Catfish farmers in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta have suffered losses and are heavily indebted as the Chinese market, their primary purchaser, has stopped buying.
The price of catfish in the region has constantly plunged over the past month, with one kilogram of the food currently selling at VND16,000 (US$0.71) to VND17,000 ($0.76).
Even with the fish price having hit a record low in the last five years, local farmers are still struggling to sell their products due to the absence of consumers.
According to Nguyen Van Dan, an official in Thot Not District, Can Tho City, the total area for catfish farming in the locality is estimated at 400 hectares.
“Local farmers could face up to billions of dong in losses [VND1 billion = $44,420] with the current price,” Dan said.
Losing about VND600 million ($26,652), Tran Thi Lan, a resident of Thot Not District, considered herself lucky as many farmers have not been able to sell their fish to any buyer.
Nguyen Huu Nguyen, a member of a fishing cooperative in Chau Phu District, An Giang Province, stated that the situation was unprecedented.
Businesses have been ignoring catfish farmers’ call for help while merchants have only been making empty promises, said Tam, another member of the cooperative.
“We have to borrow money to afford food and other necessities, adding even more to our massive debts,” Tam complained.
According to the fish farmers, local residents have tried every measure to minimize their losses, some of whom were even forced to abandon their farms to find other jobs.
Shooting oneself in the foot
During an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Le Chi Binh, vice-president of the An Giang Fishery Association, said many processing businesses in the province have begun raising their own fish, meaning that they would stop buying from local farmers.
These firms also sold their catfish that were not used as material, resulting in a hike in supply and drop in price, Binh continued.
“This is the consequence of conducting business separately without proper planning and coordination,” he elaborated.
According to Phan Kim Sa, deputy director of the Department of Industry and Trade in Dong Thap Province, the situation has been exacerbated because local firms compete with farmers to sell their fish to the Chinese market.
“Several entities shot themselves in their feet as they began to lower their prices,” Sa said.
He also mentioned a possibility that Chinese traders have manipulated the catfish market by steering local companies from behind the scenes.
China was previously anticipated to replace the U.S. and European markets to be the top consumer of Vietnamese catfish, evidenced by the high demand in the first months of 2016, causing the price to reach VND27,000 ($1.2) per kilogram, the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) stated.
As local famers and businesses boost their operation to meet the demand, Chinese buyers have already started disappearing, the VASEP added.