In response to Việt Nam receiving a ‘yellow card’ from the European Union, indicating the union’s dissatisfaction with Việt Nam’s efforts to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, the National Assembly last week passed the revised Law on Fisheries. The revision has new features to strengthen the IUU fishing fight and help Việt Nam win the removal of the yellow card. Deputy General Secretary of Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) Nguyễn Hoài Nam talks with Việt Nam News reporter Tạ Thu Giang about the country’s methods to raise awareness for the responsible management of aquatic resources.
What important measures does the law now include to fight against IUU fishing?
Firstly, I want to mention an action programme on sustainable aquatic resource development being carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD). Among the contents of MARD’s plan, we see at least five or six new elements that not only meet the ministry’s desire for sustainable development but also are identical with the European Commission’s recommendations on fighting IUU in the revision of the 2003 Việt Nam Law on Fisheries, which was passed last week.
The EU expressed concerns about the fishing capacity and reserve strength of our fishing stocks, so the revised law includes a provision for reserve valuation. The work of inspecting fisheries activities in 28 coastal cities and provinces is also now legalised and enshrined in the law.
We also see that, in addition to the EU’s recommendations on legislation, there is one that coincides with the wishes of MARD, businesses and the industry as a whole: the opportunity to push for more effective legislation to facilitate international integration and ensure sustainable development of the fisheries of Việt Nam.
Furthermore, the development of marine conservation, aquatic conservation and natural resource protection areas is needed because stakeholders around the world recognise its importance, in addition to maintaining natural resources and promoting sustainable development. One of the most important pieces of the law aims to control IUU fishing by identifying 14 behaviors considered to be violations of international fishing regulations. We also see that the framework for fishing regulations will apply to both Vietnamese and imported cargoes.
And the last notable aspect will ensure that the rules are enforced effectively. The sanctions issue is quite clear; it is a very new point and the MARD has paid great effort to put it into the law and convince policymakers to approve it.
How does the revised law deal with IUU fishing?
This issue is regulated under the revised law, which is based on the principles of the UNConvention on the Law of the Sea 1982, the Port State Measures Agreement by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and some international rules.
Under the revision, IUU fishing will be heavily fined. Fishing boat owners and captains will be given the highest fines of VNĐ1 billion (US$43,900) for violations or a fine seven times higher than the value of illegal catch. Meanwhile, the organisations involved in IUU fishing will be fined VNĐ2 billion. Apart from this, violators’ fishing licences will be revoked.
Sanctions are a new point in the law that I have seen proposed in many EU documents and at work sessions with EU delegates. Meanwhile, the community of Vietnamese seafood businesses has also agreed and supported the regulations to implement the law effectively.
In addition, we have already legislated inspection work, in which we establish a fishery inspection force and sanctions as the basis for the relevant sectors to issue guiding decrees. Obviously, we see that the EU, especially MARD, sees this as a prerequisite for the sustainable development of the domestic fishery sector.
In your opinion, how will we turn the regulations into reality and raise the awareness of fishermen and businesses?
Businesses have for the last seven years worked with fishermen in the fight against IUU fishing. The businesses have directly worked with EU customers so that they have a certain understanding about this. In order to put the new laws into practice, I want to say that the Decision No. 4840/QĐ-BNN-TCTS on approving the plan to implement some urgent solutions to overcome the warning of the European Commission on IUU fishing issued by MARD last Thursday is very clear. I would like to emphasise the leading role of MARD in boosting activities against IUU fishing at the grassroots level.
As for local implementation, the two very important links are fishing ports and fishermen. The fishing ports, according to several recently-revised circulars, will be in charge of controlling fishing boats’ landing and issuing the certification of raw material output. I think that to implement the law, both fishing ports and fishermen need to have a complete understanding of it. The fishing ports must be provided with necessary infrastructure, adequate equipment and human resources to ensure their operations are completed efficiently and in time.
I also want to talk about the MARD’s on-going fishbase software project, which includes a database of boats, fishing ports, and all permits and registry information. It’s needed to disseminate this project to fishing ports and fishermen as soon as possible.
It’s an important link between fishermen, who are the owners of fishing vessels and boats, and businesses at fishing ports. These businesses work closely with fishermen because they always provide fishermen with funds for fishing and fishing tools. When fishermen return, they will sell all the fish caught to such businesses. Most of this activity occurs at the fishing port, after which the export processing enterprises will sign contracts with these businesses to buy seafood materials for processing and export.
In relation to IUU control, we see the management authorities of fishing ports, fishermen and businesses as a key chain in the coming years. Fishermen will need to learn basic information such as which behavior is considered by businesses to violate IUU restrictions. We will promote communication and information on IUU fishing regulations as well as the fight against IUU fishing in the community of fishermen and businesses.
We know that VASEP and the seafood business community are implementing many programmes to fight against IUU fishing. Can you discuss the specifics of the process?
Việt Nam has been making efforts to have the “yellow card” withdrawn within six months.
We are doing a lot of work. We are trying to race against time to remove the “yellow card” warning from the EU because the impact is first of all on businesses. There will be many opportunities for Vietnamese businesses thanks to the upcoming Việt Nam-EU free trade agreements, but the “yellow card” warning causes the seafood exporters to face more obstacles. In the immediate future, they have to increase their resources to deal with rising problems. Their products’ origins will be checked in foreign countries, so that it will be stuck in the port while awaiting inspection – this means the cost of storage increases, and if the batches are returned the exporters will have to suffer high loss of transport costs and storage fees. And one special thing is that customers can change their partners.
In addition, the community of seafood exporters in Việt Nam also expressed its determination to combat IUU fishing. More than 60 enterprises, who own over 80 seafood factories, have committed to purchasing and importing seafood from legal fishing vessels with clear product origin.
Our action plan is divided into four areas.
In the first and second areas, we will closely co-ordinate with MARD to disseminate information, build or revise legal documents and implement them effectively.
As for the third area, we will carry out our own plan. We will co-operate with agencies who manage seafood exploitation and IUU fishing control. For example, we have recently signed with the Vietnam Coast Guard an agreement on carrying out the national action programme on combating IUU fishing. We also closely worked with Directorate of Fisheries and the national Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Assurance Department (NAFIQAD) to promote the action.
And lastly, we are actively working to strengthen our customers’ trust. We publish the list of businesses committed to combat IUU fishing on our website in Vietnamese and English versions to help European authorities and management bodies know about the Vietnamese business community’s efforts in the fight against IUU fishing.