Thad Cochran’s last stand in catfish war

Southern catfish farmers may be on the verge of getting hooked and filleted by the farm bill.

Citing the pressure of fiscal frugality, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) are working to kill a new catfish inspection program that the Southern farmers fought hard to create as a bulwark against cheaper foreign competition.

The four-employee program was created through the 2008 farm bill. While tiny and not yet launched, it has sparked outsized controversy because it would be housed at the Department of Agriculture — unlike all other seafood inspections, which the Food and Drug Administration handles.

The catfish farmers want the USDA involved because its much tougher regulatory standards could stymie imports of those farmers’ primary competition: A similar Vietnamese fish called “pangasius.”