Crawfish dishes remain readily available for consumers in Vietnam even though the breeding and importation of the crustacean is prohibited in the Southeast Asian country.
Crawfish, also known as crayfish or Louisiana crayfish for their popularity in the namesake state of the U.S., are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters, to which they are related.
The crustacean is considered an exotic invasive species in Vietnam, as it can eat both live and dead animals and plants, thus threatening the country’s bio-diversity and agricultural production, experts said.
The aquatic species is banned from being bred and imported by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
But crawfish are still a dish favored by many Vietnamese consumers, which leads to the breeding and import ban just failing to keep people from enjoying them.
Diners serving crawfish dishes are not hard to find in Ho Chi Minh City, and suppliers of the exotic aquatic creatures are also aplenty.
Hang, a crawfish dealer in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 10, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that her customers are eateries and restaurants not only from the southern metropolis but also neighboring Binh Duong Province and the Mekong Delta.
At the V.C. seafood restaurant in District 1, which sources live crawfish from Hang, the meal is openly advertised on the menu.
The restaurant manager told Tuoi Tre that eight out of ten customers, both Vietnamese and foreigners, order crawfish.
He added that the restaurant usually sources 50kg of crawfish from Hang at a time, and the crustaceans will be frozen to keep them fresh longer.
Live crawfish are also available for purchase on Facebook, with online sellers asking VND290,000-750,000 (US$12.47-32.25) per kg depending on each type.
Most of the online traders sell frozen crawfish to dodge the ban, believing that the import prohibition only applies to live creatures.
“Only live crawfish are banned from entering Vietnam as they can harm agriculture, while processed ones are allowed to be imported as they pose no threats,” Hong, an online crawfish seller in Ho Chi Minh City, told Tuoi Tre.
Le Tran Nguyen Hung, deputy head of the Directorate of Fisheries' Department of Aquatic Resources Conservation and Development, fell short of confirming if Hong was right, instead saying that his agency is only responsible for overseeing the storage, transport, trading, and breeding of live crawfish.
“The customs and market watchogs are assigned to deal with frozen crawfish,” he told Tuoi Tre.
Tran Huu Linh, general director of the General Department for Market Management, said local-level market surveillance agencies have been tasked with looking into the trading of crawfish in their respective localities.
As many as 945kg of crawfish have been seized by customs in the northern province of Lao Cai since the beginning of this month.