Making billions of money from raising ‘terrible’ and rare fish

Tien GiangHaving defaulted on debt after 10 years of raising fingerlings, Luan switched to buying and breeding rare fish species with a ‘terrible’ weight such as coral fish, oiled fish, with a profit of 3 billion VND per year.

At 5:00 a.m. on a late November day, the gate of Phan Minh Luan’s farm in Long Dinh commune, Chau Thanh district was packed with trucks waiting to pick up the goods. The owner stepped out to the pond to urge the workers to quickly bring each batch of salmon, oil… ashore. Among them, there are fish that have to be carried by three people.

For six years as a giant fish farmer, Luan, 36, often makes such early shipments. On average, each year his farm provides the market with about 50 tons of fish.

Mr. Phan Minh Luan next to a fish weighing 37 kg. Photo: Character provided.

Bo Luan is a famous fish breeder in the region, but he does not want his son to follow in his footsteps and forces him to “study to be a state civil servant”. In 2005, Luan graduated from high school and applied for a job at the provincial Department of Fisheries, but more than a year later he resigned. “It’s very frustrating to have two feet under the table all day”, he said the reason for quitting.

Hearing many stories about his hometown having a successful career, the 20-year-old boy then believed he would be the next. He borrowed money, rented a farm a few kilometers from his home, started a nursery and sold fish like his father.

The first few years were a bit profitable. In the following years, prices were volatile, food costs increased, fish fell sick and died, making Luan’s debt thicker. In 2015, he defaulted on debt, the family had to sell almost all of the furniture in the house to help him partially cover. Luan closed the hatchery, looked for another way, but still told his father: “No matter what, I will not give up fishing”.

At this time, he noticed restaurants importing frozen fish weighing from 20 to 50 kg each from Thailand, selling 500,000 VND to 2 million VND per kg. In my opinion, Vietnam’s pangasius fish is firm and fresh, priced at only 80,000 – 100,000 VND per kilogram, certainly competitive.

Thinking of doing it, he rented a 500 m2 pond near the highway, specialized in hunting for pangasius 10 kg or more to sell to restaurants. At that time, he kept hearing that there was a big fish, even if he was hundreds of kilometers away, he would also look for it. In the first year, Luan bought a ton of “terrible” fish, making a profit of 70 million VND. In the following years, he imported more large fish abroad such as halibut, squirrel tea, red-tailed… Income increased 3-4 times, after a few years Luan could pay off all his debts.

This oily catfish was raised in a pond, two years ago weighed 58kg.  Mr. Luan predicts it must be more than 70kg now.  Because he is the parent fish, he does not sell it, but raises it to breed.  Photo: Character provided.

The oil pangasius raised for breeding in Mr. Luan’s pond two years ago weighed 58 kg. I guess it must be more than 70 kg now. Photo: Character provided.

After many years of buying large fish, Luan discovered that there were fish with strange colors in the pangasius that he bought. He suspects that this is oil pangasius, originating in the Mekong River basin. Pangasius is the largest freshwater fish in the world, can grow up to 3 m long and weigh 300 kg if living in the wild. This fish used to appear in Vietnam but is in danger of extinction.

Luan kept those animals and raised them separately in the pond. After two years, they increased from 10 kg to 25 kg, five times faster than normal pangasius. He cut a fish fin sample and sent it to Can Tho University for DNA testing. The results confirmed, 99% is a rare breed of pangasius.

Immediately, he went online to find a place to sell this fish abroad because Vietnam didn’t have it at that time. Introduced by a friend, Luan knew that there were “terrible” fish farms in Thailand. In June 2019, he went abroad alone to “seek to study religion”.

In Thailand, Luan visited farms raising large-sized catfish and catfish, learning how to care for them and let them breed. After a dozen times going back, a farmer gave him 1,000 pangasius as small as a toothpick. “It takes up to 20 years for the parents to give birth to this kind of offspring,” the farmer said.

Bringing back to Vietnam, more than half of the fish died due to transportation. The thesis raised the remaining fish in the cement tank, but the fish continued to die. In those days, the young Tien Giang hardly slept because he kept lying down thinking “how can Thailand feed, I can’t?”. He went online, searched for information on how to raise but did not learn much. “Each place has a condition, there is nothing like observing yourself”, Luan drew a conclusion after many nights of staying awake.

From the next day, Luan almost sat outside the tank to observe the fish’s activities. “How much do fingerlings eat? How do they grow well in the Vietnamese environment?”, the questions were gradually answered.

He discovered that to raise oil pangasius, it is necessary to have a wide pond surface and to raise it sparingly. For example, with a pond of 5,000 m2, only 300-500 seed are stocked. The remaining oil pangasius was transferred from the cement tank to the pond and reared in new conditions. Only one year they gain 10 kg while to reach this weight, pangasius usually takes 10 years.

After more than two years of switching to buying fingerlings for self-raising, Luan currently has 5,000 oil pangasius fish, of which nearly 300 weigh 30-50 kg. “The meat of oily pangasius is more nutritious and delicious than normal pangasius, so the economic value is very high,” said the owner of the farm. Each kilogram of this fish has the lowest price of 200,000 VND.

Luan also raises other rare and precious fish such as coral, red-tailed fish, and koi carp. He currently has three production facilities including a display fish farm, a 1-hectare feeder pond and a 7-hectare nursery pond. The farm has four employees who work regularly and associate with product consumption for 10 families in Tien Giang, Long An…

“From the day I joined the fish farm, I made a profit of 500-600 million dong every year,” said Mr. Nguyen Tran Son, a fish-raising household in Tan Hung district, Long An. Mr. Son said that if he only raised cotton fish and snakehead fish as before, even in a dream he could not make as much profit.

The fish was bred by Mr. Luan.  Photo: Character provided.

The fish was bred by Mr. Luan. Photo: Character provided.

In the past, to save costs, Luan often imported rare fish to Vietnam by road, so there was a trip where most of the fish died, causing a loss of billions of dong. Not wanting to be completely dependent on foreign breeds, he taught himself the technique of “forced birth”. Recently, coral fish, red-tailed … at the farm have spawned, although the number is not much.

“It’s also a new step for me to learn how to help other rare fish species reproduce,” Luan said. With a few hundred broodstock, he hopes they will reproduce well in the future.

“Luan’s farm is the first model in the province to raise big fish and so many,” said Mr. Nguyen Thanh Son, Chairman of Long Dinh Commune Farmers’ Association. He added that in the locality, Luan enthusiastically helps farmers learn new fish varieties, techniques and methods of care.

Six years ago, when a creditor came to ask for money, Luan regretted seeing his mother cry. At that time, he thought, leaving the city to return to his hometown was a big mistake. But now, the 36-year-old man thinks it’s just a “kick” to see himself.

“Now I’m getting rich in my own hometown. Leaving the city to return home requires determination and constant learning,” he said.

The scientific name of Pangasius is Pangasianodon gigas. This is a freshwater fish that can weigh up to 300 kg, classified as critically endangered with a very high risk of extinction in the wild.

The fish has a large and flat head, a wide mouth, two long antennae in the upper jaw, long pelvic fins to the caudal fin, mainly aquatic plants. In the West, there are about 100 individuals of oil pangasius in Lang Sen wetland reserve located in Dong Thap Muoi area of ​​Long An province.

Hai Hien


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