In recent days there has been a great deal of speculation as to whether or not the seafood fisheries of the Gulf Coast will have been so damaged by the British Petroleum oil split as to limit, or entirely cutoff the supply of fish from this area, for the American dinner table.
On Monday, the New York Times (Robertson 2010) reported that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were restricting fishing in waters from the mouth of the Mississippi River in New Orleans to Pensacola Bay in Florida and taking samples of seafood to ensure food safety.
While there is some very recent analysis that suggests that the situation is being exaggerated (Broder & Zeller 2010), there have certainly been many cases in the past when seafood of various types has been quarantined or subjected to special testing following contamination with petroleum from off-shore platforms, oil tankers, or even simply residue discharges from inefficient diesel engines that drove naval or merchant marine traffic (Chesler, Gump, Hert, May & Wise 1987, Moon, Kim, Choi & Choi 2010, Isigigur, Hera & Ackman 1996, Kannpan, Jasmine, Jeyachandran & Tamilselvi 1996, Khan Al-Ghais & Al-Marri 1995, and many other listed below), including some from previous Gulf oil spills (Krahn, Ylitalo, Buzitis et al, 1993).
In addition to the health concerns of consumers, there is understandable empathy for the people in the Southern US who will be losing much of their income at a time when there is a generalized recession. Particularly likely to be disrupted are the economies of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, those states closest to the spill.
But, there may be a biology-based answer that helps the situation of both those concerned for safe seafood and for the economies of the affected states of the South: US farm-raised channel catfish.
US farm-raised channel catfish is overwhelmingly aquacultured in four states: Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
This industry provides the consumer with rather reasonably priced finfish that is grown with extraordinary attention to producing “unfishy”, “non-muddy” tasting, exceptionally high-quality-protein-containing, virtually zero contaminant, food for the table, all the while supporting a domestic industry that has been hammered by the dumping of typically underpriced, often uninspected, misleadingly labeled as “Cajun, ” and not in a few cases seriously contaminated, imported aquacultured fish on the US market (Greenberg 2008).
Part of the excellent record of US farm-raised channel catfish for food safety and fresh taste doubtless has to do with the fact that it is about the freshest seafood one can have. It is only about 30 minutes between when the catfish is shipped live in an aerated tanker truck to when it is a fillet resting on ice or individually flash frozen in a processing plant operating under USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) guidelines (Hargeaves & Tucker 2004), something the aquaculture of very few other countries is likely to be able to match at this time.
Unlike what is often the case with foreign raised catfish relatives like “tra” from Vietnam, or genuine channel catfish from the Peoples Republic of China, US farm-raised channel catfish are generally raised in specially constructed artificial pods, typically filled with clean well water that largely stays that way owing to the extremely low amounts of nitrate, phosphates, and ammonia emanating from the catfish. Environmental dumping of strongly odorous and polluting water, or the growing of the fish in murky or polluted water in the first place, is simply not the standard procedure for US farm-raised channel catfish farming today, the way it is many other countries and with other varieties of fish.
Likewise captive breeding and growing out within the confines of these man-made ponds eliminates the problems of spreading infestations of parasites, like sea lice, to bystander populations of other wild fish, caused by the heavy concentrations of captive fish being raised in underwater cages or pens in open waters (Peeler & Murray 2004).
Furthermore, in US farm-raised channel catfish operations there is no large-sale savaging of the world-wide population of smaller wild caught fish which are caught to be ground up into meal for farm-raised salmon or shrimp (Naylor, Goldburg, Primavera et al 2001). US farm-raised catfish feed is 98% plant product based. US farmed-raised channel catfish are incredibly efficient at turning this largely corn and soy ration into protein: With three times the efficiency of chickens and five times that of beef cattle (Ambardekar & Reigh 2007).
It is rare when an American agribusiness sector receives kudos for its environmentally friendly and humane animal handling from both academia and non-governmental advocacy agencies, but such is the case for this industry when compared to its foreign competitors (Claiborne 2010) . The Audubon Society, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Food & Water Watch have joined together with the leading trade association for US farm-raised channel catfish, the Catfish institute, www.uscatfish.com , in pointing out aquaculture abuses and calling for action.
