BATON ROUGE, La. – Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Bob Odom has stopped the sale of more than 21,000 cases, or 315,000 pounds, of fish labeled “Chinese catfish.” Odom said the fish appeared to be in violation of the catfish labeling law passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 2002.
"It is confusing to consumers when they see the word 'catfish' on something that does not meet the legal definition of catfish," Odom said in a press release distributed by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. "Our weights and measures inspectors are out enforcing this law so consumers can have confidence that the catfish they buy is exactly what they expect it to be and where they expect it to come from."
Odom said he believes the number of stop-sale orders will probably increase as inspectors continue their investigation.
Catfish is a southern delicacy, and consumers have come to expect a certain quality and taste in the catfish they purchase, according to Odom. In recent years, however, fish processors in Vietnam and China have shipped millions of pounds of basa and tra fish, using labels that made them appear to be U.S. grown.
"There were all kinds of fish coming in here labeled as 'catfish,' 'farm-raised' and 'Cajun,' and unsuspecting consumers purchased it thinking they were getting domestic farm-raised catfish," Odom said. "We finally got some relief for the industry and protection for consumers when the Legislature passed a labeling law specifically defining catfish."
Congress has also passed labeling legislation and the International Trade Commission ruled that tariff penalties could be imposed on such imports.
The cases of imported fish were found by LDAF inspectors in New Orleans at Conco Food Distributors, Louisiana Seafood Exchange and New Orleans Perishables. In Baton Rouge, the product was found at Southern Cold Storage and Louisiana Seafood Exchange.
The fish stored at New Orleans Perishables and Southern Cold Storage is owned by Piazza Seafood. Fresher Foods owns a small amount of the fish stored at Southern Cold Storage.
Some imported product sold by Piazza was also stopped about three weeks ago at Hollywood Casino in Shreveport.
Odom said his inspectors would continue searching in other locations for this specific product.
"They will check some additional storage facilities and any product that we find mislabeled will be added to the stop sale," Odom said.
In Louisiana, farm-raised catfish are grown in nearly 13,000 acres of ponds and are valued at $35.7 million.