Click to listen highlighted text!

Viet Nam



    Establishment of Fisheries Refugia in Viet Nam:
    Background and Situation Analysis to Support


    Baseline analysis and gaps

     The experience of Vietnam with a lack of compliance with no-take ‘MPAs’ was the entry point to efforts to improve the basis for integrated fish stock and habitat management in Vietnam. Particularly this experience laid stress on the importance of focusing on the concepts of sustainable use and fishery-critical habitat linkages in communicating with government officials and coastal fishing communities in Vietnam about spatial fisheries management tools. It was noted by the National Fisheries Committee that these are more easily understood and likely accepted at the fisheries community level than either the science of no-take areas or the concept of biodiversity and its conservation. Activities of the fisheries component of the UNEP/GEF South China Sea project in Vietnam resulted in consensus among target fishing communities on the suitability of the fisheries refugia approach in addressing barriers to the integration of fisheries and habitat management at selected priority locations.

    Stakeholder consultations involving representatives from local government units, regional government agencies, law enforcers, fisherfolk organization, non-governmental organizations, and national fisheries committee members have been undertaken and resulted in:  the identification of goals and objectives for the priority refugia sites identified above; and a high level of stakeholder support for the establishment of the refugia approach in Vietnam. The latter is evidenced by the incorporation of the fisheries refugiaconcept as a priority tool for improved fisheries habitat management in Vietnam’s fisheries planning.


    Key gaps that have been identified include needs for:

    • Enhanced national coordination mechanism to accommodate overarching responsibility for the establishment of national fisheries refugia

    • Strengthened enabling environment for the formal designation and operational management of fisheries refugia;

    • Improved national and site-level science and information base to support evidence-based planning and operational management; and
    • Development of practical experience in the designation and management of fisheries refugiasites




    Establishment of Fisheries Refugia in VIET NAM:
    Background and Situation Analysis to Support


    Institutional, sectoral and policy context

    This section discusses the basic instruments and support mechanisms for managing marine habitats and populations. It deals with legal instruments, i.e.,national laws that also serve as the basis for local ordinances and for the country’s commitment to international agreements, and institutional arrangements in support of fisheries or coastal resources management initiatives, including the roles of various government agencies, research and academic institutions, and the local government units in monitoring, control, and enforcement. This section also examines patterns of resource ownership, the capacity of human resources and institutions to perform research, monitoring, control, and surveillance, as well as the role of management bodies and stakeholders in managing fisheries and coastal resources.



    Legal instruments

     There are many legal instruments for the management of Viet Nam’s fisheries. They include a large number of regulations (stipulating the objectives, functions, and organization of the fisheries sector), norms and standards (standards used in the fisheries sector; safety control of fishing boats; quality control of fishery products; and aquaculture management), duties of fisheries stakeholders (taxation regulations), behaviors on resource users.

    The Fisheries Law No. 17/2003/QH11 provides the highest legal framework for all fisheries activities throughout the country. The law assigns the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) to regulate the offshore fisheries and the Provincial People’s Committee (PPC) to be in charge of managing the near-shore fisheries bordered by the line 24 miles from the shore. MARD has a role to develop fisheries planning for the whole country whereas the PPCs develop their own fisheries planning based on the MARD planning system. Fish stocks and fisheries are governed administratively. This means that MARD, PPC, District People’s Committee, and Commune People’s Committee take responsibility for managing fisheries at the national, provincial, district, and communal levels respectively, instead of a fisheries management regime by species, fisheries, ecosystems or fishing areas.

    The management process (data collection and analysis, making and adopting plans and policies, implementing and reviewing plans and policies) is exercised by the state management agencies. The other stakeholders may be invited to participate in the management processes as consultants. The Fisheries Law applies to all fisheries and related fisheries activities. The law comprises many policies and basic principles for general fisheries management.

    As the concept of fisheries refugia is relatively new to be introduced in the region, up to now there is no formal regulation in Vietnam that has been issued, which is specifically regulating the establishment and operation of fisheries refugia system.  Thus, the development of legal frameworks should be put as the highest priority during the implementation of the project in Vietnam. However, similar procedures that regulate the fisheries area for sustainable management and conservation purposes has been available for the references. Among those regulations that should be reviewed in the development of legal frameworks for the establishment and operation of fisheries refugia system in Vietnam are as follows: 

    1. Ordinance no. 18-LCT/HĐNN8 dated 25 April 1989 issued by National Assembly of Vietnam has an article that fishing activities in spawning grounds and nursery areas are permanently or temporarily/seasonally prohibited in order to protect the brood and juvenile stocks for ensuring the sustainable fishing recruitment. This is the first attempt that provides legislative basic for THE government to identify the specific management measures for fisheries resources and their critical habitats linkages.
    2. Decrees no. 57/2008/NĐ-CP and Decrees no. 65/2010/NĐ-CP concerning the regulations for classification, designation, and management of Marine Protected Areas. In which, spawning grounds, as well as nursery areas, are identified as critical habitats being protected. In this context, MPAs focus on biodiversity conservation and fishing recruitment but the integration of fisheries management and habitats linkages as fisheries Refugia.
    3. Biodiversity Law No. 20/2008/QH12 issued by the National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
    4. Decree No. 27/2005/NĐ-CP detailing and guiding the implementation of some provisions of the Fisheries Law, including Articles 2-4 provide detailed guidance on Marine Protected Areas.
    5. Decree No. 65/ND-CP/2010 guiding the implementation of some articles in the Law on Biodiversity.
    6. Decision No. 145/QD-BTS in 2007 of the Minister of Fisheries issued Guidelines on the establishment of marine protected areas and management planning of MPAs.


