Osage Catfisheries Inc.: Diversifying Agriculture Through Aquaculture

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Steve Kahrs is proud to be a proprietor of Osage Catfisheries, Inc., an aquaculture agribusiness venture that was born in 1953 as the beginning of his father’s dream. Osage Catfisheries spans the original farm near Osage Beach in #Agri-Ready Camden County and two large farms that utilize the Osage River below the Bagnell Dam. Steve and his business partner and brother, Pete, grow 32 different species of warm water fish that they ship domestically and internationally. Steve’s expertise of high-quality aquaculture products diversifies the agriculture economy of his local community.

Camden County obtained Agri-Ready County Designation in 2022. The program promotes counties that support Missouri farmers and Missouri’s economic interests in agriculture. The designation encourages leaders to position the county for agriculture growth and development, encourage on-farm stewardship and encourage partnerships equipping students for skills needed in agricultural jobs. Agriculture in Camden County generated $127.8 million in agricultural product sales and $63.5 million in value-added to the local economy in 2021. Missouri Farmers Care recently released Camden County’s Agri-Ready video, celebrating the county’s agricultural assets. View it here.

Steve calls himself a fish farmer and understands the title well. “A farmer is a farmer and I’m proud of it. Without farmers nobody eats,” Steve said. His personal story about his return home to the family business is familiar. “I graduated from college in 1989 and took a job in St. Louis. I became stressed and I never got paid. I thought to myself, ‘I can go back to the family farm for these conditions’. So, I did. And it was the best decision I ever made, I enjoy it,” Steve shared.

Osage Catfisheries launched its Paddlefish Ranching Program in 1984 to supply sustainably grown, farm raised caviar. Through L’Osage Caviar, Steve sells paddlefish caviar to high caliber restaurants. Osage Catfisheries has approximately 20,000 paddlefish of various ages stocked in large lakes and ponds on private properties across Missouri. The fish are ‘forgotten’ and left to grow and mature over a minimum of 8-10 years. “We stock paddlefish with customers we know well. They like the idea that they can sit on their back deck and see a paddlefish breach the water like a whale and slap down on the surface.” The hosting landowners hold contracts to be compensated when the fish are caught and eggs are harvested from the females. “Our caviar is the best. It is just a great product. I’ve never tasted anything like it. When I travel, I try other caviar and have conversations with chefs. When I get back home, I always send them a sample of our product,” Steve said. The product is available for retail sale on the company website. 

Missouri is home to four of the oldest fish farms in the U.S. Osage Catfisheries, Inc. is the oldest and largest multi-species hatchery in the Midwest. Over the past 71 years, the farm has accumulated a vast resume of deliveries. Their fish have stocked freshwater lakes and rivers for state and federal contracts, become breeding stock in Asia, and even landed as 48-hour old eggs in Europe for research projects. They have grown fish to stock aquariums including the Johnny Morris Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium. Steve’s product meets the needs of many customers because of genetic integrity, his personal service, and his ability and willingness to grow fish by species, size (age), quantity, and conditions that are required for many diverse contracts. “We have a client base that trusts us and is extremely loyal and that means more to me than anything,” Steve said. “Dad always said you can make money but if you have no reputation you don’t really have anything. Our reputation is what we pride our farm on.” 

How did Osage Catfisheries find so many unique opportunities? Steve shared the memory of how his father’s dream became reality. “My dad never said no to anything,” Steve remembered. “After World War II, my dad earned a Fisheries and Biology degree with the GI Bill. He had met my mother during his time in college and didn’t want to follow a pharmaceutical opportunity out of state. While working at Rallston-Purina he became fascinated by the fish food the company was developing. Dad quit his job and bought a bait business. He purchased his first farm in 1953 in Osage Beach and began selling minnows to the few resorts that were at the Lake of the Ozarks at that time.” By the 1980’s, Osage Catfisheries was fulfilling orders and shipping  millions of fish eggs to Asia.

Like other farmers, water is very important to Steve. He relies on well water and water from the Osage River to fill his farm ponds when precipitation isn’t adequate. He holds the necessary permits from the Department of Natural Resources to be able to pump from fresh bodies of water. “We do what we can to conserve water. Draining or refilling our fishponds is costly in time and resources,” Steve said. And just like so many other farmers, the rising costs of insurance, feed, and fuel take money off the top of the budget for his family farm. Specialized shipping and the related price of fuel is foremost on Steve’s mind.

The Kahrs family and Osage Catfisheries are members of the Missouri Aquaculture Association and the National Aquaculture Association. To learn more about the products and projects of Osage Catfisheries, Inc. visit their website and for more information about their ranched caviar, visit L’Osage Caviar Company, Inc..