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Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Removing Yellow Card From European Commission (EC): Vietnam's Determined Actions



Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities have negatively impacted Vietnam fisheries. As a result, the European Commission (EC) issued a yellow card warning in October 2017. This paper examines how Vietnam has responded to the EC’s recommendations to address the yellow card. The analysis used a mix of documents analysis and online group discussion approaches. Although Vietnam has made considerable efforts to halt IUU fishing and clear the yellow card, the results are still insufficient to remove the yellow card. However, the yellow card has brought about positive signals for Vietnamese fisheries management. It is also an opportunity for the national marine fisheries sector and fishers communities to be more responsible in fishing. Institutional and legal regulations have been refined to be in line with international rules and enormously improved the enforcement capacity of the fisheries management system for fishers to end the situation of fishing vessels engaged in illegal fishing in the waters of Vietnam and other countries. Recommended actions to address the yellow card include finalisation of the fisheries guidance decrees in line with obligations to combating IUU fishing, more robust sanctions, strengthening the monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) system, information dissemination and education of the fisheries law and relevant regulations, and apply an electronic catch documentation and traceability (eCDT) system. Download at here:
Combating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and 2
Removing Yellow card from European Commission (EC): Vietnam's 3
determined actions 4
Abstract 6
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities have negatively impacted Vietnam 7
fisheries. As a result, the European Commission (EC) issued a yellow card warning in October 8
2017. This paper examines how Vietnam has responded to the EC’s recommendations to address 9
the yellow card. The analysis used a mix of documents analysis and online group discussion 10
approaches. Although Vietnam has made considerable efforts to halt IUU fishing and clear the 11
yellow card, the results are still insufficient to remove the yellow card. However, the yellow card 12
has brought about positive signals for Vietnamese fisheries management. It is also an opportunity 13
for the national marine fisheries sector and fishers communities to be more responsible in fishing. 14
Institutional and legal regulations have been refined to be in line with international rules and 15
enormously improved the enforcement capacity of the fisheries management system for fishers to 16
end the situation of fishing vessels engaged in illegal fishing in the waters of Vietnam and other 17
countries. Recommended actions to address the yellow card include finalisation of the fisheries 18
guidance decrees in line with obligations to combating IUU fishing, more robust sanctions, 19
strengthening the monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) system, information dissemination 20
and education of the fisheries law and relevant regulations, and apply an electronic catch 21
documentation and traceability (eCDT) system. 22
Phuong, T.V., Pomeroy, R.B. 2022. Combating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing
and Removing Yellow card from European Commission (EC): Vietnam's determined actions. Asian
Fisheries Science 35 (1
Keywords: Vietnam fisheries, IUU fishing, EC’s yellow card, determined actions. 24
Introduction 25
The marine fisheries of Vietnam are essential to the country’s economy for employment, food 27
security and export earnings, especially for the 28 coastal provinces (Pomeroy et al., 2009). In the 28
past two decades, the number of fishing boats has consistently been over 100,000 boats a year 29
using a variety of fishing gears. Only about 30 % of these boats been eligible for off-shore fishing 30
in 2020. Vietnam's seafood catch has maintained continuous growth with an average increase of 31
9.07 % per year, of which the marine landing is at 6.42 % per year (VASEP, 2018; Office of the 32
Government, 2021). 33
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a broad and popular term in use worldwide. It 35
is found in all types and dimensions of fisheries that refers to activities conducted in contravention 36
of national or international laws and regulations (FAO, 2001; Miller and Sumaila, 2014; Leroy et 37
al., 2016). In general, IUU fishing encompasses three different kinds of fishing activities: i) Illegal 38
fishing conducted in contravention of national or international laws and regulations; ii) Unreported 39
fishing operations not reported, or misreported, to Regional Fisheries Management Organisation 40
(RFMOs) or the relevant national authority; and iii) Unregulated fishing in the water zone of a 41
relevant RFMO application or nation conducted by fishing boats without nationality, or by those 42
flying the flag of a State not a party to that organisation, or by a fishing entity, in a manner that is 43
not consistent with or contravenes the measures of that organisation (FAO, 2001; Sodik, 2009; 44
Leroy et al., 2016; Dien, 2020; Phuong, 2021). These activities have been deemed harmful to the 45
health of fish stocks and food security for countries that depend on fishing resources (Li and Amer, 46
2015; Leroy et al., 2016; Garcia et al., 2021). 47
Countries in Southeast Asia have suffered heavy economic losses due to IUU fishing. IUU fishing 49
is typically about 20 % of these countries' total fishery production value and is a significant loss 50
for the national economy. Indonesia has the most considerable loss in ASEAN, estimated at 3 51
billion USD per year, followed by Vietnam losing 1.6 billion USD per year (Leroy et al., 2016; 52
Havoscope, 2019; Lee and Visawanathan, 2020). 53
IUU fishing is a significant issue in Vietnam. The types of IUU fishing in this country include: i) 55
Vietnamese vessels regularly fishing illegally in neighbouring countries’ waters, mainly in 56
Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, and Thailand; ii) most catch/landings are not certified, declared, 57
or guaranteed the legal origin; catch certification and traceability is not done. Furthermore, there 58
are regulatory gaps in document validation, and iii) the monitoring, control and surveillance 59
(MCS) and fleet management do not align with the international regulations. In addition, the 60
national legal framework from the fisheries law to circulars have no regulations and clear 61
definition about IUU activities and the implementation and enforcement of regulations remain 62
weak. The sanctions are not yet mandatory and effective in addressing illegal activities. 63
Consequently, the European Commission (EC) issued a yellow card to Vietnam's fisheries on IUU 65
fishing in 2017. Although Vietnam has put much effort into improving the policy framework, law 66
