Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Clams from Vietnam!

Hello everyone. So after days of frustration of not having my laptop computer, I’m delighted to have it back and in working order! Evidently it went back to Saigon from the small city several times before the guys figured out the correct replacement part for the keyboard. I’m not sure but just happy to have it back in working order:)

The main reason for me to come to Vietnam this time around was to visit a clam and coral supplier on behalf of my customers in the US and elsewhere. The following pictures are from a visit to a facility in HCM (Hochi Minh City – Saigon). For wholesalers and distributors that are interested in Vietnam products, please send me an e-mail at and I will be happy to refer you to the supplier.

Concerning the clams cites, I’m getting mixed signals. There seems to be a “grey” matter on this. I’m not sure as there appears to be something going on behind the scenes that I don’t know about. I’m not too surprised though, just like the cites process in Indonesia, it sounds political. We will have to see how it all plays out.

Here is a picture of me and Bryan, an aspiring coral geek. Like me, Bryan would like to work in the coral export business in the future. He is from the Bay Area and I got a chance to meet up with him in HCM. He has family in Vietnam and is on vacation right now. It is nice to meet people that are interested and appreciative in what I’m trying to do. He seems to be at the same crossroads in life when I was younger. We will be hanging around out a lot when I return to the US. Good to have met you Bryan and follow your dreams, as you only have “one life to live” – and I’m not talking soaps!

Actually back in the days when I worked at Mickey D’s, the crew used to call me “Grand daddy Eddie”. I used to councel all the kids. You’d be surprised what goes on in young lives those days. I’m sure it is worse now though. You name it, I heard it all. From parental abuse, drug problems, boyfriend-girlfriend problems, school problems, and even “coming out of the closet” of being gay! Wow that one caught me offguard as this guy could get any girl he wanted! I really think young people need role models in this world of crazyness. I was not the perfect one, but I tried to help the young people as much as I could. Not that Bryan is young or anything, but just need some advice before venturing into the coral field.

This particular exporter has been in business for 10 years, and here I thought that Vietnam products were fairly new. The facility is in the outskirts of HCM. Just like me in Indo, he has an extensive supply network from fishermen all over Vietnam!

We followed him (his name is Van) to an alley on the outskirts of the big city. And sure enough, to the right, was his facility.

The first thing that caught my eye were these good sized maximas and squamosas.
One thing to note, gigas and derasa clams are not found in Vietnam waters.

Here is a close up shot of a Tridacna squamosa. The picture does not do any justice, as the clam is strikingly beautiful in person. Imagine under some 20k’s!

Some of the squamosas look like derasas, like this one. Back in the Tonga days, it was rare to see a squamosa with any colors other than the gold/brown ones in the wild. But here in Vietnam, much of the squamosas seem to have some color, or at least on the edges of it’s mantels.

Another typical looking Vietnamese squamosa. This one reminds me of my prized clam that I lost to the dreaded “clam disease” back when I had my retail shop. It actually looked like a hybrid between a squamosa and a maxima and I was sure proud of it. Anthony Calfo took a picture of it and you can see it in one of his books. It is in his Invertebrate book, but forgot the page it is on. Just look for the clam picture that he describes as “unusual color morph maxima” – I think.

Let’s talk about the dreaded “clam disease” for a minute. So sometime in the early 2000’s when I still had my retail shop, the reefing community got hit with a killer clam disease. Basically the clam would look good for about a week. Then it would start gaping and few days later, it would be fish meat. Once the infected clam got into the system, it was over. It would soon start to effect healthy clams and eventually wipe out all the tridacnids. It didn’t matter what species, although the derasas and gigas seemed to be more resistant in the beginning. But in the end, even these guys would gape and die. For sure the maximas and croceas were most susceptible and die the quickest. I really felt bad as many of my customers bought one of the infected clams and ended up wiping out their whole collection of prized clams. This type of scenario was going on all over the US. Of course as soon as I realized that there was a problem, I stopped selling them.

At the time, all the clams that were infected were maximas that was coming out of Pohnpei (island in Micronesia). A transhipper in LA was transhipping huge quantities of these highly desired “ultra maximas” to the stores all over the US. Of course, no one knew that these were infected and highly contagious in the beginning. If some died, then it was stress during shipping that was the culprit, or at least that is what we all thought. It wasn’t until we started to loose them in large quantities and infecting old healthy clams, that we realized there was a problem. To my knowledge, Vietnamese clams weren’t really around in large numbers back then and came into the hobby a few years later. I did get a small batch of some nice croceas and put them in a small separate system with a small surge. They did fine but I had a hard time selling them because of the scare earlier in the year.

I was determined to figure out what was causing the disease and even maybe try to find a cure. At the time, I talked to many experts in the industry about the clam problem. One local guy, his name was Wayne Shang, was an expert in clams. He was one of my good customers and I sold him lots of acroporas during that time. His clams were actually spawning in his 750 gallon captive reef! He has a book out and a video to go with it on his big reef tank.

I was surprised to hear from Wayne that this clam disease was not new. It seemed that batches of clams get infected with something from time to time. There was no cure for it except to avoid the clams and let it pass through. Only time was the cure. He even had talked to the super clam expert, Daniel Knopp. This disease had happened before years ago and a LA transhipper was to blame. I heard that the holding facility had to be sanitized to wipe out the disease in the system. I’m not too sure as I just heard these things from people. But one interesting thing Wayne told me was that the problem happens during summer. He suspected that the rise in temperature had something to do with it. My guess is that overcrowding and rise in temperature was causing the problem. I think the problem was occuring overseas on the collection/shipping end, not the transhipper or the receiving end.

My network of experts led me to Bob Boone. Bob is the Vice President of Aquatic Specialties and Pets in Hayward California. Robert is the president and Bob is his right hand man. Bob has been in the industry for a long time and knows a lot of people. He referred me to a lady by the name of Dr. Beverly Dixon. She was a professor at Cal State Hayward in sciences. I had heard of her before, just by name though. Of course she was more than happy to look into the matter. Through Bob, I presented her with samples of the clams. All were Pohnpei maximas. I gave her an old dead one, a freshly infected one (just started to gape), and a healthy one for her research. It turned out that she was going to use the clams for a research study for her students. Hey this was really exciting, finally a super expert was going to find out what was making the clams sick.

About a month later, I got some news back. I was excited to hear that she and her team have found a species of vibrio. Unfortunately this is all the information I got. Bob told me that she couldn’t disclose any information on it, as Dr. Dixon was going to publish the findings in a journal of science somewhere. I only got half the anwer that I was looking for. Ok so there is a vibrio, ok how to kill the vibrio and save the clam? After that I tried quarantining the sick clams and tried all sorts of medications. Nothing worked, although nitro furozone seemed to help a little. The last clam I lost to the finish was my prized “hybrid clam”. After that, I gave up and didn’t follow up at all.

I hear the disease effected large numbers of Vietnam clams in the hobby years later. I only hear as I had gone overseas by the time the Vietname croceas were being exported in huge numbers. I haven’t seen any symtoms of this disease here in Vietnam yet.

A large gold teardrop maxima. Maximas don’t grow as big as some of the other giant clams species. So this eight inch specimen is quite old. One of the biggest specimens that I ever saw was at the fish market in Tonga. Everday wild clams are harvested and sold for food at the market. I frequent there to see if I find anything unusual – especially I’m looking for a Tridacna tevora. Tevoras are species of a giant clam that are found in deeper waters. They are only found in waters off of Tongan Islands and are in near extinction. Daniel Knopp came out and went out with my divers and managed to find one. He took a picture of it and will publish it in his new clam book (if he hasn’t already). Most of these clams surrounding the islands have been eaten and that is why they are very rare. I have talked to Daniel Knopp about the possibility of spawning this rare clam. He thought it was a great idea but finding the broodstock and slowly acclimating it to shallower water was going to be tricky.

I once mentioned the idea of spawning this clam to repopulate the Tonga waters (of course we would sell some too if we were ever successful) to the ministery of fisheries when I was in Tonga. He also thought it was a great idea and assured me that the broodstock could be found in the other two islands. He also would give us special permits to acquire the clams too. This was one of the future projects that I never got to do as I got screwed out of the Tonga deal. We also got permission to bring in crocea clams for spawning if we wanted to. This species is not emdemic to Tonga but eventually I would have liked to have all the species of clams in production. The gigas clams(also not endemic) were brought in years ago from Australia already. However, I never saw a small one in the wild but only huge broodstock specimens that is controlled by the fisheries. This tells me that the broodstocks are not really spawning in the wild themselves. Perhaps they are now.

Let’s talk a moment about the clam regulation in Tonga. There is a law by the fisheries saying that all clams are protected and thus shall be left in the wild. But I see clams at the market everyday and there is no enforcement. Why? Because there is one rule set by the king saying that the the ocean and it’s contents can be used for food. This is one of the reasons why you can legally hunt turtles on certain times of the year. There is also a law that grants Tongans to hunt whales too. Nobody really does but still it is in law books out of tradition. Such traditions were extrememly important to the late king. This and some other reasons are why Tonga is not a cites nation. All this was told to me by a local Tongan that knows the fisheries regulations and government laws. But since then, the king died so some of these things may have changed. I really don’t know what is going on in Tonga these days. Only aquacultured clams are allowed to be exported. Actually our clams were very nice and were in high demand at the time. Even ORA was interested in getting our aquacultured clams to their South Pacific clam farm. I believe they were going to grow them out for broodstock. I can’t remember but I think we couldn’t find a way to get the clams to their farm, no flights.

Ok, so I lost track of the topic here. I was talking about the huge maxima at the fish market. This particular show sized maxima was incredible. It was black with turquoise teardrops. It was about 15 inches long and was stressing like hell sitting on a table. I quickly bought it for $6 US and took it to our aquaculture facility. If it survived, I would keep it for broodstock. Unfortunately, it never recovered. It had been sitting out of water too long and just didn’t make it. A real shame, as it was just a gorgeous specimen.

Another large squamosa sporting derasa colors.

Another large squamosa. Back in my retail days, many of my customers used to use a “clamgium” to help remove phosphates and nitrates. These clever and way cool filtering devices never have caught on like normal refugiums, but it sure makes things interesting. The main drawback was that you needed another set of halides in your stand. This of course took up valuable space and created more heat, not to mention the calcium levels had to be kept way high. But nonetheless, clam lovers did the extreme. Normally species of gigas, derasas, and squamosas were the choice. There is another species that is excellent for this purpose, but is not very colorful and thus not so popular. The species I’m referring to is the Tridacna hippopus.

Another gold Tridacna maxima. Maximas are by far the most popular giant clam in the hobby. Ultra grade ones are really hard to find these days. The best specimens used to come out of Pohnpei in the Pacific, but that area got shut down years ago. The best maximas probably now come from the Solomon Islands. I’ve seen some nice first grade ones out of Vanuatu a few years back.

Speaking of maxima clams, let me tell you a quick story on the highly sought after black and white maxima. It was early 2000’s when I was working on opening up my retail shop. I wanted to have something special for the grand opening. I wanted the mythical black and white maxima. I say mythical because up to that point, no one had seen one. Clam lovers talked about it but nobody knew it existed, except in books. My mission was to find one and have it on display for my grand opening. I put the word out and sure enough, after months later, my friend Robert at Aquatic Specialties and Pets came through. I paid a grip for it but it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It was about five inches long and sure enough, it was black with little white stripes! I even had a special little box made out of acrylic for it to display in the center of one my coral flats.

Some word had gone around that I had this coveted clam at my shop. I had people hanging around as I was finishing up the systems. One day I left the shop and left the door open. I had a guy tearing down a wall and he needed to go in and out to get things out of his truck. I had instructed him to tell anyone that comes by to come by half an hour later. I was not gone 20 minutes and I found the clam missing when I got back! Holy crap, there was steam coming out of my ears!

