It seemed a tad(pole) fishy when state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, recently said Texans eat more catfish than residents of other states, by a whopping margin. His Feb. 26 op-ed column in the Austin American-Statesman says: "Texans love their catfish, batter-fried, blackened, or grilled. In fact, Texans eat more catfish than all the other states combined."
Hungering for back-up for Hegar’s boast, we reached his chief of staff, Lisa Craven. She attributed it to--we kid not--the Catfish Institute, a Mississippi-based entity devoted to raising "consumer awareness of the positive qualities of U.S. farm-raised catfish," according to information on its website. Catfish farming is big in Hegar’s district, and he’s proposed legislation requiring restaurants to disclose if they are serving catfish imported from other countries.
In an interview, institute spokesman Jeff McCord told us the institute commissioned a 2005 catfish consumption study concluding that Texans consume more catfish than residents of four other southern states combined.
The study concluded the residents of Texas then consumed nearly 109 million pounds of catfish a year. That’s more than the residents of Alabama (30 million), Arkansas (18 million), Louisiana (28 million) and Mississippi (18 million) combined (94 million pounds).
But more than all the other 49 states? McCord said the institute did not look into that.
McCord said the study was conducted by Market Research Institute, a nationally recognized firm, in May and June 2005. "The research focused on the states with the highest per-capita sales of U.S. farm-raised catfish," McCord said. "In each state, the researchers contacted and obtained data from seafood purchasing agents for seafood stores, supermarkets, catfish restaurants and other restaurants and came up with the aggregate numbers."
No denying it, 109 million pounds is a lot of fish. Yet Texas has a lot more people than those other catfish-crazy states. We wondered how much of the tasty ictalurids -- which happen to be the catfish native to North America -- the average Texan consumes.
So we divided the state estimates from the study by each state’s 2005 population as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau. Turns out that Texans consumed nearly 5 pounds per person, while residents of each of the other states averaged more than 6 pounds each.
We circled back to Craven, who said Hegar fact-checked his article with the Catfish Institute, whose spokesman, McCord, later called the Texas-most reference a "minor overstatement."
Finally, we contacted David Harvey, an agricultural economist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, and asked him about state-by-state catfish consumption. No such information is available, Harvey said, speculating that’s because it would require fish processors here and abroad to say where they’re sending their fish and the processors don't want to share such details.
Not only do Texans not eat more catfish than the whole rest of the country, they ate less, per person, than residents in four other southern states as of 2005. Even by Texas bragging standards, Hegar’s statement smacks as a memorable fish tale. We rate it False.