Vietnam’s seafood industry feels the pinch after mass fish deaths

By    August 25, 2016 | 10:33 pm PT
Vietnam’s seafood industry feels the pinch after mass fish deaths
This photograph taken on April 27, 2016, shows a woman collecting dead clams on a beach at Ky Anh District, in the central province of Ha Tinh. Photo by AFP
Taiwanese fish killer Formosa urged to bear financial responsibility for Vietnamese seafood producers.

Vietnamese seafood exporters have started to feel the impact of the mass fish deaths that hit a 200-kilometer stretch of Vietnam’s central coastline last April.

The environmental disaster was caused by toxic chemicals, including cyanide, discharged by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, the Vietnam unit of Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group, into the sea.

The harmful industrial waste killed tons of fish at both aquatic farms and in waters off the coast of the central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien – Hue, seriously disrupting the lives of local people who mainly fish for a living.

The toxic pollution caused by Formosa has hit at least 200,000 people where it hurts the most: their pockets, the government said last month.

In a report sent to the National Assembly, Vietnam's legislature, the government said that around 41,000 fishermen and over 176,000 people dependent on them have been affected by the incident.

Authorities estimate that seafood catches have fallen 1,600 tons per month, according to the report. 140 tons of fish, 67 tons of oysters and 16 tons of shrimp died as a result of the disaster, it said.

According to the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), the disaster has devastated local aquatic farming and damaged coastal fisheries, leading to a lack of raw seafood materials.

Seafood processing factories nationwide have had no choice but to cut their operations, running at just 50-60 percent of their full capacity.

To address the unstable domestic supply, Vietnamese seafood factories have turned to overseas resources. Statistics show that seafood producers have so far this year spent $485 million on importing input materials.

“Our factory has been running non-stop for the past 23 years," said Tran Dinh Nam, the chief executive of a seafood processing unit in the central province of Ha Tinh. "Our main export market is Japan. For the first time, input shortages have brought us to a halt. We have been running at just 40 percent of our full capacity for the past six months.” 

In addition, the mass fish deaths have raised concerns in the U.S., Europe and Japan over product quality and safety.

VASEP chairman Ngo Van Ich said seafood exporters will face more challenges in the future. Last year, Vietnam earned $6.6 billion from seafood exports.

The association has called for government intervention to save the industry from the environmental disaster, while asking for Formosa to be held financially accountable for all the damage its factory has caused.

In late June, Formosa took responsibility and promised to pay VND11.5 trillion ($500 million) in compensation to treat the pollution and mitigate the consequences. Vietnamese authorities said the compensation will go towards helping local fishermen in the area find new jobs.

But meanwhile, the Vietnamese government has remained non-committal about whether it is now safe to catch and eat fish along the country's central coast that bore the brunt of the toxic disaster. 

Instead the authorities concerned have just said broadly that the coast is safe for swimming and aquaculture, according to a study released earlier this week by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

Related news:

>Formosa's toxic disaster: are fish safe to eat now in central Vietnam?

>Drought and fish deaths drown Vietnam’s seafood exports

>Fishermen demand compensation, medicals after mass fish deaths

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