Countries fighting over marine resources, especially fish, is not new. In the past, such disputes have escalated to wars using the show of naval might. However, the ripple effects of these conflicts between two countries can be felt by several other regions. At the centre of one such conflict today is the seaside country of Vietnam.
Vietnam and Fishing
Vietnam has a coastline of over 3000 km, plus the islands. Not only does seafood form an important aspect of their cuisine, but the ocean is also a part of their cultural identity and belief. The South China Sea, parts of which serve as a fishing ground to many Southeast Asian countries, lies to the east of Vietnam. Their reliance on the sea as a resource has been a way of life for generations. However, modern developments such as overlapping fishing zones, China’s expansion into the South China Sea, and more, have led traditional fishing communities to venture out of their established fishing zones. This has led to an aggravation of conflicts across regions.
Vietnamese Blue Boats in Australia
Vietnamese fishing boats, driven by various such conflicts and factors, have started to venture out of their zones, and into illegal fishing. More such ‘blue boats’ have been seen in Australian waters in recent years. A recent study conducted workshops for illegal Vietnamese fishermen in Australian seas, and surveyed them before and after.
The study found that when bandit fisherfolk are stopped from fishing in the zone of one country, it does not do much to stop illegal fishing activities. Instead, the problem shifts to another place. Despite facing threats and the possibility of damage, fishermen continue illegal fishing activities due to the several issues they face, and a lack of solutions.
“Millions of people rely on fish and seafood and when offered no alternative choice, will choose banditry and illegal fishing to get by,” said Dr. Brock Bergseth, co-author of the study, at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University. “But without a regional strategy and investments for rebuilding and managing countries’ fisheries, this just becomes one big game of whack-a-mole: you deal with the problem in one area, only for it to pop up in another.”
The 82 surveyed fishermen were asked about their reasons behind fishing illegally in Australia and whether the workshop explaining how this practice could draw penalties was helpful in a perspective shift. While the authors acknowledged that information and awareness may deter Vietnamese boats from fishing illegally in Australian waters, it may not necessarily curb all illegal fishing. These fishermen may simply shift ground to access more economically viable fish.
Apart from Australia, the issues plaguing traditional Vietnamese fishing grounds have led to the fishermen engaging in illegal fishing in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and more. Such issues arising from dwindling ocean resources and a lack of strategic cooperation among countries is not an issue exclusive to Southeast Asia and the South China Sea.
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