In October 2014, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch® established that two-star, three-star, and four-star Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) pangasius standards of the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) certified in Vietnam are equivalent to a yellow “Good Alternative” rating from the Seafood Watch program. Seafood Watch will recommend that consumers, chefs, and businesses consider farmed pangasius assessed under the BAP standards as a good alternative purchasing option.
The Zonal Approach:
At present, several organizations are working in Vietnam targeting pangasius production. Most of these organizations/institutions are working individually with producers and helping them to acquire ASC certification (the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), World Wildlife Fund (Vietnam and International WWF), Netherlands Development Organization (SNV), and the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP)). Aside from financial assistance, these organizations are also providing some technical assistance on improving farming practices to work toward ASC certification. In addition, other private consultants/companies are working in the region and assisting individual producers to acquire certification for the farms. In particular, they are promoting this approach under the private-public partnership. However, a low level of attention is being given to the small-scale operators.
The primary difference between SFP and other organizations working in Vietnam is that the Vietnamese Pangasius AIP does not serve as a standard or certification process and does not intend to certify producers in the region. Rather, it will work with farmers within a designated zone to help them move toward a certifiable level of management practice in farming pangasius and protecting the immediate receiving water bodies. The AIP’s goal is to help or encourage the producers at a collective level to improve their farming practices, leading to increased production with fewer negative impacts on the environment. Certifying the farms to any third-party scheme will be the sole decision of the farm operators.
Rather than working individually with producers, the Vietnamese Pangasius AIP takes a zonal approach, in which the cumulative issues associated in pangasius farming will be addressed.
Current activities within the Vietnamese Pangasius AIP currently include:
1. Recruiting producers within the identified “AIP zones” – SFP is in the process of recruiting producers and other stakeholders to be part of the AIP or supporters of its activities and programs.
2. Developing an action plan for the producers from the AIP zones who will be the frontrunners or implementer of the different AIP activities.
3. SFP, drawing from zonal management best practices, will continue building the awareness of the producers and other concerned stakeholders on sustainability issues related to pangasius farming and providing recommendations.
4. Encouraging the concerned stakeholders to engage in a region-wide environmental impact assessment in order to understand the region’s current ecological situation.
5. Networking with responsible producers and creating platforms for them to connect with international buyers and suppliers.
6. Continuously monitoring the industry through site visits. This means that, rather than visiting and monitoring all farms in a given region, the program would visit a representative selection of farms distributed throughout the region in order to gain assurance that the activities of the AIP are being conducted.
7. Capacity-building for important players in the industry, such as producers, retailers, buyers, and input suppliers.
8. Collecting and disseminating better management practices (BMPs) that are applicable in the region through site visits, public reports, meetings, and workshops.
AIP Progress Update:
2007 – 2009
Water quality research with Can Tho University
SFP implemented a project to monitor water effluents of pangasius farms in the region from 2007 to early 2009. The 11 farms monitored were located at a variety of distances from the Mekong River (ranging from close to the river to between tributaries). Our findings indicate that some farms in the region are exceeding both the national regulations and the existing international standard. We shared the results of this research with several stakeholders during meetings developing water quality requirements for the ASC/PAD standard. SFP also organized a workshop with producers and other interested organizations working on improving the pangasius industry and presented the results for verification and planning.
Biodiversity, Impacts of Pangasius Farming in the Mekong Delta
In late 2010, SFP hired a consultant to review the potential biodiversity impact (green impact) of pangasius farming in the lower Mekong. The report indicated that key areas of biodiversity have been impacted by the intensification of agriculture and aquaculture. Critical wetland species are now threatened including otters, large waterbirds, and turtles. The further expansion of pangasius farming, if not regulated, could potentially worsen the impact on the remaining natural habitat.
During this period, SFP continued to engage buyers and producers in order to understand the individual requirements of both sectors. SFP organized/facilitated a buyer tour to key pangasius producers.
PAD Steering Committee
SFP was on of the steering committee for the Pangasius Aquaculture Dialogue and led the working committee on water pollution. During this period, the draft standard on water pollution was created on the basis of actual data from existing farms.
Measuring Regional Environmental Impact Workshop
SFP, in collaboration with ICAFIS (International Collaboration Center for Aquaculture and Fisheries Sustainability) and Can Tho University/College of Aquaculture and Fisheries (CTU/CAF), conducted a workshop in June 2011 to review several assessments conducted in the pangasius industry/aquaculture farms and to develop a checklist that can be used in assessing the environmental impacts of pangasius farms. This workshop included representatives from the environment departments of several local organizations in Vietnam. The output of the workshop is a set of recommendations to be used when planning to conduct an environmental regional assessment.
