Earlier this year I stumbled upon an interesting new choice of fish. My husband was recuperating from surgery and had to eat “light” but plenty. At the fish counter of one of the supermarkets I shop at, Ι was picking out some small Spanish fished cod fish (whole) when I discovered this beautiful filleted fish. Nothing but hand sized filets, the lady at the counter told me that it is called Pangasius and that it was very tasty, she did not know its origin and it was fresh, she said. So I decided to buy a kilo for my kids as well, who like me, are not particularly keen on picking little bones out of their mouths. The kilo was less than 7 Euros, compared to some of the other choices – a steal.
You may ask yourself, as I have asked myself many times, living in Greece and in such close vicinity of the sea, with the opportunity to shop for fish, right off the boat, or in all seaside suburbs little fish markets in the harbors and the many fishmonger shops we have all around us, WHY do I buy my fish at the supermarket???
Well, there is the cost. For a country on the sea, with thousands of fishing boats and a long history of fishing, to this day, some 30 odd years of living here, I can not really grasp why fish should be so expensive – year round. I can understand, that in the winter months with more storms and bad weather, the fishing boats don’t leave the harbors as much, but you can never find cheap fish anywhere, unless you go to the supermarkets. Unless you buy straight from the boat, it most likely comes from the main fish market, so the supermarket buys quantities and thus is able to sell cheaper. Quite honestly, I think most fish sold locally, isn’t even fished local anymore, but is imported, mostly semi frozen and then receives a new “identity”. Fished local and fresh, so reads the the little slate next to which ever variety you are looking at. That is the fishy story Part 1.
Getting back to this great filet of Pangasius, which I fried up at home dusted with a little flower,a bit like cod or sole, it was a hit. Kids loved it and requested it to be on the weekly menu. I figured, fish?? Why not, it’s healthy and a good change from meat and chicken. I started to cook the fish more often, whenever I would find it at the fish counter and even found a frozen type, which was even cheaper, less than 5 Euros per kilo. I thought: Win Win
About 6 weeks after I first noticed this fish and started talking about it, my Mom was the first person to tell me something which raised the first flags. Apparently, she had seen a documentary on Deutsche Welle T.V., where a reporter went to Vietnam to investigate, how this fish is farmed. So, country of origin: Vietnam. (I do not have a problem with that) But she told me, LOOK for the documentary and WATCH it…Well, to cut the long version short, Pangasius is farmed in very unhygienic circumstances, they are thousands raised in one little pond and given tons of antibiotics and other chemicals to grow (and only God knows what is in their feed), fast and by the time they are ready for “harvest” the ponds are ALIVE, you can barely make out the water. The water by the way comes from the Mekong River Delta and the ponds are filled and drained in a cycle….meaning all their waste and the remnants of the chemicals are flushed into the river, where just down the stream, people brush their teeth and take baths in this Yuck. Oh, I forgot to mention, there are thousands of these fish farms along the shores of the Mekong River….appetizing???? When the fish have reached their perfect size, they are put into cages, carried onto little river boats and dumped into the bow, thousands of fish with a dash of water, all of them fighting and flapping about for that little bit of water for their oxygen….Bottom line of this story, unless you buy organically farmed Pangasius, you get everything from cruelty to animals, free doses of unidentified and unchecked chemicals to additives for the frozen stuff. The fish is semi frozen in containers and shipped around the world by airplane or container ships.
Here are just some facts:
Globally, Vietnamese pangasius has found a solid niche as a value-priced whitefish. In 2010 Vietnam exported 659,000 metric tons of pangasius worth US $1.43 billion to 140 markets worldwide (Source: VASEP). The leading markets are European Union (35.8%), United States (12.4%), and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries (5.5%). While the EU is the leading pangasius market, the United States is the leading import country with 49,000 metric tons imported in 2010, worth US $176 million. Pangasius now ranks tenth in per capita seafood consumption in the United StatesIn 2010, Pangasius export amounted to 117,080MT, totaling US$299.2 million, up 29.9 percent in volume and 32.8 percent in value year-on-year.
Accordingly, price of trimmed and untrimmed Pangasius fillet shipped abroad (except US) were fixed at US$3.3/kilo and US$2.3/kilo, respectively.
Currently, Pangasius is sold at VND23,000-23,500/kilo, bringing profits to farmers.
The Vietnamese Dong is the currency of Viet Nam.
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