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Vietnamese Tra Catfish Become Profitable

VIET NAM - Farmers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta got good news last Friday when the price of tra catfish exceeded VND16,500 per kg. At this price, farmers stand to make VND500 per kg in profits.

Nguyen Ngoc Hai, chairman of Thoi An Aqua-culture Coop in Can Tho City’s O Mon District, said tra catfish prices have steadily risen in the past week. Processors are coming to breeding farms to buy fish instead of just waiting for farmers to visit them directly. To keep their processing lines busy, some processors proposed that they would pay for the product soon after contracts are signed to make the offer more attractive.

Processors from Mekong provinces of Tien Giang, Ben Tre and Vinh Long travelled to An Giang and Can Tho, the largest tra breeding areas in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, and offered prices of over VND17,000 per kg for tra catfish. However, breeders were reluctant to sell in the hopes of fielding better offers in a couple of days, Hai said.

Farmers should not hoard mature tra catfish as they will cost more to feed, while fish classified as category 2 (i.e too old) sell at lower prices, said Duong Quoc Nghia, deputy director of the Dong Thap Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

With the current high price of product, both farmers and processors foresee a shortage in the fourth quarter since huge numbers of farmers gave up breeding catfish during a "crisis" three months ago when no one was buying.

Bui Huu Tri, chairman of the Can Tho Seafood Processing and Export Association, said the city now has less than 20,000 tonnes of tra catfish in stock, just enough to feed processing lines there in September.

The area used for tra breeding in Can Tho dropped from 1,200 ha at the beginning of the year to 500-600ha as of late August, said Tri. Farmers who stuck with the business reduced the number of fry used for breeding purposes in order to minimise losses.

Phan Van Danh, chairman of An Giang Seafood Processors and Exporters Association, said 50 per cent of catfish farmers in the province have quit their breeding farms, meaning that tra catfish prices will continue to climb in September.

"The biggest problem currently facing catfish breeders is the supply shortage of fry for breeding, since fry producers quit their jobs before catfish breeders could declare bankrupcy," said Danh.

Ellen Hardy

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