Monday, July 11, 2016

So You Turn Up Your Nose at Catfish, Eh?

Aeon to sell catfish that tastes like eel

Eel is served on a bowl of rice. Major retailer Aeon Co. will start selling catfish that tastes like eel late this month. | ISTOCK
The Japan Times  JIJI  Jul 11, 2016 

Retail giant Aeon Co. will start selling catfish that tastes like eel later this month, according to informed sources.

The catfish, developed by Kinki University as a substitute for Japanese eel, will be sold after it has been grilled. The move will come ahead of July 30, or the Day of the Ox, which has become a traditional day in Japan to eat eel.

The Japanese eel is now threatened with extinction.

A team led by Masahiko Ariji, a professor at Kinki University, which is known as a pioneer of aquaculture for bluefin tuna, initiated the project involving the eel-flavored catfish to meet the demand for grilled eel.

Last year the group succeeded in developing the special catfish after efforts to remove the muddy aroma peculiar to catfish.

At a past sales test by the university, most consumers gave favorable marks to the taste of the newly developed catfish, according to the sources.

Due to a limited supply, the special catfish is expected to be available at a limited number of Aeon outlets.

Kinki University has plans for mass production of the special catfish.
The Japanese Eel


The Japanese eel, Anguilla japonica, is one of 19 species in the freshwater eel family Anguillidae (all in genus Anguilla).  Despite their common name anguilid eels don’t spend their whole lives in fresh water, they have a unique catadromous lifecycle in which they travel thousands of miles from inland water bodies, sometimes crawling over land at night, then swimming to far-out, restricted oceanic spawning spots (Tsukamoto 2006).  The larvae hatch at sea and return to shallow waters where they metamorphose into the glass eel larval stage and travel in schools to freshwater inland rivers, lakes, streams and estuaries where they complete their development.

  The Japanese eel is native to the area from Japan to the East China Sea, Taiwan, Korea, China and northern Philippines.  It is snake-like, with small scales, uniform brown coloration and coated with mucus.  A carnivore, it feeds on benthic crustaceans, insects and fish, and grows to a maximum length of 150 cm (5 ft.) although more typically found at about 40 cm (16 in.; Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN 2013a, b; Froese and Pauly 2013).

Extremely popular in Asian cuisine, especially smoked and used in sushi (unagi), the Japanese eel is said to be the most expensive fish in Japan (Froese and Pauly 2011).  Japanese eels have long been farmed, however the aquaculture industry is dependent on culturing glass eel stage larvae captured in the wild; breeding in captivity has not been successful.  Currently demand for Japanese eel exceeds availability, and population levels have declined dramatically, to the extent that Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch and Greenpeace International have declared the Japanese eel unsustainable (Greenpeace 2013; Halpin 2007).  There is worry that there may be too few fish left to successfully reproduce (FAO fisheries 2013).  

Furthermore, aquaculture practices have significant problems that make the industry questionable.  The IUCN is currently assessing the vulnerability status of A. japonica (Kanda and Sadakuni 2013).  Market pressure for unagi has extended to other Anguilla species, especially the European eel (A. anguilla) which is now critically endangered (Freyhof and Kottelat 2010) and the American eel (A. rostrata) which is declining and its status under assessment (Shepard 2011).

The spawning site of Anguilla japonica adults has only recently been discovered as happening during new moons around several open ocean seamounts just west of the Mariana Islands at depths of 150-200 m (500-650 feet).  The location of their spawning site is crucial to positioning the larvae in the Kuroshio current, the mechanism whereby the larvae can return to their appropriate continental freshwater habitats.  These findings are a culmination of 50 years research on larval hatch dates and appearances; understanding the spawning behavior of A. japonica is clearly important in helping to protect their migrations from disruption (Tsukamoto 2011; Froese and Pauly 2011).

Oh, and for those of you who care about such things: eel is traif (non-kosher). See list HERE

And from

All-American catfish may not be easy to find. As many as one-third of U.S. catfish farmers recently went out of business because of the high cost of soy and corn. This may one reason that two of my favorite markets didn’t carry catfish at all. It could also be a perceived stigma: Many diners turn their nose up at lowly bottom feeders, and catfish has the reputation for being the poor man’s fish. 

One of my friends who is a fishmonger at a high-end grocery explained, “People here just don’t want it. It has pretty much been replaced by tilapia.”

(Catfish farmed in Asia often has various contaminants from malachite green to antibiotics.)


Other folks praise its flavor as mild or even sweet. I recently broiled some U.S. farm-raised fillets with a little butter and served them with a simple squeeze of lime. They were terrific and so mild that my friend Kim described them chicken-like. “So un-fishy,” she said with disbelief. “My kids would eat this.”

• At Price Chopper I paid $5.99 per pound for the aforementioned fillets; farmed salmon was $9.99 per pound. Evidently pesticides, sea lice and antibiotics cost extra.

• Safety standards for U.S.-grown catfish are high and catfish farmers are pushing for ever more rigorous regulation. By contrast, there are currently no international safety standards for fish, hence the nasty stuff sometimes found in Asian imports. And few imports are inspected. (See my admonition above to read the label!)

• It’s American, goddamnit. (I’m in a protectionist mood these days.) In addition to racking up fewer food miles, eating this native fish keeps American farmers in business.

• Unlike farmed salmon, catfish farmed here are freshwater fish and therefore raised in self-contained inland ponds, which means they are not very likely to escape into the sea and overtake other fish populations. These self contained pens also pose little risk to the surrounding environment (unlike open-ocean pens used for salmon). This is why green groups such as the National Audubon Society, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Environmental Defense endorse U.S. catfish as a safe environmental choice.

• Unlike salmon, catfish are vegetarians and fed vegetarian feed, as opposed to the wild-caught fish that salmon are fed.

• You can eat it every day! Because American catfish are not raised in coastal environments and kept in clean aerated pens that use well water and fed vegetarian feed they are very low in contaminants such as mercury. (Vietnamese catfish on the other hand are farmed using river water that may contain all manner of pollutants, including human excrement.) Antibiotics are seldom issued to US Farm-Raised catfish and hormones are never used.

• Eating bottom feeders is cool. Eating lower on the food chain gives our depleted fish stocks a chance to recover and reduces our chances of ingesting heavy metals and poisons often found in many predatory fish. It’s also worth noting that stigmas can be reversed: At one point in our nation’s history lobster was considered too déclassé to eat; people fed it to pigs (man, can you imagine how awesome that bacon must have tasted?). U.S. farm-raised premium catfish fillets (which are thicker) may get an anti-stigma boost through a new name: Look for it in 2010 as “Delacata.” (Hey, it worked for Orange Roughy, which used to be Slime Head. Take notes, crappie!)

Bottom line: Pass the hot sauce and enjoy U.S. farm-raised catfish whenever you can get it. If you can’t find it, ask your fishmonger or grocery store to order it. Because you mentioned that you like to eat a variety of fish, here’s two of my favorite tools that make choosing sustainable and healthy seafood easier: A seafood watch list that can be tucked into your wallet or downloaded to your cell phone and an online mercury calculator.

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