Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Our Catfish is NOT a Bottom Feeder!

By Joe Stofer, May 2, 2009  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Joe Stofer
Miso Glazed Catfish Hi everyone! Since I put 20 years in with Whole Foods Market, mainly in seafood, before joining Carolina Classics Catfish Farm about three years ago, they asked me to tell the story about the farm's evolution and support in creating the Whole Foods Market farm-raised (or Aquaculture) seafood standards. I also get to do some myth busting about catfish – one of my favorite things to do! Whole Foods Market started doing business with Carolina Classics Catfish back in 1986 - there were only four ponds and freshly harvested fish would be delivered right to our store in Durham, NC. Super fresh and it tasted great!

Myth #1: Catfish tastes "muddy." The truth: If it does, it's not good catfish. Because of the way we raise and harvest our fish, you'll never get that muddy flavor, which is caused by algae blooms in the water.

Back then the Whole Foods' mission was the same as now - to sell the highest quality natural products possible and, through our business, change the way the world eats! At the time, our expertise in seafood was somewhat less than our enthusiasm for our mission. As the business grew, we learned more and more about environmental issues, the use of antibiotics and other chemicals in aquaculture, feed ingredients, water usage, etc., and we set out to work with fish farmers to change the way fish were raised. Pecan Crunch Catfish Not all the fish farmers out there were of the same mindset; some thought we were crazy and that what we were asking for couldn't be done. But the folks at Carolina Classics Catfish Farm were open to the ideas and had the same values as we did. Over the years we've worked together to create standards for farm-raised seafood. First we wanted to have our fish raised without the use of antibiotics, ever. Because they were buying their fingerlings (the juvenile fish) to stock the ponds, they could not assure us of this. So, they built their own hatchery, giving them control over the brood stock and the fingerlings.

Myth #2: Catfish is a bottom feeder. The truth: Farm-raised catfish eat off the top of the water. In the wild, catfish are opportunistic feeders and they will eat anywhere in the water column. To maximize the feed costs of farm-raised catfish, we make feed that floats so we can make sure every bit is eaten and doesn't go to waste.

Next we wanted our fish fed a diet with no mammalian by-products like beef blood meal or chicken feather meal, preferring their feed to be more like what they would eat in the wild. Carolina Classics tried but couldn't find a source of catfish feed without these by-products. So, in 1999, they bought and rebuilt an old chicken feed plant and starting making their own feed. Catfish Parsley Salad The last big thing is we wanted was to have our fish raised without the use of chemicals at the hatchery, in the ponds or in the processing plant. So the folks at Carolina Classics made that happen by using peroxide instead of formalin as an antifungal rinse of the freshly harvested eggs and using lawn mowers and weed whackers instead of herbicides to control pond bank weed growth.

Myth #3: Catfish is only good fried. The truth: Excellent fried but delicious baked, blackened or sautéed as well.

Like I said, Carolina Classics had our same values from the start and they never put into practice some of the more unnatural methods used by almost all other catfish producers:
  • Water chill tanks (also referred to as "fecal" baths in the chicken industry): This adds water weight to the product. Carolina Classics packs on ice to chill their fish.
  • Needling machines: Other producers' fillets are pumped up with sodium tripoly phosphate and water to add weight to the fillets. The added water weight allows them to sell their fish at a cheaper price.
  • Some producers retrieve proteins like bone meal from the fish frames and pump them back into the fillets - this does not have to be labeled on the product.
I liked what Carolina Classics was doing so much that I went to work for them - but I still get to work with my former Whole Foods Market teammates, so life is good. Thanks for letting me ramble a bit. I hope you'll give our catfish a try. Check out these recipe ideas and let me know how you like to eat your catfish.
Category: Food & Recipes, Seafood




