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Vietnamese Fishermen Use Explosives And Chemicals To Catch Tuna

Fishermen in Quang Ninh Province blame their illegal practice of fishing with explosives, electricity and toxic chemicals on their impoverished conditions.

Deputy head of the province’s Maritime Protection Department Ha Van Giang says the use of banned means for fishing is not only risking people’s lives and property, but also destroying water resources and polluting the environment. However, fisherman still intentionally break the law for profit.

It is reported that fishing by the now banned methods were common in coastal areas of the province in the past. Today, the fishermen have moved about 48km away from coast to continue these practices, where monitoring teams cannot very easily keep an eye on them.

By fishing in these methods, fishermen can catch the same number of fish in half the amount of time. They still catch tonnes of fish, many of which bring high profits such as grouper, red snapper, mackerel and tuna.

Earlier this year, a special enforcement team, joined by the province’s sea watchers, waterway police and others took to the sea to try and catch fishermen who were in violation of the law. At the end of the day, four boats had been seized.

The boat owners acknowledged they were in violation and claimed that poverty had forced them to break the law. “I know that I am wrong, but this is the first and last time I have violated. My children lack money for attending school,” said Bui Cong Quyet, one of the boat owners.

According to provincial statistics, there are nearly 7,200 trawlers with 15,400 fishermen in the province. With areas being so overfished, rare aquatic products including prawn, garrupa, oyster and abalone have almost entirely disappeared in the area.

“Many fishing areas have had their natural resources extremely depleted or damaged. In particular, 80 – 85 per cent of the coral near Co To Island has died due to the illegal fishing methods,” says Giang.

Another challenge to enforcement of the fishing laws, is that boat owners warn each other when officials come near. Even when fishermen are discovered, they always try to run away. Some boat owners have even crashed into the officials’ boats to threaten or attack them, according to Giang.

“Evidence is, of course, necessary to conclude whether someone is guilty or not. However, boats in violation always try to throw the evidence into the sea,” says Giang.

According to the head of the Agriculture Division of the Yen Hung District People’s Committee Dinh Duc Thanh, there are no official statistics but the number of boats in violation seems to have decreased since early last year when fisherman received special financial support from the Government.

“We have also opened a hotline. Local residents can inform us through the hotline whenever they discover violations at sea,” says Thanh.

Thanh adds that although the Government has given support, there are still a number of fishermen violating the law because “there is no better way for them to meet their living needs.”

Thanh says the most important thing is to help them find another job which can improve their living condition, and suggests ways be found to raise awareness on environment pollution and the effect of the fishermen’s practices on the sea’s resources.

The province devised a plan in 2006 for a programme to protect and develop aquatic resources by 2010, but the programme only started recently.