Vietnam Stakeholder Annual FIP Review

BSC fishery stakeholders in Kien Giang, Vietnam, gathered on August 27th to 30th, for the annual FIP Review, and the RBF (Risk Based Framework) workshop conducted at DARD.  Local government, the fisher community, researchers, NGOs, and industry representatives were present at the meetings.

The biggest take-away from the 4-day workshop was how good data, good management, and a good plan to sustainability are key success factors for a FIP.  Robust stock assessments are the backbone for effective policies, and should be facilitated by a scientific 3rd party.  Public-private partnerships are essential to marshal in fishery reform.  The need for a road map to sustainability, as planned by professionals experienced with the fisheries and familiar with MSC Standards, cannot be understated.  Vietnam has all the ingredients for success and is working to overcome sustainability obstacles.

Key discussion topics at the FIP review were RIMF’s findings from the stock assessment, annual review of progress and amendments to the FIP Action Plan.  New and old concerns in the fishery were brought to light during the floor discussions as well.

A newly introduced fishing method called “Lu” is seen as highly destructive in the fishery, and there were pushes for it to be banned.  US buyers should be aware of new processing companies not part of the VASEP Crab Council that are purchasing undersized crabs and undermining the sustainability initiative.  VASEP too were demanding better enforcement of fishery policies including closures, and undersized crab.  There were also comments for more co-management initiatives that would leverage the fisher communities pull for reforms.  An investigation on overlapping crab stocks from Cambodia and Thailand was also discussed.

At the capacity of WWF, MSC Engagement Manager on FIPs, Cassie Leisk, was able to conduct an RBF workshop at the Department of Agricultural Resources and Development (DARD).  The RBF tool is a fishery assessment and planning method catered for data-deficient fisheries in the developing world [RBF powerpoint].  The RBF method will be used in Kien Giang to evaluate impacts the fishery may have to by-catch and retained species (MSC Principle 2).

Australian Stock Assessment specialist Cameron Dixon was also able to attend the meetings at the capacity of WWF.  He’s had 20 years of experience working in fisheries for the public and private sectors, as well as NGO’s.  He’s worked extensively in blue swimmer crab in Southern Australia, and is an expert on the topic.  He was able to present a review of RIMF’s stock assessment work and provided much needed advice to stakeholders.

Cameron’s comments on the RIMF work included, “a great piece of work done in a short period of time”; provides good info on biological characteristics, outputs can be used to establish harvest strategy based on reference points with control rules, reliable methods and a robust model.

Cameron Dixon: in terms of a harvest strategy, “…like a sinking ship, save the women and children first”. [For Mr. Dixon’s full presentation click here.]

To date, the Vietnam FIP has the most detailed stock assessment work for all BSC FIPs in the region.  However, with only 1.5 years of data the fishery is still data deficient by western standards.  It has also been hard to secure funding for the work.  The Council stays committed to the cause and WWF provides much-needed FIP management and brings in fishery experts from all over the world.

A good Stock Assessment is the backbone to fishery management.  The Research Institute of Marine Fisheries (RIMF) is the fishery science authority in Vietnam.  They’ve combined landing surveys, logbooks, observer programs, and biological sampling to assess the BSC resource.  Outputs include unique biological reference points, catch-fishing effort, biomass estimations and MSY reference points for an assessment of the stock [RIMF Stock Assessment Document].

RIMF’s findings are a real concern for the fishery.  Size composition varied between gillnets and trap fishing gears.  Traps were recruiting most of the undersized crabs; they account for 20% of the fishing fleet but harvest over 40% of the catch.  The gillnet fishery was quite stable.  Carrying-capacity of the resource was roughly over 7000 tons, given mortality rates recruitment was 20% above MSY, which indicate that the industry is at risk.  Spawning seasons occurred twice a year between February to April, and August to November.  Size of maturity was just under 10cm.  Other findings saw a new gear type, “Lu”, that seriously impacts sustainability in the fishery.

RIMF’s recommendations to fishery managers were to:

  1. Reduce fishing effort by 20% for a maximum sustainable yield.
  2. Increase selectivity in traps by either increasing mesh sizes or introducing escape vents.
  3. Decrease fishing activity during peak spawning seasons.
  4. Effective enforcement and regulation of the minimum size at first maturity (~10cm) and area closures.
  5. Identify and limit the number of boats using “Lu” (Chinese) fishing gear.
  6. Identify spawning grounds to implement co-management initiatives.

DARD had recognised the MSY reference points at 80% of the current fishing effort.  Will analyse strategies to reduce fishing effort by 20% such as gear modifications, as well as seasonal and area closures.  Technical know how and capacity for effective enforcement are issues in the public sector. DARD will also prepare a law enforcement plan by end of 2014 for implementation in 2015.  Support for fishery reforms will also be part of the co-management initiatives in the fishing communities.

In terms of FIP planning, the Vietnam experience should be modeled by other BSC fisheries.  With sustainability and secured access to fishery resources on the agenda, then the planning cannot be understated.  This requires somebody with extensive knowledge on environmental benchmarks and the MSC standard; clear objectives and guideposts along the way.

Fishery consultant, Richard Banks, conducted the annual FIP review and has been part of the sustainability initiative since the beginning, developing the MSC Pre-Assessment, the FIP Action Plan and monitoring framework.  He lobby’s for fishery reforms on behalf of the industry.  Richard brings much need experience to the FIP including 5 MSC Full Assessments, 30 Pre Assessments, 10 Fishery Improvement Plans, and 30 years experience in fisheries policy and planning.  An emphasis on robust management and fishery data has enabled the FIP to progress towards the MSC Standard.

*For project tracking, an up to date review of the FIP Action Plan, and Benchmarking and Tracking tool will be available soon.