Louise Ross says ...
Wow, very informative, thank you so much for sharing, Joe! You certainly poke holes in the commonly held myths associated with cat fish. I'll be buying WFs cat fish now; I'm especially looking forward to taste-testing it and I hope it will be absent that 'muddy' flavor!
05/02/2009 3:05:32 PM CDT
denise petersen says ...
thanks for all this good information! wow, the water chill stuff and needling is crazy! so glad we carry clean fish!
05/03/2009 10:28:14 AM CDT
monica burrus says ...
is it true catfish have periods?
05/04/2009 1:33:41 PM CDT
stoferj says ...
Hi Monica! When I read that last night, I knew it was time to go home. As Dear Abby used to say, "those Yale boys are at it again with their jokes." The phenomena of periods, menses, menopause, etc belong to the mammal world. The rest of the egg-laying world doesn't have to deal with pms. Channel Catfish have the ability to spawn eggs once a year, when water temperature and daylight reach a certain point in the spring (typically within the next 60 days throughout the southeastern US). Formation of those eggs begins back in the fall, and the maturation process continues through the winter.
05/04/2009 1:35:30 PM CDT
Wendy aka CalvaryGirl says ...
Very informative article! Makes me wanna eat catfish now.
05/04/2009 1:37:31 PM CDT
Cyndi Brown says ...
What about the extensive use of water from the municipal authority where the farms exist? This has been a huge conflict provoking issue in Central Texas. thanks
05/04/2009 1:40:19 PM CDT
stoferj says ...
Hey Cindi! Great question as water use is a key to what makes our operation environmentally friendly - We use well water to fill our ponds and then rely on the rainfalls to replenish the evaporative losses- The growout ponds are only drained about every 10 years to make repairs to the levees. Because of our location, use of the ground water is not an issue.
05/04/2009 1:41:06 PM CDT
Lee says ...
Wow, very interesting, thanks so much for the time and effort in this blog. (I found it via your twitter link). Catfish is now on the menu this week!
05/04/2009 1:41:42 PM CDT
Jill Ducey says ...
I love catfish. My favorite catfish restaurant, Catfish John's in Rogers Arkansas, fries it in peanut oil. My mom would never eat it because her dad told her that catfish were bottom feeders. Glad to see that myth debunked. Also glad to get some proof as to why the higher cost of seafood at WF is well worth it - helps convince the household grocery shopper to visit your stores.
05/04/2009 1:49:31 PM CDT
Lori Wilson says ...
I am so grateful for people who remain committed to their beliefs! Thanks for all this great info! The more we understand the processes the more we can support companies such as yours who are working hard to bring us healthier foods! Thank you so much!
05/04/2009 1:54:45 PM CDT
Sara says ...
Thanks so much for such an informative article. Our family loves catfish. It's actually my 3 year old's favorite meal, along with brown rice and corn. So glad to see that there are people out there trying to clear up the misconceptions.
05/04/2009 1:57:01 PM CDT
kip says ...
wow! thank you. i stopped eating catfish 10 years ago because I was told they are bottom feeders and that their skin had to be removed with pliers. i think i'll try it again.
05/04/2009 2:03:34 PM CDT
stoferj says ...
Hey Kip! Its funny the perceptions we have and what makes us do certain things. I'm glad you're excited about trying Catfish again! I know you'll enjoy it!
05/04/2009 2:08:21 PM CDT
Mike F says ...
My wife won't eat catfish because of its reputation as a bottom feeder. If your fish eat floating food, does that mean they won't also eat whatever is on the bottom?
05/04/2009 2:15:34 PM CDT
stoferj says ...
Hi Mike! We can't guarantee that they won't indulge themselves with a stray crawfish once in a while, but because we feed on regular cycles, and give them as much food as they care to eat, they are more inclined eat the readily available floating feed.
05/04/2009 2:30:45 PM CDT
carlo deralin says ...
i dont like catfish because its muddy and it has the word cat in it. gross. but i'll give this a try since i'm convince that the fishes eat off not from the mud or bottom but from above the water. thanks! -whole foods market lover
05/04/2009 2:50:19 PM CDT
hankthetank says ...
