Mussel breeders bankrupt, crop decimated

Hundreds of farmers in Tan Dao Commune, Ninh Hoa District, Khanh Hoa Province, are suffering huge losses as thousands of tons of Asian green mussel died during the Tet holidays. The leading cause of death has not yet been discovered.

Farmers going bankrupt

A farmer stands stands next to a pile of dead mussels

Located in Tan Dao Hamlet, Nha Phu lagoon is famous for its wide range and large reserves of maritime species. Tan Dao has around 200 households, over 50 percent of which depend on breeding green mussels for their livelihood.

Sitting on the bank of a pond beside a large pile of mussel shells, Pham A, a local breeder, sadly said that his mussels began to die just one day before the Lunar New Year began. At the beginning of the crop, his family had borrowed over VND30 million ($1,700) from the bank to invest in the breeding farm.

If a kilo of mussel was sold at VND 4,000, said A, his family would have earned a profit of between VND40 – 50 million (US$2,288- 2,860) after clearing the bank loan. But now, the death of the mussels has brought his family to the verge of bankruptcy.

According to Mr. Tran Chang, head of the Commune, mussel breeding has helped many families in Tan Dao escape poverty for several years now.

For each crop, most families in the commune invest at least VND20 million (US$1,144) in breeding farms, some make investments of up to VND300 - 400 million ( US$17,162- 22,883). Thanks to profits gained from mussel breeding, local farmers can not only afford their kids’ schooling but also build brick houses and buy motorbikes.

Chang said, “Now the local farmers have nothing. It is estimated that over 4,000 tons of green mussels, worth VND16 billion (US$915,331), are dead. How can the farmers here repay the debts to the banks, no one knows.”

Why did the mussels die?

This is the first time mussels in Nha Phu lagoon have suffered such massive destruction.
Local farmers said that the mussels raised in breeding farms located near the dumping area of Viet Thang Pig Farm died first. The pig farm was built three years ago and breeds thousands of pigs.

Viet Thang has dug a large pond running parallel with the sea bank to contain wastewater from the pig farm and built a long 5 cm high dyke to prevent the wastewater from overflowing from the pond into the sea. Since the dyke is not high enough to prevent high tide from overflowing into the wastewater pond water, the ebbing tide carries wastewater into the sea day after day.

The quality of water used to be very clear and clean but now has an all pervading, disgusting smell. Lying under the water and right at the foot of the dyke is a 1-m thick layer of black mud.

Some local farmers asserted that two underground drainages, with diameters between 25 – 30 cm, built by Viet Thang to discharge wastewater into the sea are uncovered after the tide has receded every morning.

The Research Institute for Aquaculture No 3. has taken samples at three different places for analysis. One was at a mussel breeding farm in the commune, another near the dumping pond of Viet Thang and the other near the crocodile farm nearby. Tests found organic and sediment pollution levels near Viet Thang’s dumping pond to be many times higher than permissible levels.

A preliminary conclusion made by the Institute for the death of the mussels, said that the culprit for the massive loss may be poor hygiene conditions in breeding farms. It said that local farmers did not wash their farms for years to get rid of mussels’ waste. It accumulated and has caused pollution in the breeding environment.

Another culprit may be the level of dissolved oxygen at breeding farms, which had been affected by the cold spell hitting Khanh Hoa Province before Tet. Dissolved oxygen is another important water quality factor for maritime species.  

By Van Ngoc – Translated by Phuong Lan

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