Friday, July 18, 2008

U.S. catfish farms bite the dust

When people ask for sustainable fishes to eat, I often point them to domestically farmed, vegetarian species like striped bass and catfish. Raised in ponds, they're subject to water quality restrictions and animal captivity rules, and they don't rely on wild fish populations for food.

Unfortunately, a diet of corns and soybeans also made these fish farms vulnerable to the current grain crisis. As the NYT reports, catfish farms across the South are draining their ponds because they can't afford to feed their fish. One farmer's filling his old pond with those very same feed crops -- corn and soya -- to capitalize on the new market.

I'll be sad to see these fish disappear from the ice at my local fishmonger, but I have to be a little bemused by this battle of subsidies. After all, the U.S. subsidized corn and soybean production for decades and NOAA has proposed various 'incentives' for aquaculture. Today, those subsidies pale against the power of the yuan and the fuel subsidies that keep foreign fleets afloat, feeding our imported seafood market. Those reeds and rushes shading the shallows of the old catfish ponds? They'd probably be a better source of cellulosic ethanol than corn.


Jives said...

Catfish is one of the ones that almost everyone agrees on (except Audubon isn't sure).

I'm going crazy with all the cooking shows (Hell's Kitchen, Top Chef etc...) raving about how great Chilean Sea Bass is. Those producers are so irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

Striped bass vegetarian? I don't think so!

Anonymous said...

Neither striped bass nor catfish are vegetarian. Cultured striped bass hybrids (Striped bass x White bass or White Perch are generally what are culutred) are normally fed feeds with at least some tfish meal and other animal feeds. Considerable effort has gone into reducing the percentage of these ingredients, but it remains significant, especially for young fish. Nonetheless the percentage of fish meal in the growout feeds is typically quite low (3-5%).

Anonymous said...

I agree that catfish is sustainable, but not clear as to what other food sources have been tried to help murture these fish.

Kate Wing said...

Wolfie is right -- these fish aren't strictly vegetarian with the finish feeds. I'd consider them non-vegan, per se, since farmed version can survive on very little animal protein. Wild stripers and catfish are much more opportunistic, of course. This is a relative scale of sustainability, and I still agree that these are some of the better choice for farmed fish, depending on the source.