Vietnamese Fishermen Face Growing Hardship Over Contaminated Fish

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A Vietnamese villager shows dead fish he collected on a beach in Phu Loc district of central Vietnam's Thua Thien Hue province, April 21, 2016.
A Vietnamese villager shows dead fish he collected on a beach in Phu Loc district of central Vietnam's Thua Thien Hue province, April 21, 2016.

While Vietnamese officials have yet to publicly announce what killed tens of thousands of fish in waters along the country's central coastal provinces in April, residents of the affected areas are complaining about the financial hardship they now face with job losses and lack of income.

Fishermen from the central region said they have not been able to fish offshore for several weeks, while local merchants complained that they have not yet received promised support from the government.

One fisherman’s wife from Vung Ang in Ha Tinh province told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that that her husband had to go to Taiwan to work, while she remained behind to try to find a job to help feed their two children.

“We have no money,” said the woman who declined to give her name. “My husband and I have to live separately to make money for our children. We have been living off the sea, and now we have no sea to rely on, so we have to find other jobs to do.”

The government has provided each family affected by the environmental disaster with 22 kilograms (49 pounds) of rice, but still has not informed them of the cause of the fish deaths, she said.

Government experts have variously cited "red tide” or other factors, but many Vietnamese blame sewage-pipe runoff from a huge steel plant run by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation, a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics Corporation of Taiwan, for poisoning the fish.

The company has said it treated the wastewater it had discharged, according to a May report by Vietnam's Thanh Nien News.

‘Dare not go out to sea’

A man who works as a diver in Vung Ang, told RFA that he has not had any work since the dead fish washed ashore and rarely travels far away for jobs.

“Now with the mass fish deaths and contaminated sea, I dare not go out to sea,” he said. We live off the sea and now we have no work. Our lives have become very difficult because we have no work.”

Another fisherman who does diving jobs and declined to be named told RFA that the water along the coastal area is very contaminated, and no one can work.

“The release of the wastewater [from the plant] has contaminated the water as far as five to seven nautical miles out,” he said, adding that he has had to go as far as 100 kilometers (62 miles) from shore to be able to harvest clams, but still doesn’t make much money when he sells them.

“I made about 20 million dong (U.S. $891) after two months at sea,” he said. “It was just about enough to feed my family. It’s nothing compared to what I used to make.”

The government will help

After the tons of dead fish washed ashore in April, the government announced a plan to provide each family affected by the disaster with 22 kilograms of rice per month.

It also said it would pay 5 million dong (U.S. $223) to each family that had to move its boat ashore on account of the contaminated waters.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade in late April set up a hotline for fishermen to call and discuss their situations so the government could help them by buying their catches that no one else wanted.

When RFA called the hotline on Monday, Vice Minister Do Thang Hai, who is handling the calls said to visit the ministry’s website for further information. The website quotes Hai as saying that the hotline received many calls between April 30 and May 7, but now people have stopped phoning.

A recent report by state media told the story of a man from Cua Tung town in Quang Tri province who had purchased 30 tons of frozen mackerel that contained excessive levels of phenol, also known as carbolic acid.

The man who bought the fish said he was surprised to find out about the high level of phenol contamination because provincial authorities had issued him a food safety certificate at the time of purchase.

He said he had bought the fish for 750 million dong (U.S. $33,400) 15 days after the disaster occurred and currently has another 110 tons of fish worth of 2.7 billion dong (U.S. $120,300)—both of which he will declare as losses.

After the media report was published, the provincial director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said the certificate it issued was not a guarantee that the fish were safe to consume.

100 tons of fish

At least 100 tons of dead fish washed ashore in central Vietnam beginning in early April, with some apparently killed by heavy-metal poisoning, Thanh Nien News reported.

The fish, which washed ashore in Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Thua Thien-Hue provinces, were apparently killed by industrial effluents, the report said.

Late last week, the information minister told the media that the government will announce the cause of the mass fish death sometime this month.

In addition, Vietnamese state media recently quoted the National Assembly secretary general’s office as saying that the government is preparing report about the mass fish kill to present to lawmakers at the first meeting of the new parliament in July.

More than a week ago, dozens of young people protested in Hanoi to highlight what they said was a slow and irresponsible government response to the disaster.

Officials have said they have not been able to detect any link between the Formosa plant’s discharge and the disaster, the Thanh Nien News report said.

Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.





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