Drought in the West is provoking questions about the government's management of water and its interpretation of laws governing endangered species.
In the south the issue is not water availability, but rather geo-politics. American Catfish producers are feeling the squeeze of foreign competition.
Meanwhile in other parts of Rural America water quality is being threatened by livestock operations, even those that meet legal standards.
Environmental groups see events such as fish kills as part of a more general nutrient pollution problem. The groups claim agriculture contributes one-third of all pollution to U-S bays and estuaries.
In the South, where water supports catfish, growers are engaged in a battle over market share. Recently released statistics show domestic catfish producers have lost 20% of their $500 million dollar market to Vietnamese farmers.
U.S. producers claim the imported fish are cheap and low quality. They further charge Vietnamese producers are deceptively labeling their packages with logos that imitate domestic brands. U.S. importers maintain Southern producers are the cause of their own problem blaming poor promotion, over pricing and the fact that the sales territory is limited to just a few states.
In an effort to slow the takeover by foreign producers catfish-state congressmen have introduced legislation asking for "country of origin" labeling.
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And Farmers in Oregon's Klamath Basin are hoping for some monetary relief in the wake of this year's drought. Senators from Oregon and California are asking for $126 million in bailout funds.
Normally, producers would irrigate their fields with water from Lake Klamath, but this year water levels dropped low enough to put salmon and white suckerfish in peril. When the water was cut-off most crops in the Basin failed and farmers protested. In response the federal government offered to buy-out affected farmers.
Even with the desperate situation lawmakers are not hopeful their request will be granted.
The Interior Department has agreed to let outside experts examine the issue of how the government determines water cut-offs. Scientists from the National Academy of Sciences will research whether the government's termination of Klamath irrigation water to protect endangered species was warranted.
Meanwhile deftly tucked into the House version of the farm bill is a provision that defines a "catfish" as the species now raised by American catfish producers rather than the fish variety produced by the Vietnamese competition.