12/08/2010 | 16:25:50

Vietnam to export puffer fish

The Government has given the green light for Vietnam to begin exporting puffer fish for the first time.

Fishermen and seafood processors in the provinces of Kien Giang and Khanh Hoa, where waters are rich in puffer fish, have been selected to become the first exporters on a pilot basis under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The fish poses risks since it contains toxins that can be harmful to customers, and Vietnamese fishermen have heretofore lacked the skills and techniques to process the fish, said Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Luong Le Phuong.

The Government banned exploiting, processing and trading in puffer fish in 2003 after a number of deaths caused by improper processing. But the fish has high commercial value if safely processed to clear all toxins, Phuong said.

Puffer fish are used not only for food but to produce pharmaceutical products in Japan , the Republic of Korea , and other markets, he said.

Importers from Japan , the RoK and China have all expressed interest in buying the fish from Vietnam , he added.

Under a three-year ministry plan, an estimated 800-1,000 tonnes of processed fish would be exported annually at 5 -10 USD/kg, earning a turnover of 4-10 million USD each year.

The business was expected to generate jobs for 600-1,000 workers.

Kien Giang and Khanh Hoa would each choose two qualified businesses to work with RoK's Poseidon Seafood Co – the sole partner allowed to import puffer fish from Vietnam under the initial period – to classify and process puffer fish for export.

The deputy director of Kien Giang province's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nguyen Ngoc Phuong, said a training course began on August 9 for workers of the two chosen export companies in the province, with experts from the National Agro-Forestry and Fisheries Quality Assurance Department and Poseidon Seafood Co.

"Workers will be equipped with essential knowledge and techniques, from classifying different kinds of puffer fish to preserving and processing the fish to clear out all poisonous substance," she said.

Apart from the two chosen companies, all other individuals and businesses would continue to be banned from exploiting, processing and trading in puffer fish to ensure consumer safety, Phuong said.

Duong Van Mun, a fisherman in Kien Giang's Kien Luong district, said he was very happy to know that fisherman would be allowed to sell puffer fish.

"Whenever catching puffer fish, we used to throw away or process the fish into cattle feed at a very cheap price, but now we can expect to get a better profit," he said.

The pilot project also has a budget of 45-50 billion VND (2.3-2.6 million USD) funded from State and provincial sources and investors.

Minister Phuong said strict control and supervision would ensure safety and hygiene, from the catch to transport and processing of the fish.

There are an estimated 40 different varieties of puffer fish in Vietnam with a potential estimated catch of over 37,300 tonnes per year, according to the ministry.

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