The U.S. House of Representatives passed a farm bill amendment that specifies that the term “catfish” may only be used for that species of fish raised in the Delta region of the Mid-South.
The amendment, which was introduced by Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., and Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., is aimed at preventing Vietnamese producers from using the term “catfish” in marketing basa or tra fish in the United States. It was included in the Farm Security Act of 2001, which passed the House on Oct. 5.
Catfish Farmers of America officials estimate that Vietnamese producers and seafood importers — using catfish symbols and American-sounding brand names — have taken over nearly 20 percent of the U.S. market for catfish. Farm-bank prices have dropped below the cost of production for many farmers, as a result.
“This amendment will ensure that the term ‘catfish’ can only refer to the kind of fish we recognize as Delta-raised catfish,” said Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., who spoke in favor of the amendment. “It will prevent countries like Vietnam from engaging in the current practice of marketing a totally different product as catfish, which is undermining the efforts of the real catfish producers in Arkansas and elsewhere in the Mississippi Delta.”
The amendment, which was passed unanimously, says that the term “catfish” may not be considered to be a common or usual name for the fish Pangasius bocourti, or for any other fish not classified within the family Ictalariidae, for purposes of section 403 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
Imports of “basa” and “bacourti” have been marketed as catfish under such labels as “Delta fresh” and “Cajun Delight” even though they are not raised in America, said Pickering. “This is an intentional attempt to mislead consumers and has had dramatic, negative effects on the catfish industries in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas.
“I am very pleased the U.S. House approved the legislation I introduced to protect American catfish farmers,” he noted. “This legislation relies on common sense and sound science to guarantee American consumers that the catfish they buy is in fact U.S. farm-raised catfish.”
Berry, along with several other members of Congress from the Mississippi Delta, earlier this year introduced legislation (H.R. 2439) to require retailers of farm-raised fish to inform consumers of the country-of-origin of the fish at the point of sale.
Catfish Farmer leaders have called the import and sale of Vietnamese basa labeled as “catfish” in the U.S. markets “one of the most blatant acts of food trade misconduct since imported kangaroo meat was substituted for ground beef in some products in the early 1980s.
“We do not object to the sale of correctly labeled Vietnamese basa fish,” said Seymour Johnson, catfish producer from Indianola, Miss. “However, we do object to economic adulteration, species substitution and mislabeling that is now rampant on basa imports.”
Catfish Farmers of America officials said they were grateful to Pickering and Ross and to the members of the Mississippi congressional delegation for the support they provided for the amendment.
“I am excited that we finally are getting something done to bring relief to our domestic catfish industry,” said Hugh Warren, executive vice president of the Catfish Farmers of America. “We are looking forward to working with the Senate to include the same language in their farm bill.”
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New catfish fast-growing
CATFISH GROWERS have been given a boost with the release of a new, faster-growing channel catfish strain made available earlier this year by the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The NWAC-103 catfish strain is the direct result of genetic research and evaluation conducted by USDA/ARS and MAFES scientists at the Thad Cochran National Warmwater Aquaculture Center at Stoneville, Miss.
Using traditional breeding methods, researchers selected NWAC-103 fish out of a “closed population” of catfish for their increased growth performance and food consumption.
“The NWAC-103s have a six-year breeding history and give an improved growth rate of up to 20 percent,” said Marty Fuller, associate director of MAFES. “Growth evaluations were performed on several different strains of catfish, and it turned out that NWAC-103 consistentely outperformed its counterparts.
“The impact of this new variety of fish over an extended period of time is extra crops of catfish, which will add significantly to the producer's bottom line,” he added.
The faster growth rate of NWAC-103 appear to be due to higher feed consumption and vigorous feeding behavior.
“This new fish also has good reproductive traits compared with the catfish currently being used by producers,” said Bill Wolters, USDA/ARS geneticist and breeder of the new fish. “Some NWAC-103 females spawn at two years of age, which is a year earlier than other catfish. Overall, this variety shows good spawning success and fecundity.”
In addition to its growth and reproductive traits, NWAC-103 also meets another producer need — the ability to easily identify and manage channel catfish strains and to keep them pure. The Aquaculture Center research has laid the groundwork for using DNA fingerprinting technology to help catfish growers keep close track of NWAC-103 fish.
A small piece of catfish whisker, or barbel, is all that is required to pick NWAC-103 out from a crowd.