Vietnam’s fishermen battle a lack of fish and China

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Viet Nam

Publishing organisation: Mekong Eye

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-04-25

Language: English

Authors: Vo Kieu Bao Uyen (writer), Thibi.co (chart)


Vo Kieu Bao Uyen is a freelance journalist based in Vietnam. She specializes in coverage of environmental issues, the rights of Vietnamese individuals and vulnerable communities, including women and informal workers in Vietnam. She has received reporting grants and fellowship from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and SEI Asia Media Grant.

Thibi.co is a data and design consultancy that specializes in building interactive web-based data tools and visualization. (link to its website: https://site.thibi.co/)

Project description:

The story speaks to the desperation of Vietnamese fishermen, exposing the unsustainable exploitation of China’s fishing industry as well as Vietnam itself ― the world’s fourth-largest seafood exporter. Not only has the South China Sea become a hotbed of tension over sovereignty disputes among the 10 countries and territories in Asia for decades, now its ecosystem, which includes Vietnamese waters, is also on the verge of collapse.
The piece is published on Mekong Eye, supported by the Mekong Data Journalism Fellowship jointly organized by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the East-West Center.

Impact reached:

It is the first time that the destiny of Vietnamese fishermen, who are contributing a lot to the country’s economy and the global seafood supply chain, was told in the country.

The story did not bring immediate changes to the fishermen and the marine environment, but I believe that when the story was told, the problems related to uncontrolled fishing as well as the damages of fishermen would be known more, and thereby having changes in the community’s perception.

Techniques/technologies used:

I used data on Vietnamese fishery production and capacities provided by Vietnam’s General Statistics Office. Trade data on Vietnam’s seafood exports was taken from ResourceTrade.Earth, which is developed by an independent think tank, Chatham House, who sourced and re-adjusted bilateral trade data from UN Comtrade. This was complemented with data from Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers. To assess the conditions of Vietnamese seawaters, I referred to the Ocean Health Index, which is a research collaboration between the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis from University of California, Santa Barbara and Conservation International, with scores contributed by independent research teams. Data findings were cross-checked and validated during interviews with 3 experts including one environmental expert working at Vietnam Institute of Sea and Islands Research, one expert specializing in fishery economics research at Nha Trang University (Vietnam) and one political researcher at the Center for International Studies, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University-HCMC and the South China Sea Chronicle Initiative; three fishermen including two in the Vietnam Mekong Delta and one in the Central Vietnam. The links to all the data sources and analyses have also been compiled in Google Sheet (link below).

Context about the project:

I carried out this project while the Vietnam seafood export industry faced the prospect of getting a red card from the EU due to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Once this happens, a complete ban on fish exports from the country to the EU will be enforced. At that time, the Vietnam government was looking for ways to stop the punishment by trying to show its improved efforts in fishing management on the South China Sea.

My story is a contradiction to the government’s wishes as it provides a lot of evidence confirming the violation of human rights and the unsustainability of Vietnam’s fishing, which have been happening more and more dramatically.

Besides the English version on Mekong Eye, I published a Vietnamese version in a domestic magazine. Before my story, there had not been a single piece of local newsroom writing on the marine depletion on South China Sea and the destiny of the fishermen. The government and the domestic media only released the huge amount of foreign currency that the seafood export industry brought in.

On international media outlets, Vietnamese fishermen have been often accused of being fish poachers because of illegally fishing on another country’s waters. My story, however, paints a much more complex picture, one which highlights the true human between the economic and political interests of governments including China and Vietnam itself. The piece serves as an excuse for Vietnamese fishermen, explaining why they have gone beyond Vietnam waters, showing that after all, they have been also victims of the unsustainable economic policies of many countries on the South China Sea.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

I think Vietnamese journalists can learn more about how to explore and collate data to find out the true story behind the figures.
While data is limited by the censorship and lack of transparency of government, the journalists can look to international sources. Besides, through the project’s database on google sheet (specifically the sheet source and diary data), they will know how to archive and clean the data.

Project links: