Simmons Catfish - Business Matters - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Simmons Catfish - Business Matters

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YAZOO CITY, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Not that we need a reason to enjoy a piece of fried catfish, but here's one anyway.  August is national catfish month, however they celebrate the flaky fish at Mississippi catfish farms year round.      

One such farm is Simmons Catfish, nestled deep in the Delta in Yazoo City.  When Harry Simmons started catfishing in 1976 he had just four ponds and now there are ponds as-far-as the eye can see.

1,000 acres of his plot on Erickson Road is devoted to raising the southern delicacy and in 37 Simmons has become one the area's largest employers. 

"Now we have about 250 employees and we do about 400,000 lbs. a week," Simmons said.

Despite those impressive figures Simmons says they are in the midst of a recovery after hitting peak levels seven years ago.

"Catfish had grown to being the second biggest commodity in the state back in 2006," Simmons said.

Then a series of setbacks crippled catfishing in the Magnolia State.  First, the financial crisis brought on high feed prices, and many farms did not survive.

Catfishing acreage statewide was cut in half from 150,000 acres to 70,000 acres.  And when things for Simmons seemed like it could not get worse.  

"This whole area was flooded, so we had to deal with the most severe flood in my lifetime," Simmons said.

During the Great Flood of 2011 the Mississippi River and several tributaries came out of its banks flooding many areas of the Delta. Simmons Catfish was not spared and had to overcome yet another obstacle.

When the water subsided Simmons and his employees persevered, and while they are on the upswing their challenges are far from over. The invasion of foreign fish in the last decade has taken a bite out of the market for U.S. catfish.

Simmons is optimistic that a new state law mandating that restaurants, like grocery stores, label on their menus what country their fish comes.  Simmons says the new labeling law will provide customers with a choice.  

"Hopefully, the consumer will agree with us that it's better to supports this U.S. brand and these U.S. workers and the quality is better on top of that," Simmons said.

Simmons does not pretend to know what their future holds, but he has pride in his product.  And he is confident that his team is as durable and resilient as the fish they farm.

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