The New Reality of USDA Catfish Regulations


Not since April 30, 2014, when the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) obtained primary regulatory oversight for catfish and catfish products from the Food and Drug Administration, there has been victory towers.

Domestic catfish breeders wanted USDA inspection to be a strategy against their foreign competitors. But prices and production of domestic catfish did not improve with the change. And catfish imports into the United States increased by an additional 65,000 tonnes in 2019 compared to 2015, the year after the MoU was signed.

This FSIS-FDA memorandum of understanding is 7 years old, and the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills decrees to transfer catfish inspections to FSIS from the FDA are now a reality.

The FDA no longer inspects, samples, or analyzes catfish or siluriform products, but exercises regulatory oversight over all other fish and fishery products.

The USDA never won this round of victory for removing the FDA’s catfish inspection, but FSIS features National Catfish Month on its website in August, making the following points :

  • Mississippi produces 55 percent of the American catfish.
  • Scientifically referred to as Siluriformes, catfish go through food safety inspections by FSIS. This provides information and resources to producers and agricultural businesses to help them comply with regulations set by the federal government.
  • Overall, wild-caught, farm-raised Siluriformes fish are harvested and sold for human consumption in the United States.
  • Through the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills, FSIS also inspects siluriforms, including catfish, under the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
  • FSIS enforces the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act and the Egg Products Inspection Act, which require federal inspection and regulation of meat, poultry and processed egg products prepared for distribution in commerce and intended for human consumption.

Congress has almost changed its mind about which agency should regulate catfish. Catfish regulations have been called one of the “most egregious examples of government waste” and duplication. The late Senator John Mccain, R-AZ, opposed FSIS’s regulation of catfish.

However, the shift in catfish regulation to FSIS prevailed, in large part due to persistent lobbying from the Catfish Farmers of America, based in Indianola, MS. The National Farm Group for Catfish Breeders remains close to the Gulf States Congress delegation.

Catfish production is now monitored by the USDA. As of July 31, 2021, three central producing states, Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi, were using 53,200 acres of water surface for catfish production. This is about 3% less than a year ago.

Which fish are now under FSIS jurisdiction?
FSIS has jurisdiction over all wild caught, farm raised siluriform fish that are harvested and sold for human consumption in the United States. This includes siluriform fish and fishery products imported into the United States.

The following table * lists some of the most commonly traded siluriform fishes in the United States. Please note that this list is not exhaustive. Since common names of fish can vary, reference the scientific name to determine if the product is in the order Siluriformes.

SILURIFORMS * Ictaluridae Blue catfish or catfish Ictalurus furcatus
Channel catfish or catfish Ictalurus punctatus
White catfish or catfish Ameiurus catus
Black bullhead or bullhead or catfish Ameiurus melas
Yellow bullhead or bullhead or catfish Ameiurus natalis
Brown bullhead or bullhead or catfish Ameiurus nebulosus
Flat bullhead or bullhead or catfish Ameiurus platycephalus
Clariidae White-spotted fish or Chinese fish Clarias fuscus
Sharp-toothed Clarias fish Clarias gariepinus
Large-headed Clarias fish Microcephalic Clarias
Clarias fish walking Clarias batrachus
Pangasius Swai or Sutchi or Striped Pangasius or Tra Pangasianodon hypophthalmus
Basa Pangasius bocourti
Giant Pangasius of the Mekong Pangasius gigas
Giant pangasius Pangasius sanitwongsei
* This table is not inclusive. See also the “Guidance for Industry: The Seafood List – FDA’s Guide to Acceptable Market Names for Seafood Vended in Interstate Commerce” and the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (SITI) for the appropriate common or common names.

Are the “eggs” (eggs) and “mouth” (air jackets) of Siluriformes fish subject to the final rule?
Yes, the requirements of the Final Rule apply to the production of Siluriform fish parts other than skeletal muscle, including “eggs” and “mouth”, which must be sold for human consumption.

What activities require an FSIS inspection?
As a general rule, under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and its regulations, any establishment preparing fish or siluriform fishery products for the wholesale market is required to operate under the FSIS inspection. Retail businesses that prepare fish and fish products for sale to the end consumer are exempt from inspection requirements.

For a multi-ingredient product, how much of the Siluriformes fish in the product would make it a product under FSIS jurisdiction?
As a general rule, a product containing more than one ingredient falls under the jurisdiction of FSIS and is subject to its inspection if the product contains at least 3 percent raw fish or at least 2 percent cooked Siluriformes fish and is not otherwise exempt. inspection (see 9 CFR § 532.5 and 532.3, respectively).

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