By Elies Arps, WWF Netherlands
Being Dutch, I am used to living in a densely populated country where almost all land is cultivated.
Travelling to the southernmost part of Vietnam and overlooking the Mekong Delta on our way to Ca Mau, I did expect to see quite some development, but also the pristine mangrove forests that used to cover the area. I could not have been more wrong.
As far as my eyes can see is agricultural development, plotted through the barren landscape as if it is an endless puzzle. Coming closer I can see rivers meander and notice that most of the pieces of the puzzle are actually the aquaculture ponds that I am going to visit during the week. To be honest, I am shocked.
Of course, having worked for WWF for quite some years already I know that the Mekong Delta is producing a significant part of the world’s farmed pangasius and shrimps. And that includes the seafood that my family and I eat at home. I just didn’t realise the scale of the impact!
Supporting the farms
I am in Vietnam together with a Dutch seafood trading company. We are visiting a WWF Vietnam project where aquaculture farmers are supported in their transition towards a more responsible production of shrimps, based on the ASC Shrimp standard.
The Dutch company is buying farmed shrimps from Vietnam already, but feels uncomfortable with buying from producers that grow their shrimps in an uncontrolled manner. They know that Vietnam’s shrimp farming boomed in the eighties in areas where mangroves have been cut for the creation of the ponds, and medicines are ending up in the surrounding environment. Besides that, most of the shrimp production in Vietnam is done by small farmers, earn a decent living, but have little to invest in adjusting their ponds to meet the standards of ASC.
Without having the time to get used to tropical warmth, we are on our way to visit a shrimp producer that works with WWF in the project. We cross many tributaries of the Mekong river and arrive at the farm where the farm manager is welcoming us, clearly proud of the facility.
Pride in responsibility
We walk across the farm and the manager tells us how he is adjusting the farm to meet the ASC standard for shrimp. A sludge pond has been created to collect the sludge after harvesting one of the farm’s several ponds. After drying, the sludge it is used as fertilizer for the fruit trees that grow on the site.
A sprinkler is feeding the shrimps in one of the ponds. The water moves, but there is no shrimp to be seen from the surface. The pond houses fewer shrimps than before, since the ASC standards requires a specific survival rate of the shrimp in the pond. This encourages the farmer to better manage the pond. The lower density in the pond has caused production to go up since there is less disease and a faster growth rate. The farm manager takes us to one of the small scale shrimp farmers that supplies his company which sells them to the international market.
The farmer lives in a tiny, palm leaf covered house surrounded by both natural water basins and artificial ponds. Here he farms vannamei (or white shrimp) and black tiger shrimp, a species native to this region and consumed worldwide. Mangrove trees surround the ponds, their roots providing shelter to the shrimps and falling leaves providing a natural source of feed. Although harvesting time is early in the morning, the farmer lifts a net and shows us a giant shrimp of around 100 grams. He is smiling from ear to ear.