Vietnamese rock lobster exports to China grind to a halt amid new regulations

Tropical rock lobster on ice in Vietnam.

Vietnamese exporters of tropical rock lobster have had to temporarily halt their shipments to China due to new regulations pertaining to the protection of endangered species.

During a recent meeting with Vietnam’s National Authority for Agro-Forestry-Fishery Quality, Processing, and Market Development, Chinese customs officials said that wild tropical rock lobsters were a new addition to the list of endangered species declared by Chinese authorities, adding that in May, the country amended its law on wild animal protection to prohibit the fishing, consumption, and trade of the crustacean species.

To export tropical rock lobster to China, foreign companies must now demonstrate their lobsters are farm-raised and not caught directly from the sea. This process entails solely using lobster larvae that are at least two generations removed from the wild. If they meet Chinese customs criteria, farms harvesting tropical rock lobster must then register with Chinese authorities, undergo inspections, and attain a listing on the Chinese customs’ digital portal.

The move has left Vietnamese companies scrambling to comply so they can maintain business with China – the top destination for Vietnam’s live tropical rock lobster, spiny lobster, and green lobster. But origin tracking is a challenge for Vietnamese lobster farms, most of which operate at a small scale and rely heavily on seed from foreign countries, leading to illicit importation of seed.

According to the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), from January to August of this year, Vietnam exported USD 76 million (EUR 69.4 million) worth of lobster to China – a 42 percent year-over-year decline. Comparatively, in 2022, Vietnam’s lobster exports to China surged to USD 257 million (EUR 234.8 million), thanks to heightened consumer demand following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Highlighting the unexpectedness of the restrictions, in September 2023, approximately 6 metric tons (MT) of lobsters perished at a Vietnam-China border gate, as the lobsters were unable to reach Chinese cold storage facilities promptly after the cargo failed to pass Chinese customs clearance.

Linh Phat Seafood, a Vietnamese lobster exporter, confirmed to local authorities

Photo courtesy of MielnickiStudio/Shutterstock

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