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Viet Nam Raises Question Over Seafood Imports

VIET NAM - Should Vietnam re-organise fish farming to become self-sufficient in seafood materials, or import seafood materials to run local seafood processing workshops?

A survey conducted by the Cuu Long River Delta Development Institute under Can Tho University and Scotland’s Stirling University showed that in the last five consecutive years, fish output has been increasing steadily, while fish prices have fluctuated continuously.

The profit of farmers in An Giang, Dong Thap provinces and Can Tho city decreased from VND2.8mil/tonne in the years before 2003 to over VND1mil/tonne in 2005 due to higher production costs.

Seafood processing workshops did not make heavy investments in cold storage. Big workshops now have the cold storage capacity of 10,000 tonnes/storehouse only, which explains why they cannot purchase fish from farmers in big quantities. There are 120 seafood processing workshops in the delta which have the capacity of 3,200 tonnes a day, 74 of which can meet the requirements for exporting products to the EU; however, a lot of the workshops still have to hire storehouses in HCM City.

Fish farming is destroying the environment. Every year, aquaculture ponds in the Cuu Long River Delta create 500mil cu m of mud and waste. Every cu m of pond needs to produce 8kg of fish, needs 24 cu m of water to renew the ponds’ water. Every cu m of water from an aquaculture pond needs to be treated with 0.033-0.035kg of COD. Meanwhile, when hearing about the fish pond water treatment, 47% of pond owners said they would give up farming, 32% of owners said they would build tanks to treat the pond water, while 21% said they would use other measures. Some people have suggested farmers pay fees for fish pond waste, but this has not been applauded by fish farmers, saying that this would lead to higher farming production costs.

As the farmers’ profit has been narrowed, while the risks to the environment have become bigger, experts believe that Vietnam should consider importing materials for domestic processing and re-exporting.

The Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) has also proposed that state management agencies import $2bil worth of seafood materials in order to raise the exports to $7.5-8bil by 2020.

However, if the tra farming industry is eliminated, millions of people in the Cuu Long River Delta, the land that is called the ‘kingdom of fish and shrimp’, will have no way of earning their living. Meanwhile, if it decides to maintain fish farming, Vietnam should strive for the sustainable development of the industry.