In 1975, Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards declared Des Allemands the Catfish Capital of the World.
The following year, Mississippi governor Cliff Finch awarded the same title to Humphreys
County, headquartered in Belzoni.
Which is the real Catfish Capital? The dispute is a difficult one to resolve. As if to dispel doubt, in 1980 the Louisiana legislature voted to name Des Allemands the Catfish Capital of the Universe in addition to its original title. Yet Mississippi boasted the largest output of catfish in the United States soon after launching its catfish farms, far outstripping Louisiana.
The origins of commercial catfish farming in the United States can be traced to Arkansas, the first state to export the fish in 1963. Mississippi followed in 1965, and by 1976 it held 27,000 acres of water surface for catfish farming out of 55,000 acres nationwide. Of counties in Mississippi, Humphreys had the most acres of catfish farms, totaling 6,000. Des Allemands did not reach the same acreage until 2005, and by that time Humphreys counted 20,600 acres of commercial catfish ponds.
Today, Humphreys County claims between 35,000 and 40,000 acres of catfish farms, accounting for approximately 60% of U.S. farm-raised catfish. The town of Belzoni has hosted the annual World Catfish Festival since 1976, attracting visitors from around the nation and the world, and even offers a Catfish Museum and Welcome Center for the curious.
Des Allemands, in similar fashion, has celebrated the Louisiana Catfish Festival since 1975. The festivals remain popular events, and Belzoni claims to attract up to 10,000 festival visitors per year.
Despite the festivals and folklore surrounding the tradition and nutrition of catfish, its farming and production experienced a decline around 2003 and have continued to deteriorate, affecting Louisiana’s economy in particular. Mississippi, the least affected of all states, gives no indication of reducing output, and Humphreys County continues to cultivate a reputation for massive catfish production. Yet even in Louisiana, the decrease in commercial catfish ponds does not affect the Southern taste for catfish, as the Lac des Allemands remains a popular fishing spot and wild-caught catfish is beginning a migration into consumers’ frying pans.