What, exactly, is a catfish? That’s the question that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is being forced to consider, thanks to the efforts of American catfish farmers to get Vietnamese catfish labeled as catfish. The farmers are lobbying for stricter safety regulations to be placed on their Vietnamese counterparts, whose fish, the farmers say, are hurting their industry.
The Wall Street Journal has a lengthy story on the issue, which stretches back seven years, when American catfish farmers successfully persuaded Congress to declare that Vietnamese catfish — which are also known as basa, swai, tra, and pangasius — weren’t, in fact, catfish. Although scientists called foul, noting that all of the Vietnamese fish were but a few of the 3,000 species of catfish, the government was more eager to protect the business interests of the domestic catfish lobby.
Now, U.S. farmers are claiming that imports of pangasius, which jumped from $10.7 million in 2000 to $77 million last year, are hurting their business and also a danger to consumers, thanks to the Vietnamese industry’s alleged use of banned chemicals and unsafe processing facilities. The U.S. catfish farmers’ efforts come after a tough few years, during which production shrank by 25 percent.
All of which is very interesting, but what really resonates here is the fact that the world is home to 3,000 species of catfish, which is about 2,999 more than most people have ever been aware of. And while the article doesn’t say whether Vietnamese catfish inspire waterlogged displays of whooping machismo among the Vietnamese, their American counterparts certainly seem to have that effect upon certain segments of our populace: