Vietnam cops ordered to report on octopi catch they let rot

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Two men in Ho Chi Minh City's Can Gio District collecting octopuses which they aimed to sell in cities and provinces in northern Vietnam. A consignment of two tons of octopuses seized in Hai Duong Province on May 27 was left to spoil and then destroyed a week later to prevent pollution, causing a losses of nearly VND1 billion to fishermen in Can Gio.

Vietnam's Minister of Public Security has ordered the director of the Hai Duong Police Department to report on a case in which more than two tons of fresh octopi were controversially seized to have its quarantine papers checked by local police who left the batch to spoil.

The seizure reportedly caused hundreds of fishermen in Ho Chi Minh City's Can Gio District to lose nearly VND1 billion (US$47,610). Vietnam's annual per capita income was $1,555 in 2012.

Minister Tran Dai Quang also asked the chief inspector of his ministry to investigate the case and punish any possible violators, adding that the results must be reported before June 15, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported Monday.

The fishermen and the traders who represent them have demanded that the the Hai Duong environmental police division compensate them for losses of nearly VND1 billion, but the police have refused, saying they did nothing wrong.

The traders then took their complaints to the Ministry of Public Security.

On May 27, Nguyen Quang Hung was driving more than two tons of fresh octopi caught in HCMC from Hanoi's Noi Bai International Aiport to Quang Ninh Province's Mong Cai Town more than 300 kilometers away.

Hung's truck was pulled over midway by traffic police in Hai Duong Province's Chi Linh Commune at around 11 p.m. and sent to the provincial police department's environmental police division on the grounds that the goods "were of unclear origin and had no quarantine certificates."

According to Hung, when the unpreserved octopi started spoiling at around 4 a.m. of May 28, the police allowed him to take back his truck and the consignment, but Hung refused to accept the rotting animals.

But Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Trong Thai, deputy director of the environmental police division, said the driver was responsible for the octopi spoiling since his office had allowed the latter to take back the vehicle and goods at 1:15 a.m.

However, Tuoi Tre newspaper found that official permission for the truck to leave was not granted until 10 a.m.

Several lawyers have said that the environmental police did not have the right to check the quarantine papers, as this duty falls under the authority of the animal health agency.  

Do Huy Long, a senior official with the Department of Animal Health under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said last week that aquatic products consumed in domestic market will be quarantined if they originate from a region where there is widespread illness among its marine creatures.

But he said that his department's HCMC branch has confirmed that there are no health problems with octopi in HCMC in general and Can Gio District in particular.

Long also said his agency was yet to receive any report on the case, so he could not conclude "who was right or wrong." 

Colonel Pham Van Loan, deputy director of the Hai Duong police department, said Saturday the consignment was destroyed on June 4 as it had "disintegrated and was causing pollution."

Tran Van Dong, a resident of Can Gio's Can Thanh Town, was quoted by Tuoi Tre Sunday as saying that he and the other 16 other traders are responsible for the octopi payload caught by more than 400 fishing households in Can Gio.

Late last month the traders had assembled the "the biggest octopus consignment in recent years," owing to a high tide that the fishermen said offered their families more than twice the normal catch of between one and two kilos a day.

For nearly a decade, the traders have brought octopi to the Tan Son Nhat International Airport from Can Gio to be sent to northern provinces and cities including Hanoi, Hai Phong and Quang Ninh. After the catch is sold, the money is sent back south two or three days later, the Tuoi Tre report said.

Dong of Can Thanh Town said middlemen like him will only know the exact sale price of octopi after purchasers in the north have sold the goods, and they would then deduct costs such as fuel for transportation and ice used to preserve the octopi, and give the rest to the fishermen.

The middlemen are paid a commission of a few thousand dong a kilo of octopus sold, he said.

Meanwhile, Truong Thi Khanh, another trader, said apart from the VND1 billion loss from the destroyed octopi, the Can Gio fishermen also were forced to take on debts totaling VND140 million for packaging, ice and transportation costs.

"After this bust, many fishermen have lost their capital. How can they survive if another consignment is busted and the octopi die and rot?"  

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