In Vietnam, the import of wild-caught lobster larvae is under strict control because of short supply, yet the smuggling of this in-demand shellfish remains rampant on social media, posing immeasurable risks.
Many raft owners in Cam Ranh City, Khanh Hoa Province find it difficult to import official lobster larva shipments, while some online sellers offer lobster larvae in great numbers and with plenty of pricing.
When buying lobster larvae becomes a gamble
Despite being aware of numerous risks in quality, many consumers still go for buying lobster larvae online.
“Vendors vaguely claimed that these infant lobsters hailed either from Indonesia or the Philippines,” said Le Phuong Dung, a buyer in Cam Linh Ward, Cam Ranh City.
The price per lobster larva peaked at VND60,000 (US$2.46) in July and August, while each cost about VND40,000 ($1.64) at the moment, said Dung.
Besides purchasing from a regular contact, she usually orders lobster larvae online as this kind of trading is fast and affordable.
|Screenshot of posts selling foreign lobster larvae at cheap prices all over Facebook
Baby lobsters need to be released into the water for customers to know whether they are vigorous or not, but those having sunk in the water cannot be returned even if it could be the provider’s fault, meaning buyers have to accept all the risk.
Additionally, raising lobster larvae is like taking a gamble, for most of the larvae batch is highly likely to die on account of its own poor quality or inferior water source, said a buyer named Pham Ngoc Thanh in Cam Thuan Ward, also in Cam Ranh City.
In the role of a lobster larva customer, a Tien Phong (Youth) newspaper reporter contacted a Facebook account called H.Ng., who provides a variety of juvenile lobsters with different values in large numbers.
“Baby lobsters with green and white colors cost VND36,000 [$1.48] individually, while cobalt blue and ornate rock lobster larvae from Indonesia are respectively priced at VND33,000 [$1.35] and VND40,000 [$1.64] apiece,” this person said.
The tiny lobsters are packed in styrofoam boxes with oxygen aeration and delivered to rafts as far as in Binh Dinh and Phu Yen Provinces, south-central Vietnam, with purchase quantity unrestricted.
However, the seller stammered when asked about the products’ certificate of origin or food safety testing, stating “it’s just fine as long as customers receive robust lobster larvae.”
Le Van Hoan, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Khanh Hoa Province, said a report on the shortage of lobster larvae is being compiled and completed to send to the provincial authorities.
Lobster diseases potentially break out
Illegal lobster larva transportation highly likely leads to the emergence of seriously contagious fatal diseases, such as white spot disease and milky haemolymph syndrome in lobsters, causing mass mortalities in the aquaculture of the crustacean worldwide including Vietnam.
The Khanh Hoa Department of Agriculture and Rural Development affirmed its written notice being sent to the People’s Committees of other provinces and cities to prevent smuggling, illegal trading, and transportation of lobster larvae from abroad to Vietnam via road, air, and some localities sharing a border with Cambodia.
|This photo shows lobster larvae being raised in tanks in Khanh Hoa Province, south-central Vietnam. Photo: Thanh Chuong / Tien Phong
“The authorities will strictly handle cases of illegitimately transporting and trading larvae of unknown origin, along with encouraging lobster businesses to conform to regulations on aquatic-breeding management,” said Hoan.
Meanwhile, an official of the Khanh Hoa Sub-Department of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Medicine said that no larva batch has been imported into this locality since the end of June 2023, meaning that these lobster larvae sold online must be smuggled or commercial fraud.
The sub-department and relevant agencies are pooling information on this case and reporting it to the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development alongside the National Steering Committee for Anti-Smuggling, Counterfeit Goods, and Trade Fraud to find solutions to the problem.
In the meantime, white spot disease pathogens in shrimps elevate their death rate up to 100 percent within a short time since this virus is quickly infectious among prawns and present in many sources like lobsters themselves, water sources or intermediate hosts, said Nguyen Tan Sy, deputy director of Nha Trang University’s Institute for Aquaculture based in Khanh Hoa Province.
Either contaminated cultivated environment or seasonal changes do create favorable conditions for viruses to thrive and break out on a large scale, he said.
According to him, that some retailers who import lobsters into Khanh Hoa without complying strictly with relevant regulations results in the larvae’s high risk of contracting diseases.
On the other hand, the Institute for Aquaculture, with the support of the national government, will soon establish a long-term commitment with several Indonesian companies to export lobster larvae to Vietnam via the official channel in order to ensure quantity and quality for breeders, Sy said.
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