With its efforts in addressing limitations over the past nearly six years, Vietnam hopes that this will be an opportunity to remove the yellow card that the E.C. has imposed on its seafood since October 20, 2017, due to its fishing and fishery management not meeting E.C. regulations.

In essence, the E.U.'s regulatory system allows the traceability of imported seafood, and the classification of exporting countries to the E.U. by a system of color-coded cards, comprising green, yellow, red, and, most severe, a cessation of trade. With the yellow card, all Vietnam's seafood exports to the E.U. are subject to a pre-check. As a consequence, the cost of seafood export to Europe has increased, and the volume has decreased due to the extended delivery time. The E.U.'s IUU regulations require that seafood entering Europe must have complete traceability information, including fishing ground, fishing time, type of vessels and ports for their departure and return, fisheries law compliance, and whether the laws match E.U. regulations or not.

Vietnam is making efforts to develop a sustainable seafood sector. 

As the E.U. ranks among the top five largest importers of Vietnamese seafood, the imposition of the yellow card has resulted in a continuous decline in Vietnam's seafood exports to this market since 2017, according to the report titled “A Trade-Based Analysis of the Economic Impact of Non-Compliance with Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing - The Case of Vietnam” jointly published by the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) and the World Bank (WB).

Compared to the 2017 figures, seafood exports to the E.U. decreased by 12% in 2019, equivalent to USD 183.5 million. This downward trend continued in 2020, dropping by 5.7% from the previous year. In 2022, the revenue reached only USD 1.3 billion, but the E.U. still remained one of Vietnam's top five major buyers.

Vietnam’s efforts to have yellow card lifted

Right after receiving the yellow card in 2017, Vietnam proactively responded to E.C. recommendations. The country promptly enacted the Fisheries Law and established fishing vessel data covering registration and the issuance of fishing licenses from central to local levels.

Relevant ministries, agencies, and coastal provinces and cities of Vietnam have implemented IUU fishing prevention tasks and solutions in line with directives of the permanent members of the Party Central Committee’s Secretariat, the Prime Minister, and the National Steering Committee on IUU Fishing Prevention.

However, Vietnam's efforts have yet to meet the expectations of the E.C., and in November 2019, the commission issued four groups of recommendations that Vietnam needed to implement regarding the legal framework, the monitoring, inspection, and control of fishing activities, the certification of seafood volume and traceability, and law enforcement.

"It is a must to be aware that combating IUU is not just a form of response, but it is for the interests of the nation and people. It preserves the country’s image, fulfilling international commitments, and affirming Vietnam as a responsible member of the international community, particularly in protecting the marine environment and ecosystem," said Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh at a meeting with representatives from 28 coastal cities and provinces over the IUU combat on December 1, 2022.

To materialize the E.C. recommendations and prepare for the fourth working session with the E.C. inspection team, Deputy Prime Minister Tran Luu Quang on February 13 signed Decision No.81/QD-TTg issuing an action plan on IUU combat. 

Accordingly, relevant ministries, agencies and localities have reviewed all fishing vessels in localities, completed the registration, the marking of fishing vessels, the issuance of fishing licenses, and the installation of vessel monitoring system (VMS) equipment as required. Simultaneously, they have updated 100% of fishing vessel data in the National Fisheries Database (VnFishbase), compiled a list of fishing vessels not engaged in fishing activities and those that are likely to violate fishing regulations, which has been sent to competent agencies, and assigned tasks to specific agencies and individuals. They have put an end to the illegal operations of fishing vessels in foreign waters, investigated and handled all of the violations, and stepped up the dissemination work.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Phung Duc Tien said as of the end of August, the number of fishing vessels nationwide dropped by 10,000 from 2019. All fishing vessels with a length of 6 meters or more have been registered and have their information available in VNFishbase. The number of fishing vessels measuring 15 meters or more in length equipped with the VMS reached 97.86%. The Vietnam Fisheries Society has 90 associations in 16 out of the 28 coastal provinces and cities, with nearly 18,000 members. Alongside these associations, there are 5,810 offshore production teams in the country, bringing together 48,000 vessels and 252,000 fishermen.

Vietnam on right track

Through inspections, the E.C. has concluded that Vietnam's efforts to have the yellow card lifted are on the right track, and that the fight against IUU fishing has been prioritized by the Vietnamese government and yielded marked results. The E.C. has also emphasized a “clear legal framework" and pledged to support Vietnam to remove the label as soon as possible.

For Vietnam, transforming its fishing industry to a modern, sustainable and responsible sector, and changing the mindset of fishermen remain a big challenge, requiring the strong determination of all stakeholders, especially in implementing the E.C.'s recommendations to prevent fishing vessels from encroaching on foreign fishing grounds.

Experts have called the yellow card a significant risk for Vietnam's seafood industry. However, from a positive perspective, it can be seen as a crucial "examination" that will help upgrade and enhance the reputation of Vietnamese seafood. It also opens up opportunities for the country to enter demanding markets because the E.U. has some of the strictest requirements. Once Vietnam implements all of its recommendations, the country would form a sustainable production chain and confidently export seafood products to other promising markets. This is also road-map for Vietnam to protect its seafood resources, and marine and ocean ecosystem and biodiversity, and ensure sustainable livelihood for coastal communities.

**Major milestones in yellow card imposition

October 23, 2017

The E.C. issued a yellow card warning against Vietnam's fisheries, along with nine groups of recommendations that Vietnam needed to implement to remove the card.

May 2018

The E.C. conducted the first inspection

November 2019

The E.C. conducted the second inspection and reduced the recommendations to four: legal framework, the monitoring, inspection, and control of fishing activities, the certification of seafood volume and traceability, and law enforcement.

The E.C. conducted the second inspection and reduced the recommendations to four: legal framework, the monitoring, inspection, and control of fishing activities, the certification of seafood volume and traceability, and law enforcement.

From 2020 until now

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the E.U. could not conduct another inspection. The Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development provided updates and a report on the implementation of the recommendation for the E.C.

October 2023

The E.C. delegation, expected to include representatives from the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) and the E.C. Delegation in Vietnam, will come to Vietnam for the IUU fishing issue from October 10-18.

Source: VNA