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Who Wants Some Iridescent Shark?

That thing doesn't fit in my aquarium!
That thing doesn’t fit in my aquarium!

Sustainable seafood has become an increasingly important issue for restaurateurs as the green restaurant movement gains ground.  This is coupled with increasing evidence that the world’s wild caught seafood supply is in serious decline.

The result has been a renewed search for fish species that have the quality and taste characteristics worthy of center-of-plate presentation but can be farm raised in a sustainable manner.

Striped Pangasius, or Iridescent Shark,  is a type of catfish native to the tropical waters of Vietnam and Thailand.  Its hardy nature and delicious, flaky white meat has made it a favored source of food in Asia, Canada, and Europe.

The shark name originates from aquarium enthusiasts who keep young Pangasius in household tanks.  The young have an iridescent color that is lost as Pangasius grows older.  Full grown Pangasius in the wild can weigh as much as 97 pounds and grow to 4 feet in length.

Pangasius can tolerate low oxygen levels and high school concentrations.  They are very easy to farm (compared to tilapia or bangus) and disease resistant.  These characteristics also make it cheaper to buy than Tilapia, Cod, or Sole, yet the filets are of comparable quality.

Fishery Products International (FPI) recently announced they would begin to import Pangasius from Southeast Asia for sale in the U.S.  The fish is farm raised in Vietnam using sustainable practices overseen by the Vietnamese Ministry of Fisheries and a separate quality assurance group run by FPI.

Farm raised fish do have an environmental impact, especially concerning water usage and contamination, but in general that impact is far less than the further depletion of  wild fish populations through overfishing.

For years catfish farms in the U.S. resisted the importation of Pangasius because it competes directly with them in supplying the food industry.  In 2002, an Arkansas senator even sponsored legislation restricting the catfish name to fish grown in the United States.

No matter what you call it, Pangasius’ attractiveness comes from cheaper prices for a virtually identical product, and the volume in which it can be produced far exceeds the capabilities of the American catfish industry.

Chefs across the country have responded positively to Pangasius, especially after price comparisons show it is a great product for the price.  Look for the tropical catfish to start showing up on menus near you very soon.

About Greg McGuire

Greg has blogged about the food service industry for years and has been published in industry magazines, like Independent Restaurateur and industry blogs like Restaurant SmartBrief. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two sons and enjoys reading, live music, and the great outdoors.

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  1. I read where the Pangasius Fish came from poisened waters in Veitnaum
    and were un eatable. but because of their cheap price people and instutions
    in America were buying them and serving them to people to eat. I am one of such a person. I thought it was a delicious fish, and wanted to know what the name was, then lookrd it up on my computer. Now I am afraid to eat it. I live
    in a Retirement Home for the Aged. Now tell me the truth, is this fish safe to eat or not?? The Home said it was a Striped Pangasius Fish. It was raised in a pond (they know not where) and it was USDA inspected (so they
    are told) and it is safe to eat. What I have read they all come from the river in Vietnam which is the most corrupt and poisnious river in the world. Please give me your ideas about this Fish as if it is safe or not.
    Thank You
    JoAnn V.

    • Hi JoAnn,

      I am not nearly qualified enough to accurately judge the quality of the fish served where you live. And I think that tainted fish has been imported in the past from Vietnam. However, I think if fish today is certified by the USDA it is in most cases safe. Keep in mind that is only my unqualified opinion. If you’re concerned about the fish you were served, I would find out who the distributor is and look up their certifications online.

  2. Trader Joes sells ‘striped pangassius’ (or Pangasius?) as “Orange Ruffy” its labeled as a freshwater farmed fish.

  3. Trader Joe’s does NOT sell pangasius as “orange ruffy.” White Ruffy is the BRAND NAME of the company whose pangasius the company sells. The fish is grown by witches and injected with the fetuses of orphaned seals, or so you would think after reading the ridiculous fear-mongering on the Internet. Much of the scare is orchestrated by fish mongers who want to ward of competitors.

    • Still Nicolas, you can see where that would be a little misleading if a product says WHITE RUFFY Brand Pangasius. How many customers read past the words White Ruffy?

  4. I’ve had this catfish before under the name, “Swai”. It was grilled deliciousness. Thick, white and flakey filets that held the smoke flavor well. I had it again just recently at a restaurant. They called it Pangus(How it was written on the menu). I called it fried deliciousness. I had no idea that this Pangus fish was a catfish or that it was freshwater because the restaurant served it on a seafood platter. For that I was kind of sore. It is false advertising, in a way. But, remembering just how tasty the fish was made me forget about that.
    It’s interesting that had I known where this catfish comes from beforehand, I may not have ordered it. I just figured Pangus was just a local name for some obscure, deep-sea species like John Dory or Tilefish and not a catfish commercially raised in Asia.
    By the way, the Pangasius(Pangus) is also the same cute little Irridescent Catfish that can be found at pet stores everywhere.

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