    Institutional arrangements (research, monitoring, control, and enforcement)

     The highest government agency responsible for the administration, development, and management of Viet Nam’s fisheries is the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD). The Directorate of Fisheries (D-FISH) advises and assists the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in state management and implementation of state management tasks related to fisheries, in managing and leading the public service activities within the management scope of the Directorate. D-FISH consists of the following departments:

    • Department of Fisheries Resources Surveillance
    • Department of Capture Fisheries and Resources Protection
    • Department of Legislation and Inspection
    • Department of Aquaculture
    • Department of Science, Technology and International Cooperation
    • Department of Planning and Finance
    • Department of Administration
    • Fisheries Center and Information
    • Center for Analysis and Verification of Aquaculture
    • Vietnam Institute of Fisheries Economics and Planning 

    Concerning capture fisheries at the central level, the Department of Capture Fisheries and Resources Protection is responsible for establishing policies for fisheries development and the renovation of non-state-owned fisheries enterprises. This Department, through its nationwide network of Provincial Sub-Department of Capture Fisheries and Resources Protection, takes care of resource protection and enhancement, quarantine, as well as vessel registration and licensing. In all coastal provinces, there is a Provincial Fisheries Sub-Department. In the inland provinces, the Sub-Department for Agriculture and Rural Development is responsible for fisheries. This department assists the local authority (People’s Committee) in the administration and development of fisheries. Normally, the department has subordinate networks at the district and community level in important areas for fisheries.

    The Research Institute for Marine Fisheries (RIMF), established in 1961, is responsible for assessing fisheries resources and fleet performance. The Institute collects and analyses information and data derived from surveys and studies conducted in Vietnamese waters. The Institute’s research outputs provide MARD with a scientific base for the institution of management and development policies. The Research Institute of Fisheries Economics and Planning mainly deals with the development of master plans. Fisheries rules and regulations are enforced through monitoring and surveillance activities conducted by the fisheries inspection staff of the Fishery Resources Conservation Divisions, and coast guards, the navy and marine police.

    To ensure proper management and development of fisheries, there is an administrative network from the national to grass-root levels in Viet Nam. This network is made up of representatives of MARD, the provincial Sub-departments, the district office, and the community in important fisheries areas. The enforcement units of all Provincial Sub-Department of Capture Fisheries and Resources Protection are equipped with patrol boats for surveillance. At important fishing harbors and river mouths, there are fisheries inspection stations. To supply scientific information to MARD (D-FISH), there is the Research Institute for Marine Fisheries (RIMF) and Institute of Fisheries Economics and Planning. 

    The Research Institute for Marine Fisheries (RIMF)

    RIMF is part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. At present, the RIMF headquarters are in Haiphong province, with a Marine Biodiversity Research Station on Cat Ba Island in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Government of Viet Nam has recently given approval for RIMF to establish a research center in the southeastern province of Vung Tau. A center for resource conservation and fisheries development is also planned for the province of Kien Giang (Gulf of Thailand). 

    RIMF has the main following tasks: 1) to survey and research living marine resources (distribution, migration, biology, stock assessment, potential yield estimates and resource conservation methods, etc.); 2) to study the marine environment and relationships between environment and fisheries development, including methods for monitoring the marine environment; 3) to study biodiversity and the establishment of marine protected areas (MPA); 4) to study, trial, develop and apply new technologies for exploiting fish; 5) to develop post-harvest technologies; 6) to transfer technologies in the fields of fishing, post-harvest technologies to all economic counterparts; 7) to provide postgraduate training on specific subjects and other training on marine fisheries science and technology; and 8) to provide consultation services.

    Vietnam Institute of Fisheries Economics and Planning (D-FISH)

    This institute conducts research on the economics and management of fisheries. Planning the restructuring of production and the establishment of regional and master plans are some of its key activities. 

    Centre for Fisheries Science and Information (FICen)

    This center is responsible for gathering and supplying information to the fishery management process.

    Other research institutions and agencies

    Some other institutions and agencies involved in fisheries research are: 

    • The Centre for Natural Resources and Environment Study (CRES) under the National University of Viet Nam (NU).
    • The Sub-institute for Forestry Sciences in South Viet Nam.
    • The Research Institute of Oceanography, Nha Trang.
    • The Institute of Marine Environment and Resources, Hai Phong.
    • The Branch Institute of Ecology of Biological Resources, Ho Chi Minh City

    Extension Services

    The top organization of fisheries extension services is the National Center for Extension, located in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Extension centers have been established in 24 of the 28 coastal provinces, and in 26 inland provinces, with the purpose of transferring knowledge to fishers and fish farmers to enhance their activities. However, these organizations are currently focused mainly on aquaculture.





