Phu Yen’s fishing community participates in voluntary clean-up of our ocean

January 12, 2022 | 11:36
Plastic waste seems unavoidable considering Vietnam’s rapid economic growth and development, but particularly single-use plastics are the major reason for headaches among policymakers due to inadequate waste management and human behaviour.

For the last few months, a new initiative in the central province of Phu Yen has supported the participation of fishers who, in addition to catching fish, now support the community with voluntary collection and segregation of waste collected at sea.

“Up to now, there has been no official audit on plastic waste, but according to statistics of the Vietnam Plastics Association, the amount of plastic waste and bags in the country accounts for about 8-12 per cent of solid waste, of which merely a tenth is treated and recycled. The rest is mainly buried, burned, and ultimately discharged into the environment,” explained Nguyen Tri Phuong, deputy director of Phu Yen Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

“This can lead to environmental disasters, especially ocean pollution. It is easy for us to see plastic waste accumulating in heaps, like garbage streams, everywhere from coastal villages to mountainous areas,” Phuong added.

Around 100 fishers and 30 trawlers are involved in Fishing for Litter activities
Around 100 fishers and 30 trawlers are involved in Fishing for Litter activities

Two years ago, the prime minister signed Decision No.1746/QD-TTg, approving the national action plan on ocean plastic waste management by 2030, to reduce the harmful pollutants by 50 per cent by 2025 in the seas and oceans, as well as 50 per cent of lost and discarded fishing gear.

The action plan on marine plastic waste management for the fisheries sector according to Decision No.687/QD-BNN-TCTS additionally sets the aim that a minimum of 70 per cent of fishing ports in the country organise the collection and classification of plastic waste by 2025.

As one step to reach the goals intended, pilot activities on Fishing for Litter were initiated in Phu Yen under the 'Rethinking Plastics – Circular Economy Solutions to Marine Litter' project, funded by the European Union and the German government. They promote the voluntary collection of plastic waste at sea by the fishing community in the province.

So far, in collaboration with Expertise France, the Vietnam Fisheries Association (VINAFIS) and the Management Board of Dan Phuoc Fishing Port, together with the support of Phu Yen Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the People’s Committee of Xuan Thanh ward, have mobilised 30 trawlers to participate in the collection of marine waste. The organisations, as well as around a hundred villagers and fishers and many waste collectors, were involved in setting up the processes.

Once the fishers catch waste, they are encouraged to bring it back to shore. The gathered plastic waste is then concentrated at collection points, sorted, and transferred for further treatment and recycling

The activities also aim to raise the awareness of the fishers, the ports, and the local community and administration for the reduction of plastic waste, by providing training sessions and materials on the impacts of plastics on marine ecosystems.

“Phu Yen has about 100,000 fishers and over 4,100 fishing boats. In addition, hundreds of seafood processing facilities and logistics services use a lot of plastic, and there are still many fisher households with the habit of discharging waste – including plastic – into the lagoon, river, and sea,” said Phuong, adding that, “If each fisher family voluntarily collects plastic waste and helps to process, recycle, and reuse these materials, tonnes of plastic waste discharged to the environment could be reduced every day.”

The idea is not new. Similar programmes have been successfully implemented in the Nordic countries, the Mediterranean, as well as in Brazil and Thailand. Thus, the initiative aims to replicate the successes from other regions and motivate the fishing community to collect marine waste and, at the same time, raise awareness among fishers and other locals about the harmful effects of plastic waste on the environment and health.

And indeed, more than 100 fishers have started participating in the project since October and collected almost 1.6 tonnes of marine waste as of December 15, 2021, of which almost 20 per cent is recyclable waste, such as tin cans, plastic bottles, and fishing nets.

Up until mid-December, Fishing for Litter gathered over 1,600kg of waste
Up until mid-December 2021, Fishing for Litter gathered over 1,600kg of waste

Nguyen Long, chief expert of the pilot project from VINAFIS explained that Dan Phuoc Port was chosen as one of the major ports to start the activities. “The port has many trawlers that regularly dock at the port and their nets are the most effective type capable of collecting waste from the seabed,” Long explained.

“It works like a filter. The net is shaped like a bag tapering from the mouth of the net to the mesh pocket. When the net is moved, fish and garbage will move into the net’s bag. Therefore, the project has selected around 30 trawlers and their fishers to participate in the project and collect garbage at sea,” Long added.

“Although the project is relatively small in scale, it has great significance,” emphasised Phuong. “For the first time, fishing boats do not throw plastic waste away but collect it from the seabed and bring it ashore for processing. This is an action that contributes to changing awareness, inspiring thousands of fishermen in Phu Yen and contributing to cleaning up our ocean.”

These initial results will help to prepare public policy recommendations and serve as best practices, which can be replicated in the remaining three fishing ports of Phu Yen and Vietnam’s 27 coastal provinces.

Fishers at Dan Phuoc port are the pioneers of Fishing for Litter
Fishers at Dan Phuoc Port are the pioneers of Fishing for Litter

The Fishing for Litter pilot is implemented within the framework of the project ‘Rethinking Plastics – Circular Economy Solutions to Marine Litter’, funded by the European Union and the German government, and implemented by Expertise France, VINAFIS, and the Management Board of Dan Phuoc Port.

By Etienne Mahler

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