Channel catfish are one of the most economically valuable aquaculture species in the United States – with consumption steadily increasing over the last two decades. Catfish are primarily raised in the Gulf Coast states and southeastern US with the majority being raised in Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, and Louisiana.
While there is no national oversight agency for aquaculture in the US, management of US-based farms is considered to be strong and there are extensive regulations in place regarding predator controls, therapeutant use, and disease management. Permitting varies by state with numerous federal agencies providing some degree of oversight. These include:
- The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – which is responsible for coordinating national aquaculture policy and providing industry with research, information, and extension services;
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – which regulates waste discharge from aquaculture facilities;
- The Fisheries and Wildlife Service (FWS) – which regulates the introduction and transport of fish; and,
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine is responsible for approving and monitoring the use of drugs and medicated feeds used in the aquaculture industry.
The FDA is also authorized to detain a import product that appears to be out of compliance with US food safety laws. As part of its regulation of aquaculture imports, the FDA requires all producers exporting to the US use a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan. The HACCP plan identifies and defines proper management and monitoring systems to ensure that only safe products enter the market. If the owner of the import fails to submit evidence that their product is in compliance, or cannot bring the product into compliance, the FDA refuses admission of the product. Between November 2005 and June 2013 the FDA refused 99 shipments of channel catfish from China due to noncompliance and concerns regarding veterinary drug residue and unsafe food additives.
The EPA determines permitting standards for controlling effluent load from aquaculture facilities. These effluents are subject to control by the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) of the Clean Water Act – which only applies to concentrated aquatic-animal production (CAAP) facilities. Most US catfish farms do not fall under the designation of a CAAP and are therefore exempt from federal NPDES permitting. In most catfish production states there is no required permitting for effluent discharge, but most discharge is infrequent and only occurs during periods of excessive runoff. Additionally, US-based farmers implement several best management practices to help improve water quality and reduce environmental impacts.
The Chinese government has invested heavily in channel catfish aquaculture and is making efforts to comply with global standards for environmental protection and food safety. Despite new financial investments and legislation as well as inspecting, licensing, monitoring, and educational assistance initiatives, there are significant issues regarding management and regulatory enforcement of catfish farms in China particularly at the provincial and local levels.
Chinese water quality regulations and effluent management are established and addressed by a number of national aquaculture-related laws in China including:
- The Fisheries Law (2004) – which address the legal framework for wild and farmed fisheries;
- The Water Law (2002) – which regulates the development, utilization, allocation, and management of water resources;
- The Environmental Protection Law (1989) – which provides provisions on environmental impact assessment requirements; and,
- The Law on the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution (1984) – which works to prevent and control pollution of water bodies
In addition to these national laws, provinces and regions may establish their own water quality and effluent laws; however, monitoring, inspection, and enforcement of these laws is lacking and as such, most farmers have not taken measures to comply with these regulations. Under guidance of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Chinese Bureau of Fisheries coordinates aquaculture enforcement – with enforcement being carried out by the Fisheries Law Enforcement Command of China. These enforcement agencies are regionally fragmented and there is little available evidence of monitoring and compliance data. The Ministry of Agriculture is also responsible for the licensing of aquaculture facilities in China, but due to the rural and small-scale nature of catfish farms, it is challenging for the Ministry to license each farm.
Numerous Chinese government agencies are involved in enforcing food safety regulations and significant financial investment has been made to improve food and drug safety. Despite these efforts, policies and investments are not translating to regulatory action at the provincial and local levels. Enforcement efforts are considered to be ineffective and repercussions for breaches in these regulations are often minor and not implemented.