Pangasius farming standards benchmarking
SFP led the implementation of the field-based comparison of the three main pangasius standards (ASC, GLOBALG.A.P, and GAA/BAP) in 11 farms located in the southern part of Vietnam (Can Tho, Vinh Long, An Giang, and Dong Thap). This exercise was completed in early August 2011. The report from this comparison was presented in several meetings in Vietnam and elsewhere in the region. The results of this comparison should be of particular use for those involved with standard-setting as well as seafood buyers and retailers.
The study identified 20 issues addressed by all the three schemes relating to the environment, sanitation, drug and chemical use, social concerns, and traceability. Categorizing the requirements for each scheme determined that the basic fundamental requirements for all three schemes relate to legal issues and the preventive measures taken to reduce the frequency of risk events. Risk avoidance (i.e., setting environmental thresholds) is the most critical level of requirements for an aquaculture standard.
Since several issues/requirements were identified as similar among the schemes, there is some potential for creating equivalencies or harmonization among the three standards. The pangasius industry is an export-targeted industry for which certification and/or standards are critical. Creating a harmonized or equivalency pangasius standard would assist not only the producers and small-scale farmers but also the consumers in determining practices that would help to ensure the sustainability of the pangasius industry.
Potential impacts of dams in the Lower Mekong
SFP reviewed data/information on the potential impacts of upstream development to the pangasius industry in the Lower Mekong. The report describes potential impacts on feeds and water quality and availability in the Lower Mekong region and recommends that greater coordination over the management of water in the Mekong should be implemented.
Upstream development could provide more consistent flow of water throughout the year, resulting in possible continuous operation of pangasius farms. However, this also might result in rapid intensification of both aquaculture and agriculture activities, with rapid increases in population and industry that pose a risk of deteriorating water quality.
Dam development could impact the migration route and spawning times of fish from the river being used for feed, thereby reducing their availability. Furthermore, alteration of water flow/current could impact the breeding behavior of other species.
Mapping key stakeholders in the pangasius industry
Key stakeholders in the pangasius industry in Vietnam were identified and mapped. Their responsibilities in relation to creating and implementing pangasius farming policies were also identified. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and VASEP have critical roles in the creation of aquaculture regulations and the various Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) offices were in charge of the implementation. Producers, processors, and input providers were included in the consultative phase of developing regulations.
Roundtable Discussion in Can Tho, Vietnam
In January 2013, SFP organized a roundtable discussion held at Can Tho University. It attracted the interest of approximately 60 participants, including processors, provincial aquaculture departments, scientific institutions, producers, suppliers, retailers, feed companies, chemical companies, certification bodies, and NGOs. The meeting addressed several issues relating to the sustainability of the pangasius industry and introduced the zonal management approach. As a result of this introduction, various participating groups volunteered to be part of the program, with at least 10 letters of commitment signed by the interested participants.
For further information of this discussion, please see Sustainable Pangasius Roundtable Discussion, Can Tho Vietnam, January 2013.
AIP Zone Identification
After the meeting in January 2013, SFP conducted a trip to visit the potential AIP zones.
Three AIP zones have been selected: Vinh Long, Can Tho, and An Giang. The action plan for AIP zones focuses on:
1. Researching the status of the three potential zones.
2. Identifying and networking the key actors in the value chain, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of each, and establishing a memorandum of agreement.
3. Performing a gap analysis of how a zonal management approach would work under the existing Vietnamese regulations.
4. Performing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), establishing carrying capacity of the aquaculture zone, studying the epidemiology of the region, and determining best management practices.
5. Developing an improvement plan to close the identified gaps and identify the indicators and collate metrics at farm and zone level to demonstrate progress to evaluate subsequent level of improvement.
6. Implementing agreed improvement plans in the field.
7. Ongoing monitoring of progress at the zonal scale.
8. Taking corrective actions and closing the remaining gaps.
January – March
In March 2013, Vietnamese Pangasius Association (VPA) was established. VPA represents the pangasius sector including farmers, commercial pangasius processors and exporters, and members of other organizations and enterprises that actively support the pangasius industry. The VPA is open for membership to all relevant enterprises, whether domestic or international.
SFP has been developing a closer working relationship with the VPA, in order to increase industry engagement and support the VPA to become the leading industry body for improving the sustainability of production. The VPA is working with key companies and the provincial DARD offices to develop proposals for support of the leading areas of focus, including reducing disease risks and environmental impacts of pangasius production.
