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.