Catfish growers pushing the genuine article

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
14 February 2007, at 12:00am

MISSISSIPPI - Grow a cheaper catfish and the world will beat a path to your door.

Well, maybe not exactly.

Purely out of local pride, if nothing else, there's little doubt Mississippians, given a choice, will always opt for catfish raised in a Mississippi aquaculture operation - even if it costs a little more.

That's why - showing great wisdom - The Catfish Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Jackson, is not asking for Asian or other fish imports to be banned.

They just want truth in packaging, truth on menus - and for imported fish to be inspected and certified to have been grown and harvested with the same health and safety standards met by U.S. growers.

Sounds fair. Is fair. But how things come out remains to be seen.

At center stage is a new farm bill now in the drafting stages in Washington, D.C. If properly worded, catfish producers across the South will feel a sense of relief.

This is not a new issue, but it is a crucial time. A couple of years ago, the issue arose when tra and basa, Vietnamese catfish-like species, were being harvested from ditches, canals and commercial operations and shipped to the United States.

The American response was, "If it ain't catfish, you can't call it catfish."

Most grocers and restaurants selling tra and basa around this state got the message putting signs on their frozen food cases and adding prominent wording on their menus to assure consumers they'd seen the light and were only selling American-grown fish.

More recently, there was a wave of concern after President Bush visited Vietnam in the interest of enhancing its status as a trading partner.

Specifically, he wanted to remove all controls. Congress speared that idea - but that hasn't slowed imports.

Another recent report centers on China, where farmers have actually gotten sure-enough genuine American catfish fingerlings and started producing a line of the same species of which Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama are the leading commercial producers.

Source: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal