New challenge to prevent catfish off-flavor

HeroX opened a call on the global community of solvers for cost-effective and innovative methods that prevent blue-green pond algae from delaying catfish harvesting due to off-flavor. Winning solutions will share a $60,000 prize purse.

New challenge to prevent catfish off-flavor
August 20, 2020

HeroX, the social network for innovation and platform for crowdsourced solutions, opened the crowdsourcing competition “Protecting the Natural Flavor of Catfish” that calls on the global community of solvers to offer cost-effective and innovative methods that prevent blue-green pond algae from delaying catfish harvesting.

This competition is launched on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and seeks to benefit catfish farmers from across the nation. For the last 30 years, USDA-ARS research has shown that catfish exposure to certain varieties of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, can cause a delay in the harvest for roughly 50% of catfish ponds each year. Annually, this delay can also cost catfish farmers $15 to $20 million in lost revenue and expenses to maintain the fish and its natural flavor.

While numerous methods to combat this issue have been identified, they are only partial solutions that require repeated treatments. There is also no guarantee of successfully eliminating the blue-green algae’s effect on the fish.  

“The Agricultural Research Service is committed to finding solutions to agricultural problems that affect Americans every day,” said ARS administrator, Chavonda Jacobs-Young. “We are excited to see the innovative strategies and suggested new technologies for the Catfish Challenge from the global community.”

“I look forward to seeing our innovators solve a challenge that has stumped scientists and experts for years,” said HeroX chief executive officer, Christian Cotichini. “Identifying a solution here protects our food supply and the livelihoods of these catfish farmers.”

The challenge

In the United States, nearly 400 million pounds of the farm-raised channel and blue catfish are harvested annually, primarily in the Mississippi Delta region. Unfortunately, exposure to compounds from varieties of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, can cause an “earthy” or “muddy” taste in catfish. If a sample fish is found to have these off-flavors, catfish farmers may wait to harvest and retest the fish after several months to see if the off-flavors have improved, or treat the pond water to remove the algae before harvesting can proceed. Both approaches result in lengthy harvest delays, anywhere from a few weeks to several months. These harvest delays cost the industry roughly $20 million annually.

The prize

A grand total of up to $60,000 will be awarded to the challenge’s top nine respondents. Judges will evaluate submissions for the best overall approach submitted and award prizes to the top nine responses. One first place and up to two-second place winners will be recognized in each of the following three categories:

  • Pre-harvest management practices
  • Pre-harvest treatment technologies
  • Post-harvest treatment technologies

How to become a solver

The prize is open to anyone aged 18 or older participating as an individual or as a team. Individual competitors and teams may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (some restrictions apply).

To accept the challenge, visit