Fish Markets Muddy the Water of Capitalism

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By James Rhodes

HANOI, Vietnam – When I taught economics at the college level, my students learned that our capitalistic system which included production, industry, distribution and delivery systems under private ownership operated for profit. All decisions regarding supply, demand, price, distribution, and investments were made by the market and never by the government.

If one had a weak product or service, they simply failed. No one expected a bail out or subsidy as this was the backbone of the American capitalist system and this made us separate and better than all other world economic systems. We firmly believed in the Puritan work ethic and the Darwin theory of natural selection as it applied in the economic arena.

This was as American as apple pie and I truly believed in it; but, all this has radically changed.


Enter special interest political lobby groups. At first they bought the attention of our elected law makers. They then rented them for extended periods of time to the point where they actually owned them and now have become their slave masters. They have mastered the art of propaganda and have taken pages from the old Nazi war machine and now spew false rhetoric with this unique American twist, these falsehoods and misrepresentations come packaged with religion and patriotism as window dressing. This successfully diverts attention to what is really going on and hides the larger picture from a willfully ignorant public.

Harbor Lies

The U.S. catfish associations took careful note of the American consumer attitude toward Wal-mart, which is no less China’s representative in the United States. Outsourcing American jobs to China is bad. Dealing with “Communist” nations is bad. Buying inferior and proven unsafe products, from a foreign country, is bad. All these concerns are overridden; however, by a widely suffering consumer population because of the cheap prices Wal-mart offers.

My neighbor lost his job to outsourcing — that is bad but I am saving money. I don’t like “Communist” governments — but they allow me to spend less, so maybe, in this case, it is OK. These products have actually harmed people — it’s worth the risk, I’ll just be more selective with what I buy, after all the price is lower and U.S. consumer agencies will protect us in the future.

The pontoon express had to make sure this situation would not duplicate itself when it came to the seafood market within the United States

Pond Scum

Apparently an issue that will trump the U.S. consumer’s compelling need to save money is an old wound from the past that has not yet healed and poses an immediate and deadly threat. Of course, wrapping the problem in the flag becomes an added benefit.

Before I departed the United States for Hanoi just a few months ago, we frequented several Alabama restaurants that served catfish. Each establishment had large signs that read: “For Your Safety We Only Serve U.S. Grown Catfish.” Some of the supermarkets we used to buy Vietnamese basa in had the fish removed from the store and destroyed. They also had signs. Theirs said: “As A Safety Concern, We Have Removed All (Vietnamese) Basa.”

What makes Vietnamese fish so dangerous? The illusion that it is tainted with Agent Orange! The fear that consuming such a fish will bring about imminent adverse results scares many Americans and brings back painful memories of another era. This negative campaign has successfully disenfranchised the competition.

What is never pointed out is that dozens of independent scientific research projects have been done on Vietnamese basa, and these fears are totally unfounded. The proof of this lies within America’s own anti-dumping legislation. Agent Orange is not an issue. The issue, instead, is this: According to U.S. Department of Commerce documents, it costs U.S. catfish producers $2.38/kilo to harvest catfish; however, according to the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Processors, that same kilo costs $0.08 here.


As an Agent Orange poisoned veteran, I take great exception to this tactic. Like numerous other veterans I am on the official government’s Agent Orange Registry; that being said, I have never been treated for a condition allegedly caused by my exposure to herbicidal poisons. Instead the government gave me a study that indicated I was “much better off” medically by serving in Vietnam as opposed to being stateside during that same time period. According to that data Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney should have medical conditions far worse than mine?

I am outraged by the fact that many of my friends have died due to V.A. neglect and non-treatment of actual herbicidal poison related illnesses because we are told that even though we may have been sprayed with Agent Orange, there is nothing wrong with us; yet, more than 40 years after the fact, apparently if a healthy person eats Vietnamese basa they will die of an Agent Orange side effect?

Are we really this ignorant?