enforcement, MCS, and fisheries traceability, there is still more work to be accomplished to 67
remove the EC yellow card (VGP NEWS, 2020a). This paper investigates how the Vietnamese 68
Government has responded to the EC yellow card and recommendations. The paper uses a mix of 69
documents analysis and online group discussion approaches to analyse Vietnam’s efforts to 70
address IUU fishing and remove the yellow card warning. The paper begins with a review of the 71
Vietnamese fisheries situation before the yellow card, followed by a discussion of Vietnam’s 72
efforts to address IUU fishing. The paper concludes with recommendations to get the yellow card 73
removed. 74
Materials and Methods 76
The paper relies on two sources of information. First are the Vietnamese Government documents, 78
journal articles, official reports, and fisheries-related information. These documents are analysed 79
to identify how the government addresses IUU fishing and the EC yellow card under the current 80
fisheries legal framework across administrative levels. The legislation and regulations are scanned 81
for keywords, including IUU fishing and EC yellow card, to search for laws, decrees, circulars and 82
decisions related to fisheries launched between 2010 and 2021, especially from 2017 to 2021 when 83
the EC yellow card was issued. The official websites of the government ( and 84
the Directorate of Fisheries (DoFi) ( were used for this purpose. In 85
addition, the analysis used media articles, academic publications, and relevant papers from DoFi’s 86
offices and internet searches by using the keywords mentioned above. 87
Second, due to restrictions on travel and social distancing in the context of the COVID-19 89
pandemic, this analysis obtained information from online in-depth expert interviews and group 90
discussions via Zalo and Google Meet applications that were carried out from April to May 2021. 91
The interviews were conducted with 50 experts who are fisheries managers and officers from 92
various coastal provinces from the north to south of Vietnam, including Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, 93
Quang Nam, Binh Dinh, Khanh Hoa, Binh Thuan, Ca Mau, and Kien Giang provinces. These 94
interviews focused on the issues, shortcomings, and difficulties terminating IUU fishing in 95
Vietnam. 96
Results 98
Overview of Vietnam's marine fisheries before the Yellow card 100
From a primarily small-scale fishery mainly operating in the near-shore area, Vietnam's marine 102
fisheries have shifted towards becoming a mechanised fishery with increasing fishing activities in 103
the off-shore waters, targeting high-value fish species (Pomeroy et al., 2009). By the end of 2016, 104
Vietnam had nearly 110,000 fishing vessels equivalent to 10 million horsepower (HP) of total 105
capacity, of which around 31,000 have the power of 90 HP inboard engine. The average total 106
landings were about 3 million tonnes per year (VASEP, 2018). Products from small-scale near-107
shore and off-shore fishing activities have an important position in the export market. In the 5 108
years from 2013 to 2017, Vietnam's seafood exports accounted for 29 - 33 % of the total 109
agriculture, forestry and fisheries export value annually. Seafood exports have grown continuously 110
during this period,, with an average annual increase of nearly 8 % (Sac, 2019). 111
The European Union (EU) was the second-largest import market of Vietnamese seafood products 113
in the 6 years of 2012 - 2017, accounting for 19 - 22 % of Vietnam's total seafood exports. The 114
nation's seafood exports to the EU market have been stable at 1.1 - 1.46 billion USD per year for 115
this time. The top five importing countries in the EU for Vietnamese seafood included Germany, 116
Italy, the Netherlands, France and Spain, accounting for 65 % of total exports to the EU (VASEP, 117
2018). 118
IUU fishing has been a problem formally recognised by the Vietnamese Government since 2010. 120
The Government launched several directives to eliminate this problem. The Prime Minister issued 121
Directive No. 689/CT-TTg in 2010, implementing some measures to prevent and reduce the 122
situation of the nation’s fishing vessels and fishers being arrested by foreign countries (Office of 123
the Government, 2010). However, at that time, Vietnam's fishing industry was primarily small-124
scale, with limited awareness by most fishers and fisheries officials and a lack of adequate 125
resources (human, finance, equipment) necessary to undertake fisheries management and 126
enforcement activities. Consequently, illegal fishing increased over time, especially from 2015 to 127
2017 (Office of the Government, 2017b; USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership, 2020). 128
According to the Directorate of Fisheries (DoFi), from December 2013 to the end of 2016, Vietnam 129
had to deal with issues related to IUU fishing vessels and their crew members, with 726 fishing 130
boats and a total of 5,752 fishers captured by other nations authorities (Ngan, 2018; DoFi, 2020b). 131
When this problem was at its peak, Vietnam’s Government issued Telegram no. 732 in 2017 132
requesting ministries, sectors, and localities to actively and earnestly implement the prevention, 133
reduction and termination of Vietnamese fishing boats and fishers illegally fishing in foreign 134
waters (Office of the Government, 2017b). However, once again, the request by the highest central 135
level of government to terminate IUU fishing, especially in violating foreign waters, only stopped 136
at a paper directive, not in practice. That was the main reason why Vietnam was warned with the 137
yellow card from the EC on 23 October 2017. 138
EC's yellow card warning to Vietnam 139
The EU estimates that between 11 and 26 million tonnes of fish, or at least 15 % of global 141
production, are caught by IUU fishing annually. The IUU activities' landing value is 8 billion to 142
19 billion EUR (9.76 and 23.2 billion USD) (all currency exchange rates were based on average 143
during 2020) (Holland, 2019). The EC started the consultation process on its IUU regulations 144
through the first version approved in October 2007 (Johns, 2013; Minh, 2019). In 2008, this 145
document reached a consensus in the EU, which the EC then adopted on 29 September 2008 and 146
entered into force on 01 January 2010 (Decision No. 1005/2008). As a result, a management 147
system across the EU was established to prevent and eliminate the import of fishery products 148
sourced from IUU fishing into the EU’s market (European Commission (EC), 2008; VASEP, 149
2018). 150
According to the EC's argument, IUU fishing is the biggest threat to the recovery and conservation 152
of marine resources and biodiversity, causing severe environmental and economic impacts 153
worldwide (Leroy et al., 2016). Exporting countries, like Vietnam, identified as having inadequate 154
measures to ensure legal fishing, will be given an official warning (receiving a “yellow card”) for 155