    Establishment of Fisheries Refugia in Viet Nam:
    Background and Situation Analysis to Support


    Known Areas of Critical Significance to the Life-Cycles of Fisheries Resources

    Studies of fish eggs and larvae are used to identify fish spawning and nursery grounds. Before 1985, this was a key area of investigation in many surveys conducted in Viet Nam’s northern and south-eastern waters. From the mid-1980s through to the 1990s, this area received little attention until the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) conducted some analyses on eggs and larvae in 1999. The Vietnamese Research Institute for Marine Fisheries also completed a number of surveys in 2002 and 2003. However, these efforts have mainly focused on the Gulf of Tonkin, and waters of the central and south-eastern regions. A paucity of information exists for the Gulf of                           Thailand. Typical of tropical fish fauna, marine fishes in Viet Nam spawn throughout the year-round and in all waters.

    Gulf of Tonkin:Although eggs and larvae scatter over the Gulf of Tonkin, there are five areas where spawning is concentrated: (1) from Co To to Ha Mai Island; (2) around Bach Long Vi Island; (3) coastal waters from Cat Ba Island to the Ba Lat estuary; (4) from Ninh Co to Lach Ghep estuaries; and (5) coastal waters from Dien Chau Gulf to the Cua Viet estuary. More fishes tend to spawn from March to September. However, peak spawning occurs from April to June. In a survey conducted from August to September 2003 (Do Van Nguyen 2004), the highest density of fish eggs and larvae was found in the area from Cat Ba to Long Chau Islands, with 6000 to 9000 eggs/1000 m3. In the southern part of the Gulf, densities ranged from 9000 to 22900 eggs/m3. The highest larval densities, observed in the southern Gulf area, ranged from 3000 to 12000 larvae/ 1000m3. The analysis of eggs indicated that the dominant families were Engraulidae(17.08%), Synodontidae (5.48%), and Clupeidae (2.01%). The dominant families in terms of larvae were Scombridae(16.56%), Clupeidae (14.29%), and Leiognathidae (12.15%). In the survey conducted from October to November 2003 (Do Van Nguyen 2004), the areas with the highest concentrations of eggs and larvae were Cat Ba and Bach Long Vi Islands, as well as the southern part of the Gulf (more than 1000 eggs or larvae/1000 m3). A counting of egg and larvae by Do Van Nguyen indicated that the family of Engraulidae ranked first (50.14 and 59.04%, respectively). Other dominant families were Synodontidae, Synoglossidae, Gobiidae, and Leiognathidae.

    Central waters:In waters of the central region, there is no typical spawning ground. Eggs tend to be scattered along the coastline or adjacent to river estuaries, whilst the distribution of fish larvae extends a little further offshore. In this area, it seems more fishes spawn from April to September, with peak spawning activity occurring from May to July. According to a survey conducted from April to May 2003, the dominant families were Excoetidae (19.11% of total eggs and 35.70% of total larvae), Scombridae (13.75%, and 24.40% eggs and larvae, respectively) (Do Van Nguyen 2003). The eggs and larvae were scattered throughout the area. However, densities were highest (more than 500 eggs or larvae/1000m3) in waters adjacent to Danang, the Paracels archipelagos, as well as more southern waters. The composition of eggs and larvae observed in the survey from October to November 2003 differed slightly (Do Van Nguyen 2003). According to the number of total eggs, the family of Clupeidae ranked first (41.62%) and Scombridae (8.67%) second. The larvae of Myctophidae (35.08%) and Scombridae (7.52%) were dominant. 

    South-eastern waters:According to historical data (Do Van Nguyen 1981 and 1999), there are three main spawning grounds: (1) around Cu Lao Thu Island; (2) around Con Son Island; and (3) coastal waters from Phan Thiet province to Ca Mau Cape. In general, the spawning season in this area is longer than that observed for the Gulf of Tonkin, and can be divided into two groups:

    • Migratory fishes, such as tuna and flying fish, tend to spawn more from April to September in the coastal waters between Quang Ngai to Khanh Hoa provinces.
    • Commercially important inshore fish species spawn from February to March until October to November. They may spawn 3 to 4 times during this season. 

    The data available from recent SEAFDEC surveys indicate that the area with the highest concentration of fish eggs (>1000 eggs/1000m 3) is that from Phu Quy Island to the Mekong revers estuaries. The concentration of larvae was highest in waters extending from the Mekong estuaries to Con Son Island. According to egg counts, the dominant families were Engraulidae, Synodontidae, Cynoglossidae, and Clupeidae. Families of Engraulidae, Leiognathidae, Gobiidae, Carangidae, Mullidae, Scombridae, and Nemipteridae dominated according to larvae quantities.

    Enhancing the information base:The information presented above provides insight into broad areas considered important as spawning, nursery, and feeding grounds for fish stocks. To assist in building the information base on areas significant to the life-cycles of fisheries resources, the seventh meeting of the UNEP/GEF South China Sea project’s Regional Working Group on Fisheries (RWG-F) considered during its seventh meeting a preliminary inventory of known spawning areas in the Gulf of Thailand for significant pelagic, demersal, and invertebrate species. To assist in developing a more comprehensive basis for the development of a list of critical spawning and nursery areas for important fish species, members of the RWG-F agreed to compile information during the inter-sessional period on the UNEP/GEF South China Sea Project’s Habitat Demonstration Sites that are critical inshore nursery refugia for important demersal species, locations in the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand that are utilized by important pelagic species for spawning, and existing fisheries management areas that may qualify as candidate sites of fisheries refugia. The Research Institute for Marine Fisheries compiled this information for review by Vietnam’s National Fisheries Committee prior to its sharing at the regional level.

