Pangasius is a highly popular white fish, usually sold as a fillet, that is easily substituted for species such as cod and haddock in recipe dishes. Also sold as basa, swai or river cobbler, this fish is reasonably priced, which has helped to grow its market share.
Pangasius are fast growing riverine catfish belonging to the Pangasidae family. They are characterised by a long body, small head, wide mouth and typical catfish barbels. Juvenile fish have a black stripe along their body, while mature fish become a more uniform grey colour. They are fast growing and can reach around 10-12cm and 14-15 grams in weight, just two months after breeding.
Pangasius are predominantly found in freshwater, but can also survive in salt water up to a temperature of 30°C (86°F).
Global pangasius production in 2018 was around 2.8 million tonnes, with a value of almost US$3.6 billion.
Predominantly farmed in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, from where it originates, Pangasianodon hypophthalmus is the most commonly produced pangasius species in aquaculture. It is also the most consumed in Europe and over 130 other countries around the world.
Pangasius is the fourth most important fish commercially produced in aquaculture, behind carp, tilapia and salmon. Vietnam is the main producing country, where most farms are located on or near the Mekong Delta. Other countries with notable pangasius farming industries are Thailand, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia and Cambodia, thanks to their similar tropical climates and water temperatures.
Pangasius requires a relatively low level of feed input. This means that it is comparatively cheap to produce and environmentally friendly. These fish are also fast growing and reach market size of around 1kg in six to eight months.
Females can produce up to 80,000 eggs several times during their spawning period, and have a production yield four times that of other aquaculture species. The fish are raised in cages in lakes and rivers, or in ponds near natural water sources.
Impacts of farming pangasius
The farming of Pangasius has occasionally led to environmental and social impact concerns, but consumers buying ASC certified Pangasius can rest assured that the fish has been raised in accordance with strict guidelines. This ensures that fish farmers produce a healthy product, while minimising any negative impacts. The guidelines include:
ASC certified pangasius farms may only be located in areas specifically approved for aquaculture, to minimise any negative impacts on the local ecosystem. To minimise impacts on wild fish or endangered species, farmers must carefully monitor escapes and install trapping devices to retrieve escapees.
ASC certification requires pangasius farms to adhere to strict criteria for the use of wild fish as an ingredient for feed, and all wild fish used must be fully traceable back to a certified source.
Pangasius require no fish oil and only a small amount of fishmeal in their diet; as a result, they require less protein than they produce, and this helps contribute towards future food security.
The development of floating feeds has improved the flesh quality and white colour of the fish, by keeping them from feeding on the bottom of the ponds. This has made the fish more acceptable to a wider audience.
ASC certified pangasius farms are required to measure various water parameters, including nitrogen, phosphorus and oxygen levels, and remain within set limits. Treatment systems need to comply with strict requirements before any waste or sludge can be discharged. Farms often use a system of filter beds to enhance this process.
One of the main concerns about the rise of pangasius farming is the spread of disease into wild populations and other fish species. ASC certified pangasius farms must adhere to rigorous requirements to minimise disease outbreaks. Health plans are professionally planned and implemented, and must ensure strict biosecurity management. Prophylactic use of medicines to prevent disease is prohibited and no antibiotics critical for human health are allowed. Mortalities must be monitored carefully.
ASC certified pangasius farmers must operate their farms in a socially responsible manner. This means providing workers with proper health and safety training and paying and treating them fairly. Any form of child or forced labour is strictly prohibited and local workers should be favoured over migratory labour.
It also means being a good neighbour to local communities, and proactively communicating with them. Producers must engage directly with their communities to solve any issues.
Cooking with pangasius
Pangasius is a relatively low-cost seafood option, with a mild flavour and soft texture, which has contributed to the rise in its popularity and consumption across the world.
The most popular form of pangasius is boneless, skinless fillets or portions.
Pangasius is a well known consumer fish in fresh and frozen form, and is widely used in restaurants in a variety of dishes. It lends itself particularly well to Asian flavours such as soy and ginger, and also holds together well when used in stews and curries.