|Basa fish, Pangasius bocourti|
|Basa fish in Vinh Long market, Vietnam|
The basa fish, Pangasius bocourti, is a species of catfish in the family Pangasiidae. Basa are native to the Mekong and Chao Phraya basins in Indochina. These fish are important food fish with an international market. They are often labeled in North America and Australia as "basa fish", "swai", or "bocourti". In the UK all species of Pangasius may legally be described as "river cobbler", "cobbler", "basa", "pangasius", "panga", or any of these with the addition of "catfish". In the rest of Europe, these fish are commonly marketed as "pangasius" or "panga". Other related shark catfish may occasionally be incorrectly labeled as basa fish, including P. hypophthalmus (iridescent shark) and P. pangasius (yellowtail catfish).
The body of a basa fish is stout and heavy. The rounded head is broader than it is long, with the blunt snout having a white band on its muzzle. This species grows to a length of 120 centimetres (47 in) SL.
Food and spawning
Basa fish feed on plants. They spawn at the onset of flood season and the young are first seen in June, averaging about 5 cm by mid-June.
"Catfish war" in the U.S.
In 2002, the United States accused Vietnam of dumping catfish, namely Pangasius bocourti and Pangasius hypophthalmus, on the American market, charging the Vietnamese importers, who are subsidized by Vietnam's government, of unfair competition. With pressures from the U.S. catfish industry, the United States Congress passed a law in 2003 preventing the imported fish from being labelled as catfish, as well as imposing additional tariffs on the imported fish. Under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruling, only species from the family Ictaluridae can be sold as true catfish. As a result, the Vietnamese exporters of this fish now label their products sold in the U.S. as basa fish or bocourti.
At the height of the "catfish war", U.S. catfish farmers and others were describing the imported catfish as an inferior product. However, Mississippi State University researchers found imported basa were preferred 3-to-1 to US catfish in a small (58 testers) blind taste test.
Environmental and health concerns
Several environmental organizations concerned with marine ecosystems have raised concerns about basa. OceanWise, an environmental organization associated with the Vancouver Aquarium has flagged farmed basa for its potential pollution of ecosystems and interference with wild species. It writes, "Open cage farming in Southeast Asia is associated with disease transfer to wild basa. There are also concerns about feed quality, farm operating standards and the biological impact of using wild stock for culturing." The Monterey Bay Aquarium, while having concerns, does not red-flag basa. Both groups cite USA farmed catfish as a more sustainable alternative.
Basa in the UK
Basa has become fairly common in the UK as "Vietnamese river cobbler", "river cobbler", or "basa". It is mainly sold by large supermarkets, in both fresh and frozen forms, as a cheaper alternative to popular white fish such as cod or haddock. Young's uses it in some of its frozen fish products, under the name basa.
UK Trading Standards officers said that cobbler was being fraudulently sold as cod by some fish and chip retailers to take advantage of the much lower price of cobbler, about half that of cod. This practice was highlighted by the successful prosecution of two retailers, using DNA evidence, in 2009 and 2010. Sometimes pangasius is described, legally, simply as fish, e.g. "fish and chips". There have been cases of serious allergic reactions by people, not generally allergic to fish, unknowingly eating pangasius.
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