Lowery insists the imported catfish “just isn’t up to the same standards (as U.S.-raised catfish). Too many shipments still aren’t being inspected. It’s a bad deal.

“I’m not making excuses for the U.S. industry, either. Even with everything we’re facing, there are still positives.

“At this time last year, fish was probably about 48 cents a pound higher. We still sold 325 million pounds. That tells me we have a core customer that demands our product.”

What hurt U.S. producers last year “was we just ran out of fish. When that happened, some folks had to substitute (with imported catfish) to keep their businesses going. That was unfortunate.

I think we have ample supply now. We’ve just got to keep input prices at a level where farmers can survive until the excess inventory is worked off.

“We’ve had higher freezer inventories and some claim that’s a cloud over the industry. A month’s processing is about 10 million pounds of fillets. I don’t know if that’s bad, or not – it would seem to tell the consumer there’s inventory available to supply them.”

Lowery isn’t without some sympathy for lawmakers opposed to USDA inspections of catfish. “Think about it: Vietnam threatens politicians. You know, ‘Well, we’re not going to buy your beef. If y’all don’t take our fish, we’re going to quit buying beef off you.’”

He has less sympathy for anyone giving in to the threats. “Well, maybe they would quit buying for a little while. But sit back and consider it. Where else are they going to get the quality they get from the United States? Beef, poultry, anything – where else are they going to go? If they want to feed their people quality products, they’ll be back buying from us.

“I’m disappointed in our trade and commerce (officials). We don’t play hardball like we should with a lot of these issues.

“Of course, there’s a lot more to it than what I’ve seen. However, the United States needs to tighten up our trade policies. If people want to do business on our shores, they need to pay to play. We certainly have to do the same in other countries.”