What Is Pangasius Fish?

Pangasius fish, popularly called basa in the United States, is a type of shark catfish native to South and Southeast Asia, specifically the Mekong and Chao Phraya rivers. This fish is mainly known for its white and flaky boneless meat, which many use as a cheaper alternative to cod. Here is everything you need to know about the pangasius.

Fish Profile: Pangasius (Basa) Overview

photo of a pangasius fish in an aquarium
Scientific namePangasius bocourti
Other names Basa fish, bocourti, swai, panga, river cobbler
Family Pangasiidae
AppearanceBroad, round head with a blunt snout and white band and a stout body
DietPlants, shrimp, fish
Ave. weight and length20-36 inches and 30-50 pounds
HabitatLarge freshwater rivers, deep pools, or rapids 
Depth range10 to 20 feet
Conservation statusLeast concern

What is a Pangasius Fish?

Pangasius (Pangasius bocourti) is a freshwater fish that belongs to the Pangasiidae family. As mentioned earlier, this fish is native to Asia but often exported to the United States and Europe. As a matter of fact, a report showed that pangasius exports from Vietnam reached almost $122 million in the European market alone. 

In the United States and Australia, the fish is called “basa” or “bocourti,” whereas, in the United Kingdom, the pangasius’ common name is “panga” or “river cobbler.”

Fun Fact: The largest species of pangasius catfish is the Mekong Giant Catfish. It can grow to lengths of 9 feet and weigh more than 600 pounds!

What Does Pangasius Look Like?

You can distinguish a pangasius fish from others by its stout, thick body and rounded head. Their snout is blunt with a white band that stretches over the top. On their back is a sharp dorsal fin reminiscent of a shark.

One of the most unique adaptations of the basa fish is its ability to breathe through both bubbles and its skin. This is all thanks to its extra respiratory organ, allowing it to tolerate low-oxygenated waters.

If that’s not enough of a fun fact for you, here’s another: the pangasius has more red blood cells than any other fish species. This also assists in carrying more oxygen through their blood so they can live in waters with such little dissolved oxygen!

Where Are They Found?

You can find these fish roaming the large freshwater rivers of Southeast Asia, like the Mekong river. 

They tend to favor mid-level depths of 10 to 20 feet when fishing for them, like most other catfish. They often occupy deep pools or hang out in eddies amidst rapid waters. 

These are ideal locations for them to ambush their prey, like shrimp and fish. As well as likely places for aquatic vegetation to be growing.

What Do They Eat?

Pangasius catfish are omnivorous and will feed on plants, fish, and shrimp. Also, true to catfish nature, they are scavengers, meaning they are likely to go after both live and dead bait. Anything that can produce a strong scent, like cheese or even doughballs, can work on these fish too. 

Fish that are raised on farms are often fed pellets high in protein, minerals, and carbs to fatten them for production. 

How Does Pangasius Reproduce?

The spawning season for Pangasius fish occurs during late spring, usually in May and June. Naturally, these fish reach maturity at 2 or 3 years of age. However, in terms of aquaculture production, they use hormones to induce spawning.

Because of how vital these fish are for food production, there are a few different methods used for farming them. Harvesting the fish at different ages and even selling the eggs as another food source. Some aquaculturists will raise them in several nursery ponds. 

Female Pangasius can lay thousands, even millions of eggs. How many eggs they produce directly depends on their weight. A 20-pound fish could release over a million eggs, while a 10-pound fish would release less than half that number.

In their native river habitats, locals use net cages and net pens.

Pangasius FAQ

What Does Pangasius Fish Taste Like? 

You’ll find these catfish to have a mild flavor similar to codfish. The fillets are white and flaky like cod, yet the texture of the meat is firmer. It will absorb the flavors of whatever you season it with and cook it in. Recipes using breadcrumbs or batter to coat them are best because of their fatty taste. 

Is Pangasius the Same as Catfish?

Pangasius fish are species of shark catfish that are native to Southeast Asia. They’re part of the Pangasiidae family of catfish and are a highly popular and cheaper alternative to cod.  

Is Pangasius Safe to Eat?

Yes, pangasius is safe for human consumption. Some myths say that the farmed fish are from polluted waters; however, that’s not the case. In a 2016 study, scientists concluded that this versatile fish has “no food safety concern.” Moreover, pangasius farmers and European importers abide by strict food and safety standards.