Hanoi fish ponds use 'food' from septic tanks

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Men harvest fish from a pond in Hanoi while a septic tanker dumps waste nearby. Photo by Ha An

Yen So Ward, Hanoi's main fish breeding village on the capital's outskirts, supplies hundreds of kilograms of fish to the northern region every day.

The ward has around 360 hectares of fish ponds, owned by 12 families who have devised an interesting method to minimize their breeding costs.

They allow septic tankers to dump into their ponds for free, and treat their fish with the no-cost human waste.

Hanoi septic tankers have to deal with hundreds of tons of waste every day, and they dump at least 300 tons directly into the environment every 24 hour, to save on storage and treatment costs, officials said.

Loi, a 33-year-old septic tank driver, said word of mouth about the fish ponds among drivers spread fast.

"Roughly, more than ten cubic meters of waste are dumped as fish food every day," he said.

Minh, owner of several fish ponds in the area, said, "The waste makes the fish grow much faster.

He said that he spent more than VND100 million putting baby fish into the ponds in August, and he can harvest them sometime this month instead of waiting until the end of the year if he fed them with normal stock.

Questioned officials said the dumping is "unacceptable" and raises serious health safety concerns, but that they don't have enough staff members to follow all the drivers.

Nguyen Nhu Tiep, head of Agriculture and Forestry Quality Management at the agriculture ministry, said human waste contains many toxic chemicals, and they will come back to consumers of fish bred with the waste.

Doan Hong Quang, chief supervisor from Hanoi Urban Environment Company, said human waste should be treated with chemicals and microorganisms in a tank for at least 30 days to avoid threats to public health.

Septic tanks from Quang's company only cover 180 public toilets around the city and more than 100 private companies have launched hundreds of other tankers and disguise them as "environmental" vehicles, according to Hanoi police.

Quang said untreated waste from hospitals can also spread diseases.

Cao Quang Quyen, vice chairman of Yen So Ward, said they caught one tanker red-handed early last month, and that was all. The tanker was later fined by higher authorities for VND12 million.

"We don't have officials specialized in environmental issues. And the ward is as large as 7.5 kilometers, so it's hard to catch all of them."

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