Vietnam has taken all necessary steps to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the past four years, marking its reform in fishing to remove "yellow card", a warning for illegal fishing issued by EC.
|Fishing boats of fishermen moored on the waters of Phu Quoc island district in the southern province of Kien Giang. Photo: VNA
Deputy Director of the Directorate of Fisheries under the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development Nguyen Quang Hung told The Hanoi Times at the launch of a World Bank’s report on the economic impact of IUU fishing today [August 10], marking nearly four years since the EC handed Vietnam a yellow card for failing to address the issue on October 2017.
“Unlike several countries that did almost nothing and got a red card, the difference is the progress that Vietnam has made over the years to address IUU fishing and recognized by the EU,” Hung said, expecting the yellow card would soon be lifted by 2022.
Hung, however, also acknowledged that it would take time to fully address EU concerns in IUU fishing.
“Thailand with a total of 6,000 fishing boats needed four years for its yellow card to be lifted, whereas Vietnam has more than 94,000 boats across 24 provinces/cities,” Hung added.
Echoing Hung’s view, World Bank expert Pham Anh Tuan told The Hanoi Times that through his various meetings with EU representatives, they agreed it is not a straightforward task for Vietnam to solve all problems, and time is required in this regard.
“The most important factor is the country’s willingness to make step by step improvements,” Tuan stated but noting local authorities should have a greater urgency in working on the yellow card.
Under the World Bank’s report, Vietnam’s fisheries industry has rapidly transformed itself into a commodity-oriented industry with its exports reaching close to $9 billion a year.
Fishery and aquaculture products represent Vietnam’s fifth-largest export in value, accounting for approximately 4% of the country’s exports in 2018. In 2016, the industry also contributed to approximately 5% and provided a total of 4.7 million formal jobs (approximately 5% of total formal sector jobs), including around two million direct and 2.7 million indirect jobs along fisheries value chains.
Around 8.5 million people (10% of the total population) derive their main income directly or indirectly from fisheries. As of 2019, the country produced approximately 8.2 million tons of finfish and shellfish, of which capture fisheries accounted for 46% and aquaculture had a share of 54%.
Vietnam’s seafood export to the EU has increased sharply over the past 20 years, from $90 million in 1999 to nearly $1.5 billion in 2017 (and since then decreased to closer to $1.3 billion in 2019).
|Processing seafood for export in the Mekong Delta region. Photo: Giang Lam
“Such trend continued to 2020 amid the severe Covid-19 impacts,” Thong said.
According to Thong, while a yellow card only serves as a warning and stricter customs process in exporting seafood to the EU, a red card would mean total exclusion from this market.
“We estimate the loss would be around $480 million in seafood export turnover in case a red card is issued,” Thong said. Of this amount, capture fisheries, including tuna, swordfish, mollusk, cephalopod, and other marine species, would lose around $387 million per year.
In case the red card lasts for two to three years, Thong said the seafood industry would suffer a decline of 30% in growth.
“A more significant issue is that the local fisheries industry would lose the motivation to upgrade its value chains with the EU market as a reference for its strict requirements on food safety but in turn willing to pay well for quality products,” Thong said.
Assuming this as a fact, Thong said Vietnam may look for markets with lower standards, a move he said in long term would hinder the industry’s sustainable development.
“Meanwhile, a red card from the EU would deal a huge blow to Vietnam’s seafood reputation overall,“ Thong continued, as other markets such as the US or Japan may take a similar approach.
“Drastic measures to address the yellow card and taking advantage of the EVFTA are key issues for Vietnam to achieve an average growth rate of 7-9% in seafood exports, eventually reaching exports target of $18 billion by 2030,” he added.
Referring to Thailand’s experience in dealing with IUU fishing, Thong noted a priority would be a robust Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (MCS) system to supervise activities of fishing boats.
“Vietnam also needs a comprehensive origin tracing system for the entire supply chains that are in line with international standards, along with greater financial and human resources to be allocated for this fight,” he added.
The EU’s launch of the IUU-combating fishing program and the introduction of measures to deal with countries that exploit, produce and export fishery products with an illegal fishing origin, are indispensable in addressing harmful trends and concerns of the whole world, especially the fishing community. The program includes a carding process.
EU made nine recommendations that Vietnam needs to correct for its yellow card to be withdrawn:
1. Revise the country’s legal framework to ensure compliance with international and regional rules applicable to the conservation and management of fisheries resources.
2. Ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of the revised national legislation.
3. Enhance the effective implementation of international rules and management measures through a full sanctioning regime with enforcing and monitoring systems.
4. Address deficiencies identified in the Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (MCS) related to the requirements of international and regional regulations as well as within the framework of the fishing certification system.
5. Strengthen the management and improvement of the registration and licensing system for fishing.
6. Balance fishing capacity and fishing fleet policy.
7. Enhance traceability of fishery products and take all necessary steps, following international law, to prevent illegal fishery products from being traded and imported into the Vietnamese territory.
8. Strengthen and improve cooperation with other countries (especially coastal states in the waters where Vietnamese flag vessels can operate) under their international obligations.
9. Ensure compliance with obligations on reporting and recording in Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs)