Efforts to curb illegal fishing in Vietnam have drawn international attention from foreign officials, as the government in Hanoi adopts new measures in line with the recommendations of the European Commission.
It’s been less than a year since the signing of the new European Union Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the Vietnamese government’s efforts to implement the deal are drawing international attention. Among these are Hanoi’s initiatives to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, following dialogue with the European Commission (EC) on the issue.
Media in the country report that Vietnam has taken key steps to promote sustainable and traceable tuna, building value chains and combating IUU fishing in order to export tuna to the EU. On October 10, Vice Chairman of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam Rubén Saornil Mínguez said at a conference in Khanh Hoa province that the country had made significant improvements on the issue in recent years.
Rubén noted that as part of its reforms, Vietnam has raised standards throughout the fishing industry to comply with regulations for EU export under the EVFTA, according to the government.
In line with EC recommendations, Vietnam adopted a new Fisheries Law in 2017, including a framework for building sustainable aquaculture and fisheries development. The government also established a steering committee for IUU fishing prevention at the national level—the move is aimed at supporting thorough enforcement of fisheries laws.
New regulations also require that all fishing vessels carry tracking devices. It appears that the regulations may already be helping to improve seafood traceability, as the number of boats with on-board GPS or other tracking technology has increased from 56% in April to 81% as of late August. These steps to improve traceability in aquatic product supply chains have been recognized internationally as well.
These efforts on transparency and governance are part of Vietnam’s new master plan for aquatic resources management. The plan also reportedly includes programs to ensure all fishing vessels comply with regulations and initiatives to develop fisheries sustainably and responsibly.
Public programs are also helping some producers convert their business to processed products. This offers producers more flexibility, allows them to sell products online and insulates them from economic shocks.
“We aim to help companies increase shipments of processed products for home cooking, instead of focusing on frozen stuff for hotels or supermarkets like in pre-virus times,” said Tran Dinh Luan, general director of the Agriculture Ministry’s Fisheries Department.
Focus on fishing industry aims to drive growth, capitalize on cooperation with EU
Vietnam is currently the third-largest seafood exporter in the world, exporting US$8.6 billion worth of fisheries products in 2019. The EU is the second-biggest market for Vietnam’s seafood exports, after the US.
But the country has seen a decline in fisheries shipments amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first half of 2020, fisheries exports fell 8.6% compared to the same period the year before. By the end of August, shipments had picked up again, shrinking the year-on-year drop to 5.3%.
“We’re working on measures to not only stop the decline but also increase fisheries exports to reach about $9 billion for all of 2020,” Luan of the Fisheries Department said. The measures are part of a larger push to maintain growth, as the government projects GDP will still increase by 2.4% despite the impacts of the pandemic.
As Vietnam’s fisheries industry adapts, the country is also playing a larger role in regional and international fisheries organizations. Rubén and the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam Rubén recently recognized that Vietnam has scaled up its support for international cooperation on sustainable fisheries development, contributing new ideas to the ASEAN IUU Network, the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA) and the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (PSMA), among others.
The EVFTA offers Vietnam an opportunity to take a leading role in sustainable fisheries management, facilitating international collaboration and economic growth. For local producers in the country, the government’s push represents a chance to capitalize on new relationships within the EU and scale up sustainable practices.