Swimming to success in the catfish industry

by | Sep 4, 2020

Rob Mayo, founder and President of Carolina Classics Catfish.

Every Friday on social media, we post a Farm Feature Friday showcasing one of our dedicated North Carolina farmers. Rob Mayo, of Carolina Classics Catfish, is one of those farmers. The #FarmFeatureFriday campaign will run through December 2021 on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Be sure to tune in each Friday afternoon on social and help show your support for our local farmers!

Rob Mayo, president of Carolina Classics Catfish in Ayden, swam his way into the industry in 1986, never imagining he would become the first fully integrated producer of U.S. farm-raised catfish. Rob started with four fresh water ponds, each measuring five acres, filled with channel catfish and blue hybrid catfish. “I grew up around commercial fish farming with my next door neighbor and learned a lot about farm-raised catfish in college,” he says, “in the wild catfish grow to 14 or 15 pounds, but we raise them to a 1.8 pound average due to timing of maturation and portion size demand.”

All catfish from Carolina Classics become market ready after two years. Harvesting takes place three to four times a week and processing 52 weeks a year in order to meet demand and ship orders. “One of the challenges of catfish farming is the harvesting process because unlike other sectors of the animal ag industry, we can’t see the fish under the water,” Rob said, “we can get a general idea when we feed them because they come to the top but it’s never absolute.” Their catfish are fed with all natural ingredients, which is important to Rob because it ensures a high-quality product. “Every step of the process is controlled and we use no chemicals, not even to control the weeds by the pond,” Rob said, “once in the processing facility, each fish is trimmed to give consumers a perfect filet every time.”

In addition to retail availability at Whole Foods Markets and Harris Teeter, Carolina Classics Catfish is also available in many restaurants like Cantina 18 and the Chef & the Farmer. According to Rob, working with chefs like Jason Smith and Vivian Howard has helped prove that catfish is a versatile fish that can be used beyond the frying pan. “We focus on local identity with all of our natural products,” Rob says, “both in retail and through restaurant partnerships.” His favorite way to eat a catfish filet is to sauté it in a pan, five minutes on each side, with Old Bay seasoning and olive oil.

“Catfish are good for the environment and good for the world,” Rob says, “because they are high in protein, all-natural and environmentally friendly.” Rob also says that now is a good time to get into the catfish industry for those who aspire to farm and raise them. “It is a capital intensive industry,” he said, “and right now is the time to get involved, so don’t wait.”

In the future, Rob believes the demand for seafood will increase and aquaculture will grow. He is currently working on new ideas for prepared items as well as seasonings to help drive innovation in the market and interest in the product. “Know where your food comes from and how it is raised,” he said, “farm-raised catfish is not only very healthy but well cared for. Support your local farmers as much as you can, having social and local traditions add to the spice of life.”