Vietnam’s marine economy faces challenges

Aside from large fishing vessels, marine economic development requires a lot of missions to be implemented synchronously. – The Saigon Times Daily had a talk with Nguyen Huu Dung, vice chairman of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), on the issue.

Local media has extensively reported on supportive programs for fishermen such as steel vessel building, establishment of supporting funds or insurance after territorial tensions in the East Sea have escalated. What is the most important thing for fishermen now?

Aside from vessels, the most important factors are production arrangement and logistics services. Therefore, it is necessary to develop a fleet to purchase output from fishermen and supplies food and water to fishing vessels. Fishermen will not have to return to the shore to sell their catch, thus cutting expenditures. Though a logistics fleet is seen vital, the State has not paid attention to it while few enterprises have joined the sector.

Moreover, fishermen are accustomed to fishing on their own, keeping seafood resource information for their families or relatives only. It is necessary to organize teams to share information and assist each other. Another problem is the lack of information on marine resources. Fishermen have to find out fishing locations. So, international cooperation in the field is necessary.

Lastly, the Government should prioritize fisherman protection by strengthening surveillance and law enforcement ships in the coming time.

Financial support is a much-touted issue. According to a draft decree to be adopted by the Government, fishermen may access a loan package worth VND10 trillion with an annual interest rate of 3% over 15 years. How can fishermen use the capital source effectively?

– Fishermen at first were excited at the loan package but now are worried. Building a ship is important but exploiting the vessel effectively is even more important. Fishermen will incur losses if they invest in a large vessel but the exploitation is ineffective. Maintaining a steel vessel is not as simple as a wooden one. Fishermen have to use maintenance service at shipyards and they have to pay service charges.

Vietnam, marine economy, challenges

Another issue is whether it is necessary to build bigger vessels. Given marine resources in Vietnam, it is wiser to build medium-sized vessels with freezers rather than huge processing ships. For tuna, fishermen only have to preserve the harvest with seawater at around minus one or two degrees Celsius.

As Vietnam is a tropical country, marine resources are not as huge as in cold-water areas. Therefore, the scale of processing and service fleet must be suitable with the fishing fleet and marine resources in the country.

Regarding the capital assistance, there have been two mechanisms proposed. The Government will either give loans to fishermen at low lending rates to buy vessels or offer capital to shipbuilding enterprises to lease ships to fishermen. I’m for the first option as people tend to better protect properties of their own. In my opinion, though we are longing to build a larger fleet, we should make cautious steps.

Will fishermen be able to manage and exploit large vessels?

– Running a steel vessel is different from a wooden ship. Meanwhile, fishing training schools have been closed for a long time. Now, the Government should restore and improve the training program so that fishermen could have knowledge of coping with accidents, first aid, communication and information.

Many fisherman supporting and sea economic development programs have failed in the past. What are the reasons?

– The State used to launch policies to support offshore fishing but the programs focused on cooperatives. Localities rushed to set up cooperatives but there was no internal connection among members. The cooperatives were established just to meet credit conditions. Therefore, the movement failed immediately and the Government has yet to recover the capital so far.

In addition, we launched ‘Vietnam marine strategy until 2020’ in 2007 but the strategy has made little progress. I think the problem is that there was no State agency responsible for the strategy. To realize the strategy effectively, I think Vietnam should establish a marine economy ministry.

Using the State budget is not enough. What policies the Government should issue to encourage stronger participation from other economic sectors?

– The seafood industry has long been mainly funded by individuals. Few State-owned firms have got involved in the sector and seafood companies have managed to secure capital sources by themselves. So, given suitable policies, the people will pour capital into the sector.

The State should give direct loans to fishermen and invest in infrastructure, marine resources study and protection and communication. Business capital should be used to invest in fleet and services development. Therefore, the Government should give credits to enterprises with good shipbuilding projects. The Government should also invest in logistics services such as ports and wharves but put them under management of the fishing community.