Map of pangasius aquaculture regions in Vietnam (Source: Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP))
In 2011, the total farming area was approximately 5,509 hectares, and it is estimated that it will reach up to 13,000 hectares in 2020. The provinces of Can Tho, An Giang, and Dong Thap, the leading pangasius-producing regions in the Mekong Delta, account for over 75% of total Vietnamese pangasius production.
Development of better farming systems
(including the shift from cage- to pond-based operation), improving hatcheries (with high-quality broodstock), and shifting from basa to tra
as main species for production and commercial feeds has resulted in tremendous growth in Vietnamese pangasius production over the past decade. Currently, average production of Vietnamese pangasius per hectare is among the highest in the world at more than 300 metric tons per crop, or as much as 500 to 600 metric tons per hectare of yearly output. In 2010 alone, Vietnam produced 1.14 million metric tons (2.5 billion pounds live weight) of pangasius. In 2012, the Vietnamese catfish production was recorded as 1,255,500 metric tons, with the total farming area of 5910 hectares (Directorate of Fisheries, 2013).
Source: Directorate of Fisheries, 2013
Farming operations are trending toward a more integrated facility, however small-scale farms still represent the largest percentage of farms. In 2009, there were 4,416 household farms of less than 1 hectare (water surface), 812 farms between 1 and 5 hectares, and 165 farms over 5 hectares. The largest farms range up to 40 hectares in water surface. In 2012, although Vietnamese pangasius production reached 1,255,500 metric tons (Directorate of Fisheries), the export value was $1.744 million according to the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP). Due to its local and international popularity, Vietnamese pangasius is consumed in over 140 countries and territories over 5 continents
Percentage Distribution of Importers for Vietnamese Pangasius, 2012 (Source: VASEP, 2012)
Major sustainability issues of Vietnamese pangasius are:
- Farm effluents. Effluent from pangasius farms directly affects the quality of the water in the natural environment, the Mekong River in particular. Although treatment ponds are required by the national government, many pangasius producers do not have them. In some cases, producers who have treatment ponds are not using the facility as intended, but rather as an additional production pond. Due to lack of a system of feeding adjustments and allocations, the amount of feeds and other nutrients being discharged into the water system may be significantly higher than expected.
- Diseases and antibiotic use. Antibiotics are still commonly used in pangasius farms, though this practice is not documented. While results of the monitoring conducted by SFP from 2007 through 2009 showed an insignificant amount of residue, this issue still needs to be examined and monitored, as producers are using drugs and antibiotics. Furthermore, no disease monitoring system is established in the region, hence, protocols and measures for avoiding or addressing disease-related issues are lacking.
- Feed sourcing and feed efficiency. Fishfeed is one of the biggest investments in the pangasius industry (more than 60% of the operating cost) and it is also one of the main contributors to the deterioration of water quality inside and outside the farm. Most producers are practicing an ad libitum method of feeding, which has great potential for overfeeding the stocks. The current feed conversion ratio of 1.6 represents a significant opportunity for improvement and eventually reducing the nutrient load into the system.
- Economics. The market has dictated the success of the pangasius industry for the past decade. The price of the product has been erratic due to over-supply of pangasius as well as the economic situation of the importing countries and these factors have directly affected the growth of the industry. Due to the unstable price of pangasius in the market, some medium- to small-scale operations, which are the most vulnerable in this kind of trend, have stopped production and abandoned their farms. Producers also have experienced delayed payment and non-payment from processing plants that have experienced losses from the international market.
SFP Engagement in Vietnamese Pangasius Aquaculture:
SFP has been working in Vietnam since 2007 to develop a better understanding of the current state of pangasius aquaculture with an emphasis on potential environmental issues and provide recommendations for improvement. In the beginning, SFP’s work was not intended for an AIP but merely included scoping activities. However, the results of various activities since 2007 led to the development of an AIP program in 2010. SFP implemented a benchmarking project to conduct farm audits against the current international certification standards to identify how the standards’ criteria are aligned and where they differ. During this period, SFP has been in close collaboration with Can Tho University/College of Fisheries and Aquaculture and with ICAFIS (International Collaboration Center for Aquaculture and Fisheries Sustainability). Together with SFP, these two organizations are working to promote responsible farming, as well as to address existing issues in the pangasius industry.
SFP activities since 2007 include:
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.
Measuring Regional Environmental Impact Workshop: SFP, in collaboration with ICAFIS 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 impact of pangasius farms. This workshop included representatives from the environment department 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 where 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.
In January 2013, SFP organized a roundtable discussion held at Can Tho University. It has 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. In addition, the zonal management approach was introduced. 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.
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 potential zones (Can Tho, Vinh Long, An Giang).
2. Identifying and networking the key actors in the value chain, clarify the roles and responsibilities of each, and establishing a memorandum of agreement.
3. Perform a gap analysis of how a zonal management approach would work under the existing Vietnamese regulations (Oct–Dec 2013)
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. (Oct 2013–Mar 2014)
5. Developing 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. (Dec 2013– Mar 2014)
6. Implementing agreed improvement plans in the field with projected start dates of 1 April 2014 for 12 months (until 1 April 2015).
7. Ongoing monitoring of progress at zonal scale.
8. Post 2015: Taking corrective actions and closing the remaining gaps.
The goal of the Vietnamese Pangasius AIP is to reduce or mitigate the potential cumulative and combined impacts of pangasius farming practices on a zonal level that can arise from poor water usage practices, over-density of farms, inappropriate zoning/siting, inefficient feed management, and insufficient coordination of disease incidences and treatments. The AIP also serves as a forum in which pangasius producers share lessons learned regarding better practices and can work together to press for improvements in other sectors that impact their operations, such as non-point source pollution from upstream agriculture or industry.
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 Wide 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 where the cumulative issues associated in pangasius farming will be addressed. The specific 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.