You’d think I, of all people, would know better. As much as I, and other Delta Farm Press editors, have written about fake catfish, wouldn’t you think I’d be one of the last people in the world to get bamboozled at the seafood counter?
But, I'm confessing — I did.
While grocery shopping at the major food chain supermarket in our town, the thought struck: some catfish would be good. Nobody was manning the seafood counter, but there was a package labeled “Farm Raised Catfish” in the display case that looked about the right size for my wife and me, so I tossed it in my cart.
El stupido! There is farm-raised … and there is U.S. farm-raised, and when I went to cook the stuff, it was evident what I bought wasn’t the latter.
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I don’t know what it was, or on what “farm” in what country it may have been raised. By some stretch of genetics, it may actually have been from some remote branch of the catfish family, but it wasn’t like any catfish I’ve ever seen. I went ahead and cooked the stuff. It was tasteless, with a very strange texture. We each ate maybe half a piece and tossed the rest.
The lesson here, even for me, who absolutely, positively should have known better, is that where catfish is farm-raised does make a significant difference. A corollary lesson is that, sadly, one can’t trust even supposedly reputable providers to be up front about what they’re selling — if they can boost profits by foisting off fake fish from Vietnam, China, or wherever, using a little labeling legerdemain, well, hey, most consumers likely won’t be the wiser.
And the even more galling aspect of my shameful episode is that the mystery fish was priced at basically the same as genuine U.S. farm-raised catfish.
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Immaterial that the fish may have been “farmed” in unsanitary conditions, might contain formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals, and might have been part of the large percentage of imported fish that escapes the U.S. food inspection process.
A recent study showed that about one-third of all fish — from pricey red snapper, salmon, tuna, and a host of gourmet species, to our southern favorite catfish — may be falsely labeled by supermarkets and restaurants nationwide. Analysts say the U.S. now imports an astounding 90 percent of its seafood, of which less than 2 percent is inspected for fraud.