Swai Fish: Insidious Scam In Fish Market

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Swai Fish

Swai Fish

Certain types of wild-caught fish are perfect for your health. Some seafood choices are great for building muscle and providing high amounts of healthy fats such as omega-3s. However, fish can be expensive, so consumers often choose to buy swai or cheaper options.

Swai fish is a popular choice due to its low cost. However, there are serious issues with this fish. Swai fish is only $2 per pound. However, it can be very costly when considering the potential health risks it could pose to your health.

You might be surprised to learn that factory-farmed swai are available for top dollar when you buy catfish, grouper, and sole.

You may be more cautious about choosing the types of fish you eat in the future after learning about the health and farming issues associated with swai.

What is Swai Fish?

Swai fish, a white fish with a mild taste and flaky texture, is known as a Swai fish. This freshwater fish is a species of catfish and is native to Vietnam. This fish is also known as the Vietnamese catfish, basa shark, and iridescent shark. However, it is neither a basa shark nor a type shark.

An identity crisis that swai fish experienced in the 2000s led to an abundance of names. It was still sold in the U.S. as “catfish” in the early 2000s.

A 2003 law was passed by Congress. It stated that only American catfish could have such a label. This led to a flood of names flooding the market. However, today the Vietnamese fish industry seems settled on swai.

The fish is not available in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. It is illegal to sell swai in these states where catfish farming is a major industry.

Nutrition Facts

The USDA states that a 4-ounce steak of swai contains approximately:

  • 70 calories
  • 15 grams of protein
  • 1.5 grams of fat
  • 350 mg sodium (variable)
  • 45 mg cholesterol

According to research at Purdue University, swai (or panagasius) contains 17 mg of EPA and DHA per 100 grams of fish.

The ingredients used to cook and coat swai filets can affect their nutrition, adding more fats, carbohydrates, and sodium.

Swai Fish is safe to eat?

Is it safe for swai fish to be eaten? The simple answer to this question is no. It is not due to the nutritional content but the way that swai are typically raised and fed.

There are two main reasons why you should never eat swai salmon:

  1. The presence of harmful microbes
  2. Use of antibiotics to treat sick fish
  3. The filthy water conditions
  4. Swai is constantly mislabeled

Health Violations and Lax Inspection Rules

While technically not considered catfish by the inspectors, Swai fish isn’t subject to strict inspection rules like other imported catfish.

This is a problem as antibiotics, which are prohibited in the U.S., are often found in fish products made from Vietnam along with bacteria such E.coli.

Although swai fish must still meet inspection requirements for the U.S. catfish trade, there are doubts that Asian issues such as polluted waters are being addressed.

Actually, nearly 26,000 pounds worth of swai filets sold in Aldi’s American stores in summer 2016 were recalled. The fish didn’t meet federal inspection requirements. It is quite remarkable that this fish was handled poorly. However, only 2 percent of imported seafood has been tested to determine any antibiotic residues.

One study showed that Vietnamese-imported fish like swai was the most health-related of all imported seafood in the U.S.

Widespread Antibiotics and Fish from Factory Farms

The biggest problem with swai fishing is its factory-farmed nature. Factory-farmed fish can have the same effects as factory-farmed meats.

Factory-farmed fish are often stressed. They are not happy to be in tight spaces. Yes, even your goldfish is disgusted. These fish are more susceptible to diseases if they become stressed, just like humans. How are factory-farmed fish managed for disease? Antibiotics are what you would have guessed if you were correct. We all know that you are what you eat.

Additionally, fish farms contain a lot of waste products that cannot be legally dumped in rivers. These fish farms contain a variety of chemicals, including anti-parasitic drugs and antibiotics as well as disinfectants. Concerns are also expressed about mercury levels in swai and other heavy metal residues.

Fish advocates who prefer factory-farmed fish argue that it is better to raise fish in farms than to capture wild populations. Factory fish such as swai must eat, and their diet consists mainly of fishmeal, small wild fish, GMO corn, and other grains.

The water is being dredged by large numbers of small fish to feed farmed fish. However, the wild population has less food to eat which perpetuates an unhealthy, fishy cycle.

Although there aren’t any studies done on farm-fished Swai, it is clear that farmed fish may not be the best choice for salmon and tilapia. It’s also clear that swai fish is in the same category.

Fraud and Fish Mislabeling

Swai is a cheap fish which is why many people choose to eat it. But did you know that Swai can be mislabeled and sold with more expensive fish such as catfish, sole, and grouper?

Oceana has released a report that shows that swai, also known as Asian catfish, was the most frequently substituted for fish of higher value.

Oceana’s global report on fish fraud included more than 200 sources. These included journal articles as well as public documents from government agencies. Except for one, all studies found seafood fraud. In 58 percent of the cases, substituted seafood was risky to consumers’ health.

Summary: Imported swai was found to have the highest number of health violations among all imported seafood in the U.S. It is likely that it is not being tested for antibiotic residue and is being factory farmed. This makes the fish more susceptible to illness and requires antibiotics.

Legal Aspect Of Swai Fish 

Three central Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement Agents were cited on Jan. 26 by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for supposedly selling catfish as swai fish.

Agents cited R.F (63), M.D (27), and M.R (39) for selling swai fish to their customers as catfish.

Agents were tipped off by a Tioga agent that both the Crazy Cajun restaurant and Rosie Joe’s in Alexandria were selling catfish as swai fish.

Agents visited both restaurants and discovered that catfish was on the menu. They also found swai fish in their freezers. These restaurant inspections led agents to M.D and R.F.

Agents were also informed that the same thing happens at Debarge’s Crawfish in Alexandria. They also cited Rhodes.

Swai fish can be sold as catfish, resulting in a $400-$950 fine or up to 120 days imprisonment.