. “While 80 percent of Mississippi’s catfish ponds are in the Delta, less than 10 percent will be impacted by the flood, according to current backwater flooding predictions. However, if any of the backwater levees of the Yazoo River fail, catfish ponds in Humphreys County will be at risk as well.”