The Case of the Catfish Cartel

Why Mississippi's catfish industry asked the government to regulate it more tightly


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When an industry demands that the government regulate it more strictly, you usually don't have to look very far to find a barely-hidden agenda. A case in point: The catfish industry has pushed through tighter controls on catfish, citing alleged health and safety concerns. (Summarizing quickly, the revised rules classify catfish—unlike other fish—as "meat" and subject it to stricter inspections.) Patrick Mustain, writing in Scientific American, reports that (a) the industry's health and safety arguments were weak, and (b) to the extent that those arguments had merit at all, they applied just as much to other sorts of seafood, yet the people pushing the regulations have had no interest in extending them beyond catfish.

"By now," Mustain concludes, "you've probably figured out that consumer safety is not in fact the likely inspiration for this rule." The actual target was farm-raised catfish from China, Vietnam, and Thailand. The businesses raising catfish in ponds in Mississippi have an easier time meeting the new requirements than the Asian exporters do, so the rules undercut the foreign competition.

But not just the foreign competition. As Mustain notes, the barriers also affect the trade in the Chesapeake Bay's blue catfish, which isn't farm-raised at all—it's caught in the wild. And that may have ill effects for the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, since the market for blue catfish helps keep the creature under control. The blue catfish is an invasive species that eats virtually everything and in turn is eaten by just one animal: us.

The whole piece is worth reading; to check it out, go here.