Demand increases, supply falls short
According to a study by the Research Institute for Marine Fisheries (RIMF), the stocks of skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna in Viet Nam are estimated at respectively 800,000 MT, 45,000 MT, and 28,000 MT. The combined maximum sustainable yield or MSY of the two later species is approximate 17,000 MT per year.
The country has more than 20,000 gillnetters and 5,000 purse seiners catching small pelagic fish, including small tuna species. The south central region, from the province of Binh Dinh to Binh Thuan, is a hub for the tuna fishing and processing. Most of ocean tuna fishing vessels can be found here, for example Binh Dinh 150 vessels, Phu Yen 150 vessels, and Khanh Hoa 200 vessels. The combined tuna capture production of the three provinces reaches 10,000 - 12,000 MT per year.
At present, the local tuna output does not meet export demand, partly because of the limited natural resources and partly because of poor harvesting and storage techniques. In addition, the fact that Chinese traders flock to Viet Nam and amass the seafood at fishing ports also makes it more difficult for local enterprises to collect enough raw materials.
Due to inadequate supply, many seafood processors, including tuna, had to turn to imports. However, they faced complicated bureaucratic requirements and policies that serve to restrict the imports to Viet Nam. Besides, some key producing countries also clamp down on exports of raw materials to protect their own processing industry.
Potential for tuna ranching
Southern bluefin and more recently yellowfin tuna have been ranched commercially for quite some time in many corners of the world. International scientists have also made major progress on artificial breeding of the species.
In Viet Nam, since 2007, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) has assigned RIMF to study the catching and nursing technology of juvenile yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) and bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) for commercial tuna ranching.
After three years of implementation, RIMF has identified the distribution area of the two species of tuna, which is in the offshore waters of the Central and Southeastern region. It also tried to capture and transport of tuna seeds there and brought to the enclosures in Van Phong Bay in the Central province of Khanh Hoa. The institute cooperated with Minh Chi Limited Company and the naval 128 Company to start growing young tuna to market size in the Van Phong and Cam Ranh Bay of Khanh Hoa province from March 2010.
Although the project is still in its infancy, it has been able to rear more than 120 tuna juveniles (3 5 kg each) to market sized fish (30-40 kg) with monthly growth rate ranging from 2.0 to 2.5 kg. The commercial tuna ranching is found to be feasible with a high chance of success in Viet Nam, said Master Bui Quang Manh, Deputy Head of the Environmental Resources Division of RIMF Branch in the South, also the project leader.
Seeing the potentials of tuna ranching Viet Nam, a group of VASEP members and experts from the Tokyo-based Sojitz and its Try-Tokyo division - the second largest tuna processing and tradition group in Japan conducted a field trip to the pilot commercial tuna ranching site in Khanh Hoa on March 15-16, 2012.
Mr Kunihiro Igari, an aquaculture expert of Try-Tokyo Corporation, who has spent 25 years working with tuna, was very surprised by the advanced tuna farming operations in Viet Nam. "Before this trip, I thought tuna farming in Viet Nam is in very early stages, but now I have to change my mind completely," he said.
Currently, the twelve cages of Minh Chi Co., Ltd. occupy 30 ha of Cam Ranh Bay. RIMF and Marine Company 128 have two more in Van Phong Bay.
"The cages are cylinder-shaped, 16-18 m in diameter, 20 m net depth, and 60-90 mm mesh size. Juvenile tuna, 3 - 5 kg each, are fed mainly with scads, squid and other mollusks. After 10 months, they reach the harvest size of 25-40 kg per individual," said Mr Manh.
Mr Kunihino Igari said Van Phong and Cam Ranh bays are two ideal locations for commercial tuna farming because they are deep and airtight with stable water temperature (24-300C) and salinity. He and his colleagues may need more time collecting and analyzing data to evaluate the farming technology. However, it is not an important issue, he said.
Manh said Viet Nams Government had approved a project to study the reproductive biology and pilot production of yellowfin tuna seed, which was waiting funding for implementation. However, the tuna industry will have to rely on wild seed for a while before artificial seed can be produced locally.
Since early 2012, RIMF has been asked to continue the State-level project on commercial ranching of yellowfin and bigeye tuna until 2014 with the funding of more than VND7 billion. The first results of the project are opening up promising possibilities for the development of tuna industry in Viet Nam. There would be many challenges to be addressed for ultimate success. However, the goal is not so far away when the state authorities, scientists, businesses and foreign investors work together.