Standing in a muddy patch of coastal prairie in Brazoria County south of Houston, Richard Anspacher listens to the sound of a fat channel catfish breaking the surface of a rectangular pond in search of a floating cornflake. As the fish slowly opens its gaping mouth and gulps down the flake, Anspacher smiles contentedly. He knows he’s looking at more than some hungry diner’s main course. The fish represents Texas’ future in aquaculture, the fastest-growing agricultural industry in the United States and the one being touted as the world’s only reliable source of seafood. Catfish, Anspacher believes, can be our state’s next big cash crop, potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
A former commodities trader in Chicago, Anspacher is the vice president of East Texas Feeds, which manufactured the cornflake at its new $5 million mill near the crossroads community of Liverpool. Along with the Naiad Corporation, the state’s largest fish producer and processor, East Texas Feeds is betting that Texas can increase its share of the nation’s growing catfish industry, which last year earned catfish farmers more than $285 million. Forty percent of the total crop was consumed just by Texans, making us the most voracious catfish eaters in the nation. Yet Texas saw precious little of that revenue. Sales of our catfish yielded only $2.6 million in 1991. The reason? We eat catfish; we don’t raise them. Although 169 Texas aquaculture operators grow catfish, redfish, shrimp, and hybrid striped bass, fewer than 3,500 acres are in production. Instead, most of our business goes to Mississippi, which sends 70 percent of