The construction guy told me that a couple of guys came by and was wondering around the store. He had heard voices and came into the store area to find two guys looking around. He asked them to leave and come back later. The guys said that they were friends of mine and wanted to have a quick peak. After that the theives left. Oh man I was devastated! My prized clam had been stolen. I put the word out to find another one but not in time for the opening. It wasn’t until months later, that I finally got another one. But by then everybody and their mother was looking for this clam. Some one had posted a thread on RC about my clam being stolen and after that, the demand skyrocketed.

Some of the other shops started to have this maxima and more and more specimens were popping up. Then the price started to drop as more pieces entered the trade. I don’t know how much they are going for these days but I’m sure that there aren’t that many around. At one time, my heart sank as I pulled out a gorgeous gaping 12 inch black and white from a tranship.

Most of the maximas from Vietnam are first grade and second grade. Then again, the higher grades only came out of Ponhnepei. In Indonesia, I see only a handful of clams from time to time. There are no wild cites for clams, only aquaculture. Add to this the fact that only one company can get this cites (the “grey political matter” I was talking about earlier), the fishermen will not bother.

Here is one of the nicer squamosas. It has blue teardrops on the edges of its mantel! I've heard of a rare blue squamosa in the past, but never seen one in person.

Another second grade gold maxima! I’m sure under some halides, it would look much better.

Here’s a typical smaller specimen of a Vietnamese squamosa.

A couple of more smaller squamosas.

Check out this nice little guy. More beautiful than your normal squamosa!

Nice gold pattern on a maxima!

A basketfull of maximas and squamosas!

Here is one of the better looking maximas. I would consider this one first grade. Coincidently, this morph is the most popular among the maximas in the wild in Tonga. I saw a bunch of them attached to rocks in the Island of Hapaai while surveying. Hapaai is one of the three main islands of Tonga.

And here is Bryan “getting his feet wet” about to take some pictures of mushrooms with his underwater camera!

So this was interesting, a tank full of cleaner shrimps! I didn’t know Vietnam had any in numbers. For some reason, Indonesia doesn’t really have that many. But for some odd reason, Sri Lanka is saturated with them. But I know the stock has been dwindling for the past few years and the price has gone up considerably.

Here is a close up of the cleaner shrimps. Most of them were medium to large in size. There is a global shortage of these bread and butter reef inverts. I feel the only way we can meet the demand and sustain them in the wild is to aquaculture them. This is one of my many long term aquaculture projects in Indonesia. Eventually I would like to tank raise this shrimp, the fire shrimp, and the peppermint shrimp of the Carribean. Even the harlequin shrimp is being successfully tank raised right now in Northern Bali.

One of our business partners in Bali is a shrimp farm expert. He has associates that have already successfully tank raised the cleaner shrimps in Taiwan! When the time is right, we will team up and get the project started.


Ok guys that is it for today. I will try to post again tomorrow. I have some more clams coming your way along with some surprisingly nice hard corals from Vietnam!

And I forgot to bring the picture of the fresh skinned rats on ice, from the last post. I will post it again tomorrow.




Lauta said...

Hi Eddie, great post! I remember those days with the clam infection and yes I also lost all my clams that time and I must say it is around again I just got a 2 clams from extreme corals, I just lost all my 7 clams due to it. Like you say it seems to be in summer time when this bacterial infection comes. However take a look at this article I found online, (link below)
best of luck to you man.


Eddie H. said...

Hi Lauta,

Thanks for the link, I'll go check it out. Which species of clams did you get? Do you know where they came from originally?


Lauta said...

Hi Eddie, the clam that had it was crocea (ultra 2 inch electric green), origin ??? don't know but will follow up with the supplier. The online supplier I got these is extreme corals but it also goes as coral broker so who ever that is. It came in a bach around 2 months ago, they are Texas based, I guess I will just buy during the winter from know on. Just to be safe.


Eddie H. said...

Hi Lauta,

Yah, try the clams again when the weather cools down.

Good luck!

Unknown said...

I saw an advertisement in costa rica homes for sale and i decided to go there, it was really amazing. I must to tell this vacation was very wonderful.

Anonymous said...

In your last post, were those gross things raw animal vaginas?

carol said...

I'm pretty sure the skinned animals in the last post were rats!

Unknown said...

very helpfull post, its intresting....!!!!
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