improvement. If these countries do not improve, they will face a ban on exporting seafood products 156
to the EU’s markets (receiving a “red card”). If these countries have made the necessary reforms, 157
they will be cleared of the warning (receiving a “green card”) (VASEP, 2018; VASEP, 2019; VGP 158
NEWS, 2020a; FAO, 2021). Since the EC’s IUU fishing regulations came into force in 2010, 159
various countries have been issued yellow card warnings for failure to improve their fisheries 160
management. The majority of these countries have undertaken reforms and then had the yellow 161
cards cleared, and the others have failed to comply and therefore were shifted to the red cards. As 162
of October 2019, there were 26 countries warned by yellow cards, of which three were issued the 163
red cards. In Southeast Asia, four countries, including Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand and 164
Vietnam, have been issued yellow cards, with Cambodia moving to the red warning (Chin., 2018; 165
Ghazali et al., 2019; The World Bank, 2021). 166
On 23 October 2017, the EU officially issued the yellow card for Vietnam's seafood industry 168
related to IUU fishing after visiting Vietnam to assess the possibility of meeting IUU requirements 169
(Ngan 2018). The reasons provided for the issuance of the yellow card included: i) Vietnam still 170
lacks a comprehensive and unified system of legal regulations to manage marine fisheries; ii) 171
Vietnam's fishing fleet does not meet the standards and conditions for operating at sea, such as the 172
mismatch between the vessel size and the actual marine resources status; iii) the inspection and 173
vessel monitoring system at sea is inadequate and inefficient; iv) lack of a catch certification 174
system to confirm the origin of seafood products effectively, leading to the majority of the catch 175
being untraceable; and v) Vietnamese fishing vessels violating foreign waters. 176
The EC made nine recommendations that Vietnam needed to overcome for its yellow card to be 178
removed (see Table 1). 179
Table 1: List of 9 European Commission’s recommendations for Vietnam fisheries. 181
Recommendations from European Commission for Vietnam fisheries
Revise the legal framework to ensure compliance with international and regional
documentation for applicable to the conservation and management of fishery resources;
Ensure effective implementation and enforcement of revised Vietnam’s national fisheries
Strengthen the effective implementation of international regulations and handling
measures through a fully enforced and monitored sanction regime;
Overcoming identified deficiencies in MCS related to the requirements set forth by
international and regional regulations and within the framework of the certification system
as well;
Strengthen the management and improve the fishing license and registration system;
Balancing fishing effort and vessel management policy;
Strengthen the traceability of fishery products and take all necessary steps, in accordance
with international law, to prevent illegally landing;
Strengthen and develop cooperation with other countries (especially coastal countries in
the waters where fishing vessels flying the Vietnamese flag can operate) in accordance
with international obligations;
Ensure compliance with reporting and retention obligations in RFMOs.
Consequences of issuance of a yellow card to Vietnam’s fisheries 183
After almost 4 years of the EC imposed "yellow card" for Vietnam's marine products, it has 185
resulted in the following five consequences: 186
1) The EC warning of the yellow card has negatively affected the reputation of Vietnam, in 188
general, and the seafood industry in particular, internationally. For example, in its position and 189
diplomatic relations, such as when Vietnam was president of the ASEAN Chair in 2020. 190
2) Vietnam's seafood exports to the EU’s markets have been affected by a marked decrease. 192
There has been a continuous reduction from 2018 (6 %) to 2019 (15 %). In 2020, the value of 193
seafood exports to the EU was $340 million, down 10 % compared to 2019 and down 28 % 194
compared to 2017 (VASEP, 2018; Office of the Party Central Committee, 2020; DoFi, 2020a; 195
Office of the Government, 2021). 196
3) Vietnam’s position as the second top exporter to the EU’s markets rapidly dropped to the 198
5th position since 2018, behind Japan, the US, Korea, and ASEAN (DoFi, 2020c). Consequently, 199
other countries have applied more stringent control regulations for countries warned with an EC 200
yellow card. For example, the US used an import control system to combat IUU fishing from 01 201
January 2018 (VASEP, 2018; DoFi, 2020a). 202
4) During the yellow card period, 100 per cent of seafood containers exported from Vietnam 204
to the EU were checked for the origin of the seafood products (traceability). The cost of this check 205
is high, up to 3 - 4 weeks/container and an inspection fee of about US$ 708/container, excluding 206
port storage fees and business implications for the customer. The most considerable risk is that 207
many seafood containers will be refused or returned leading to loss. For example, in the case of 208
the Philippines, up to 70 % of seafood containers were denied and returned. The loss of seafood 209
exports to the EU can be up to 12,200 $/container due to the yellow card (Ngan, 2018; The World 210
Bank, 2021). 211
5) After the yellow card warning, Vietnam had 6 months to fix its shortcomings; if the EU 213
assesses no improvement, it will be converted to a red card warning, which means banning the 214
export of seafood products to the EU (VGP NEWS, 2020b). 215
Outcomes of the last four years of progress on the EC’s recommendations 217
To address the EC's recommendations, over 4 years, the Vietnamese Government has issued 16 219
directive and executive documents, including official letters from the Secretariat of the Vietnam 220
Communist Party, 11 directives and official letters from the Prime Minister, and 4 executive 221
documents from the National Steering Committee IUU prevention. In addition, the Ministry of 222
Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) has launched 100 guiding documents for these 223
urgent issues. The central government has formulated, finalised, and promulgated, including a 224
fisheries law, two decrees and 10 guiding circulars and legal documents related to IUU fishing, as 225
shown in Fig. 1. 226
Fisheries Law of 2017
Decree No. 26/2019 guides
the implementation of
the Fisheries Law
Decree No. 42/2019 stipulates
administrative sanctions
in fisheries sector
A series of MARD’s circulars, directives and decisions that regulate on fisheries management
in line with obligations to combat IUU fishing and remove the EC’s yellow card
A series of local authorities’ decisions, directives and guidelines to make
progress in fighting IUU fishing and clear the EC’s yellow card
Central level
Fig. 1: Legal framework reforms to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in 241
