Water Pollution Decimating Vietnam Fisheries

Dancer in a Golden Veil Hoi An VietnamPolluted wastewater discharges continue endangering Vietnam fisheries, which are a key national economic resource.

About 1,000 tons of oysters cultivated in Man Quang Bay, located near Da Nang, died in late December 2012, affecting more than 100 small farmers. It was the first major loss in 20 years, according to oyster farmers.

The culprit: polluted water.

City officials say they are taking water samples to definitively determine the cause of the mass die-off. The city claims it has issued warnings two years ago against farming in the bay based on poor water quality.

Tran Thi Xi, an oyster farmer who lost three tons of oysters, told VietnamNet Bridge that polluted water can be the only factor. She said:

Oysters rarely die of an illness. Water at the bay would likely have been polluted by waste from Tho Quang seafood processing zone which is just 1 km away.

A centralized wastewater treatment station serves the Tho Quang seafood processing zone; however, the plant, which has a 3,000 cubic meters/day capacity, reportedly treats only half the wastewater produced. The city fined several of these companies for incorrect waste disposal in August 2012.

Oyster farmers were set to harvest in late January 2013, but now face mounting debt. Huynh Thi Vinh lost 10 tons of oysters, telling VietnamNet Bridge:

The 2,000sq.m farm used to produce a net profit of VND300 million ($14,000) each year. Oysters often grow well in the area, even though the climate has changed dramatically in recent years. […] I would have earned VND500 million ($24,000) from next month’s crop, but all I’ve got now are piles of shells. It’s the worst harvest I’ve seen in the decades since we started farming here.

About 700 Da Nang area residents rely on oyster farming as a primary income source. Their monthly income is about VND7 million ($330) per capita.

The Sea and Islands General Administration of Vietnam estimates that various wastes originating on the mainland may contribute to about 70% of the nation’s marine pollution. Researchers claim the coastal waters are now experiencing “significant environmental duress.”

The coast’s pollution “hot spots” include northern Quang Ninh Province, Hai Phong City, central Da Nang City, Quang Nam Province, and southern Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province.

The current estimate of pollution is that about 6.5 million tons of toxic chemicals, 1.6 million tons of oil, and 47,000 tons of heavy metal are fouling the oceans from the shore. Plus, there are no landfill wastewater treatment facilities that could address dangerous runoff.

Rivers flowing into the sea also contain pollution and sediment that compound the environmental challenges. The runoff and various discharges have degraded marine ecosystems and coastal fisheries.

Coastal Vietnam has almost 44 million residents, plus hosts 55 million tourists annually. There are also at 500 industrial parks and thousands of manufacturing facilities located on the coast.

Fishing is an essential enterprise for Vietnam’s economy. In a 2012 report, the United Nations Environment Programme stated that Vietnam’s 2011 agro-forestry and fisheries exports were worth US$25 billion. The report also noted:

In the fisheries sector, production grew at an average of 10.25 per cent between 2001 and 2010, creating over US$5 billion in export value for the country in 2010. The continuous economic growth has not been without significant pressure on Vietnam’s natural resources, including concerns about the dwindling state of fish stocks. With growing global concern over the scarcity of natural resources, and international market interest in sustainably produced goods, the notion of harmonisation of economic growth with sustainable use of resources presents both opportunities and challenges to government and private sector operators in the Vietnam.

Vietnam Oyster Bank
Oyster farming has been important to the nation since the 1960s, according to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Seafarming Resources Atlas.

More than four million tons of oysters are consumed worldwide annually, according to Vietnam Seafood News. Crassostrea gigas, or the Pacific oyster, is popular in nations including France, the United States, Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea.

Although mollusks have great export potential, current production only satisfies domestic demand with about 5,000 tons of fresh Pacific oysters produced annually at a market price of between VND10,000 and 15,000 per kilogram in 2011.

The government is working on the development of aquaculture with 1.2 million hectares expected to be devoted to aquaculture by 2020. Farmed fish production that same year is forecast to reach 4.5 million metric tons and create 3.5 million jobs.

UNEP added:

The fisheries sector earns Vietnam US$ 4.5 billion annually which makes the fishing industry the third major export product of Vietnam, following textile garments and crude oil. Vietnam ranks amongst the top ten seafood exporters of the world, exporting seafood to around 65 countries, with the main export markets being the USA, Japan, Hong Kong and Europe.

There are 10 different species of oyster — which include those used for food as well as pearls — found in the coastal waters of Vietnam. Also commercially important are various shrimp, crab, squid, cuttlefish, and various other farmed and wild caught fish species.

Nguyen Van Cu, head of the Vietnam Sea and Island General Administration, has said that the nation’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment must develop a national plan for managing marine pollution, which includes working across agencies and with local government to control hazardous waste discharges. The government also needs to make the public more aware of the importance of protecting the ocean.

Images by jmhullot (Jean-Marie Hullot) (top) and EverJean (bottom).