Vietnamese authorities are investigating a Taiwanese steel company in connection with a massive fish kill that is threatening the local seafood industry, according to media reports.
Huge numbers of fish have washed ashore in Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue provinces. The dead fish that have been washing up on beaches along the country's central coast include rare species that live far offshore in deep water.
The kill-off is apparently caused by industrial effluent, and state-run media coverage says the government is focusing on a mile-long waste water pipeline that runs from a multi-million-dollar steel plant in Ha Tinh owned by Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa.
“The mass fish deaths are due to serious pollution,” Vien a retired history teacher in Ky Anh district of Ha Tinh province told RFA’s Vietnamese Service. “There was no pollution before…. Everything is ruined now. The peace in this countryside has been disrupted.”
A fisherman named Sot from Hai Lang in Quang Tri province told RFA that local leaders were telling their people to avoid eating fish, and that even the fisherman worried about the catch.
“The fish were washed onshore, but the government has not found the cause,” he said. “The village chairman told us not to eat fish because it is dangerous. We can’t go fishing because we can’t sell fish anymore. Even if we can sell it we don’t want to because it is wrong.”
A tour bus operator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the growing fear of seafood to RFA.
“Because of the fish deaths, people don’t want to eat fish, and the fishermen don’t go fishing anymore,” he said.
The fish kill puts Vietnam’s traditional fishing industry in conflict with the country’s push to become an industrial power. Last year, the country earned $6.6 billion from seafood exports. In 2012 Vietnam earned an estimated $5 billion from steel exports.
Central Ha Tinh province is home to a sprawling economic zone which houses numerous industrial plants, including a multi-billion dollar steel plant run by Formosa.
A company official this week said local communities need to consider whether they value marine life or foreign investment in the area more, AFP reported.
"You cannot have both," Chou Chun Fan, Formosa Ha Tinh's external relations manager told state-run VTC14 television channel, speaking in Vietnamese, according to the AFP report.
"(You) need to choose whether to catch fish and shrimp or to build a state-of-the-art steel mill," he said, according to a video of the interview posted online.
The report also said that Formosa had imported some 300 tons of toxic chemicals to clean the waste-water pipeline, a shipment the Vietnam Environment Administration said it was not informed of. The report did not say whether the chemicals had been used.
Tuoitnews reported that the company was notified that the Ministry of Industry and Trade will inspect the plant on Tuesday.
Reported by RFA Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.