Catfish Proves its Culinary Versatility, but Lands Company President in JailMay 22, 2009
By Ricardo Carvajal –
According to a DOJ press release, a federal judge has handed down a 63-month sentence to a seafood company president convicted of participating in a conspiracy to falsely label a certain type of fish from Vietnam to avoid paying federal tariffs. The tariffs had been imposed in 2003 after U.S. catfish farmers contended that the Vietnamese fish, known as swai or striped pangasius, were being imported and sold below market value. In this case, the importers avoided paying the tariffs by mislabeling the fish as one of several types of more expensive fish, including grouper, flounder, and sole. The investigation was conducted by agents from FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
This case marks just one twist in a long-running battle by domestic catfish farmers to ward off lower priced imports. In another twist, the 2008 Farm Bill transferred inspectional authority over catfish from FDA to USDA. Now USDA is considering whether to classify the Vietnamese pangasius as catfish, a seemingly innocuous issue that has significant implications for both sides and has generated some strong opinions.