    The subsequent and eighth meeting of the RWG-F considered document UNEP/GEF/SCS/RWG-F.8/5 “Information Collated by the Fisheries and Habitat Components of the South China Sea Project on Sites Important to the Life-Cycles of Significant Fish Species”. This document contained a review of all information collated by the fisheries and habitat components of the South China Sea Project on fish-habitat linkages. The sources of this information included: national reports on fisheries; national reports on coral reefs, seagrass, mangroves, and wetlands; SCS habitat site characterizations; habitat demonstration site project documents; the South China Sea online meta-database; and information contributed directly by fisheries and habitat focal points. That meeting agreed that this information should be used to identify and characterize fish spawning and nursery areas in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea. Members formed country-based sessional working groups to prepare country summaries of known critical spawning and nursery areas in their respective countries. These sessional working groups collated information regarding the approximate geographical location of the site; species are known to utilize the site; known usage of the site (i.e. as spawning and/or nursery area; time of year that the site is utilized as a spawning or nursery area; and the information source. During the inter-sessional period, the Research Institute for Marine Fisheries undertook national consultations with researchers and fishing communities to refine this information. 

    The ninth meeting of the RWG-F reviewed discussion document UNEP/GEF/SCS/RWG-F.9/8, “Review of Information regarding known Spawning and Nursery Areas and the Establishment of Pilot FisheriesRefugia Sites in the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand”, and update information for each known spawning and nursery area and add new sites to the list as appropriate. The revised list of known spawning and nursery areas for economically important fish species in Vietnamese waters of the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand was considered by the national consultation workshop for the preparatory phase of the SEAFDEC/UNEP/GEF project “Establishment and Operation of a Regional System of FisheriesRefugia in the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand”, and is presented in below as Table 1. 








    Establishment of Fisheries Refugia in Viet Nam:
    Background and Situation Analysis to Support


    Priority Fisheries Refugia Areas

    The fisheries refugia concept was defined by the RWG-F as “Spatially and geographically defined, marine or coastal areas in which specific management measures are applied to sustain important species [fisheries resources] during critical stages of their life cycle, for their sustainable use” (UNEP, 2005) and was developed as a novel approach to the identification and designation of priority areas in which to integrate fisheries and habitat management. The fisheries refugia concept focuses on the nature of the particular habitat and its critical significance to the life-history of the fished species. Management of refugia, therefore, focuses on the habitat rather than simply restricting access, either temporally or spatially, to fishing grounds. The process of identifying priority fisheries refugia in Vietnam was initiated via a RWG-F review of the above list of sites in relation to information on the distribution and abundance of fish eggs and larvae in the South China Sea; and the outcomes of country consultations on the identification of fisheries refugia.

    In Vietnam, country consultations were conducted and involved participation by representatives from local government units, research institutes, law enforcers, fisherfolk organizations, non-governmental organizations, national fishery committee members. The purpose of these consultations was to introduce participants to the concept of fisheries refugiaand the procedures for the identification and selection of refugia sites and involved: establishing a consensual understanding of the concept of fisheries refugia among participants and prioritizing sites for inclusion in a national and regional system of fisheries refugia. The consultations also considered available information on areas critical to the life-cycles of demersal and pelagic species along the South China Sea coast of Vietnam. The RWG-F subsequently agreed on 14 priority sites for inclusion in an initial regional system of fisheries refugia. The priority fisheries refugia sites initially selected for Vietnam are depicted in Figure 1.

    Figure 1. Sites selected in Vietnam for inclusion in an initial system of fisheries refuge





    Establishment of Fisheries Refugia in Viet Nam:
    Background and Situation Analysis to Support


    Stakeholder mapping and analysis

    Living marine resources in Viet Nam are common property and managed by the government. Access to resources is open to all individuals and organizations that qualify for a fishing license. According to government regulations, all boats larger than 0.5 tonnes require a license prior to fishing. The licenses for coastal waters (6 miles from the shore for the Gulf of Tonkin and southern waters; and 3 miles from the shore for waters of the central region) are valid for 12 months. Licenses for near-shore waters are valid for 24 months. Nearshore waters are defined from the outer boundary of the coastal water area boundary to the depth strata of 30 m in the Gulf of Tonkin and southern waters and to the depth strata of 50 m for waters of the central region. Licenses for fishing in the offshore area are valid for 36 months. Fishing boats with an engine capacity greater than 90 hp are not permitted to fish in coastal and nearshore waters. Some gears like trawl push net, beach seine, and gears using artificial light to attract fish (except squid handline) are banned in the coastal waters. 

    Fisheries in Viet Nam are mainly small scale. Most boats operate in water less than 50 m deep. A large number of boats from the central region fish in the Gulf of Tonkin or southern waters for extensive periods. Being aware of high fishing pressure in coastal areas the government has recently encouraged fishers to redirect fishing effort towards offshore waters and resources, with soft loans and tax reduction incentives. As a result, there has been much new large fishing entering Viet Nam’s offshore fisheries. However, a number of these larger boats have been observed fishing in coastal and nearshore areas. In fact, with few patrol boats and staff, the enforcement forces ineffectively control fishing activities in Viet Nam’s EEZ. The open-access nature of Viet Nam’s fisheries severely hinders resource and habitat conservation efforts and highlights the need for effective engagement with stakeholders. 

