Viet Nam News
PHÚ YÊN – “Lobster debt can only cleared with lobster!,” declares Nguyễn Thành Nhơn, the “Lobster King” of Sông Cầu Town in the coastal province of Phú Yên.
He would know: the 51-year-old man has seen his fortune made and destroyed – a lobster fortune crashing to lobster debt before being restored with lobster – several times over by the prized crustacean. A very early adopter of lobster cultivation, Nhơn has seen many others come to this region to start their own businesses. Listening to rumors of good earnings, people from all over Việt Nam come here for a “lobster dream”.
But this very influx of people precludes them from reaching their dreams.
The local authorities cannot manage farmers, cages or surface areas for lobster cultivation. Therefore, the uncontrollable development has led to the lack of juveniles, environmental destruction and crop failure.
Nhơn, meanwhile, persists.
Nhơn was born near Từ Nham Village in Sông Cầu Town’s Xuân Thịnh Ward, the original place of Việt Nam’s caged lobster farming industry.
“Thirty years ago, no one ever thought of raising a lobster. Some villagers accidentally caught juveniles and raised them in fish cages for fun. Those lobsters developed quickly and brought huge profits. Eventually, several people followed suit. They invested to buy cages and juveniles, and planned to make money,” recalled Nhơn.
Married in 1996 and struggling to make ends meet, he and his wife spent all they had to buy 11 juveniles and raised them in their relatives’ cages. Spending a bit of money to buy feed, they earned positive profits from this business.
Nhơn and his three siblings then cooperated to buy cages and farm about 800 lobster. After one year and a half, those lobsters yielded VNĐ80 million (US$3,500) for each of them.
“VNĐ80 million was a huge amount of money back then, we can even open a restaurant! However, I decided to invest more for bigger earnings. We borrowed from our relatives and took loans to buy nearly 3,400 juveniles for 57 cages. The lobsters developed very well, which promised to bring in billions of đồng in profits. However, in September 2001, the storm No.8 destroyed all our cages in Xuân Đài Bay just in one night. All our money had drifted away. Debts piled up. We cannot even cry,” said Nhơn.
The loss, however, did not discourage him.
After four years of slogging away at paying debts, in 2005, Nhơn started all over again. With another loan, he bought 17 lobster cages in Xuân Đài Bay. Juveniles were getting rarer and more expensive while several diseases were threatening his stock. Fortunately, in 2006, Nhơn finally could sell 17 cages’ worth of lobster production, earning VNĐ200 million ($8,800).
The “golden age” of lobster is over
Nhơn is a significant farmer who has stayed the longest with lobster aquaculture, according to Lê Minh Hoan, Head of Xuân Thịnh Ward People’s Committee.
“He is engaging in finding suitable farming locations and investing in technological innovations to control diseases,” said Hoan.
However, the density of cages has destroyed the bio system and caused inadequate water quality conditions.
“In the recent 10 years, lobster cultivation has witnessed a decline. Nhơn is also struggling with polluted farming areas, poor quality juveniles and unstable selling prices. At the present, several ‘lobster millionaires’ are cutting investments to reduce risk,” added Hoan.
According to Trương Hoàng Ngọc, Head of Xuân Thịnh Ward Farmer’s Union, profits from lobsters are decreasing. However, to farmers who stay with this career like Nhơn, lobster farming is the only way.
“I want my life, my children’s lives to have a brighter future. In 2007, the price of juveniles fell, then I bought 9,000 of them. In harvesting season, thanks to the rising lobster price, we earned VNĐ2.2 billion ($97,000) in profits,” he said.
The market fluctations and environmental pollution are challenging lobster farmers like Nhơn. “However, since we have pursued this job for a life time, it’s better to continue,” he concluded. – VNS