The other night I made a pretty good supper, if I do say so myself. I poached and then lightly fried up a couple of basa fillets I had purchased at the fish counter of a local grocery store. I plated them with a mango and chipotle sauce on a bed of basmati rice, with just a little steamed wild rice added (for a slightly nuttier flavour) along with some diced prawns that I seared in butter and sesame oil. I also made a salad of spring greens on the side with my own, special lime and avocado dressing. Sometimes I think I enjoy cooking food almost as much as I enjoy eating it.
I mention this particular meal, not to demonstrate my limited culinary skills, but rather because after the meal, I decided to go on the computer to learn a little more about basa fish. I learned a whole lot more than I wanted.
According to Wikipedia, the basa fish (Pangasius bocourti) is a type of catfish native to Southeast Asia. When cooked, its flesh has a mild taste similar to that of perch. It is farmed in great numbers in pens along the Mekong River system of Vietnam, as well as in China, Cambodia and Thailand.
About 90 per cent of basa imported to Canada comes from Vietnam fish farms where, I learned, the use of antibiotics that are now banned in Canada and the U.S. is widespread. One can only wonder what chemicals exist in their waters as a result of almost 20 years of war.
I also discovered on the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program website (oceanwise.ca) that eating farmed basa is not recommended because open-cage farming in Southeast Asia is associated with outbreaks of disease and infection among wild basa populations. They also state they have concerns about feed quality, farm operating standards and the biological impact of using wild stock for culturing.
I also learned that, since basa is not technically considered a catfish by our federal government, it is not held to the same inspection rules as catfish imported from the U.S. According to Ocean Wise statistics, less than two per cent of all imported seafood (shrimp, crab, catfish and/or others) gets inspected before it’s sold.
Needless to say, after reading all of this about basa fish, I wasn’t enjoying my meal nearly as much.
However, things got worse. The prawns I had put in the rice didn’t fare all that well either. Most of the shrimp available in stores are raised and imported from shrimp farms. Not only does shrimp farming bring about the destruction of huge expanses of tropical coastlines, large amounts of artificial feed and chemical additives, including chlorine, malathion, parathion and other virulent pesticides are used in the rearing of farmed shrimp. Then there is the whole E. coli bacteria thing which has also been linked to farmed shrimp.
At this point I was regretting not having ordered pizza.
Upon even more investigation, I learned that tilapia, the second-most cultivated fish in the world (according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada) is routinely sold as red snapper, farmed salmon as wild and premium species such as Atlantic cod are often swapped for cheaper, less desirable, but more readily available fish, all unbeknownst to the general consumer.
All I know for sure is that as much as I have always been a practitioner of catch and release, there is certainly something to be said for going out and catching a wild fish in one of the countless lakes, rivers or streams in our province, bringing it home and eating it. I haven’t had trout for a while. Maybe with a yogurt, orange and saffron sauce and…