    Stakeholders in Vietnam’s fishing sector include: 

    • Fisherfolk: The most important stakeholders in capture fisheries are the fishers. The fishery sector is considered an important source of employment due to the large amount of primary and secondary jobs created in fisheries. According to the national strategy for the fisheries sector, fisheries should create around 4 million jobs.
    • State-owned fishing enterprises: Generally, the state-owned enterprises own large fishing boats. Traditionally, these enterprises have played a leading role in fisheries. However, since the introduction of the market economy, these enterprises have lost their competitiveness. Many of them have now discontinued their activities.
    • Fishing cooperatives: After 1985, most fishing cooperatives were disbanded due to poor effectiveness. In 1997, some new cooperatives were re-established for obtaining loans from financial institutions. Fishing cooperatives play a useful role in fisheries management, as the government can efficiently introduce its policies or management measures to fishers through this system.
    • Fishing groups: Due to the large amounts of capital required to purchase fishing boats and gear, fishers tend to create fishing groups. People in fishing groups can receive support from others in a very flexible way. Since 1985, the number of groups has rapidly increased.
    • Private business: The private business approach to capture fisheries is the most popular in Viet Nam. Many fishers own private fishing boats, requiring less than 5 crew. Others may own more than one boat or larger boats requiring more than 5 employees. Some people make capital investments in large boats, with the capacity to operate at sea for extended periods. These people may have several large boats operating as part of a larger fleet.





    Establishment of Fisheries Refugia in Viet Nam:
    Background and Situation Analysis to Support


     Status and Trends in Fisheries and their Habitats   

    Viet Nam is situated in the tropical monsoon area of South East Asia. It has a coastline of 3260 km and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of more than 1 million km2. At present, the fisheries sector plays an important role in the social and economic development of Viet Nam. Total fisheries production has been estimated to exceed more than 2 million tonnes of which close to 75 percent is from capture fisheries. This production contributes significantly to GDP and export earnings. Vietnamese waters have many bays, lagoons, and estuaries, including Ha Long Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay, and Tam Giang lagoon, and over 150,000 ha of mangroves. There is a high potential for the development of capture fisheries, marine aquaculture, and other economic sectors, including transportation and tourism. There are over 2,030 fish species in Vietnamese waters, of which approximately 130 species have economic value, 1,600 crustacean species, 2,500 species of mollusk, and many other kinds of seaweed and seabirds. The standing stock of fisheries resources is estimated to be 3.1 to 3.3 million tonnes, with a potential yield of approximately 1.4 to 1.5 million tonnes.

    The fisheries sector is currently Viet Nam’s third-biggest exporting sector, after crude oil and garments. This sector provides about 40% of the animal protein in the diet of Vietnamese people, creates jobs for over 4 million laborers, and provides part-time income for millions of people. However, the fisheries sector is facing many difficulties, largely due to capture fisheries in Viet Nam being mostly small-scale. For instance, 84% of fishing boats have a capacity of less than 90 hp, and fishing activities mainly take place in nearshore areas causing higher fishing pressure, resulting in the overexploitation and severe decline of living resources. In this setting, the income of fishing boat decreases, and competition among them increases, resulting in resources becoming increasingly exhausted. Therefore, it is necessary to orient the development of fisheries in the right direction by strengthening coastal fisheries management, and developing offshore fisheries in a sustainable manner.

    Among the 2030 marine fish species in Viet Nam’s waters, approximately 70% of these are demersal and semi-demersal fish, with the remaining 30% being pelagic species. The distribution of dominant species varies by area. The main species by areas are as follows. Tonkin Gulf:Ponyfishes (Leiognathus spp.), glow-belly (Acropoma japonicum), threadfin porgy (Evynnis cardinalis), roundscad (Decapterus maruadsi), and splendid squid (Loligo chinensis); Central and middle area of the South China Sea: Skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), common dolphinfish (Coryphaena hyppurus), bigeye tuna (Thunnus obessus), swordfish (Xiphias gladius), and silky shark (Carcharhinus menisorrah); Southeast area:Japanese leatherjacket (Monacanthus nipponensis), red bigeye (Priacanthus macracanthus), bensasi goatfish (Upeneus bensasi), cuttlefish (Sepia spp.), squid (Loligo spp.), and octopus; and the Southwest area: Frigate tuna (Auxis thazard), short mackerel (Rastrelliger brachysoma), goatfish (Upenus bensasi), squid, cuttlefish, pike conger and trevallies (Carangidae spp.).

    There is a large and increasing number of small fishing boats operating in Viet Nam’s coastal waters. The corresponding increases in fishing effort and total catch have led to the overexploitation of fisheries resources in these areas. Consequently, for each unit increase in fishing effort in Viet Nam’s coastal waters, the income of fishers per unit of effort diminishes. In order to maintain financial returns on their investments in time and effort, fishers typically intensify their operations by increasing fishing duration, increasing the number of gear operations, and reducing mesh size. This often further contributes to the problem of overexploitation, driving further increases in fishing effort. Approximately, 80 percent of Viet Nam’s total marine catch is derived from waters less than 50 m deep. The overexploitation of coastal fisheries resources has the following consequences: 

    • The proportion of high-value fish species in catches is gradually reduced.
    • The sizes of individual high-value fish in catches become smaller over time.
    • The proportion of trash fish (very low-value fish) in catches tends to increase. 

    This drives fluctuations in the price per kg and the value of the catch. The prices obtained for species of high commercial value, especially coral-associated species such as grouper, eel, and lobster, have recently increased significantly. The price of other commercial species, including yellowfin tuna, snapper, and mackerel, have also increased. However, the price for these latter species is not stable due to fluctuations in market supply and demand. Due to ongoing reductions in catch rates, the quantity of high-quality fish, the size of fish, and income per fishing trip has declined.

    Viet Nam’s fisheries are small-scale, multi-species, and multi-gear. The majority of investment in these fisheries is private. These small-scale fisheries contribute more than 87% of the total catch. Some 640,000 Vietnamese people are engaged in fishing, including approximately 60,000 people participating in offshore fishing activities. The development of state-owned fishing enterprises has not been effective due to insufficient management capacity and lack of investment. The educational level in every Vietnamese fishing community is low. It is estimated that: 68 percent of people in these communities only finish primary school; slightly more than 20% complete lower secondary school; about 10% finish secondary schools; and only 0.65% have graduated from vocational schools or universities.


    The following socio-economic conditions influence the quantity and quality of fishery laborers in Viet Nam:

    • Coastal fisheries in all areas of Viet Nam face the threat of overexploitation. There is a need to introduce strict measures aimed at reducing fishing effort in coastal waters. However, many fishers cannot afford to purchase fishing boats suitable for offshore use due to a lack of sufficient capital. Therefore, a continuously growing number of coastal and inshore fishers exacerbate existing conditions.
    • Marine fishing is a customary and hereditary profession in Viet Nam. Fishers normally do not have any other sources of income. Compared to agriculture, incomes associated with fishing are typically higher. This situation attracts many laborers to this sector.
    • Due to low levels of education, it is difficult for fishers to learn about advanced technology, especially offshore fishing techniques. Similarly, finding employment in other areas is often a major challenge for small-scale fishers.
    • The decline in fisher incomes, associated with the degradation of coastal resources, has driven fishers to increase the efficacy of fishing effort. This has involved fishers:
      • reducing mesh size to catch fish of all shapes and sizes, including juvenile fish;
      • increasing the number of gear operations per trip, or extending the duration of fishing; and
      • using destructive fishing gears or methods, including explosives, chemicals, and other poisonous substances.
    • In the reduction of overall fishing effort exerted in coastal waters, there is a need to create alternative employment opportunities for fishers. 

    Detailed baseline assessment: a comprehensive report on fish stocks and habitats of regional, global, and transboundary significance in South China Sea waters of Vietnam was produced as part of fisheries component activities of the UNEP/GEF South China Sea project. This assessment presents available information and data relating the status and threats of important fish stocks, habitats and areas of importance in the maintenance of exploited fish stocks, and existing management regimes, which was used in the planning of national-level actions for the SEAFDEC/UNEP/GEF project entitled “Establishing and Operating a Regional System of FisheriesRefugia in the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand” (Fisheries Refugia Project). It is anticipated that this assessment will be updated with new and additional information generated during the implementation of the Fisheries Refugia Project. It will also act as an important reference for determining the effectiveness of management interventions supported by the project.




    Establishment of Fisheries Refugia in Viet Nam:
    Background and Situation Analysis to Support


    Threats, root causes and barrier analysis 

    Global significance

    The South China Sea is a global center of shallow-water marine biological diversity, supporting a significant world fishery that is important to the food security of, and as a source of export income for, Southeast Asian countries. Landings from this area contribute approximately 10 percent of reported global fisheries production per annum and make significant contributions to the economies of countries bordering the South China Sea. As noted above, fisheries from Vietnamese waters of South China make significant contributions to this reported production. In the case of Vietnam however, the majority of fisheries are small-scale in nature, and fish are landed in a large number of decentralized locations for distribution through complex marketing networks at the community level. As consequence estimates of fisheries production are considered to be gross underestimates and do not adequately reflect the importance of the artisanal or subsistence production to the fisheries sector as a whole. 

    The decadal rates of decline in the total area of critical habitats such as seagrass, coral reefs, and mangroves are currently estimated at 30%, 16%, and 16% respectively. Fishing contributes to the loss and degradation of seagrass and coral reefs habitats and national level activities of this project in Vietnam will make a significant contribution to the enhancement of the scientific, institutional, and policy basis required to reduce the rates of loss of globally significant habitats and biodiversity due to fishing. This is considered important because of the potential global fisheries benefits associated with effective fisheries and habitat management at the local level, which is particularly important in the case of Vietnam due to the continuing importance of fisheries to food security, and maintenance of livelihoods. Similarly, given the limited integration of the work of fisheries and environment ministries observed in Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia, the establishment and operation of fisheries refugia in Vietnam provide an opportunity to for learning from a regional fishery sector-led initiative to collaborate with the environment sector on integrating fisheries and coastal habitat management.


    National technical and community consultative processes in Vietnam worked to identify key threats to fish stock and critical habitat linkages. For example at Phu Quoc Island, efforts to conserve and rehabilitate coral reefs so as to support their contribution to sustainable livelihoods have been compromised by the prevalence of destructive fishing practices, including the use of explosives. Similarly, efforts to extensive seagrass meadows adjacent to that site in transboundary water areas have been compromised by illegal trawl fishing over sensitive nearshore soft-bottom habitats.


