Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Our Catfish is NOT a Bottom Feeder!

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. 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. 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.