On Feb. 9, the United States Department of Agriculture announced plans to purchase surplus catfish products for distribution to various food nutrition assistance programs.

State Agriculture Department leadership from the major catfish producing states of Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, and Louisiana submitted a letter of support to Secretary Sonny Perdue, according to a news release from the Arkansas Agriculture Department.

The letter was regarding the request from the catfish industry for the USDA to purchase surplus catfish products through their Section 32 Authority.

Section 32 “Bonus Buys” are not funded through taxpayer dollars but through customs receipts collected by the U.S. Government from imported products.

“Aquaculture and catfish production is an important segment of Arkansas agriculture,” Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward said in the release. “We appreciate Secretary Perdue’s support of this important industry and his understanding of the impact that this industry and its producers have on our state’s rural areas. This approval not only helps the industry but also helps to make sure that a healthy protein is available for food nutrition assistance programs.”

Arkansas catfish producers had 10.3 million foodsize fish on Jan. 1, 2018, up 61 percent from a year ago, according to a recent Catfish Production Report from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. Arkansas catfish growers had foodsize fish sales of $18.1 million during 2017, up 7 percent from 2016.