Vietnam's seafood association has asked for clarification from the World Wildlife Fund after the latter blacklisted Vietnam's pangasius or tra fish as saying the fish farms have polluted the environment.
Tra fish was put on the red list of WWF's consumer guide, a compendium of various seafood guides published in several European countries including Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and Denmark.
The WWF's red list contains the names of products that conscientious consumers should avoid.
The fish used to be on the yellow list. The WWF recommends consumers purchase yellow-listed items only as alternatives to species on the green list "” that is, products deemed good for the environment.
"A major problem is that [tra fish] farms pollute the natural environment around them, because nutrients, medicines and pesticides are washed into the surrounding rivers and lakes," the listing reads. "Furthermore, there is no assurance that the feed used in production does not come from over-fished wild stocks."
But Nguyen Huu Dung, vice chairman of Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Processors (VASEP), on Thursday said the WWF did not offer any convincing evidence to conclude that Vietnam's tra fish farming pollutes the environment.
Statistics by the association showed that many tra breeding areas in Vietnam, some hundreds of hectares, in recent years have met the standards of the SQF (Safe Quality Food) Institute, a division of the US's Food Marketing Institute (FMI).
Some domestic producers have even received Global GAP certificates for good agriculture practice.
Among them are Vietnam's biggest listed seafood companies Minh Phu and Vinh Hoan, and Agrifish An Giang, a famous seafood exporter based in the Mekong Delta's An Giang Province.
Nguyen Van Ky, General Director of Agrifish An Giang, said he has invested more into raising the quality of his firm's tra fish than he has in increasing their number.
Everything from the feed, nutrients, and wastewater processing have been designed to make the industry more environmentally friendly, Ky said.
Uc Anh, a tra fish farmer in Can Tho, said he's no longer operating farms that discharge waste directly into local waters.
Instead of breeding the fish in ten ponds as he once did, Anh now keeps just four and uses two to treat wastewater.
He said that for the past two years the method has protected the surrounding waters and kept his fish healthy and growing fast.
Following the WWF announcement, UK-based seafood firms Findus Group and Birds Eye Iglo Group also issued statements defending pangasius' place in the European seafood market, according to a report by IntraFish Media.
Last week, Conservative member of the European Parliament Struan Stevenson caused a stir in the seafood industry when he said pangasius is farmed by "slave labor" in the "filthy" Mekong River in Vietnam.
Local seafood exporters have asked Stevenson of Scotland to visit the farms on the river and see the breeding pools for himself.
European countries have served as a leading tra fish market for Vietnam's processors and exporters.
Figures by VASEP showed that Vietnam exported US$88 million worth of the fish to Spain during the first nine months this year and $69 million to Germany, compared to around $1.6 million to Japan.
Vietnamese tra fish products also rank in the top ten favorite commodities in the US, according to VASEP.
Vietnam exported around 41,000 tons of tra fish worth US$134 million to the US last year, or 6.75 percent of its total tra exports around the world.