Vietnam’s fisheries. 242
Legal framework reforms and enforcement 244
After the EC’s yellow card was issued, the Vietnamese Government delivered Directive no. 246
45/CT-TTg dated 13 December 2017, requiring it to perform several urgent tasks and solutions to 247
overcome the EC's warning about IUU fishing (Office of the Government, 2017a). The phrase 248
urgent tasks shows the government's priority to address the many barriers to clear the yellow card. 249
It is rare to see fisheries issues be given priority by the top leaders of the Vietnam Communist 250
Party. It delivered Official Letter No. 81-CV/TW dated 20 March 2020 to provide specific 251
instructions on strengthening leadership and directing the effective implementation of the 252
prevention of IUU fishing activities. The Secretariat emphasised that the whole political system, 253
fishers, and businesses must take measures to focus and give priority to this matter and resolve it 254
urgently to remove the yellow card (Tuan, 2019; Office of the Party Central Committee, 2020). 255
At the national government level, the Prime Minister established a National Steering Committee 257
on IUU prevention in 2017 led by a Deputy Prime Minister in charge of general economics and 258
the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) as members of the Standing 259
Committee. The National Steering Committee and MARD issued several legal documents to direct 260
and address the yellow card’s recommendations. 261
Local level
Fisheries Law No. 18/2017/QH14 dated 21 November 2017: Regulated on quotas and allowed 263
catches for some distant migratory fish species and grouping marine species. The law has two 264
chapters on fishing activities and vessel monitoring systems (VMS) (chapters IV and V). In 265
general, the EC’s recommendations to amend regulations on management and combating IUU 266
fishing was fully legislated in the Fisheries Law of 2017 and reflected in most chapters and articles. 267
For example, i) legislate formally the contents related to combating IUU fishing, including EC’s 268
recommendations (Articles 60 and 61, Chapter 4); and ii) stipulation on duties and obligations of 269
fishing port authorities on catch statements, in collaboration with organisations controlling IUU 270
fishing operations; vessel owner’s responsibilities, ship master entering and leaving a fishing port 271
(Articles 81 - 83, Chapter V) (National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, 2017). 272
Decree No. 26/2019/ ND-CP dated 08 March 2019 guiding the implementation of Fisheries 274
Law: Stipulated clearly about operations of fishing vessels in Vietnamese waters. The allowable 275
fishing zones were designated by the size of the boats, such as fishing vessels maximum length 276
(Lmax) under 12 m, 12 – 15 m, and beyond 15 m are obligated to separately operate in the coastal, 277
inshore and off-shore high seas, respectively, and are not allowed to catch in each other’s areas. 278
This decree also regulates specific procedures to permit Vietnamese vessels to fish outside of the 279
national water areas. VMS is stipulated to be equipped for the boats in Lmax from 15 m or above. 280
These VMS need to be turned on during operation at sea for management and monitoring activities 281
(Article 44). The VMS has to be synchronously connected with a central management system and 282
the 28 coastal provinces and the VMS must automatically transmit via GPS or satellite at least 2 - 283
3 hours/time depending on the size of the vessels (Office of the Government, 2019a). 284
Decree No. 42/2019/ ND-CP dated 16 May 2019 stipulates administrative sanctions in the 286
fisheries sector: Eleven types of IUU acts regulated and penalised through Vietnam’s Fisheries 287
Law of 2017 (Office of the Government, 2019b) (Table 2). 288
Table 2: List of administrative penalties related to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. 290
List of Acts
Punishment frameworks
(1,000 USD)
First Acts Recidivism
Removing vessel monitoring systems (VMS) on the fishing
vessel without the supervision of supplier and authorities
13 – 22 22 – 30.5
Fishing vessels do not operate VMS or disable the device at sea
(except in the case of force majeure).
13 – 22 22 – 30.5
No VMS on fishing vessels in Lmax from 15 m to 24 m 13 – 22 22 – 30.5
No fishing license or expired fishing license for vessels in Lmax
between 15 m and 24 m
13 – 22 22 – 30.5
No logbook, for fishing vessels in Lmax beyond 24 m 13 – 22 22 – 30.5
Un-reporting or misreporting on damaged VMS (except in case
of force majeure)
13 – 22 -
Purchasing or using VMS equipment that does not meet
technical requirements
13 – 22 -
Concealing, forging, or destroying evidence of regulations about
fishing and protection of marine resources violations
22 – 30.5 35 – 43.5
Overfishing licensed by the Regional Fisheries Organisation 22 – 30.5 35 – 43.5
Using fishing vessel in Lmax beyond 24 m
- No fishing license or expired license
- No VMS equipment
35 – 43.5 -
IUU fishing activities 35 – 43.5
Deprivation of the right to use fishing vessels’ captain certificates or diploma from 6 - 12
months (if recidivism)
The MARD, the permanent member of the National Steering Committee in IUU prevention, issued 292
various official circulars to direct and guide the 28 coastal provinces to urgently overcome their 293
shortcomings and limitations in fighting IUU fishing, as summarised in the primary documents 294
presented in Table 3. The MARD issued six circulars relating to EC’s recommendations within a 295
year (2018), although the order and procedure for delivering legal documents are complicated and 296
take a long time (DoFi, 2020c). 297
Table 3: Vietnam’s circulars on marine fisheries management in line with obligations to combat 299
illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and remove EC yellow card. 300
Name of legal
Main contents related to IUU fishing
Circular No.
31 January 2018
Amending and adding several circulars at MARD that mainly focus
on the requirements of maintaining the logbook, issue certificates of
traceability of fish caught domestically without violating illegal
fishing regulations at the ports.
Circular No.
19/2018/ TT-
15 November 2018
Providing procedures and guidelines for the investigation and
assessment of aquatic resources and the living environment of aquatic
species, including decisions on establishing Marine Protected Areas
(MPAs); procedures for managing aquatic resources; promulgating
the list of fishing gears, water areas banned from fishing.
Circular No.
23/2018/ TT-
15 November 2018
Stipulating all fishing vessels must be marked with different colours
to facilitate the management and supervision at sea. From the
beginning of 2020, the entire cabin of fishing vessels in different
Lmax, such as under 12 m, 12-15 m, and over 15 m, will be painted
green, yellow and light grey, respectively.
Circular No.
24/2018/ TT-
15 November 2018
Regulating strictly the usage, management, and updating data
digitisation of the national fisheries database management system.
