July 2017
Homeplace & Community

Chronicling the Catfish Gold Rush

 

Mike McCall, author of “Catfish Days – From Belzoni to the Big Apple.”

Mike McCall recounts the history of farm-raised catfish in the South, from the rough-and-tumble early years to the push into the Mississippi Delta and Alabama’s Black Belt.

In the second half of the 20th century, eager investors, from city slickers to country folks, and others poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the southern United States to build catfish farms, processing plants and infrastructure.

 

Likened to the California Gold Rush of a century earlier, raising catfish was seen as a panacea for a down economy – even easy money. Over 180,000 acres of catfish ponds were built and stocked across the South, as an obliging news media served up the feel-good story like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

"Catfish Days" covers the catfish farming industry’s rough-and-tumble early years, before pushing into the rich Mississippi Delta and Alabama’s Black Belt region, and beyond.

Along the way, a colorful cast of characters, celebrities and politicians emerged to bask in the heyday and then quietly slipped away when shiploads of cheap, imported fish from Asia reached U.S. shores to dominate the market. Almost overnight, an industry was in full retreat, taking with it thousands of jobs from the South’s poorest regions. But the strong have survived.

A veteran newspaper reporter and editor, Mike McCall is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has been editor of The Catfish Journal for 27 years. For more information, go to catfishdaysbelzoni.com.