Hanoi - Even as severe overfishing depletes Vietnam's fisheries, a senior official said Monday that the government will subsidize fishermen who buy new boats, to alleviate the pain they are feeling due to rising fuel prices.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture Nguyen Viet Thang said the subsidies will apply only to deep-sea fishing boats with engines greater than 90 horsepower, to encourage fishermen to venture past the coastal areas where stocks are said to be most depleted. Thang said each new-90 horsepower boat would receive a government subsidy of
90 million dong, about 5,600 dollars.
"The aim is to encourage fishermen to upgrade their equipment for offshore fishing," Thang said. "The second objective is to help fishermen to overcome the rising price of fuel."
Thang said Vietnam could not directly subsidize fuel because that would violate its commitments to the World Trade Organization.
With the encouragement of foreign aid organizations, Vietnam has adopted a long-term strategy of reducing the size of its fishing fleet to curb overfishing. A World Bank-funded project currently under discussion with the government would aim to cut the fleet in half.
The Vietnamese government's own five-year plan for 2006 to 2010 calls for the fleet to be cut by 40,000 boats. But the new subsidies appeared to run counter to that objective.
Michael Akester, an advisor with Denmark's government aid organization who helped Vietnam develop its coastal management strategy, said that the target of moving people out of the fisheries sector had run up against severe pressure on fishermen. Many small-scale coastal fishermen have been idled in recent months by rising fuel costs and declining catches.
"Ten to 40 per cent of these small boats are currently in port because they can't afford to fish," Akester said.
The easiest short-term reaction, he said, is subsidies. "But the long-term effects of that are that you will be artificially keeping people in a business that is no longer viable."
Le Van Dap, 58, a fisherman from Cham Island off the central Vietnamese town of Hoi An, said more than half of the fishermen on the island were staying home, finding work repairing fishing nets or on hotel construction projects.
"If a fisherman works as a construction worker, he earns 50 thousand dong (about 3 dollars) a day, which is quite enough," Dap said. "But if he goes fishing, what he will earn is not much."
Seafood is Vietnam's third largest export industry, after crude oil and apparel. The country earned 3.74 billion dollars from seafood exports in 2007, and aims at reaching 4 billion dollars in exports this year.
Akester said that reducing the size of the fleet would require finding jobs for up to 250,000 fishermen whose skills are largely maritime. Promising areas include aquaculture, maritime transportation and tourism.
Fisherman Dap said he now earns six to ten dollars per day transporting local tourists on sightseeing and scuba diving trips.
"When you go fishing, you don't know whether you'll catch anything, and you have to worry about high fuel prices," Dap said. "But carrying tourists, you know that you will make money." (dpa)
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