Circular No.
25/2018/ TT-
15 November
Guiding in implementing Article 98 of the Fisheries Law in assessing
risks and granting permits to import live aquatic animals and plants,
not on the list of marine species permitted to be traded in Vietnam
(for food, entertainment, display fairs, exhibitions, and scientific
Circular No.
13/2020/ TT-
09 November 2020
Amending several articles, Circular 21/2018/TT-BNNPTNT after
nearly 2 years of implementation in 2018. This circular regulates
transparency regarding the logbook entries on fishing activities,
reporting, certifying marine materials and traceability.
Source: (MARD, 2018a; MARD, 2018b; MARD, 2018c; MARD, 2018d; MARD, 2018e; MARD, 301
2018f; MARD, 2020c). 302
The main conclusions of the visit conducted by the EC in November 2019 to check on the 303
status of addressing the yellow card showed that the revised legal framework is the basis for 304
Vietnamese authorities to build a new system to control IUU fishing. Overall, and although some 305
adjustments might be needed, the new Fisheries Law, together with the implementing decrees and 306
circulars, constitute a comprehensive legal basis in line with the existing international obligations 307
(DoFi, 2020a). However, the EC still suggested two recommendations: 308
“Vietnam’s authorities have to put in place all the necessary mechanisms (including audits 310
by inter-administrative teams) to guarantee that the new legal framework is effectively 311
implemented, paying special attention to ensuring that the coordination with the provinces 312
results in a harmonised approach. Also, to monitor the implementation of the new legal 313
framework to assess its effectiveness and to make the necessary adjustments, if any, there 314
are practical issues or reinforce the new provisions” (DoFi, 2020a). 315
Monitoring, Control and Surveillance and fleet management 317
The two significant bottlenecks that still need to be overcome are installing VMS devices and 319
stopping violations in regulated fishing areas, especially in foreign seas (DoFi, 2020a). As a result, 320
the active participation of all stakeholders in equipping fishing boats with VMS has resulted in 321
good outcomes (Table 4), although it is relatively new to Vietnamese fisheries. 322
Table 4: The number of fishing vessels equipped with the vessel monitoring system (VMS) and 324
marked by different colours (updated Dec. 2020). 325
No. Fishing vessels in Lmax
Adoption by number of vessels/Total
number of vessels (per cent)
I VMS equipment
eyond 24
2,248/2,624 (85.7
2 From 15 m to under 24 m 23,434/28,347 (82.7 %)
fishing vessels
1 Beyond 15 m 28,900/31,075 (93.0 %)
2 Under 15 m 51,296/63,497 (80.8 %)
However, Vietnam has not completed the installation of VMS equipment on fishing vessels with 327
Lmax beyond 15 m and marking them to comply with scheduled Decree no. 26. In 2020, more than 328
1,400 fishing vessels disengaged their VMS equipment to avoid being tracked by monitoring 329
stations without any significant punishment from local authorities (DoFi, 2020a). According to the 330
EC’s conclusions, monitoring vessels already equipped with VMS still requires substantial 331
improvements. Procedures to deal with fishing boats that were not reporting their position at sea 332
were still in their preliminary implementation stages, and the coordination between the national 333
fisheries management centre and the provincial authorities remains weak (DoFi, 2020a). 334
In a discussion on the EC assessment, a provincial fisheries authority official stated the following, 335
with considerable agreement from other provincial fisheries officials: 336
“As the regulations require, the fishing vessel owners and captains are not aware of the need 338
for VMS installation and its operation while out in the sea. Also, the sanctions by the local 339
and central authorities for violation of not operating the VMS has not been consistent, timely 340
and effective. Moreover, no significant sanctions are applied to VMS suppliers that do not 341
ensure equipment quality. Unclear responsibilities and coordination of the ministry, 342
provincial agencies, and other stakeholders lead to weak legislation enforcement. As a result, 343
the authorities are still afraid to seize fishing vessels and impose a penalty for fear of the 344
consequences in ensuring the safety of detained fishing vessels because the decision by the 345
higher authority on the penalties is unclear”. 346
It should be noted that 27 of the 28 coastal provinces have established offices located at the 348
fisheries ports to inspect and control fisheries activities. The authorities coordinate with the border 349
guard in MCS activities, including fishing logs, registration certificates, fishing licenses, captain 350
and chief engineer certificates, and maritime safety and navigation equipment, especially the VMS 351
(Office of the Government, 2020c). From 2019 to 2020, about 2,500 IUU fishing cases were 352
recorded with total penalties of over 62 billion VND (around 2.7 million USD). Three main types 353
of IUU fishing activities identified are i) operating at unregulated fishing grounds, including 354
foreign water zones; ii) uninstalling or disconnecting VMS to escape the fisheries monitoring 355
authorities; and iii) using banned fishing gears. The fisheries authorities have also applied 356
enforcement measures such as rescinding fishing licenses and no new permits to owners of fishing 357
vessels that violate foreign waters (DoFi, 2020c). As a result, the number of illegal fishing vessels 358
arrested by neighbouring countries has decreased, from 220 cases in 2019 to 144 in 2020. These 359
vessels mainly violate the waters of countries in the region, including Thailand, Malaysia, 360
Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Cambodia (DoFi, 2020a). 361
Recently, Vietnam’s Prime Minister gave new tasks to relevant agencies, ministries, and people’s 363
committees of 28 coastal provinces to achieve the target of eliminating IUU fishing, in general, to 364
eradicate violation of foreign sea zones by the end of 2021 (SGGP NEWS, 2021). 365
A group discussion with provincial fisheries officers on the implementation of Decree 42/2018 367
(administrative sanctions) in general, and specifically in the case of Vietnamese vessels arrested 368
in the waters of other countries, said that the implementation of rules are inconsistent and unclear 369
among authorities at the central and provincial levels. The officials stated that fishers have 370
economic motives to violate the laws intentionally, so eliminating IUU fishing by 2021 is 371
challenging. According to a provincial fisheries official, crucial reasons for violation of IUU laws 372
are: 373
“Limited awareness and high economic returns motivate fishers to do illegal fishing 375
persistently in foreign waters. Besides, some central, local officials, and administrative 376
agencies still lack the sense of responsibility in performing their official duties, have not yet 377
ensured the principle of; The fishers know, understand, believe, follow and do”. 378
Notably, another official in group discussion responded: 380
“It should be noted that three targets of eliminating illegal fishing were announced earlier in 382
