The source of the fish served in the Luther College cafeteria is anything but a mystery.
Some students and professors have complained about where the Basa fillets, one of the dishes served in the cafeteria, originate.
But Connie Korol, the food service manager at Luther College, said she researched the fish before bringing it to the school cafeteria and has made the dish at home.
“You can go on the Internet and get all sorts of opinions, even (with) farmed salmon you get varying opinions on that as well,” she said. “I guess a person has to make a decision and go with that then. I didn’t know really what else to do. I had to make some sort of choice for these guys here.”
The fresh-water catfish, also known as pangasius, is farmed in the Mekong River which runs through Cambodia and Vietnam and the Chao Phraya River system which runs through Thailand.
The concern lies in how the fish are raised.
According to the Pangasius Seafood Report published in 2007 on seachoice.org, aquaculture methods for the river catfish use more ponds than cage cultures on fish farms in areas like Thailand and Vietnam.
If a fish is farmed in a pond culture, the fish are fed homemade feeds and natural feeds and kept in self-contained environments, keeping bacteria in the environment with other fish.
If a fish is farmed in a cage culture, cages are placed in natural bodies of water and allow water to flow through the area. This culture also allows bacteria to flow into the natural body of water.
Fish farmed in these cultures are also fed homemade feeds. These homemade feeds often include “trash fish,” which include a number of species of fish and invertebrates. Trash fish is also used as fish sauce, fish flesh, livestock feed and aquaculture feed.
While the way the fish is raised may be questionable, a fish can be determined to be good or healthy by the way it smells, according to consumer tips on seachoice.org.
“Personally, I like the taste of it too,” said Korol. “It doesn’t taste muddy; it’s a nice, clean-tasting fish.”
Basa fish is one of the most inexpensive fishes. At Pacific Fresh Fish, one of Luther College’s suppliers, the freshwater fish goes for $6.99 per pound.
"We try to buy a once-frozen Canadian product: fish that’s been caught in Canada, processed in Canada and if frozen, of course frozen and shipped to us,” said Ted Pratt, manager of Pacific Fresh Fish.
While the Basa fish is farmed in Thailand and Vietnam, Pratt said the fish the store supplies follows the Seafood Watch – a guide to West Coast Sustainable Seafood. There are three lists seafood is categorized under.
Ninety to 95 per cent of the fish supplied in Pacific Fresh Fish is listed on the ‘Best Choices’ list, said Pratt.
According to the guide, “Best Choice seafood is well managed, abundant, and caught or farmed in environmentally sustainable ways.” Seafood under the 'Good Alternatives' section suggests that there “may be concerns as to how they’re caught or farmed” or if their environment is endangered due to humans. Seafood on the ‘Avoid’ list comes from farmed or wild sources with problems such as habitat damage, low populations, poor management and critical impact on other species.
Basa fish is listed as a 'Good Alternative' on seachoice.org, meaning there may be concerns about how they’re farmed but it isn’t considered a product to avoid.
Pratt said the store only supplies one type of tuna – Ahi tuna - due to the high demand of the fish in sushi restaurants.
“We don’t carry certain fish anymore such as the Chilean sea bass, or shark,” he said. “We avoid (shark) because of the over fishing … and even the illegal fishing of shark.”
As for those who don’t like the Basa fish, Korol said it’s a matter of opinion.
“Everyone has a personal preference. If they choose to eat it, that’s their choice,” she said.