Something stinks in Belzoni, Mississippi; it stinks like old fish.
Belzoni, the self-proclaimed “catfish capital of the world,” still hosts an annual catfish-eating festival and a Miss Catfish pageant — but the fish farms for which the town is famous are floundering.
A flood of fake fish from across the pond left many Mississippi fish farmers high and dry. Now, the cat-fish-tastrophe is also causing the communities built on the slimy backs of catfish to crumble too, reports The Guardian.
In 2002, when Mississippi farmed 60% of the nation’s whiskered whitefish, the catfish craze minted many Mississippi mudfish millionaires.
But the introduction of cheaper whitefish from Asia — much of which is passed off as catfish on American menus — caused a catfish crash.
Despite Ahab-esque effort from Mississippi’s catfish kingpins, the industry flopped like a fish out of water: Between 2001 and 2008, employment fell from 11k to 7.8k, and the catfish catch fell from $550m to $400m.
The US is one of only 2 countries in the world where fish farming is on the decline. Factories near Belzoni that once employed 3.5k people now provide 500 jobs.
Fish flight has rippled across the entire local economy: Belzoni’s population recently reached a 100-year low, and the city borrows money to fill potholes and prevent floods.
In Belzoni — a town that once claimed to have the most millionaires in the state — approximately 25% of households live on less than $10k a year, and median household income is $28k, 30% below the statewide average in the poorest US state.