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Bottom Trawling, Fine-Mesh Fishing Are Wiping out Vietnam's Fish Supplies

The use of banned trawling methods and fine-mesh nets off the south central Vietnamese coast is depleting fish supplies at a staggering rate.

Nets dragged across the sea floor by small-engine boats indiscriminately scoop up species, devastating marine health and risking the future of the country's seafood industry. The practice has been banned by the Vietnamese government for years but continues unabated from Nha Trang to Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province outside Saigon, according to Tuoi Tre. Of 6,000 offshore fishing boats, 1,600 fish this way, working between dusk and dawn to elude authorities, said Nguyen Duc Hoang, deputy head of a local aquaculture agency.

The effects of trawling and using nets with holes of less than 10 millimeters are far-reaching and local fisherman are already noticing the impacts of the unsustainable practice. One man claimed his catch has fallen by 20-30% this year alone while another reported seeing far fewer types of species in his legal nets.

Along with the targeted mackerel, non-selective hauls contain worthless fish as well as babies and eggs that arrive on shore dead and can only be used for fertilizer. One fisherman noted: "If people keep catching fish this way, future generations will not have seafood to eat, let alone to export.”

None of the preventative measures the government has put in place have proven sufficient thanks in part to an undersized patrol unit. 

Vietnam's fishing industry on a whole is booming, with exports predicted to total US$2.1 billion this year, up 22% compared to 2017. But while global demand and the effects of the US-China trade war suggest a positive future for the sector, young people are rapidly abandoning work on boats for urban jobs that don't require lengthy stays on the open water and offer better wages. Employment in the city can offer monthly wages of VND5-6 million (US$215-258) monthly compared to the VND3-5 million (US$129-215) earned at sea.

The international community recently addressed other illegal elements of Vietnam's fishing industry. The European Council issued a "yellow card" to the country which serves as a warning that if certain activities such as fishing in protected waters and ignoring quotas for migratory species are not met, imports will no longer be accepted.

To combat the illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU), the council suggested stricter oversight at ports and the installation of GPS systems on all boats, amongst other methods. In response, Vietnam has increased penalties to up 10 years in prison and fines up to VND5 billion (US$221,000) for captains of offending boats.

[Photo via Flickr user Tri Nguyen]

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