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Thursday, August 12, 2021, 14:21 (GMT+7)
Accelerating measures for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing combat to contribute to maintaining order, safety, and marine economic development

Promoting the key role in law enforcement and protection of national security, order and safety at sea, the Vietnam Coast Guard (VCG) has been enhancing measures for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing combat to contribute to successfully implementing the strategy for the sustainable development of Vietnam’s marine economy, ensuring national defence and security, and protecting the Homeland’s maritime sovereignty, natural resources and environment.

Vietnam's waters are within the East Sea, covering an area of ​​more than 1 million square kilometres, with rich and diverse natural resources, playing a vital role in the social-economic development of the country. Like other littoral countries, Vietnam is facing a number of non-traditional security challenges, such as IUU fishing and disputes over fishing grounds and resources, which has negatively impacted on property of fishermen and the country’s reputation in diplomacy and international cooperation. This is a complicated, sensitive and difficult issue especially when the situation in the East Sea is increasingly intense, thereby requiring the involvement of the whole political system. Being fully aware of the importance, potential and advantages of the sea, over the years, our Party and State have issued resolutions and strategies on the sustainable development of the marine economy associated with national defence and security, while implementing policies on assisting, encouraging, and protecting fishermen so that they could legally exploit fisheries resources in Vietnam’s waters.  At the same time, measures have been adopted to prevent our fishing vessels from violating other countries’ waters and contribute to fostering economic development and protecting the Homeland’ sovereignty over seas and islands.

However, a small number of fishermen, due to their limited awareness, or for economic benefits, have not strictly followed the law. They have exploited fisheries without a licence or fished in wrong  fishing grounds. Notably, there have also been several Vietnamese fishing vessels violating other countries’ waters, even in a serious way. This is the main reason leading to the European Commission's (EC) decision to issue a "yellow card" warning to Vietnam's seafood industry (October 2017), negatively impacting on Vietnam's seafood export. Against that backdrop, on the basis of its assigned functions and tasks, the VCG has been closely cooperating with other forces and provincial-level agencies in synchronously taking measures for IUU fishing combat to contribute to maintaining order, safety, and marine economic sustainable development, strengthening national defence and security, and lifting the  EC "yellow card."

First of all, the VCG’s Party Committee and Command have focused on grasping directives, telegrams and documents by the Prime Minister and the National Steering Board on IUU fishing combat, especially the Directive 45/CT-TTg, dated December 13th, 2017 on urgent tasks and solutions to remove the EC warning about IUU fishing, the Directive 17/CT-TTg, dated June 24th, 2021 on coordination between ministries, agencies and the People's Committees of 28 coastal provinces and municipalities in exchanging and processing information to prevent and eventually put an end to Vietnamese vessels’ IUU fishing in other countries’ waters, the Decision 78/QD-TTg, dated January 16th, 2018 on approving the National Action Plan to prevent, reduce and eliminate IUU fishing towards 2025. At the same time, the VCG has actively, proactively worked with and advised relevant ministries and agencies to develop and complete a system of legal documents, mechanisms and policies for the management of fishing vessels. Importance has been attached to building a national database on management and registration of fishing vessels and licences, building and operating a fishing vessel monitoring centre, regulating the size of  vessels at sea, installing surveillance, GPS, and ICOM equipment, and maintaining regulations on report prior to, during and after fishing as a legal framework and corridor for functioning forces to inspect and supervise operation of fishing vessels, and ensure order and safety in Vietnam’s waters.

Providing leaflets of legal propagation and dissemination for fishermen at Hon La island (Quang Binh province)

Adhering to the Government’s plan on IUU fishing combat, the VCG’s Command has established a Steering Board on IUU fishing combat, formulated and promulgated documents to direct and guide agencies and units under their authority to synchronously implement solutions. It has also closely collaborated with competent forces in managing and monitoring the situation at sea, checking and verifying information on fishing vessels’ voyage and activities. Together with the whole political system, it has devoted effort to preventing, minimising and removing IUU fishing, thereby making contributions to maintaining order, safety, and a peaceful and stable environment at sea.