different directives and official telegram and were not achieved. However, this is also an 383
opportunity for the national marine fisheries sector and all stakeholders to be more 384
responsible and work together to achieve sustainable fisheries”. 385
Catch certification and traceability 387
Vietnam has improved the existing process to ensure synchronised catch certification control and 389
traceability at the fishing ports and seafood processing plants. However, the fisheries currently 390
remain entirely or largely reliant on paper-based catch documentation. In 2020, more than 19,400 391
tonnes of seafood imported from foreign vessels were verified upon landing in Vietnam according 392
to the requirements of Article 70, Decree No. 26/2019/NĐ-CP. The authorities issued about 3,100 393
certificates of catch for over 38,500 tonnes of fish at the fishing ports. Vietnam has also published 394
a list of 30 designated fishing ports with sufficient systems to confirm traceability in 16 of the 28 395
coastal provinces and the list of illegal fishing vessels (MARD, 2020a; MARD, 2020b). 396
The MARD organised over 30 inspections at the processing plants to check food safety conditions 398
and the traceability regulations before appraising and granting food safety certificates for around 399
2,300 batches of exported marine catches to the EU in 2018 - 2019 (MARD, 2018b). However, 400
traceability is still limited as the certification of the catch is not a concern to the fishers. It is a 401
concern of the processing and exporting companies since they require certificates to ensure the 402
export quality of their product (USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership, 2020). The provincial 403
fisheries officers stated: 404
“There is limited awareness and capacity of the small-scale fishers to comply with the 406
requirements of logbook and traceability. The fishers tend to record fishing logs with wrong 407
coordinates and time of fishing at sea, and at the port after landing”. 408
Media communications 410
Fisheries authorities at several levels have organised a series of seminars, conferences and training 412
courses to inform fisheries stakeholders on combating IUU fishing. Five thousand books on the 413
Fisheries Law 2017 and nearly 60,000 leaflets about IUU fishing were distributed to fishers in 28 414
coastal provinces and cities (DoFi, 2020c). In just 6 months (November 2019 to April 2020), 415
around 130 national digital media productions related to IUU fishing and the EC yellow card have 416
been presented in Vietnam Television, Voice of Vietnam, and National Fisheries Magazine (DoFi, 417
2020c). 418
When using the Google search engine using keywords such as “combating illegal fishing” and 420
“remove yellow card” (in Vietnamese), it only took 0.36 and 0.5 seconds to generate more than 8 421
million and 850,000 results, respectively (accessed on 19 May 2021). It shows the media’s 422
attention and the Vietnamese people’s interest in the IUU and the EC's yellow card issue. 423
After 4 years of combating this problem, the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and 425
Producers (VASEP) have launched the program "Seafood enterprises committed to combating 426
IUU fishing". This programme involves 62 seafood processing plants and enterprises. VASEP has 427
committed to purchasing and importing marine seafood products from legal fishing vessels with 428
clear seafood origin and traceability (VASEP, 2020). They have actively participated in 429
combatting IUU fishing activities through four main activities: i) campaign against IUU fishing - 430
“Say! NO catches from IUU fishing; NO purchasing, importing, transporting, processing and 431
exporting from IUU fishery to any market”; ii) proposing and commenting on the development of 432
relevant national legal documents; iii) cooperating with the government and international relations; 433
and iv) communication about IUU fishing (VASEP, 2017). 434
The discussion with provincial fisheries officers shows that although the government authorities, 436
from the central and local levels, have vigorously attempted to inform fishers and fisheries 437
communities about the laws against IUU fishing, their awareness has not considerably improved. 438
Consequently, IUU fishing activities by Vietnamese fishers have continued in Vietnam's and 439
foreign waters. 440
Discussion 442
Although Vietnam has made considerable efforts to combat IUU fishing and clear the yellow card, 444
the results are still insufficient to remove the yellow card. However, the yellow card has brought 445
about positive changes to Vietnamese fisheries management. Institutional and legal regulations 446
have been refined to align with international rules and enormously improved the enforcement 447
capacity of the fisheries management system for fishers to end IUU fishing in the local and foreign 448
waters. It is also an opportunity for the national marine fisheries sector and fishers communities to 449
be more responsible in fishing. It may also be a turning point for the industry to have more 450
responsible and sustainable fisheries. Nevertheless, there are still several constraints and 451
challenges to overcome. 452
First, the penalties have increased compared to before. Still, it is not as severe as in other countries, 454
where the penalty may include imprisonment. Consequently, law enforcement has many 455
limitations; some local government authorities still ignore the handling of violations, and a 456
minimal number of cases are prosecuted as a deterrent (VGP NEWS, 2020b). Various agencies 457
are still afraid to seize ships and impose sanctions for fear of consequences in ensuring the safety 458
of detained fishing vessels, as penalty decisions made by higher authorities are uncertain. The 459
process and mechanism to resolve the punishment takes a long time and is almost unfeasible in 460
practice. As a comparison, the penalties for IUU fishing activities in neighbouring countries of 461
Vietnam are shown in Table 5. 462
Table 5: The highest fines for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in several Asia countries. 464
The highest fines
1 Thailand
200 million
6.38 3 - Hung, 2018
2 Indonesia
20 billion
1.5 7
Burn, sink
Kantaprawira et
al., 2018;
Kasim and
Widagdo, 2019;
(ILO), 2004
3 Philippine
6 mi
1.0 10 - Ngan, 2018
4 Taiwan
30 million
1.08 0 - Tsai and Yi, 2019
5 Malaysia
01 billion
0.26 2 - Ngan, 2018
6 Vietnam
01 billion
0.044 0
of captain
Office of the
Second, although mass media communication on IUU has been carried out for 4 years, Vietnamese 466
fishing vessels' violations in foreign waters are complicated and are increasing. This may be due 467
to limited awareness regarding IUU fishing and the high economic returns that motivates fishers 468
to continue illegal fishing. The fishers violate the IUU regulations by catching fish in neighbouring 469
country’s fishing grounds to compensate for the variability in Vietnamese waters, fulfill family 470
obligations, and repay their debts. Vietnamese fishers often do not comply with regulations within 471
and outside allowed fishing grounds because of the race to fish caused by declining catch and 472
competition and the lack of alternative income sources. There is also a lack of national and 473
provincial resources (staff, budgets and facilities) for implementing MCS at sea and law 474
enforcement (Boostra and Dang, 2021). 475
Neighbouring countries have arrested and sanctioned Vietnamese fishing boats without 476
registration or flag. However, arrangements are often made to allow Vietnamese fishing boats to 477
operate in foreign waters illegally. There are also arranged payments for Vietnamese fishing 478
vessels and fishers arrested by foreign countries to be returned. It is challenging to collect data and 479
evidence on IUU fishing because the violators use sophisticated tricks to avoid detection of their 480
illegal activities (Kantaprawira et al., 2018; Ngan, 2018). Notably, Three main drivers affect the 481
motivation for IUU fishing: economic, social, and institutional factors. As the cost of IUU fishing 482
increases, the level of IUU fishing will decrease, while increasing profits from IUU fishing will 483
exacerbate it. From a social perspective, population growth or education level plays a vital role in 484
the story of IUU fishing. Institutions must have appropriate laws, regulations and policies, plus 485
proper enforcement, to help reduce IUU fishing activities (Lee and Visawanathan, 2020). 486
Third, the VMS and fleet surveillance/monitoring have not met management objectives. Numerous 488
fishers violate regulations by removing or turning off VMS devices or are placed on another vessel 489
when fishing at sea. Monitoring to control such activities is still limited and thus decreases the 490
enforcement of regulations. Notably, reports on Vietnamese fisheries emphasise that the capacity 491
to enforce or control fishing activities at sea by using patrol vessels and other direct monitoring 492
tools is infeasible, costly, and inadequate (Ha and Dijk, 2013). 493
Fourth, catch certification and traceability at the fishing port still have limitations. Specifically, 495
the traceability work has not met the EC's requirements to control the legality of products exported 496
to the European market. Consequently, countless applications for certification of catch origin to 497
the EU market required verification (Phuong, 2021). Fishing boats docking at ports without 498
declaration is still common, and there are no measures taken when violations are detected. Keeping 499
a fishing logbook is still a formality, and many captains fill it in at the port as catches are unloaded 500
rather than at sea. Catch documentation scheme is utilised at the point of landing or catch (capture, 501
port, buying, and shipment for domestic). The combination of paper- and electronic-based 502
techniques are used only at processing and shipment (air or ship) for exporting. Although 503
electronic catch documentation and traceability (eCDT) systems are relatively new for fisheries 504
managers and seafood companies, they have a vast potential to be applied in Vietnam for multiple 505
types and scales of marine fishery supply chains (USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership, 2020). 506
Fifth, it seems that political will and political capacity in fisheries governance are still missing in 508
Vietnam, leading to a disconnection to move IUU prevention efforts from the state level to local 509
levels (Carbonetti et al., 2014). As a result, the effectiveness of formal institutions is negatively 510
affected in managing marine fisheries in Vietnam because of the weak capacity of the 511
administrative agencies and the social-political organisations, high level of non-compliance in 512
enforcement, and the failure of the fisheries programs in practice (Dang et al., 2017). Fortunately, 513
local (provincial and district) fisheries authorities can still make moderate progress on this 514
complicated issue if they use community networks to enforce fishery policies (Carbonetti et al., 515
2014). In Vietnam, the existing fisheries law supports fisheries co-management, which could deter 516
IUU fishing. Political will and political capacity for supporting co-management activities are 517
strong at local management levels to enhance effective regulations enforcement (Carbonetti et al., 518
2014). 519
Conclusion 521
Four years after receiving an EC yellow card due to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) 522
fishing, Vietnam has taken several actions to address the issue. The measures taken consist of new 523
laws and policies, legal enforcement and handling vessels that violate foreign waters, managing 524
fishing fleets, and monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) activities. Nonetheless, Vietnam’s 525
efforts have been inadequate in removing the EC's yellow card. The reasons include limitations in 526
law enforcement, continued fishing vessels' violations of fishing in foreign waters, removing or 527
turning off VMS devices, and lack of keeping a fishing logbook. However, the yellow card can 528
provide an opportunity to restructure Vietnam’s fisheries sector to recover and grow back in the 529
EU market. It can result in a turning point for the industry to transform into a more responsible 530
and sustainable fishery. 531
To deal with the yellow card’s problems, the political will and political capacity play a crucial role 533
at the national government and the local levels. Specifically, Vietnam needs to pay attention to 534
building institutional capacity from top to local management levels to deal with policy planning 535
and regulation and enforcement on halting IUU fishing. The government needs to unite all actors 536
in the fisheries supply chain against IUU fishing and clear the EC’s yellow card. Accordingly, the 537
Vietnamese Government needs to consider several recommendations: 538
The first is to accelerate the revision and finalisation of the fisheries guidance decrees in line with 540
obligations to combating IUU fishing. The regulations need robust sanctions, such as prosecuting 541
criminal charges against violators and regularly publicising the list of fishing vessels and owners 542
caught conducting illegal fishing activities. 543
Second, the Vietnamese Government should strengthen the monitoring, control and surveillance 545
system and clarify the responsibility of stakeholders in law enforcement. They also must have 546
strict handling of violations in IUU fishing to ensure deterrence, especially for the vessels fishing 547
illegally in foreign waters and to maintain the commitments not to encroach on other countries' 548
waters. It is necessary to step up the information dissemination and education of the fisheries law 549
and relevant regulations. Vietnamese fishers need to be educated about the law and IUU fishing-550
related rules at sea and stop intentionally fishing in foreign waters. 551
Third, there is a need to harmonise the institutional, economic, and social perspectives of fishing. 553
Notably, restructuring the fisheries industry, improving fisher's living standards, and raising their 554
awareness is crucial in Vietnamese fisheries. The authorities can undertake this by expanding 555
fisheries co-management to serve as a motivating factor against IUU fishing. 556
