How healthy is your fish choice?

pangasinjectedwithurinehormonesIn South Africa we need to be more discerning of our fish choices. Sustainability is a vital ingredient of good seafood. It is important to know our fish species on the red list and to know what the conservation status of certain angling species are in South Africa. The fish stocks in South Africa are dwindling fast and something needs to be done to protect these species.

There is no other business more globalised than seafood, it is the most traded primary commodity in the world. This means that what we sell or buy can have environmental and social impact not only locally but across the globe.


The Panga (Pterogymnus laniarius) is a member of the seabream family (Sparidae) and is endemic to southern Africa. It sits on the Orange list and is predominantly caught in the inshore demersal trawl and deep water trawl fisheries.  This type of fishing has few impacts on the marine environment and uses either a rod and reel or a hand line.  There is generally very little bycatch or habitat damage caused by this fishing method.  However, some species targeted by this fishery are over-exploited or collapsed because of their specific life history characteristics. However, there is no minimum size limit for this species but there is a recreational daily bag limit of 10 fish per person per day.

What can you do? Rather choose your preferred seafood from a green listed species. We recommend you eat line caught South African Panga on a special occasion than every time you eat out. Select the most sustainable from the healthiest and most well managed fish populations, as these fish species can handle current fishing pressure are on the Green list.

In other countries, the name Panga refers to a different species. In Indonesia, it refers to Megalaspis cordyla, in Spain, France, the Netherlands and Poland it refers to Pangasius hypophthalmus, and in Kenya it refers to Trichiurus lepturus. Be careful not to buy this fish it is pure poison not “poisson (fish)”. It is important to note it is sold in our markets and supermarkets. We need to adopt the precautionary principle, never buy this poison.
Sitting down to a seafood dinner, how can you be sure of what’s on your plate? For instance, Argentine hake is sometimes passed off as South African hake? Or that cheaper farmed Japanese amberjack is sometimes sold as local, wild-caught yellowtail? An unknown species, big-scale mackerel, is often labelled kabeljou because people aren’t familiar with it?

A paper published in January 2015 edition of Marine Policy highlighted seafood sleights. The paper, entitled “Towards a standard nomenclature for seafood species to promote more sustainable seafood trade in South Africa”, certainly sheds light on present legislative gaps which allows seafood mislabelling to prevail.

We visited the Fish Monger restaurant in Rosebank and chatted to Terry (the management) who says: they support proudly South African trade, and that the consumer determines what they offer on their menu. He emphasised that should there be enough evidence to support suspect fish quality on imports in regard to toxicity, they would eagerly replace it with local environmentally sustainable fish species such as Tilapia.

While the ocean provides us with tremendous and often unseen economic, social and cultural benefits. It acts as a vast highway for commerce, it provides a place for recreation and, importantly, it supplies food and /or income for 2.6 billion people worldwide.  Regardless of the ravenging non commital and ignorant commercial fish mongers.

Seafood now more than ever before is popular food choice. It’s the healthy, sensible and guilt-free choice…or is it? If we want to continue to enjoy the variety and diversity of seafood that we have become accustomed to, we need to start making informed choices right now.

 Sustainable seafood is more than just a good deal for our marine ecosystems, it makes business sense too. SASSI is committed to working hand-in-hand with the seafood industry towards a future in which sustainable fisheries and aquaculture thrive at a level that supports the communities and businesses that depend on them.

More and more people are considering seafood as a healthy and natural protein source in a time when many consumers regard products from conventional commercial land-based farms with increasing suspicion.  The continued globalisation of markets has seen seafood become the most traded global food commodity in the world and has resulted in an explosion in the popularity of formerly “exotic” cuisine such as sushi, driven on by the trend-setters of the culinary world.

 PANGASIUS / BASA (Pangasius hypophthalmus)

(We should not confuse this species with the Seabream family endemic to southern Africa)

 The Pangasius Hypophthalmus is an Asian fish we find sold in our supermarkets and restaurants right here in South Africa, especially as fillets at a relatively low price. Pangasius is big industrial aqua culture business in Vietnam or more correctly put, it originates from the Mekong Delta, and is invading the global market mainly due to its affordability.

 Pangasius hypophthalmus a major fish species in the Mekong River fishery, one of the largest and most important inland fisheries in the world. The traditional development of capture-based aquaculture for this species, particularly in Viet Nam and to a lesser extent in Thailand and Cambodia, began because it is a prolific spawner, producing relatively large numbers of larvae that are easily harvested from the flowing river.

 So why is Pangasius fish so dangerous? The Mekong is one of the most contaminated rivers in the world. Untreated public and industrial wastes together with inputs from the atmosphere are the major sources of heavy metals in the river and sea and subsequently inside the fish tissues.They are fed with dead fish, bone meal with leftovers and South America, cassava and soybean residues and seeds. It is obvious that this kind of little safe diet has nothing to do with the supply of a natural environment.

There’s nothing natural about Pangas. What they feed Pangas is completely unregulated so there are most likely other dangerous substances and hormones thrown into the mix. The Pangas grow four (4) times faster than in nature, so it makes you wonder – what exactly is in their food?