For more detail, consult the upcoming issue of the Journal of Food & Agricultural Information where I will be profiling this commodity.
Tony Stankus, FSLA email@example.com Professor, Life Sciences Librarian & Science Coordinator
University of Arkansas Libraries MULN 223 E
365 North McIlroy Avenue
Fayetteville AR 72701-4002
Ambardekar, A.A. & R.C. Reigh. (2007). Sources and utilization of amino acids in channel catfish diets: A review. North American Journal of Aquaculture 69 (2): 174-179.
Broder, J.M. & T. Zeller, Jr. (2010). Bad, but how bad? New York Times CLIX (55030): A1, A17.
Chesler, S. N., B. H. Gump, H. S. Hertz, W. E. May, and S. A. Wise. (1978). Determination of trace level hydrocarbons in marine biota. Analytical Chemistry 50, (6) (01/01): 805-10.
Claiborne, R.C. (2010). Farming fish. New York Times CLIX (55009): p.2
Greenberg, P. A catfish by any other name. . New York Times Magazine (October 12, 2008) Section MM, p. 72 https://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/magazine/12catfish-t.html
Hargreaves, J.A. & C.S. Tucker. (2004). Biology and culture of channel catfish. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Hyo-Bang Moon, Hye-Seon Kim, Minkyu Choi, and Hee-Gu Choi. 2010. Intake and potential health risk of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons associated with seafood consumption in Korea from 2005 to 2007. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 58, (1) (01/01): 214-21.
Isigigur, A., H. Heras, and R. G. Ackman. 1996. An improved method for the recovery of petroleum hydrocarbons from fish muscle tissue. Food Chemistry 57, (3) (01/01): 457-62.
Kannappan, S., G. I. Jasmine, P. Jeyachandran, and A. Tamilselvi. 1999. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons in fresh marine fin and shell fishes. Journal of Food Science and Technology, India 36, (5) (01/01): 472-4.
Khan, M. A. Q., S. Al-Ghais, and S. Al-Marri. 1995. Petroleum hydrocarbons in fish from the Arabian Gulf. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 29, (4) (01/01): 517-22.
Krahn, M. M., G. M. Ylitalo, J. Buzitis, J. L. Bolton, C. A. Wigren, Sin-Lam Chan, and U. Varanasi. 1993. Analyses for petroleum-related contaminants in marine fish and sediments following the Gulf oil spill. Marine Pollution Bulletin 27, (01/01): 285-92.
Naylor, R.L., R.J. Goldburg, J.Primavera, N. Kautsky, M.C.. Beveridge et al. (2001). Effects of aquaculture on world fish supplies. Issues in Ecology , no. 8.
Nemoto, S., S. Takatsuki, R. Matsuda, K. Sasaki, and M. Toyoda. 1998. Analyses for petroleum-related contaminants in seafoods by GC/MS (SIM). Journal of the Food Hygienic Society of Japan 39, (1) (01/01): 31-8.
Norena-Barroso, E., G. Gold-Bouchot, O. Zapata-Perez, and J. L. Sericano. 1999. Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons in American oysters Crassostrea virginica from the Terminos Lagoon, Campeche, Mexico. Marine Pollution Bulletin 38, (8) (01/01): 637-45.
Peeler, E.J. & A.G. Murray. (2004). Disease interactions between farmed and wild fish populations. Journal of Fish Biology 65 (supplement 1): 321-322.
Perugini, M., P. Visciano, M. Manera, G. Turno, A. Lucisano, and M. Amorena. 2007. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in marine organisms from the Gulf of Naples, Tyrrhenian Sea. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 55, (5) (01/01): 2049-54.
Robertson, C. (2010). Safety fears halt fishing in Gulf areas affected by spill. New York Times CLIX (55029): A15.
Sammut, M., and G. Nickless. 1978. Petroleum hydrocarbons in marine sediments and animals from the island of Malta. Environmental Pollution 16, (1) (01/01): 17-30.
Sobrado, C., M. C. Quintela, J. C. Gonzalez, and J. M. Vieites. 2004. Determination of heavy polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in fishery products. Journal of Aquatic Food Product Technology 13, (3) (01/01): 93-102.