U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, (R-Ala.), promised west Alabama’s catfish farmers he will protect United States industries on the world stage.

"I believe manufacturing products and commodity production is a huge, essential part of a healthy economy," Sessions said.

 On his visit to Auburn University’s Fish Farming Center in Greensboro, the senator said he wants Alabama's catfish industry to remain strong because it is so important to the rural part of the state.

"The way I see it, when you produce catfish, you sell it, collect money all around the region and bring it back here," he said. "It goes to the landowner, the farmer, the workers, the manufacturers and the fertilizer and feed suppliers. All those people benefit. Whereas when you buy it from abroad, all that money just stays abroad, and it’s not good for our economy."

Sessions listened as farmers described sustainability issues facing the American catfish industry. According to research from Auburn University, the nation's catfish production has declined almost 50 percent over 10 years.

The same research shows a 4-percent decline in Alabama catfish farming since last year.

Farmers said foreign competition is a major factor in decreased domestic catfish production, and imported catfish is not held to the same standards.

Alabama Catfish Producers Chairman Will Pearce presented the senator with a "wish list for Washington," including increased testing on imports and a federal “country of origin” labeling requirement on catfish and seafood sold to restaurants.

Butch Wilson, president of the Catfish Farmers of America, said he hopes the 2012 farm bill will include implementation measures for the catfish inspection program that was part of the 2008 farm bill. The new farm bill should require imported species to be subject to the same food safety regulations as domestically produced catfish, he said.

Sessions said he believes the new farm bill could contain a lot of opportunities for Southern farmers, and he pledged to continue working for those opportunities.

Discussion also covered tariffs, ethanol subsidies, the federal budget and taming the national debt.

“The way to (bring our country on a sound course) is to be more productive, allow more enterprises like the catfish industry to be successful and keep our taxes simple and as low as we can keep them,” he said.

(Foreign competition isn’the only problem fish farmers are facing. High feed problems are also cutting into profits. For that story see Record prices, costs make catfish's future uncertain).