To Van Phuong (360info)
Nha Trang, Viet Nam ●
Wed 8 Jun 2022
Rogue fishermen could see Vietnam shut out of the European Union seafood market. Despite the manufacture considerable effort at end illegal fishing by 2022in the middle of the year the country is still hampered by weak political administration and lax enforcement of fishing regulations.
Illegal fishing has earned Vietnam a yellow card warning from the European Commission in 2017. Non-EU countries that export fish to the EU or lend their flag to vessels that do so must adhere to strict fisheries management standards.
If they don’t, they can be ‘carded’ and have their fish excluded from the EU market. In 2019, a global watchdog ranked Vietnam fifth worst in the world for illegal fishing. By 2021, it had improved considerably to 56th worst – but further improvement means a tightening of its fisheries management at all levels.
Recently increased penalties in Vietnam are still less severe than in other countries where illegal fishermen face jail. Some local authorities ignore violations and few cases are prosecuted. Brokers conspire to bring Vietnamese vessels into foreign waters to fish illegally, and bribes allow arrested Vietnamese fishermen to return to Vietnam with their boats.
Collecting data and evidence on illegal fishing is difficult as criminals use sophisticated tricks to avoid detection.
The Surveillance System for Vessel Control at Sea is intended to provide onboard warnings when a vessel crosses an international boundary. But this is easily evaded: many Vietnamese fishermen remove or turn off their units or even place them on another vessel while their own boat is at sea.
Catch certification in Vietnamese ports is limited and traceability activities do not meet European Commission requirements. Fishing boats usually dock without proper reporting and violations go unpunished. Many captains complete their logbooks in port when the catch is unloaded, rather than at sea as it should.
Efforts to prevent illegal fishing are disconnected between state and local levels. Many sanctions exist on paper but are not applied in practice. Fishing agencies and fishermen ignored many administrative decisions.
The division of maritime zones means that too many vessels work in fishing zones close to the shore. Marine resources are depleting and fishing grounds are overlapping. Instead, all of this encourages fishermen to operate in foreign waters.
Patrol administration varies from province to province, resulting in weak enforcement as areas of responsibility are unclear. In Binh Dinh and Khanh Hoa, for example, the Fisheries Inspection Division of the Department of Fisheries leads patrols under the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD). But in Kien Giang and Binh Thuan, the DARD directs the patrols directly. Same basic improvements would go a long way to solving the problem.
The decrees to combat illegal fishing must be revised and finalized as soon as possible. Right now, high profits mean that Vietnamese fishermen are dodging and breaking the rules to continue illegal fishing. To be dissuasive, the new regulations require severe penalties such as the prosecution of offenders and the regular publication of lists of boats and owners caught breaking the law. Information on fisheries laws and regulations should also be widely disseminated.
The Vietnamese government should strengthen its monitoring, control and surveillance systems for fishing vessels and clarify the responsibilities of law enforcement actors. Implementation of the electronic Catch Documentation and Traceability (eCDT) system would be a significant improvement over existing paper-and-pen methods.
Vietnam has come a long way in the fight against illegal fishing. Whether he can end the problem before his self-imposed deadline of 2022 depends on how quickly he can strengthen enforcement, improve education and streamline oversight measures to prevent boats illegal to enter the waters of its neighbours.
The writer is at the Institute of Marine Science and Fisheries Technology and Director of Academic Affairs, Nha Trang University, Vietnam.