The latest official statistics of the Vietnam government showed that for the ten months leading up to November 2016 catfish exports to the EU dipped 11.5% to US$217.7 million, extending an already established downward trajectory.
The news comes on the heels of concerns first raised more than two years ago by EU buyers over the issues of excessive water weight and the presence of unacceptable levels of chemical and drug residues by import inspectors.
Speaking at a recent industry forum in Hanoi, Charles Diener, director and founder of OFCO Sourcing Vietnam, said that Vietnam fishers likely will lose the entire EU market due the quality concerns.
Back in 2009, he said, the segment in Vietnam was healthy and his business was profitably shipping frozen catfish fillets to the EU.
However, since then the industry has been on a downward spiral, experiencing a steady decline in price, quality and profits.
Currently, he said there are no controls in place in the segment to ensure quality— and consequently, it is impossible for the industry overall to comply with the strict food safety requirements of the EU.
If something isn’t done to right the ship and change the course the industry is on, the entire catfish segment may be gone in a few short years, as current practices are unsustainable.
US fish distributors and consumer advocacy groups are also calling for stricter inspection for pangasius imports from Vietnam, he said, noting Vietnam has been the largest Asian supplier of pangasius to the US market.|
The US farmed fish segment is relatively small in relation to the market demand and of necessity must import right at 90% of its farm raised fish and seafood to meet it. Most of their imports come from Asia.
However, exports to the US market, like that of the EU, also began to decline in 2009 said Mr Diener. and just reached US$285.1 million in 2015, down nearly two-fold for the seven-year period.
The only thing keeping the industry afloat is the fact that Chinese imports of Vietnamese catfish have skyrocketed over the past year.
In the first 10 months of 2016, Chinese imports surged 76.1% on-year to US$235.5 million, accounting for a 16.9% market share, making it likely that in 2017 Vietnam’s northern neighbour will become the largest global consumer of the country’s catfish.