|Profitable operation: The salmon farm established by soldiers stationed near the border in Pa Vay Su Village, Lai Chau Province.
While breeding salmon is hard work that can be a bit like babysitting, salmon and sturgeon farms are proving to be extremely lucrative for a group of soldiers in northwestern Lai Chau Province. Cong Thanh
A group of soldiers at the frontier post of Vang Ma Chai in Lai Chau Province was assigned to run a breeding farm of salmon and sturgeon in 2008. The farm earns around VND1.7 billion (US$77,000) from breeding fish each year, a major business in the northwestern mountainous province.
Nguyen Van Tan often gets up at 3am to check water levels at the salmon and sturgeon farm in Pa Vay Su Village in northwestern Lai Chau Province.
The 5,600sq.m farm, 500km north-west of Ha Noi, has 10 water tanks and produces 7 tonnes of salmon and sturgeon each year.
The main catching season runs from March to August.
"It's a hard job," said farm manager Tan. All of us have to wake up three times at night to take care of fish in the tanks because the temperatures changes rapidly and salmon are very sensitive to it.
"Breeding salmon is like baby-sitting," Tan explained. "The fish can only survive in water temperatures from 5-17oC, anything above which they can die.
Staff has to work in three shifts through the night to keep the 3,000 salmon and sturgeon alive. They grow from sac fry into marketable fish in seven months.
"We hatch around 15,000 spawns each year, of which 50 per cent of the salmon eggs grow into mature fish weighing between 1.5kg and 4kg," he said.
"Salmon and sturgeon live in cold water in countries such as Finland, Norway and Russia. Viet Nam is a tropical country so the northwestern mountainous provinces are the best location to breed them," he said.
"We had to install a dam to take cold water directly from the stream but to keep the water flowing fast because salmon swim upstream in natural conditions."
|Catch of the day: Lo Van Loi with a 3kg sturgeon at the farm in Pa Vay Su Village, where the cold climate provides perfect conditions for raising fish such as salmon and sturgeon. — VNS Photos Hoai Nam
Tan, 47, said salmon and sturgeon easily caught fungus in polluted water, so the farm had to filter the water from the stream.
Cold weather this year has created favourable conditions for production which is expected to be around six tonnes.
"We begin harvesting from March to provide customers in the province and neighbouring provinces of Lao Cai and Dien Bieân," said Nguyen Van Phuoc.
Phuoc, 46, said breeding salmon is riskier than sturgeon because the Finnish-imported fish will die if the oxygen content in the water falls.
"We strictly control oxygen levels, especially at nighttime.
A slow flow in the stream results in poor oxygen in water and kills salmon in a mass in 20 minutes," he explained.
The farm, which is situated in a valley supplied by a cold stream, 1,600m above sea level, enjoys a cold climate of between 5 and 17oC, making it ideal for breeding cold water fish.
Summer is the most difficult time at the farm because fishes often get bacterial contamination from stream water.
Lo Van Loi, 20, a staff of the farm, said a good nutrition will help salmon and sturgeon prevent from catching diseases.
"We improve daily portion of food for fish in summer and isolate ill individuals in separated tanks for treatments. Sometimes, we had to put ice on water tanks to maintain the temperature of water under 17oC for salmon and sturgeon," Loi explained.
The Thai ethnic man also said he can recognise what happens with the fish when feeding three times in a day.
The farm feeds imported processed food to fish at a cost of $8,000 – an account of 10 per cent of total revenue – each month.
The farm is the most profitable enterprise as price of salmon and sturgeon in market has seen stable between VND250,000 ($11) and $18.
"We plan to enlarge the farm by the end of this year and hope to double the production. However, the farm needs to do more investment to improve the productivity," the farm manager said.
"We hope to promote the trade at the local, but it needs a big fund for investment. Meanwhile, local people is not ready for the aquaculture because of a lack of fund."
Last year, the northwestern province's aquacultural farms produced 1,200 tonnes of fish, of which 170 tonnes were salmon and sturgeon.
"Cold water aquaculture has seen a profitable trade in the mountainous provinces including Lai Chau, Lao Cai, Dien Bien and Son La," said director Lao Cai cold-water Aquaculture Centre, Nguyen Thanh Hai.
"These provinces have comfortable conditions to boost the trade in future," he said, adding that the farm, which raised by the border guard group in Pa Vay Su Village, will be a major source providing local market with salmon and sturgeon in future.
"We plan to transfer the aquaculture to local people as well as boosting the enterprise in the community of ethnic Mong people," said the farm manager. — VNS