April – July
At the 2014 Brussels Seafood Expo in May, SFP organized the first Pangasius Supplier Roundtable meeting with buyers and retailers and representatives of some processors to show joint support for sustainability in the pangasius production sector. The meeting recognized the high percentage of the industry that is certified, but outlined the need for a coordinated approach to disease management given the very open nature of these farms, even when they are certified. A follow-up meeting is planned just before the GOAL meeting in Ho Chi Minh City in October.
In the middle of May 2014, SFP organized a field visit for a major retail partner to the projects in the Mekong Delta, which showcased ongoing aquaculture improvement work in Vietnam and included a visit to the aquaculture improvement project (AIP) for Vietnamese pangasius. Those attending got to see improvement work in action and were able to ask questions directly to the in-country team undertaking the day-to-day activities. In addition, a roundtable meeting was scheduled to coincide with the visit. This permitted the retail visitors to directly discuss pangasius sustainability with the industry (VPA, processors, producers) and regulators. In the meantime, the pangasius industry has committed to restructuring the industry to meet the sustainability goals.
In July 2014, SFP met with VPA, as well as Hung Vuong and Vinh Hoan (two of Vietnam’s biggest pangasius processors), in Can Tho City, Vietnam. The meeting focused on the need for developing an emergency disease plan given the open nature of the pangasius production ponds. While the two companies recognize this risk, it is clear that both they and the international supply chain need to develop the industry-wide emergency response plan in cooperation with the VPA, VASEP, and the government.
October – December
In October, SFP attended the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s (GAA) Global Outlook for Aquaculture Leadership (GOAL) conference in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and participated as a key panelist of the small-scale farmer session. In an electronic survey of GOAL attendees performed throughout the conference, 48 percent of responses indicated that the most important challenge limiting aquaculture is health and disease management.
To coincide with the GOAL conference in Ho Chi Minh City, and taking advantage of the attendance of the conference’s international buyers, SFP organized concurrent Supplier Roundtable meetings for both shrimp and pangasius. These meetings attracted over 50 participants, including representatives from shrimp and pangasius processors, VPA, Ca Mau DARD, feed producers, buyers and retailers, certification bodies, WWF Vietnam, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the press. At the meeting, VPA presented the development of the pangasius industry in Vietnam, and VPA’s assessment of the disease-related issues in pangasius farming and its disease management plan. After the meeting, SFP and VPA plan to focus on the disease management plan and implementing a range of activities to improve the industry and respond to the demands of the market relating to this issue.
In November 2014, SFP met with Research Institute of Aquaculture No. 2 (RIA2) in Ho Chi Minh City. RIA2 presented their 3-year carrying capacity study in the Hau River and Tien River conducted between 2010 and 2012. According to RIA2, the government has adopted the results of this study to update the new Pangasius Farming Plan, 2015–2020. This plan was announced pursuant to Decision 3885/QĐ-BNN-TCTS and is valid starting 11 September 2014.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) has approved the Prevention and Treatment Plan on Pangasius, 2015–2020 pursuant to Decision 4995/QĐ-BNN-TY, which takes effect on 20 November 2014. The ministries, agencies, and other entities responsible for implementation and disease monitoring include the Department of Animal Health, Directorate of Fisheries, provincial Departments of Agricultural and Rural Development, qualified laboratories, and farmers in the Mekong Delta. This plan was developed in response to the demand from the pangasius importers for improvements in quality control and disease management at the national level.
November 24–28, the 9th Symposium on Diseases in Asian Aquaculture (DAA9) was held jointly by the Department of Animal Health under MARD and the Fish Health Section (FHS) of the Asian Fisheries Society (AFS) in Ho Chi Minh City. The meeting discussed many issues, including bio-security compliance, parasitic diseases, early mortality syndrome in shrimp, fish viral diseases, fish and shrimp immunology, diseases affecting tilapia and pangasius, aquatic diseases, and husbandry and management. During this meeting, SFP met with the processor Vinh Hoan and the aquatic pharmaceutical company, Pharmaq. Vinh Hoan is strengthening its own disease management plan, however it hopes to work together with neighboring farms and other processors for a zonal approach to disease management. SFP will continue dialogue with Pharmaq on future collaboration.
A roundtable meeting on pangasius disease management is planned for December 2014 in Can Tho City. Please contact Linh Nguyen
for more information.