ASC transforms Vietnam pangasius industry

Published on
March 6, 2013

Editor’s Note: SeafoodSource Contributing Editor Nicki Holmyard recently visited Vietnam with the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) to look at how the pangasius industry is being transformed through engagement with the ASC program.

Production of pangasius in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam has increased threefold in the past ten years, rising from 500,000 metric tons (MT) to a peak of 1.5 million MT in 2008, but currently standing at around 1.2 million MT.   

In 2012, exports of pangasius were valued at USD 1.75 billion (EUR 1.3 billion), with Europe accounting for 24.4 percent at USD 425.8 million (EUR 326.7 million) and the U.S. for 20.6 percent at USD 358.9 (EUR 275.5 million).  Within Europe, Spain is the largest market with a share of 5 percent valued at USD 86.7 million, the Netherlands has a 3.9 percent share valued at USD 68.4 million (EUR 52.5 million), Germany’s share is 3.3 percent (USD 57.4, EUR 44 million) and the U.K.’s is 2.1 percent (USD 36.2 million, EUR 27.8 million).

Dr. Pham Anh Tuan, deputy director general of the Vietnam Directorate of Fisheries, explained that export values were down in 2012 compared with 2011, but it is hoped that this situation can be improved in 2013 and a new trade association has just been formed to help achieve this.

He acknowledged that environmental issues had beset the industry during its fast growth from 2000 to 2008, but explained that programs had now been put in place to ensure pangasius production was undertaken to the higher standards expected by the market.  

“We have put money and resources into research to improve juvenile quality, feed quality and production standards, with an emphasis on food safety, traceability, animal health, environmental protection and social standards,” he said.

“Part of this strategy is to encourage farmers to undertake ASC certification and our initial target of 10 percent of production certified by 2013 has already been exceeded by 5 percent.  Thirteen farms are currently approved and a further five are undergoing audit.”

The government has a highly ambitious target for all farms to be certified by 2015.  

The larger companies have fully integrated operations, enabling them to control every stage of the production process. Vinh Hoan Corporation recently extended its involvement to rice production, with rice bran used in-feed and the husk used as biofuel at its feed factory. Its 47 hectare pangasius hatchery and 300 hectare of grow-out ponds are well designed and run, with extensive settlement ponds and water hyacinth beds to filter out nitrogen and phosphorous before the water returns to the Mekong river. Once harvested at 1 kilogram, fish are transported live to the processing unit in well boats to keep them in prime condition. 

“We already had GlobalGAP, AquaGAP and BAP certification and the addition of ASC shows our commitment to environmentally responsible pangasius production, control over our fish meal and fish oil sources, and social responsibility.  It also gives reassurance to our customers and has been an advantageous marketing tool,” said Nguyen Ngo Vi Tam, deputy general director of Vinh Hoan. The company was the first to be ASC certified in Vietnam.

Vinh Huan is the main supplier of frozen plain and value added pangasius products to Dutch wholesaler Queens, which sells into all the major retailers. “We are very happy with the company’s production and processing standards and the ASC logo gives Dutch consumers confidence in the product,” said Harry Hoogendoorn Queens managing director.    

The extensive and efficient primary processing unit is highly labour intensive, with some 2,000 local employees hand slaughtering, gutting, filleting, skinning, washing, checking, IQF or block freezing, packing and dispatching all over the world. 

The Hung Vuong Corporation runs a similar intensive pangasius pond operation, raising and processing 120,000 MT of fish annually to GlobalGap and ASC standards. This is processed in their twelve factories built close to the production sites, for global export.

Nguyen Dang Khoa, vice sales manager of Hung Voan, explained that current exports are worth around USD 200 million (EUR 153 million), but the company aims to increase this to USD 300 million (EUR 230 million) by 2015. “Being certified against the ASC standard has definitely helped in our dealings with customers and we are gradually increasing the number of our farms that operate to the ASC standard. It has also improved production rates and reduced mortality, making our business more efficient.” 

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