A new anti-dumping tariff on Vietnam’s catfish exports to the U.S. could level the playing field for Alabama’s catfish industry.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, (R-Ala.), initiated the Commerce Department’s decision to enforce fair value pricing on frozen fish imports.

“By enforcing our nation’s trade laws and fostering an environment that requires healthy competition, I am confident our local catfish farms will again be a market leader,” said Sessions.

“Domestic production and fair value pricing are essential aspects of a sound economy. This decision is a step in the right direction to protect U.S. workers and our catfish industry in Alabama.”

The Commerce Department’s ruling reverses several years of refusal to place tariffs on government-subsidized Vietnamese pangasius catfish imported and sold at prices well below those of domestically produced catfish.

Duties will be enforced retroactively and include companies that shipped pangasius between August 2010 and July 2011.

Companies involved will receive a bill for $0.77 per kilo for the total amount they exported to the U.S.

The department also announced it would base Vietnamese fish on Indonesian market prices.

Until recently, the Commerce Department used Bangladeshi data to set the market price for Vietnamese producers’ fish fillets. Bangladeshi prices range from $0.29-0.43 per pound, while the U.S. price for catfish is about $0.80 per pound.

Alabama Farmers Federation Catfish Division Director Rick Oates said transitioning to Indonesian rates would better align domestic and foreign competition.

“The decision by the U.S. Commerce Department to use Indonesia as a surrogate country for Vietnam was both a good and right decision for catfish farmers and American consumers,” said Oates.

“Bangladeshi data allowed Vietnamese fish to flood the market at artificially low prices. This had a dramatic result on the price of Alabama- and U.S. farm-raised catfish, and it caused a significant decline in the market share.”

With former rates, Vietnamese pangasius fillets sold for around $1.50 per pound, while domestic-raised catfish wholesale for $3.90 per pound. Consequently, water acres and production have sharply declined in recent years.

In 2007, U.S. catfish farms covered almost 164,000 water acres. Today, that acreage has decreased by nearly 50 percent. Relative to production, more than 104 million pounds of fish were sold in 2007; by 2012, that number dropped 35 percent to 67 million pounds.

“Catfish farming is a vital part of the economy in west Alabama,” Oates explained. “Approximately 5,800 jobs are dependent on the industry, and it contributes $158.2 million to the state’s economy. Alabama’s catfish industry is a vital economic engine, especially in poorer counties along the Black Belt.”

Oates said while prices between foreign and U.S. farm-raised products vary, it’s important to note the benefits of purchasing and consuming domestic products.

“American farms and processing plants are subject to environmental and health standards that are second to none,” he said. “We know the quality of fish raised in the U.S. — and, specifically, in Alabama — is consistently better and safer than fish not subject to our strict standards.

“When Americans buy U.S. farm-raised products, we all win — from the farmer to the consumer and in all the jobs provided in between,” he remarked.

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