Pangas are Injected with Hormones Derived from Urine. Pangas are injected with (EPE). Some scientists have found that if the panga was injected females with female hormones derived dehydrated urine of pregnant women, the female panga produce eggs more quickly and in large quantities, which would not happen in a natural environment.  In fact, these are fish that have injectable hormones (produced by a Chinese pharmaceutical company) to accelerate the process of growth and reproduction (one Panga can lay approximately 500,000 eggs at one time). Perhaps you may not be opposed to eating fish injected with dehydrated pee, but just consider the rest of the reasons to NOT eat it.

Due to the excessive amount of available Pangas, they may invariably land up in other foods: surimi (those orange sticks made with fish meat that looks like crab sticks), canned fish and probably some animal foods like dogs and cats. Be aware of the potential risks Basa fish poses to your health. It’s easy to shop for fresh fish, but be cautious when buying packaged seafood like imitation crab, fish sticks, fish terrines, and even pet food. Be label savvy, its simple check the list of ingredients on the back of the package, make sure Basa fish isn’t an ingredient.

France became the second largest supplier of Pangasius as it is as an inexpensive fish. The fish is commonly known as Pangas (also called, Pangasius, Vietnamese River Cobbler, Basa Fish and White Catfish, Tra, Gray Sole). This fish has become an increasingly popular fish, and certainly has marked danger signs. It is not eco sustainable in any way. While it is industrially farmed in Vietnam along the Mekong River, Pangasius (or whatever they’re calling it), has only been recently introduced to the French market. However, it has grown in popularity in France. The French are slurping up Pangas like it’s their last meal of soup noodles.

They are very affordable, sold in fillets with no bones and have a bland flavour and texture. Many may compare it to cod and sole, only much cheaper. But as tasty as some people may find it, there is something hugely unsavoury about it. It is evident we become vigilant about your future food choices. Certainly in this case it’s better left in the fisheries and not on our dinner plates.

Pangas are teeming with high levels of poisons and bacteria. (industrial effluents, arsenic, and toxic and hazardous by-products of the growing industrial sector, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), DDT and its metabolites (DDTs), metal contaminants, chlordane-related compounds (CHLs), hexachlorocyclohexane isomers (HCHs), and hexachlorobenzene (HCB)). The reasons are that the Mekong River is one of the most polluted rivers on the planet, and this is where Pangas are farmed and industries along the river dump chemicals and industrial waste directly into it. Regardless of the reports and recommendations against selling them, the supermarkets still sell them to the general public knowing they are contaminated.

Pangas are not environmentally sustainable, and is the most unsustainable food you could possibly eat. Buy local, means creating the least amount of environmental harm possible. This is the very opposite end of the spectrum of sustainable consumerism. Pangas that are raised in Vietnam are fed food that comes from Peru, their hormones (which are injected into the female Pangas) come from China and finally, they are transported from Vietnam to France. This is not just a giant carbon foot print, that’s a carbon continent of a foot print.

The inevitable public demand for responsible and sustainable practises will certainly rise from retailers and buyers for P. hypophthalmus to be produced in environmentally sustainable production systems and in a socially equitable manner. Large investments and research are required on improving on growing farm design, particularly concerning water intake and treatment, storage, and discharge systems.

Do not be lured in by insanely cheap price of Pangas. Is it worth risking your health and the health of your family?

Buying Pangas supports unscrupulous, greedy evil corporations and food conglomerates that do not care about the health and well-being of human beings. They only are concerned about selling as many Pangas as possible to unsuspecting consumers. There only interest is to sell and make more money at whatever cost to the public. Pangas shall make you sick, and perhaps you wont suffer from effects of severe food poisoning.

Due to the prodigious amount of availability of Pangas, be aware that they will certainly find their way into the food chain: surimi (those pressed fish things, imitation crab sticks), fish sticks, fish terrines, and probably in some pet foods. (Warn your dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils and even your pet fish.)

Impressive growth and burgeoning domestic demands have driven Egypt to surpass the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to represent the Middle East and Africa as the biggest importer and a potentially lucrative market for Vietnam’s seafood and Pangasius exports since 2008. 

Pangasius have become the tenth most popular seafood product eaten in the United States. The demand for this moderately priced selection is expected to continue to increase. Indeed a primary example of the increasing demand and dependence on aquaculture or farm raised seafood products.

Interestingly in March 2007, The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service surveyed 100 fish from this river and detected 14 antimicrobial chemicals at low levels, including sulphonamides, tetracyclines, malachite green, penicillin, quinolones, flouroquinolones and phenicols antimicrobial chemical groups. Regarding these findings, Peter Collignon, director of microbiology and infectious diseases at the Australian National University medical school reports that “this means [that] antibiotics were used in the production of those fish… [and] superbugs can develop and they can remain [in the fish] and come across to people and cause problems.”

Side effects of Pangasius include vomiting, diarrhoea and other effects that often stem from food poisoning. There may be a few out there who do tolerate the toxic fish without having to suffer these side effects, but be aware of the health precautions.

Sustainable seafood is more than often better quality than the less sustainable or unregulated options. Fish caught or raised with more care offers superior taste, freshness and health benefits.

Due to the growing scarcity of overexploited species, prices for these fish have been rapidly increasing over the last few years. High quality and often cheaper, sustainable substitutes exist for most of the threatened species. In these harder economic times, it makes sense to buy these cheaper and more sustainable fish.


National Marine Fisheries Service, 2011. Fisheries of the United States 2010 –

The WWF Sustainable Fisheries Programme extends from Responsible Fisheries Programme (RFP) which works directly with the fishing industry, through to the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) who focuses their attention on retailers, restaurants, chefs and consumers.