About 75% of catfish consumed in the U.S. is imported. Those imports will now be regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under rules just announced that go into effect in March of next year. The USDA has spent $20 million to implement the program and take over responsibility for catfish import oversight from the Food and Drug Administration. The USDA expects to spend $14 million per year to implement the new catfish inspection regime, at least 20 times what the FDA had been spending.
Critics of the new program say the program not only represents wasteful spending, but invites retaliation against U.S. fisheries that are more competitive in the global markets.
The new rules were mandated by Congress in 2008 despite opposition from the Obama administration. Domestic production of catfish has fallen about 60% since its peak about a decade ago, with 20% of U.S. catfish farming operations closing in just the last few years. While there is no question imports have impacted domestic production of catfish, exporters of cod and other northeast varieties of fish are worried that retaliation will spoil their business, on which many American fishermen rely. The new inspections may immediately spawn a challenge at the World Trade Organization, and even if that challenge is unsuccessful, affected countries could institute copycat measures which could hurt the consumption of fish sourced from the United States.