The 2001 Agriculture and Rural Development Appropriations Act, which includes language that states that only catfish produced in North America can be labeled as catfish, was signed into law Nov. 30 by President Bush.
“As of today, Vietnamese fish can no longer be called catfish,” Ben Lamensdorf told Delta Council members at their annual fall board of directors meeting Nov. 30 in Greenville, Miss.
Lamensdorf, president of the Delta Council, praised the efforts of Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., in securing the language, which is expected to help reduce imports of Vietnamese basa fish now being marketed as catfish in the United States.
“This is a great turnaround step for us,” said Hugh Warren, executive vice president of Catfish Farmers of America, based in Indianola, Miss. “We feel that we are finally getting a foothold in solving this dilemma of consumer confusion by the marketing misrepresentation of several different species of Vietnamese fish.”
Warren believes many importers and distributors were surprised that the catfish industry had the ability to get this much accomplished in its effort to protect the industry from dishonest marketing. However, he said, it was simply a matter of making certain the laws that apply to imported products are properly enforced.
“We had a legitimate case, and the governmental agencies that have the responsibility to enforce existing laws weren't doing their job,” he said. “What also made it happen was the immense support we received from our Mid-South congressmen and their staffs.
“I think the passage of this measure is already having a positive effect on U.S. catfish producers. It is certainly already the focus of much conversation in the import market,” Warren said.
“The Catfish Institute is proud of all the hard work that the CFA put into bring this into what looks like a successful conclusion,” said Henry Gantz, president of The Catfish Institute in Belzoni, Miss.
Lamensdorf said the catfish industry has been reeling due to the imports of the Vietnamese fish and that the economic balance sheet for catfish farmers and other businesses in the industry was precarious.
“Everyone in Washington keeps talking about an economic stimulus package — well, Thad Cochran just sent the first phase of an economic stimulus package to the Delta with the passage of this annual appropriations bill,” said Lamensdorf.