Bail Out On Walleye Street

I have seen the Vietnamese basa farmers. I have spent time with some of them and their investors. Many live on what we would call houseboats. These boats are made and owned by the farmers. They are on rivers, deltas, and other bodies of water where they do not pay rent. They have holes in their floor that are fenced in below water level. This is where they grow their fish.

Outside of fish food, they virtually have no cost. They are not subsidized by the government. They are just hard workers. Some of them actually fought with American forces during the war. They were betrayed then and now again with this anti-dumping legislation that deprives them of making what is considered to be a decent living here. If American catfishers had their way, these people, whose only crime is to have a better grasp of capitalism than we do, would be residing with Davey Jones.

What we are doing to these people may not be criminal, but it certainly is immoral.

A Tale of Two Fishes

Several years ago, while I was still in Alabama I was visited by my good friends Bach Ngoc Chin, who was at that time assigned to the embassy in D.C., and Minh Nguyen, who was working for Vietnam News Agency. I decided to give them a tour of the Auburn University fish research center which was just a few miles from where we lived. I parked the car and immediately after Chin and Minh exited the vehicle a panic-stuck man came running toward us and asked if Chin and Minh were Vietnamese. After ascertaining that they were we were denied admission into the facility.

I was outraged as this public area was supported by some of my personal Alabama taxes, federal funds, and grants from public and private organizations. Minh asked the direct question: “Is some of your research funded by area catfish associations?”

The Auburn employee was honest when he replied: “Yes, and they would not appreciate you being here.”

I explained to the man that Chien and Minh were my guests and that I was an Alabama resident, made it clear we were not spies, and asked him if he would like a lawsuit. He telephoned someone and told us he would give us a tour, but we had to stay with him. Chin and Minh were very polite when they refused stating they did not want him to get into trouble with anyone.

Before he left, Minh asked a very good question: “Why do you think Vietnamese and American catfishers cannot work together … two heads are better than one?” We never got an answer. I was so embarrassed.

Pier Pressure

It’s all about the money. On a level playing field, U.S. catfishers cannot compete, so we have to distort the facts and secure our government’s protectionist policies. It is not just me who thinks this, regarding the anti-dumping legislation. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain is on record as saying: “This is an action that most legislators know nothing about … what happened to our commitment to free trade…open trade…a small group on behalf of catfish industries in their states (pushed this legislation through Congress).”

The website displays a photo of Vietnamese harvesting catfish. It shows a primitive, low technical operation which has to be extremely low budget; but, the point of the photo was that this was supposed to be an unsafe and contaminated environment.

To me it smacked of racism as well: “Do we want to buy our food from those types of people?” The website also states the basa may be contaminated but the American consumer will never know because only 2 percent of them are inspected by U.S. government agencies.

Other catfish association websites say: “U.S. farm raised catfish is subject to hazard analysis and critical control point program regulations and is inspected by the USDOC at the processing plants before it can carry the certified processors seal confirming it has met the highest standards set by the catfish institute.”

These presentations imply Vietnamese basa are not inspected and are not subjected to any government regulations; but, they are careful not to actually state that.

Five Loaves and Two Fishes

Maybe I am still a capitalist at heart as I believe the U.S. consumer should have a choice whether or not to buy Vietnamese basa. After all, that used to be the American thing to do.

I would also like to know if the American catfish associations have researched the numerous other countries Vietnam exports basa to-how many people have died in those nations due to contaminate and poisoned fish? Maybe none, thereby proving the hoax generated by them in the United States to protect their special interest?

It is not that American catfishers are opposed to interfacing with other fish farmers. In a recent edition of “Fish Farming News,” a very good article was written highlighting the great cooperation that exists among U.S.-Caribbean-Latin America fisheries. Why not Vietnam?

Many in America still debate if what we did here over 40 years ago was right or wrong; however, that is not the issue here. Today it should be more clear, what we are doing to the fish farmers here and now is not right and void of any human decency.

We claim to be a Christian nation. Can we act like one?

© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.