Monday, May 16, 2011

To eat or not to eat? Pangasius aka Basa, Basa Catfish, Bocourti Catfish, Helicophagus hypophthalmus, Mekong Catfish, Pangas Catfish, Pangasius bocourti, Pangasius hypophthalmus, Pangasius pangasius, Pangasius Sutchi, River Catfish, River Catfish, Royal Basa, Silver Striped Catfish, Striped Catfish, Sutchi catfish, Swai, Tra or White Roughy

Is it sustainable to eat Pangasius?  It is a complicated subject.  If  you google "Pangasius" as of today (5/18/2011) the first result is entitled "Don't Eat this Fish".

This page from 1/30/2008 contains a transcription of a French 18 minute documentary that is more than damning of the Vietnamese farm raised river catfish.  Frozen in contaminated water, teeming with high levels of poison, and fed dead fish remains are among the statements which seem to settle the matter.

Qu'est ce qu'un Panga ? by sudotone

On the other hand QVD Seafood's video "QVD From the Mekong to the World" argues that their Mekong Delta pangasius  is not only environmentally sustainable but a "pillar of culture".  They tout their Vietnamese factory's certification by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Seafood Inspection Program (often refered to as USDC inspection for the NOAA's parent department the US Department of Commerce).

A Deutche Welle piece from 2009 "GLOBAL 3000 A Fish Named Pangasiusis" paints a somewhat mixed picture by including accusations by an Alabama catfish farmer that the fish contain substances banned in the USA, while also interviewing an employee of German firm "Deutche See".  Deutche Welle says the fish is subject to strict controls on residues.  The spokesman for the company says that they are buying organic Pangasius from one of two producers in the delta.

For me a partial answer is found in the report by Seafood Watch, a program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  They label Pangasius as a "good alternative", not a "best choice" in their report last updated 12/07/2007.  They point out that since Pangasius is native to the Mekong Delta it does no harm when farmed Pangasius escape into the wild.  This is a major point in its favor since transfer of invasive species through aquaculture is a major problem.

Seafood Watch considers the rish of transfering diseases from the farm raised Pangasius to the wild stock to be moderate since there is no reason to believe that it will not happen. Aquaculture can produce a great deal of polution, but the scientists at Seafood Watch concluded that the risk from polution to the Mekong Delta is only moderate.

"Siting and locations for cage production in the Mekong River Delta is relatively benign. The environment in this region is already highly degraded from non-aquaculture sources, and the area is heavily used by a large human population. Additionally, large-scale cage aquaculture serves a dual purpose when combined with housing, which is built above submerged aquaculture cages (Phillips 2002). This method may aid in reducing impacts on land from development."

They note that what regulation of polution comes from import regulations of other countries rather than from the government of Vietnam.  For that reason they state that the management regime is ineffective.

Perhaps things have improved in the Delta since 2007 on the otherhand things might have gone downhill with the economic downturn.

In any case, American farm raised catfish is still considered a better choice but especially if you can confirm the conditions under which your Pangasius were raised you have a choice that is much more sustainable that most other fish you can purchase.

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