by Ha Nguyen
Viet Nam's fish-loving diners are currently facing something of a dilemma. What if your favourite type of meal could make you sick?
Consumers have been advised to stop buying sturgeon with rumours spreading that illegally imported fish from China have entered the market containing damaging chemical substances.
Nguyen Thuy Nga lives in Ha Noi's Cau Giay Ward. She says that since the health warning broke early last month, she has stopped buying the fish in the market.
"It's annoying because sturgeon is tasty and affordable at VND180,000 per kilogram. My two children like eating it very much. The people in charge should find out soon how dangerous it is so we can decide whether to continue buying it or not."
Housewife Vuong Thi Hao, 64, from the capital's Hai Ba Trung District, is also a keen fan of sturgeon. "It is delicious. I first started buying it at a price of VND200,000 per kilogram, but not long after that the price fell to VND150,000 at most and I started buying it all the time."
She only stopped eating the fish last month after hearing about the Chinese rumours from a friend. At that point she began boycotting it, despite her husband's protests.
"I told him to eat local fish such as pike and carp to be healthy, but he really likes sturgeon," Hao says.
She called for the mass media to report where the sturgeons come from and whether they are really unsafe.
An inspectorate delegation from the Aquaculture Department has travelled to the north-western province of Lai Chau following tip-offs that fish farms in the area have been passing off Chinese sturgeon as locally bred.
Tran Yen, one of the first contemporary businessmen to raise sturgeon in the province's Tam Duong Commune, says a fish farm had recently been opened near his by foreigners who he believes are from China.
"We should prevent any tricks; otherwise illegally imported sturgeons may unfairly compete with local Vietnamese fish in the market. This could damage Vietnamese fish owners, forcing them to close down and leaving consumers with no option but to buy Chinese produce," he says. The threat is all the more real, because sturgeon from China tend to sell at around VND120,000 per kilogram, half the price of Vietnamese ones.
The Association of Cold Water Fish Raising Owners have said that to evade anti-smuggling units, Chinese traders have tried to associate with a number of Vietnamese fish farmers to pass off cheap imported fish as legal.
In an interview with the Viet Nam Law newspaper, Do Quang Tung, the director in charge of Viet Nam's CITES Office (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), confirmed that the Viet Duc Company is the only enterprise who have been licensed to import baby sturgeons and sturgeon eggs into the country.
"We have never granted permission for any other company to import these fish into the country. This means that any other imported sturgeons are illegal," Tung said.
Tran Cao Muu, general secretary of the Viet Nam Fishery Association, believes that agencies must immediately tackle the 'hidden disaster' of Chinese sturgeons.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Thi Xuan Thu told a meeting last Tuesday in Ha Noi that illegally imported sturgeons have turned local markets upside down, threatening the food safety of consumers and damaging the local cold water fishing sector.
"Leaders from the ministry have some doubts about the safety of these fish. The situation is hard to prevent, but we must work hard to stop the violations from increasing and solve this problem," she said.
Thu said the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development's Department of Managing Aquatic Product had begun testing 30 samples for verification that they are safe for consumers.
" Final results will be published in the media soon," she said.
For Nga, Hao and other sturgeon lovers, that time can't come soon enough. — VNS