In addition, the VCG has kept strengthening the work of legal propagation and dissemination for fishermen.  It has directed its offices and units to compile and deliver leaflets on IUU fishing combat, conduct the work of propagation via the programme entitled "the VCG accompanies fishermen," and cooperate with ministries, sectors, localities, and press agencies in promoting legal propagation, dissemination and education for fishermen. Emphasis has been placed on disseminating the Party’s guidelines and the State’s law and policy, such as the Law of the Sea of ​​Vietnam, the National Border Law, the Law on Fisheries,  the Law on the VCG, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, relevant legal documents, and information about the "yellow card" warning and recommendations of the EC on IUU fishing combat so that fishermen would be aware of the boundary of Vietnam's waters and voluntarily abide by legal provisions and Vietnam's commitments in this aspect.

Up to now, the VCG’s Command has signed the Regulations on coordination in executing the Programme "the VCG accompanies fishermen" with 12 coastal provinces and municipalities. It has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) on IUU fishing combat. It has organised hundreds of sessions of legal propagation and dissemination, distributed leaflets to dozens of thousands of citizens, provided life jackets, national flags, first-aid boxes, and free medical examination and medicine for fishermen, and held nearly 50 contests titled "I love the sea and islands of my Homeland" in coastal provinces and municipalities. It has cooperated with central and local press agencies in producing and publishing hundreds of articles, video clips, and pieces of news and footage to propagandise against IUU fishing. Besides, it has directed professional and law enforcement forces to carry out basic investigations into cases of IUU fishing. Those above-mentioned activities by the VCG have contributed to raising fishermen’s awareness and responsibility for complying with the law on fishing.

Furthermore, the VCG has continued stepping up patrols and inspections in Vietnam's waters. The VCG’s Command has developed a plan on regularly maintaining forces and vessels at sea to conduct patrols and inspections and handle IUU fishing, especially in the key, overlapping and contiguous waters between Vietnam and other countries in the region (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia). Such patrols and inspections have also been aimed at providing legal propagation, dissemination and education for fishermen, detecting and preventing fishing vessels with signs of violating regulations, and strictly handling violations of regulations on fishing licence and safety, positioning, and cruise surveillance. At the same time, importance has been attached to promptly settling disputes over fishing grounds, participating in search and rescue, giving support for fishing vessels, and protecting fishermen at sea, under the motto: “protecting fishing grounds and fishermen means defending the country’s integrity of marine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction”. The VCG’s Command has strictly implemented the Regulations on coordination with the Navy, the Fisheries Resources Surveillance, the Border Guard Force, and the Directorate of Fisheries, while regularly exchanging  information and collaborating with coastal provinces and municipalities in investigating and verifying fishing vessels’ violations of foreign waters in order to take remedial measures and contribute to raising the effectiveness and efficiency of state management over fisheries activities and the protection of aquatic resources of Vietnam.

Additionally, the VCG has promoted diplomatic and international cooperation with maritime law enforcement forces of regional states. It has effectively brought into play its function as a contact with law enforcement agencies of countries, including China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, and the Philippines to share and exchange information about vessels engaged in IUU fishing, while opportunely, effectively working with foreign law enforcement forces to resolve related cases in the spirit of humanity and in accordance with domestic and international laws. Via the established communication and information channels, it has enhanced joint patrols and exercises, held conferences, seminars, regional and international cooperation forums to exchange and share experiences with maritime law enforcement forces of other countries, conducted search and rescue operations, supported and safeguarded fishermen’s lives, property, legal activities, thus cementing the faith of fishermen and making them keep their mind on their work.

Thanks to the drastic, synchronous participation of the whole political system, including the VCG, there have been positive changes in completing the legal framework appropriate to international law and practices, controlling and monitoring fishing vessels, and tracing the origin and certification of fishing in accordance with the EC’s recommendations. It should be noted that the issuance of strict sanctions against IUU fishing has helped prevent and considerably reduce the number of violations of fishing regulations amongst Vietnamese vessels. It can’t be denied that the VCG has successfully fulfilled its assigned functions and tasks and  made significant contributions to intensifying the whole country’s efforts to lift the EC’s "yellow card," maintaining order, safety, and sustainable economic development at sea, consolidating national defence and security, and firmly protecting the national sovereignty over seas and islands.

Lt. Gen., Dr. NGUYEN VAN SON, Commander of the VCG

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