    Of the dominant coastal habitats, seagrass and coral reef habitats are among the most threatened in Vietnam. Key anthropogenic threats to seagrass habitats on the South China Sea coast of Vietnam have been ranked from most to least significant as follows: destructive fishing such as push nets and trawls, sedimentation from coastal development, coastal construction, overfishing, wastewater effluent, and nutrients. Anthropogenic threats to coral reefs have been ranked in order of significance as over-fishing, destructive fishing, sedimentation, pollution (eutrophication), and coastal development. Key threats to mangroves include reclamation for shrimp and fish pond construction; chronic pollution from shrimp and fish farm effluent; and conversion of mangrove areas for industrial purposes. Natural threats have been identified as sea-level rise and episodic threats, including tsunamis and typhoons. Coral bleaching is also notable in some areas of Vietnam. 

    Key threats from fisheries have been categorized by the National Fisheries Committee in Vietnam as:

    • The twin problems of over-capacity and over-exploitation;
    • Use of destructive and/or unsustainable fishing gear and practices;
    • Pollution from fish processing facilities and small fishing vessels;
    • Habitat destruction and pollution due to fish and shrimp farming; and
    • Illegal fishing 

    The twin problems of over-capacity and over-exploitation: Over-capacity in commercial and small-scale fisheries, combined with the problem of over-exploitation, are enduring issues facing regional fisheries. The impacts of over-capitalization and over-exploitation are magnified by the use of subsidies and the dependence of coastal communities on fish resources for income, as well as food and nutritional security. Most areas of the South China Sea coast of Vietnam are characterized by a rapid increase in the number of fishing vessels and total engine capacity (hp), and although there has been a general corresponding increase in landings, catch per unit of effort (CPUE) has declined significantly. Recent interviews with fisherfolk suggest significant reductions in yields. Rapid growth in the number of high-powered boats continues to place heavy pressure on marine resources, especially in coastal, and the subsequent diminishing returns on investment in fishing is believed to be driving the increased occurrence of destructive fishing events. This, coupled with a lack of alternative livelihoods, is thought to be the key reason why both small-scale and commercial fishers are resorting to illegal and destructive fishing practices, including blast-fishing and the use of fish poisons (cyanide) in the area. Effective management of over-capitalization and over-exploitation of fisheries resources has been identified as an important element of achieving the desired outcomes for the management of fisheries refugia and will require effective linkage with broader efforts to curb high and increasing levels of fishing pressure in Vietnam. 

    The use of destructive and/or unsustainable fishing gear and practices: This issue is prevalent across a range of habitat types and regions of Vietnam’s South China Sea coast. As noted above, the Phu Quoc archipelago and adjacent environs have been identified as hotspots for the use of destructive and/or unsustainable fishing gear and practice, representing a key threat to critical fisheries habitats. Examples include: 

    • Inshore trawl fishing causes habitat impacts and selectivity issues. Catches in these gear types from inshore waters are largely composed of juveniles, and at high fishing effort levels are thought to contribute to growth over-fishing in the area. Such a situation hinders fisheries management efforts which largely focus on the development of sustainable livelihoods, and is a key threat in most inshore waters of Vietnam’s coast and is responsible for the take juveniles of the multiple economically important species.
    • Digging and gleaning of reef flats, seagrass beds and mangrove forests is an area of concern at each of the sites identified as being of importance to the life-cycle of fished species in Vietnam. Growing demand for seafood in local markets has resulted in a marked increase over recent years in the number of people digging for sipunculid worms, gastropods, and crustaceans in the seagrass beds, leading to damage of seagrass plants, de-stabilization of sediments (and subsequent erosion), and the over-exploitation of benthic organisms. Intensive digging and grazing in some mangrove areas are considered to be contributing to the occurrence of dwarf, low-density mangrove stands at several sites due to disturbance of mangrove roots and seedlings.
    • Blast fishing, poisons, and unselective fishing gears/practices is a well-known and documented threat to fisheries and habitats in many areas of Vietnam, particularly in coral reef environs of the Phu Quoc group. The effects of blasting on the physical structure of coral communities are of particular concern, and the occurrence of blast fishing “craters” on heavily blasted reefs is likely to have a major impact on coral reef-associated fish assemblages. Non-selective fishing gears are utilized in most fished coral reef areas and there is a growing need to minimize the impacts of such practices on critical habitats necessitates the development of best practices in the management of these problems.

    Pollution from fish processing facilities and small fishing vessels: While this issue is well known at the community level, little action has been initiated to address this in Vietnam. Seagrass and nearshore coral reef habitats are particularly threatened by pollution from small fishing vessels and fish processing facilities, particularly in the intensively used shallow water areas of Phu Quoc. While volumes and contaminant loadings of wastewater discharges from fish processing facilities are typically unknown, it is believed to be contributing to increased biological oxygen demand and nutrient concentrations in the coastal water areas. This issue is compounded by the discharge of solid wastes generated by fishing communities into areas of coral reef and seagrass. The discharge of oils, both hydrocarbons, and fish oils, from small fishing vessels, is also common and is potentially a problem across all priority fisheries refugia sites in Vietnam due to the widespread nature of the small-scale fishing sector, although it is recognized that the local significance of this problem will depend on oceanographic processes at the site-level.

    Habitat destruction and pollution due to fish and shrimp farming: As noted above, mangroves remain to be threatened by reclamation for fish and aquaculture farming in Vietnam as they were in recent, and chronic pollution from farm effluent has been identified as a key threat to mangroves. Reclamation for industrial development and coastal construction is a persistent threat.

    Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing: Particularly the use of illegal and destructive fishing gear is common in many areas of the selected sites for the establishment and operation of fisheries refugia in Vietnam. The illegal encroachment of foreign fishing vessels into national waters and the conduct of large commercial fishing operations in inshore areas set aside for small-scale fishers are common throughout the region. However, the illegal fishing problem is complicated by poor definitions of “illegal” fishing gear and operations in fisheries law, low-level community awareness of the effects of unsustainable fisheries, and minimal resources for monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS). While this issue is being addressed by broader regional programs operated by FAO and SEAFDEC, local application of regional guidance on IUU management in the establishment and operation of refugia sites has been identified as a priority in Vietnam.


    Root causes

    The initial Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis conducted for the South China Sea marine basin suggested that the root cause of coastal environmental degradation was the present density and growth of coastal populations. A total of 270 million people, or 5 percent of the world’s population, live in the coastal sub-regions of the five countries. The population is concentrated in 93 cities with over 100,000 inhabitants with an indicative trend of doubling of populations in 32 years. Coastal tourism, increasing fisheries development, and oil exploration and exploitation, are among the major economic ‘pull factors’ causing internal migration from poorly developed inland areas to the coast in Vietnam.

    As a result of the abovementioned scenario, fisheries are critically important from the perspectives of food security and export earnings in Vietnam. These fisheries are characterized by high levels of fishing effort from the small-scale sector. Accordingly, all inshore waters of the South China Sea basin are subject to intense fishing pressure. Growing global demand for fisheries products, coupled with strong coastal community dependence on fisheries, is driving continued increases in fishing capacity and effort. The obvious impediment to the reduction of inshore fishing effort is that small-scale operators are often entirely dependent on fish for income, food, and well-being, and this has resulted in the situation of stocks of nearly almost all important species being fully-fished or overexploited. Consequently, the investment of time and household expenditure on fuel for fishing has increased in coastal communities attempting to secure adequate dietary nutrition and income from fishing.

    The situation of high small-scale fishing pressure and declining fisheries resources has contributed to the adoption of unsustainable fishing methods to maintain catch and increase incomes in the short-term. As noted in section 1.3.1 above, these include the use of destructive fishing gear and practices, such as the operation of demersal trawls and push nets in seagrass areas, and the detonation of explosives and release of fish poisons in coral reef areas. Small-scale inshore fishing pressure has therefore been identified as a significant cause of the degradation and loss of coastal habitats in the Philippine waters of the South China Sea. Conversely, while action aimed at reducing the rate of loss of coastal habitats has been implemented in the South China Sea waters of Vietnam, the rate of loss of such habitats remains high, raising serious concerns for the long-term sustainability of small-scale fisheries in the region.

    With fish production is intrinsically linked to the quality and area of habitats and the heightened dependence of coastal communities on fish, a need exists in Vietnam to improve the integration of fish habitat considerations and fisheries management in the region. The dilemma for the fisheries and environment sectors is that conservation of habitat does not necessarily result in increased fish stocks while lowering fishing effort does not necessarily result in the improvement of habitat. Therefore, given the complexity of the key threats to fish stocks, fish habitats, and associated biodiversity in Southeast Asia, it is imperative that mechanisms for effective cross-sectoral consultation and coordination be established, particularly in terms of the identification and designation of priority ‘places’ for management.

    In terms of environmental governance and management, the environment and fisheries are treated as separate sectors for planning and management purposes leading to:

      • Overlapping or conflicting mandates between different ministries, as in the case of fisheries and environment for example, where internal mechanisms for managing the impacts of fishing practices on habitats and the physical environment do not exist;
      • Problems related to effective control of environmental degradation resulting from land-based pollution where the interface between the industrial and environmental sectors is not well developed; and
      • Lack of adequate consideration of the consequence of environmental degradation and habitat loss due to ineffective means of valuing environmental goods and services, and where they exist, a failure to use such values in social cost-benefit analysis.



    Vietnam’s National Committee on Fisheries has identified a need for national action to strengthen the integration of fisheries and habitat management along the South China Sea coast of Vietnam, although noted that such an initiative would be constrained by the following factors: (1) limited experience in national fisheries and environment departments and ministries with respect to the implementation of integrated fisheries and habitat management approaches; (2) limited information regarding fish life-cycles and critical habitat linkages and the role that coastal habitats play in sustaining fisheries; and (3) the low level of community acceptance of ‘protected’ area approaches to marine management in Vietnam. 

    To address these barriers, it has been identified that the project will: 

    • build the capacity of fisheries and environment departments and ministries in Vietnam to engage in meaningful dialogue regarding how broader multiple-use planning can best contribute to improving the state of fisheries habitat management;
    • improve understanding among stakeholders, including fisherfolk, scientists, policymakers and fisheries managers, of habitat and fishery linkages as a basis for integrated fisheries and habitat management; and
    • enhance and sustain the participation of local fishing communities and the private sector in management interventions for improved fisheries habitat management and biodiversity conservation through a focus on sustainable use rather than the prohibition of fishing.

    Additionally, project activities in Vietnam will address the barriers to integration by drawing on fisheries management concepts that are easily understood by fishing communities and emphasize sustainable use rather than simply the prohibition of fishing. The latter is considered detrimental to efforts to harness community support for area-based approaches to fisheries management in Vietnam.




Click to listen highlighted text!

Joomla! Debug Console


Profile Information

Memory Usage

Database Queries