U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-AL) today introduced legislation to protect Alabama's catfish farmers. The legislation, introduced today with Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), will prohibit continued use of the term "catfish" for the distribution and marketing of Asian fish sold in the United States as "catfish." The fish are actually a Vietnamese Pangasius species, distinctly different from American catfish.
"American consumers have expectations of a grain-fed, pond-raised North American freshwater catfish when purchasing a labeled catfish product in the Untied States," said Shelby. "These Vietnamese fish are not grain-fed, or pond-raised, and they are not a North American freshwater catfish."
U.S. catfish farm production accounts for 68% of the pounds of fish sold and 50% of the total value of all U.S. aquaculture production. The catfish industry is a young industry that has used $40 million from U.S. farmers, as well as additional monies from the U.S. branded processing plants, to create a catfish market here and abroad where none has existed before. All of the catfish feed mills and processing plants are either farmer-owned cooperatives or family-owned businesses. In the catfish processing industry alone, 75% of the employees are single mothers in their first job. With depressed prices for almost all other agricultural commodities, catfish production is critical to the U.S. economy, especially to the Mid-South's economy, farm infrastructure, rural communities and local workforce.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service reported on January 22, 2001, that U.S. farm-raised catfish processed during December 2000 was down 14% from last year. The Vietnamese frozen fillets are currently sold in the U.S. for approximately $1 per pound less than domestically grown frozen fillets. Freshwater catfish imports for November 2000 was more than triple the amount imported the previous year. Vietnam accounted for 84 percent of the imports with the remainder coming from Guyana, Taiwan, and Thailand. In addition, no U.S. farm-raised catfish exports have been reported to the U.S. Department of Commerce since March 2000.
"The import of these Asian fish into the U.S. has had a noticeable effect on the domestic catfish economy," said Shelby. "We must act now to protect American catfish farmers and our American economy."
This legislation would require the Food and Drug Administration to take action to prohibit the continued use of the term "catfish" for imported Asian fish.