The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) agreed to remove Vietnamese catfish from its red list on Wednesday.
After several days of negotiation, the organization created a new consumer category for the fish, one that eschews reliance on the colors of a traffic light.
WWF's guide now lists Vietnam's tra fish industry as "moving toward certification" and urges consumers to buy the fish to support the transition toward sustainability.
The turnabout began at a Wednesday press conference in Hanoi, when Dr. Mark Powell, global seafood coordinator for the WWF, announced that Vietnam's catfish would be removed from the WWF red list.
Dr. Powell admitted that his group did not consult current research when it decided to place the hugely popular export item on its red list a compendium of products that conscientious consumers should not buy.
Dr. Powell said the group plans to assess the industry in a more accurate manner, and facilitate product development based on the government's commitments to sustainable fish farming practices.
Just before the briefing, WWF representatives met with the General Fishery Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Processors (VASEP).
Earlier in November, WWF had downgraded Vietnam's pangasius from yellow - "Think twice" to the red - "Don't buy" list, in its 2010-2011 guidance manual for seafood consumers in Germany, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland.
The action brought sharp criticism from catfish breeders, processors, and officials in Vietnam.
Pham Anh Tuan, deputy director of the General Fishery Department, said the two sides agreed to strengthen cooperation on sustainable catfish production in Vietnam. On Thursday, they will discuss a detailed plan based on the new consensus.
"We have researched WWF's assessments carefully and were very disappointed," said Tuan.
WWF's 19 criteria were based on only two materials: an article published by the World Aquaculture Magazine in 2009 and an environmental report by the Netherlands' Wagenningen University in the same year. "For the data to have been published in
2009, it must have been collected in 2008," Tuan said. "Thus, it is unconvincing and unscientific to use that data for the 2010-11 guidance manual."
Nguyen Huu Dung, vice chairman of VASEP, said the two sides should come to an agreement on the assessment process that recognizes Vietnam's efforts to achieve sustainability.
Later that day, the organization's Swiss headquarters published a release about tra's new classification as "moving toward certification."
Under the new classification, WWF will encourage consumers to buy the fish to support the industry's transition toward sustainability.
FLOOR EXPORT PRICES
Minimum export prices will be set for tra fish (pangasius) in the first quarter of next year in an effort to prevent farmers and processors from suffering losses, an official said.
Accordingly, white-flesh tra fish will be sold abroad for a minimum of US$3 per kilogram while exported red-flesh fish will go for at least $2.05, said Duong Ngoc Minh, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP).
The baseline prices will not apply to fish bound for the US market, where anti-dumping tariffs remain in place, Minh said.
A minimum price at which tra fish breeders sell to processors will be likewise be set at $1 per kilogram.
The purchase price of catfish is now VND23,000-VND23,500 ($1.2) compared to just VND18,000 ($0.9) in October, and the average export price is $3.
Source: Tuoi Tre