Catfish King reels them in - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Catfish King reels them in

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BELZONI, Miss. (FOX13) -

Belzoni, Miss. - the Catfish Capital of the World.

Bet you didn't know that, or maybe you did.

They have a parade of catfish, with catfish statues on Main Street. They also have the Belzoni Catfish Museum with a big catfish out front spraying "Gill-acious" water out of his mouth and nose.

Now, this Catfish Capital of the World is also home to the No. 1 catfish farmer in all of Mississippi, Mr. Harrell Potter. Potter is the catfish farmin-est fella you will ever meet, "That's pretty unique isn't it, I'm glad to be in it," said Harrell.

Mr. Potter has been catfish farming for 30 years and was named the 2012 catfish farmer of the year by the Catfish Institute of America, and he's even got the plaque to prove it.

"Well it's great to win it. I have been in the business so long and the great thing is to be elected by my peers that have been in it a long time. It's an honor; it really is," he said.

Potter says that over the years catfish farming has gotten harder. In its heyday 10 years ago, Mississippi had 650,000 acres of catfish farms, these days it has dwindled to only one hundred and fifty thousand acres, "It has been a real struggle because of the cost of production as opposed to what it was eight to ten years ago."

He cites multiple reasons for the decline in Mississippi catfish farming saying cheaper catfish imported from Vietnam and China has flooded the market. Potter also cites the cost of feed going up. He raises 12 million pounds of catfish a year and in doing that he goes through 1 pounds of feed a week.

"I hate to even think about that, (laughs)," he said. "Oh gosh, I hate to think about that it runs about $200,000 a week for feed alone."

When he's not battling imported catfish and high feed cost, he has fish eating birds to worry about on his farm; egrets, pelicans, blue herons and cormorants line the water's edge, because they all think his place is an all you can eat catfish buffet.

"I don't have a dollar figure, but basically they are very damaging to us as far as the fish they eat, and then there is the cost of policing them and keeping them off of our ponds," he said.

For now, his farm raised catfish is sold in some grocery stores across central Mississippi and South Mississippi, and Louisiana under the label of "Freshwater Farms Products."

If you want Harrell's Fish Fresh in Belzoni, go to the Varsity Restaurant where they have been serving up his catfish for 30 years. You have the option of getting it baked or fried. The baked catfish is only served on Friday; the fried catfish is served up all the time.

Catfish farming is disappearing in the Mississippi Delta and other towns in other states have threatened to strip Belzoni of its Catfish Capital title, but for now Potter is the 2012 Catfish Farmer of the Year in the Catfish Capital of the World. Catfish King Potter stays positive. He says he sees a day when the catfish industry in the delta will be making a comeback.

"I really am optimistic about the future. More than I ever have been for a long time."

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