From farm to table: a visit to one of the biggest pangasius farms in the Mekong Delta
July 31, 2023
By Dennis Wittmann, General Manager DACH Region.
We at ASC deal in responsibly farmed seafood, but most of us do so from behind our desks. I recently had the opportunity to step outside of the office and visit an ASC-certified pangasius farm in Vietnam. I was thrilled to experience responsible farming practices firsthand and see how they positively impact the environment and community. In this article, I’ll share my insights and discoveries from my visit to the Vinh Hoan pangasius farm in Vietnam.
I am fortunate to have worked with several important aquaculture species and seen many different farming operations. But one of the most significant Asian species was missing – pangasius. Nowadays you can find pangasius fillets in supermarkets all over the world. Sadly, there are still many outdated myths about this species and how it is produced, which foster uncertainty among consumers.
One of the most common myths is that pangasius is farmed in dirty or polluted water, which is simply not true – especially not on ASC certified farms. To learn more about the pangasius and its myths, check out this blog.
Visiting one of the biggest pangasius farms in Vietnam
You can see why I was excited to combine my holidays with a visit to Vinh Hoan in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam last December. The Mekong Delta is home to many pangasius farms, which play a vital role in the local economy. These farms and processing plants provide a source of income for many people in the area, as well as delicious fish for consumers around the world.
Established in 1997 in Dong Thap province, Vinh Hoan came from humble beginnings as a small fish processor. Today, it’s a global industry leader producing 900 metric tons of pangasius per day across 400 hectares of farming area. Additionally, the first Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certificate for responsible pangasius farming was awarded to Vinh Hoan’s Tan Hoa farm in Vietnam back in 2012.
Transparent, modern, responsible
CEO Ms Tam Nguyen and her team showed us the whole supply chain of their operation. Vinh Hoan is completely vertically integrated, which means their fingerlings, or baby fish, come from their own hatchery and they even produce their own feed. The feed mill is a state-of-the-art industrial scale facility where feed ingredients come together and fish feed is produced.
The Mekong Delta is the lifeline of Southern Vietnam and also a highway for goods. The plant lies conveniently next to the river and the produced feed can be moved easily to the hatchery and grow-out facilities. To grow fish, you need a constant supply of eggs, fry, and fingerlings. These come from a hatchery where parent fish are kept. Strict biosecurity measures are taken to prevent babies or parents from becoming sick. When the fingerlings become mature enough, they are transported to the grow-out ponds.
The farm manager and staff make sure the fish are healthy, are fed feed perfectly adapted to their needs, and grow properly. They analyse and monitor feed conversion ratios, water quality parameters, and many other factors.
ASC-certified best practices
If you’re looking for responsibly produced pangasius, your best bet is to look for products from farms that have been awarded the ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) certification, like Vinh Hoan. The certification is only given to farms that meet strict criteria for environmental and social responsibility. To obtain it, pangasius farms must comply with a range of requirements that ensure they operate in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible manner.
This includes meeting stringent water quality standards and conducting regular environmental impact assessments. It also involves protecting the welfare of their workers and the local community. Moreover, ASC-certified pangasius farms are committed to minimizing their use of antibiotics and other chemicals.
They maintain a detailed record of their operations and are subject to regular audits to ensure they are upholding the certification requirements. By selecting pangasius products that have been granted the ASC certification, you are taking an active role in supporting responsible farming practices. This helps to safeguard our environment and communities for years to come.
From farm to table
While farming itself is interesting, the processing step impressed me the most. The processing plant is a modern industrial facility, where fish are stunned, gutted, and filleted by hand. Every single fillet undergoes quality control and the whole plant is managed according to high food safety as well as health and safety standards.
I am always confident that the independent ASC auditors do a good job and I can convince myself about how a farm operates by looking at the ASC Audit reports, which are publicly available. But seeing the farm and the whole supply chain with my own eyes made me realise even more how outdated the myths about the pangasius industry are.
Pangasius: a culinary adventure
Another exciting part of the trip was the culinary aspect. Every day, we had pangasius cooked in several traditional ways. We had the traditional Cá Kho Tộ or braised fish cooked in spices and sauces, but also other modern recipes such as the pangasius burger.
My visit to one of the biggest pangasius farms in Vietnam was eye-opening, and meeting and dining with the people behind the whole process was an excellent bonus.