EJF study finds child labor, illegal fishing issues within Vietnamese fleet

Published on
November 20, 2019

A new report by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) details of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing practices and child labor – from children as young as 11 – in distant water fishing vessels.

The report, titled “Caught in the net,” surveyed 239 crew from 41 Vietnamese fishing vessels that had been detained while fishing illegally in Thai waters. According to the report, which has been picked up by some international media, fishermen from Vietnam have been forced to travel outside their own waters due to the lack of any resources in their own country.

“In recent years, Vietnam has become an infamous and archetypal example of how uncontrolled expansion in the fishing sector can lead to an accelerated depletion of marine resources, resulting in vessels travelling further and further from shore in search of fish,” the report states. “In doing so, they are increasingly fishing illegally in neighboring countries' waters and beyond, travelling as far as 6,000 kilometers from their home ports.”

Some of the fishermen, according to the report, told interviewers that they often left ports in Vietnam knowing that they would have to participate in illegal activity in order to generate any catch.

In addition to the IUU findings, the report also discovered multiple instances of child labor on board fishing vessels. The children are often related to the captain or other crewmembers, but are still expected to work for a meager wage.

“I am scared of the sea because I don’t even know how to swim,” a 14-year-old child fisher told the EJF. “But as long as my father and big brothers are around it should be okay.”

All told, the EJF found 12 children under 18 as members of crew on the 41 surveyed vessels.

Vietnam has already been hit with a yellow card for not doing enough to combat IUU. In response, Vietnam created new laws in 2018, which went into effect on 1 January, 2019, which implemented recommendations from the European Commission. The country is currently undergoing a review of the yellow card.

According to the EJF, the laws that have been implemented have not been enforced.

“New laws to prevent illegal fishing were put in place by the Vietnamese government in 2018, however, comparing investigations before and after the laws came into force, EJF could find little evidence that the reforms were actually being enforced,” the report states. “Vessels continue to lack appropriate markings and national flags while fishing. Key documents, including crew manifests, are still not carried on board – in direct violation of Vietnam’s revised regulations.”

The EJF made several recommendations to combat the IUU problems, including implementing the foundation’s 10 principles for global transparency, regularizing vessel inspection regimes, implementing International Labour Organization Conventions, and a recall of the distant-water fleet in order to create formal fishing agreements with relevant coastal states.

It also calls on the Vietnamese government to do more to address the problem.

“Outright denial of the scale of the problem – some government ministers have declared the country free from IUU fishing as recently as May 2018 – has exacerbated many of the industry’s afflictions and aggravated Vietnam’s neighbors who are now forced to arrest Vietnamese vessels en masse, often at great expense to their own enforcement agencies,” the report states.

It also calls for collaboration between nations in the region in order to help rid the area of IUU.

“IUU fishing is a transboundary issue. To fully address the scale of illegal fishing currently being conducted by Vietnamese vessels across the Asia-Pacific region, substantive international efforts will be required alongside those of the Vietnamese authorities,” the report states. “Only through collaborative efforts can Vietnam hope to eradicate IUU fishing and rid itself of its currently tarnished international image.”  

Photo courtesy of the Environmental Justice Foundation

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