Vietnam reels in fishing boats, seeks EU yellow card reprieve

Kim-001-9814-1600138378-9141-1600676410 Ho Van Kim warns a fishing vessel about to trespass in waters outside Vietnam on September 11, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Quoc.

 22 Sep 20 VNExpress Source Binh Thuan Province has had no fishing vessels operating in waters outside Vietnam for a year thanks to the deployment of a monitoring system.

During a typical shift, Ho Van Kim and Tran Binh Trong take turns keeping a close eye on fishing vessels operating in waters off the south central province, preventing them from venturing beyond national boundaries.

Kim and Trong belong to a team of seven charged with monitoring fishing boats around the clock from a center managed by the province's Fisheries Department.

Every once in a while, Kim clicks the red dots on a screen, which represent boats moving too near the border area.

Clicking the dots reveals registration numbers and owner information. In case a vessel fares too close to Vietnam's boundary in the East Sea, known internationally as South China Sea, Kim would use a long-range communication system or satellite phone to call it back.

"They have yet to violate the fishing rule but we need to warn them first, preventing any possible intrusion occuring."

Since it was launched over a year ago, the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) of Binh Thuan has detected 12 boats crossing the border.

In case the team fails to reach violating ships, it would attempt to contact their owners, who normally stay ashore and employ their own channels of communication.

Records of ships crossing the border are all kept as evidence, and in case those ships insist on violating the rules, their owners could face a fine of up to VND400 million ($17,100), Trong said.

Huynh Quang Huy, head of Binh Thuan Fisheries Department, said since April last year, the province has requested fishing vessels of more than 15 m in length to be equipped with a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) tracking device.

To date, 90 percent, or 1,700 vessels in the province have been connected to the system, with the remainder stuck on shore due to commercial losses suffered by their owners.

Ship owners had bought the equipment, priced between VND15-18 million ($645-775) and attached it to their vessels themselves prior to informing authorities. The gear was then linked to the monitoring center. Via the connection, the ship's entire journey could be monitored 24/7.

These efforts are aimed at eliminating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, allowing Vietnam to shake off the European Commission (EC) yellow card.

The EC applied a yellow card warning on seafood from Vietnam in October 2017 after a number of Vietnamese fishing vessels were caught trespassing in neighboring waters. The commission subsequently informed member countries about Vietnam's failure to meet requirements on preventing IUU fishing.

Vietnam's fisheries exports have since been subject to intense scrutiny, with all seafood containers inspected in a process that could take three to four weeks and cost 500 euros ($633) per container. A rejected container can cost an exporter nearly $12,000, and the risk of rejection is high.

The EC had initially stated it would remove the yellow card in June 2018, and later said it would consider doing so in January this year, though nothing has happened to date.

In the past, fishing vessels from Binh Thuan routinely trespassed into waters belonging to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, leading to several arrests and confiscations.

According to official data, eight vessels carrying a total 84 crew members were caught breaking the rules in 2017. In 2018, nine ships and 63 fishermen were detected while last year the figure stood at six ships with a combined crew of 40.

Yet thanks to the VMS, for over a year now, no fishing vessels from Binh Thuan have violated the law.

"But this is just the initial result and the risk of violating foreign territorial waters is still there, so we have to continue strengthening the center and improve its operation," Huy said.

Even with a long 3,260 km (2,025 miles) coastline, Vietnam has been running out of near-shore seafood sources and is considering fishing bans in certain places at certain times. Authorities had said a fishing ban was needed to cope with a decline in fisheries caused by over exploitation.

The ban is yet to come into force, and some fishermen who have sailed to other countries have said apart from the decline in resources, they also face threats from Chinese trawlers illegally anchored in Vietnam's waters. Worse still, some Chinese vessels would chase Vietnamese boats away, cutting off an important seafood supply.

So far, all 28 coastal cities and provinces in Vietnam have launched the VMS. Each locality has had 60-67 percent of their ships equipped with the system.

Without this system, authorities of the fisheries industry could not locate the position of fishing vessels in the sea./ By Viet Quoc


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