Well what do your catfish eat? If you bought an old chicken feed factory to make ford for them, are they eating some sort of grain, like corn? If so, that's not what they eat in the wild, so how, exactly, is this better than eating wild catfish?
05/04/2009 5:36:41 PM CDT
stoferj says ...
Hey Hank! It's true that they are fed a diet of mainly grains with a small amount of fish meal and oil- And I am a lover of many different species of wild caught fish as well. But when it comes to Catfish, I prefer knowing the waters that my fish comes from and the water our fish are raised in is fresh well water- My personal opinion is if we didn't have farm raised fish we would soon not have fish at all- there would be too much pressure on the wild fisheries. The key here with aquaculture is to continually improve the way fish is farmed and to support the folks who are making a difference. If you haven't already checked out the Whole Foods Market farm raised fish standards, I recommend it- this is cutting edge and really making a difference in the way fish is farm raised! Here is a link to the WFM Farm Raised Seafood Standards. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/aquaculture.php
05/05/2009 6:00:02 AM CDT
Lisa says ...
I loved learning again, about how the catfish I am selling at Whole Foods is raised. I too hear these myths from customers and try to tell them the "new" truths. Keep up the good work!
05/05/2009 6:30:38 AM CDT
Linda Moorcock says ...
My understanding is that farmed catfish are often sick catfish, i.e. the farming process in itself invites disease, infections, etc. Then the fish are given antibiotics and other substances to keep the diseases under control, and we end up eating all the crap they're given. I only eat farmed catfish when I know the farm and how far from the farm the fish had to come! and even then I'm wary. Do you know anything about this? (P.S. I don't eat farmed salmon either because most of them are GMO. Hey, maybe the catfish are too???)
05/05/2009 6:47:11 PM CDT
Rich Pontius says ...
Great article! My wife and I love catfish, but it's become hard to find on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Whole Foods stopped carrying it, as did Stop and Shop, and the local fishmonger only occasionally carries their own pre-spiced catfish. I saw the Carolina Classics box today at Hannaford - the only place we can find catfish anymore - started poking around the web and find this blog. Thanks for the info!
05/08/2009 1:03:53 PM CDT
Stephanie Minderhout says ...
My name is Stephanie Minderhout and I am the Demonstration Specialist at Whole Foods Market in Mountain Brook, Alabama . Today I took a hint from the handy recipe sheet provided by our fishmongers and performed a demo of Carolina Classics Catfish: Blue Cornmeal Encrusted Catfish Tacos with Red Cabbage, Avocado and a tasty White Sauce. Fish tacos are a new concept for some people- today, everyone who tried this dish went home with catfish in their carts! It was a big hit, and I thought this might be a good place to share the recipe! The fish is so clean, sweet, and lean I can't wait to try a new recipe tomorrow. (And Linda, rest assured, Whole Foods Market never allows the use of antibiotics for the life of the meat and seafood we sell in our stores.) Catfish Tacos with White Sauce serves four 2 Catfish Fillets (ask your fishmonger to pre-bread it with cornmeal- use blue cornmeal if available - it's delicious!) 1 cup vegetable oil for frying Tortillas 2 cups red cabbage thinly sliced 1 ripe avocado, halved and thinly sliced Fry catfish fillets over medium heat until internal temp reaches 140 degrees. Cut fillets into strips, layer in tortilla with sliced avocado and cabbage. Top with white sauce and enjoy! White Sauce 1 cup plain Greek non-fat yogurt 1 cup 365 Mayonnaise 1 tsp ground Cumin 1 tsp oregano 1 tsp dill weed 1/8 tsp cayenne (or dash to taste) 1 small jalapeno, minced 1/8 cup capers, minced juice of two limes salt and pepper to taste. Combine all ingredients, cover and refrigerate for one hour- enjoy!
05/11/2009 5:23:26 PM CDT
JOAN says ...
05/13/2009 12:53:06 PM CDT
tfenimore says ...
Thank you for the information. I had stopped eating farmed fish years ago, although I loved catfish growing up. I will definitely try Carolina Classics Catfish!!
05/13/2009 2:15:14 PM CDT
hsiaw says ...
Hi Joan. All the photos on our website touting catfish are indeed real live pictures of catfish - both whole and in delicious dishes. :)
05/13/2009 4:01:34 PM CDT