The catfish industry grew rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s. The blue-tinted shapes in the Landsat images mark the ponds where the whiskered fish are raised. The ponds are built above ground with levees, and the water in the ponds is 4–6 feet deep.
Catfish pond acreage reduced by more than half from 2003 to 2013. Rising costs and low-priced imports from China and Vietnam led to the decline.
At the same time, increased productivity from technological efficiencies led to higher yields and less land needed for the ponds. Among those efficiencies was the development of a hybrid catfish species, a mix of Ictalurus punctatus (channel catfish) and Ictalurus furcatus (blue catfish).
The hybrid grows faster, is easier to harvest, and has greater tolerance to crowding, so less area is needed to grow more fish. The business term for that is “increased operational intensity.”
Other technological efficiencies reduced costs and spurred growth in the 2010s, including electric paddlewheel aerators, automated oxygen monitors, and pumps to circulate the water. Ponds are now divided into separate sections for treating wastewater and for the fish. These split ponds make treating the water more efficient.