Inaccurate seafood labeling is one of the great failures of market capitalism, so let me recommend George Jared’s great new article over at Talk Business on the catfish beat.
“We’ve stepped up our inspection and enforcement efforts,” Arkansas Bureau of Standards supervisor Roger Frazier Frazier told Talk Business of a state crackdown on catfish mislabeling on restaurant menus. “It’s mostly a wording problem.”
The central issue is how a catfish is raised. Consumers have a right to know if the fish they’re buying is farm raised, wild caught in a river, lake or ocean, or if it’s imported, he said. The U.S. has strict standards on how catfish have to be raised, and in other countries, such as Vietnam, those standards are much more lax, according to Frazier.
Inspectors in Arkansas have been doing random field tests since 2007. Out of the 2,128 restaurants that were inspected, about 65% have been in compliance to date, he said. Efforts were ramped up starting in October 2016. Since then, 626 inspections have been done and the compliance rate has ballooned to about 95%.
Those not in compliance have 10 days to take corrective actions, he said. If an owner doesn’t comply, he could face possible civil penalties. To date, every non-compliant restaurant has fixed their menu, Frazier said.
I would watch absolutely a watch reality show about these inspections. Here’s more:
There are 13 inspectors that travel the state conducting inspections. Invoices are checked and occasionally the actual fish are examined. The Arkansas Department of Health can conduct DNA testing on fish if necessary, Frazier said.
One of the most common fish imported as “catfish” from Vietnam is a species known as pangasius, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Vietnamese fish are often exposed to antibiotics not allowed in the U.S. Many are grown in small spaces that stress the animals and make them more susceptible to disease. These fish often have higher instances of bacterial infection and they’re often grown in waste and sludge. USDA has placed tighter restrictions in recent years on imported fish from Vietnam.
In 2015, the General Assembly unanimously enacted legislation by Rep. Michael John Gray requiring that “catfish-like species” such as the pangasius be labeled as imported if raised outside the United States.
Let me highly recommend paying attention to the provenance of your seafood. Your body and soul (and tastebuds) will thank you. I now reside in Florida and you would be amazed at the scams people will try to get away with on fish and shrimp.
p.s. You’ll need a rudimentary knowledge of Florida geography to get this, but: My mother in law loves to tell the story of being at a shrimp joint in a little Florida town called Welaka. She asked, “Are your shrimp local?” She was thinking they might be wild caught from the nearby Atlantic coast. The waitress thought for a minute and said, “Yes ma’am, they come from Ocala.”