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Editor's Note: Quit the legal wrangling

By Fiona Robinson, Editor in Chief
June 01, 2006

Vietnamese seafood exporters just can't get a break. Three years after tariffs were slapped on imported basa, the domestic industry again has its political gun pointed at Vietnam. But this time the catfish farmers didn't turn to the International Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce; they're relying on Florida's attorney general, who has filed a tax-evasion case against dealers in Florida who reportedly substituted less expensive basa for grouper (see Late News, page 3, and One Man's Opinion, page 22).

Catfish farmers and marketers have complained for years that the flood of basa imports encroaches on their market, and that the fish are mislabeled to skirt the tariff. The catfish industry, and every domestic fishery that has filed antidumping petitions or, in this case, a lawsuit, is fighting a losing battle.

Mislabeling product is wrong and does not instill confidence in the seafood industry. But the constant legal wrangling between domestic and imported seafood parties does nothing more than ensure fat paychecks for lawyers. Until a more rigid import-inspection system is put into place, there will always be some seafood company skirting tariffs with mislabeled product. Meanwhile, the domestic catfish industry should focus its time and energy increasing market share instead of quibbling about basa imports, because they're not going away.

Vietnam and other countries play an increasingly important role in the domestic seafood supply. This issue's Top Story, "China tips the scales," by Assistant Editor James Wright, is proof that Chinese seafood imports are not going to stop, despite tariffs. Buyers at large U.S. retail and restaurant chains want a consistent supply at a price that consumers will pay, and seafood from overseas, whether from China, India or another country, fits that bill.

It's time the Chinese and Vietnamese did more to market (and defend) their seafood products in the United States. Then restaurants and retailers might actually label the product for what it is instead of passing it off as a more expensive fish, and consumers would know what they're eating.

Until something is done to increase consumer awareness about imported product - like marketing species correctly with their origins - overseas industries such as Vietnamese basa sadly will continue to bear the brunt of legal and media attacks by domestic interests. These fights don't further the U.S. seafood industry's cause; history has shown consumers don't care where their seafood is from, as long as they can afford it.



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