Illegal Fishing, Child Labor Reported in Vietnamese Fishing Fleet
Fish populations in Vietnam’s waters are so low boats are forced to fish illegally elsewhere to make a living, Vietnamese captains and crew told the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).
Although new laws to prevent illegal fishing were enacted in Vietnam in 2018, EJF investigations a year later revealed that they are still not being implemented. A new EJF report also reveals that children as young as 11 are being put to work in dirty and unsafe conditions aboard long-distance fishing vessels. Gross overfishing, poor governance and a shocking lack of transparency have created this human and ecological tragedy, says EJF.
Vietnam has one of the fastest growing fishing fleets in the world – increasing in size by over 160 percent between 1990 and 2018. This explosion in the number of fishing vessels has led to massive over-fishing and rapid depletion of fish populations.
EJF’s new report details findings from surveying 239 crew from 41 Vietnamese fishing vessels that had been detained while fishing in Thai waters and in-depth interviews with 45 crew from 20 vessels. The men interviewed were being held in Thailand after being caught fishing illegally in Thai waters.
The report shows that this crisis in Vietnam’s fisheries has been exported, as fishing vessels increasingly venture beyond Vietnam’s waters in search of fresh populations. Vessel captains spoke of how they were often encouraged by owners to fish in neighboring countries’ waters and would openly discuss their upcoming trips to Thailand among the crew.
“We knew before even leaving the pier that we would have to go to Thailand to catch fish,” said a Vietnamese boat owner and captain who was interviewed in January 2018.
This rampant illegal fishing is being facilitated by child labor. EJF found that seven out of the 41 vessels studied had a child aboard – some as young as 11. This is despite clear Vietnamese law that forbids any form of child labor aboard long-distance fishing boats.
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.
Vessel inspections on departure and arrival into port appear to amount to nothing more than a cursory document check and crew count. Such superficial investigations, without identification cards or passport verification, allows human rights abuse such as child labor to go unchecked. It also allows unauthorized crew transfers at sea, putting workers at risk of being trapped and enslaved, as they are rotated between vessels with little or no chance of escape.
The report also identified a lack of any semblance of catch documentation or verification system, which makes it extremely difficult to determine the origins of the seafood. None of the fishers that EJF spoke to had ever used logbooks to document the fish they caught, potentially allowing seafood to be laundered into international supply chains.
This could mean that illegal seafood caught by slaves and children is on supermarket shelves across the E.U. and U.S.
Overall, EJF says that few of the European Commission’s recommendations for reforming Vietnam’s fisheries have been successfully implemented or enforced. This put the country at risk of a ‘red card’: a complete ban on seafood exports to the E.U.
The report is available here.