Heartland Catfish History

Mid 1970’s to Mid 1990’s

William Tackett, his son, Jim Tackett, and his son-in-law, Joe Walker, began farming catfish in the Schlater, Mississippi, area. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, their operation, known as Tackett Fish Farms, grew to be some 9,300 water acres of catfish production, making it the single largest catfish operation in the world. As Tackett Fish Farms sold its production to various cooperative processing plants over the years, the family began to consider operating their own processing plant.


After several months of planning and construction, the Tacketts opened Heartland Catfish Company, a 34,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art, catfish processing plant located on Highway 82 in Itta Bena, MS. This location put the plant right on the major regional highway, with most of the catfish production farms nearby. This new plant utilized the best available fish-processing equipment, along with the latest technology for grading product and monitoring process flow. Heartland Catfish Company’s fundamental goal was to provide the freshest, highest quality catfish products more efficiently than anyone else in the industry. In its first year of operation, Heartland Catfish Company processed 12 million pounds of live catfish.


Due to the company’s success and the overall growth of the U.S. Catfish Industry, Heartland Catfish Company expanded operations by adding 22,000 square feet, increasing freezer storage, an employee breakroom area, maintenance shop area and the main office. These enhancements permitted the plant to process 34 million pounds of live catfish per year.


Once again, due to the company’s success and industry growth, Heartland Catfish Company designed and constructed a completely new plant connected to the original facility. This new 78,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art plant utilized the latest in technology for every aspect of the process, from filleting, trimming and grading the fish to freezing, packing, handling and storing the product. The addition also included a new breakroom/cafeteria, new production offices and a new holding freezer. With the new plant operational, Heartland Catfish Company added 41 million pounds of capacity, bringing the total capacity to 75 million pounds of live catfish per year.


Due to an ever-increasing supply of live catfish in East Mississippi and West Alabama, Heartland Catfish Company purchased the Southern Pride Catfish plant in Greensboro, AL, from American Seafood Group. Immediately, the company began processing fish from the local area in the Greensboro plant and working to implement the same the state-of-the-art equipment and processes at work in the Mississippi plant. The addition of the Alabama plant brought Heartland Catfish Company’s total capacity to 110 million pounds of live catfish per year.


Heartland Catfish Company completely reworked the main processing area in the Alabama plant to install the latest process-flow equipment and upgraded kill and filleting equipment. These updates included adding live fish grading systems, chill water tanks for live fish and fillets, automated grading consoles, automated sorting and packing lines and new retail bagging equipment. In addition to the processing equipment, Heartland Catfish Company’s Alabama plant also added an ozone generator, which injects ozone into the water used for facility sanitation and minimizes the use of chemicals and gas-heated water. This modernization and efficiency upgrade in the Alabama plant brought the total capacity to 115 million pounds of live catfish per year.