And finally, it is necessary to move towards digitalisation using the electronic catch documentation 558
and traceability (eCDT) system in small-scale and commercial fisheries in fisheries supply chains. 559
In the long term, international cooperation activities play a vital role, and Vietnam needs to join 560
relevant international treaties on IUU fishing. 561
More broadly, research is also needed to determine aspects of fishers and IUU fishing, especially 563
the motivations for illegal fishing in national and foreign waters. It is also necessary to understand 564
better the gap in law enforcement from the central level to local agencies, and the barriers to 565
removing the EC yellow card. 566
Acknowledgments 567
We are grateful to the master students, fisheries management officers, and authorities from several 568
coastal provinces where key fisheries in Vietnam support this research. Special thanks to Nguyen 569
Van Hung, fisheries management officer, Department of Fisheries Management, Directorate of 570
Fisheries of Vietnam, for his insightful critical comments and official reports to carry out this 571
study. 572
Conflict of Interest 574
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest. 575
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Nghiên cứu này đánh giá hiệu quả sử dụng thiết bị giám sát hành trình trên tàu cá tỉnh Kiên Giang. Từ tháng 10/2021 đến tháng 4/2022, 97 ngư dân được khảo sát là thuyền trưởng và chủ tàu cá Kiên Giang lắp đặt thiết bị VMS. Kết quả cho thấy có 91,3% tàu cá đã lắp đặt VMS, thiết bị ZuniVN-01 được lắp đặt nhiều nhất, chiếm 44,9%; kế đến là Viettel S-tracking chiếm 30,4%. Có 63,9% ngư dân nhận định VMS được sử dụng hiệu quả, đặc biệt ở mức rất hiệu quả đối với tính năng khẩn cấp cứu hộ cứu nạn, chiếm tới 80,4%. Phần lớn ngư dân (57%) đánh giá sáu yêu cầu chủ yếu của VMS ở mức “phù hợp”. Tuy vậy, có 14% ngư dân nhận định dịch vụ hỗ trợ còn chậm trễ. Đây là những thông tin quan trọng giúp các bên liên quan thực hiện tốt hơn trong quản lý và giám sát tàu trên biển, thông qua các giải pháp kỹ thuật và quản lý, nhằm sớm khắc phục tình trạng khai thác bất hợp pháp,...
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The emergence of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing as a policy issue over the past two decades has galvanised efforts to advance the regulation of high seas fishing to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of fishery resources. This process enabled the introduction of environmental provisions into international trade under the guise of ensuring the lawful sourcing of seafood. This has proven more acceptable to the trade regime than bans on unsustainably harvested seafood. The European Union and the United States have led the establishment of legality as a proxy for different environmental and social accountability concerns and have implemented unilateral trade measures to prevent seafood sourced from IUU fishing from entering their markets through traceability schemes. Although the EU and US are huge markets, the ultimate success of such measures in reducing IUU fishing lies in their take up in other countries and the potential for harmonisation at the supra-state level. This research has explored the potential for implementation of anti-IUU trade measures in Australia through discourse analysis of semi-structured interviews and public policy documents. Our findings show that there is very limited potential for anti-IUU fishing trade measures in Australia due to socio-specific constructions of IUU and of fisheries management. These findings are relevant for the potential policy diffusion of anti-IUU trade measures in market states.
Free copy is available via this link until 23 February 2017, no sign up or registration required. This paper examines the effectiveness of formal institutions in managing marine fisheries in Vietnam and various factors affecting the effectiveness. This study is based on data collected through a household survey, group discussions, and interviews. This study shows that the formal institutions including the government agencies and the legislative framework have not been effective in managing marine fisheries. The factors affecting the performance of the formal institutions include weak capacity of the government agencies, non-compliance of the fisheries regulations, and the policy failure. The government agencies are not rationally organized and facing shortage of work force, finance, and equipment. Non-compliance is due to enforcement problems, law incompatibility, input costs increase, and population growth. The policy failure is resulted from conflict between the development and conservation objectives and the top-down approach, which ignores the socio-economic context and natural conditions of the fishing community. Understanding how these factors influence the effectiveness of formal institutions are important in improving current fisheries management in Vietnam.
The Regional Plan of Action to Promote Responsible Fishing Practices (RPOA) is a voluntary arrangement agreed in 2007 by fisheries ministers from 11 South East Asian countries. Its primary objective is to combat illegal fishing. It is estimated that approximately four million tonnes of fish are caught illegally in RPOA waters each year. The RPOA has achieved greater cohesiveness amongst countries and a heightened focus on addressing the causes of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, not simply the symptoms. Continuing high level commitment and leadership by participating governments is essential. Success in putting barriers before IUU vessels seeking to use the ports of RPOA countries is a significant benchmark on which to build further successes.
Weak governance is one of the main causes of the present poor condition of fisheries ecosystems. Lack of political will is one of the primary factors characterizing weak governance in fisheries. The purpose of this paper is to better understand what is meant by political will and political capacity, what the lack of these means in reference to small scale fisheries governance, and how to overcome the lack of political will, in particular, in order to improve small scale fisheries governance. The paper demonstrates the importance of political will and political capacity in determining the quality of fisheries management. Existent scholarship has largely conceptualized political will and political capacity as being the same concept, thus muddying our ability to determine exactly what is limiting a state's ability to manage not only fisheries, but also environmental resources more-generally. The paper concludes that even in low capacity states, local champions of fishery management can affect moderate progress on this complicated issue if they use community networks to engage in enforcement of fishery policies.
This article measures the Indonesian legal framework governing fishing vessel registration and fishing vessel licensing against the relevant international fisheries instruments. It is argued that the current Indonesian regulatory framework for vessel registration and licensing is not adequate to implement Indonesia's obligations under international fisheries instruments to combat illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing.