Catfish (order Siluriformes) are a diverse group of ray-finned fish. Named for their prominent barbels, which resemble a cat's whiskers, catfish range in size and behavior from:
- the heaviest, the Mekong giant catfish from Southeast Asia
- the longest, the wels catfish of Eurasia
- detritivores (species that eat dead material on the bottom)
- a tiny parasitic species commonly called the candiru, Vandellia cirrhosa
Video: Mekong Giant Catfish.
Catfish are of considerable commercial importance; many of the larger species are farmed or fished for food. Many of the smaller species, particularly the genus Corydoras, are important in the aquarium hobby.
Catfish as food
Catfish have been widely caught and farmed for food for hundreds of years in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America.
Some food critics consider catfish as being excellent food, others dismiss them as watery and lacking in flavor.
In Central Europe, catfish were often viewed as a delicacy to be enjoyed on feast days and holidays. Migrants from Europe and Africa to the United States brought along this tradition, and in the southern United States catfish is an extremely popular food.
The most commonly eaten species in the United States are the channel catfish and blue catfish, both of which are common in the wild and increasingly widely farmed.
Catfish is eaten in a variety of ways; in Europe it is often cooked in similar ways to carp, but in the United States it is typically crumbed with cornmeal and fried.
Catfish is high in Vitamin D. Farm-raised catfish contains low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and a much higher proportion of omega-6 fatty acids.
As catfish lack scales, they are judged to not be kosher and cannot be eaten by observant Jews.
Channel catfish up close. Image source: Wikipedia, public domain.
Channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus, is North America's most numerous catfish species. It is the official fish of Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Tennessee, and is informally referred to as a "channel cat". In the United States they are the most fished catfish species.
The blue catfish, Ictalurus furcatus, is one of the largest species of North American catfish. Blue catfish are distributed primarily in the Mississippi River drainage including the Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Arkansas rivers. The current angling world record is 124 pounds and was caught by in 2005 in the Mississippi River.
Blue catfish are opportunistic predators and will eat any species of fish they can catch, along with crayfish, freshwater mussels, frogs, and other readily available aquatic food sources (some blue catfish have reportedly attacked scuba divers.)
Channel catfish. Wikipedia.
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