Mass oyster deaths leave farmers broke

HA NOI - Tens of millions of snout otter clams have died en mass just weeks before they were to be harvested, leaving hundreds of households in northern Quang Ninh Province in financial difficulties.

According to Van Don District's Office of Agriculture and Rural Development, up to 60 million of snout otter clams worth VND200 billion (S$12 million) died after more than one month of rearing.

Scientists from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development's National Centre for Vetenerial Diagnosis said on Monday that a parasite named Perkinsus was the cause of the massive death of the clams. The disease, first reported in March, had quickly spread and devastated the incomes of some 650 households in the district.

Currently, there is no known cure for the internal parasite.

Nguyen Van Minh, a farmer from the district's Cai Rong Town, said he farmed 10,000 cages with between 45 and 50 clams in each. However, he harvested only about three to five healthy clams per pod.

"I expected much from this crop as I spent the largest investment ever on it," Minh said.

"I should have earned VND300,000 per cage." Enterprises are in the same situation. Director of Do To Co Ltd Do Huu To said the company had lost more than 15 million clams and that the number was increasing day by day.

According to To, low-quality breeds, transported from regions across the country and even imported from China, water pollution and crowded rearing conditions were to blame for the widespread deaths.

Director of the provincial Animal Health Department Doan Duy Ai said farmers must invest raising costs of VND120,000 per cage, which means they must have lost more than only VND200 billion as reported.

So far, the department and the provincial authority have asked local residents to stop farming clams for two years until the disease disappears.

The province said it would work closely with the Department of Finance to provide financial assistance to farmers.

Farming of snout otter clams started in 2003 in the province's Van Don District. After seven years, big profits from the business raised farming households from 10 to 700.

The current crop, which numbers three times that of previous years, was due to be harvested this month.

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