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Catfish impersonating pricier catch
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Let’s just suppose that someone took a buffalo calf from Montana and relocated it to Texas. Would that give us the right to sell it as a cow? What a stupid question, you may say. Well that’s what’s happening in the fishing industry.
The fishing industry trades recently are full of stories lately about Vietnamese catfish turning up with all kinds of inaccurate labels. These catfish go by several different names — primarily pangasius, basa and swia.
Now don’t get me wrong — they are tasty little critters when paired with fries and tartar sauce and served by a little beauty in a miniskirt, but don’t charge me for a Harley Davidson when you’re selling me a Schwinn.
I was just in the Tampa Bay area and I saw where the “grouper patrol” is going into restaurants and ordering grouper sandwiches or dinners and if they are served anything other than grouper, the patrollers fine the restaurant an exorbitant amount of money. The second offense is even more drastic and the third means a suspension of the restaurant’s license.
The shrimping industry finally got a grip on marketing “wild” shrimp, so I think it’s about time we worked on the counterfeit fish scam.
Not to be picky, but when I have to pay $15 for what I’m told is grouper, I don’t want a $1.50 pond-raised, Vietnamese mullet — i.e. swia. I want a fish that swam in the Atlantic Ocean and is fluent in Grouperese.
While dining recently at a very upscale eatery on St. Simons Island, I ordered a grouper dinner. The waiter told me the restaurant was out of grouper, but the catch of the day was tilapia, which could be prepared any way I liked — fried, blackened, broiled or scaled with a weed eater and slung against the wall.
Let’s get some things straight. First of all, one doesn’t “catch” a tilapia. You drain a pond and scoop ’em up with a snow shovel. I told the waiter that I’d just as soon eat squirrel if I could be assured that it was, in fact, real squirrel and not marsh rat.
Second, tilapia is not even native to this country — or continent, for that matter. It was brought here to control unwanted growth in ponds and lakes and soon got out of hand — kind of like kudzu.
Third, tilapia will eat anything that sinks to the bottom of the pond — including fish poop. The waiter looked at me like I had something green on my lip.
Now everyone who knows me knows that I don’t often rock the boat, but to any restaurant owner who happens to read my non-Pulitzer-prize-winning column, please don’t pee on my head and tell me it’s raining. If I order a steak, assume that I mean cow. If I order a chop, assume that I mean hog. And last but certainly not least, if I order the Vietnamese blue-plate special, assume that I mean cat. Yum, yum, good — tastes just like chicken.

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