Uptown Greenville, NC


Catfish Farm Hooks Customers

By K.J. Williams
The Daily Reflector

February 9, 2011 - A seafood lover turned entrepreneur says his farm-raised catfish business is going along swimmingly.

Rob Mayo, 50, president and founder of Carolina Classics Catfish Inc. in Ayden, also is a supporter of an annual conference that seeks to educate people about the possibilities of aquaculture.

The 23rd annual N.C. Aquaculture Development Conference will be held in Atlantic Beach on Friday and Saturday, following Thursday's self-guided tours of aquaculture businesses and research facilities in the region.

“I had grown up around commercial fishing, and because of my exposure to that I knew that wild seafood was limited, and so I became interested in aquaculture,” said Mayo, a Beaufort County resident who grew up in the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia.

“The great thing about this conference is it's a chance to talk to some of the leading experts from the state and the nation's academic experts, as well as talk to people who are in the business,” he said.

Mayo said his business of farm-raised catfish has a solid customer base, including exclusive contracts with Whole Foods Market and Harris Teeter grocery stores.

“We've grown steadily since we began 25 years ago, and I see a bright future for our (catfish) species and other species in aquaculture over the long term because the demand for seafood is going to continue to grow,” he said.

Carolina Classics Catfish farms about 2,000 surface acres of ponds and processes 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of catfish a day at its Ayden plant.

Mayo said that there's no way to meet the demand for seafood from the oceans and rivers, so demand must be met by aquafarms.

Aquaculture events at the Sheraton Atlantic Beach include a trade show and roster of speakers Friday, and workshops and speakers Saturday. At 6 p.m. Friday, the Aqua-Food Fest Social will be followed by the 6:30 p.m. Aqua-Food Fest.

Saturday's speakers include David Alves, a fishery management specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northeast Regional Office, and Tom Ellis of the N.C. Environmental Management Commission. A trade show begins at 4 p.m.

Saturday workshops will be given by employees of the N.C. State University Cooperative Extension and educators.

The event's sponsors include the N.C. Aquaculture Association, the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, the N.C. Farm Bureau Federation, N.C. Sea Grant, the N.C. Shellfish Growers Association, the N.C. Small Business & Technology Development Center and N.C. State's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Organizers have billed the event as offering information for prospective growers, current growers and people involved in the field seeking more knowledge. There is a charge for attending. To register online, visit www.ncaquaculture.org.

Contact K.J. Williams at kwilliams@reflector.com or (252) 329-9588.