Updates on SDG Goal 14 in VietnamVietnam is a tropical country in Southeast Asia with a coastline along the South China Sea. The livelihoods of Vietnam’s people and much of its economy depends on oceans for fishing and tourism. It also has a connection to the global economy through shipping lanes. SDG Goal 14: Life Below Water became a top priority for the Vietnamese government in the past few years. Updates on SDG Goal 14 in Vietnam show that the government believes in a multilateral approach to protecting marine life. Achieving SDG Goal 14 would prevent the collapse of one of Vietnam’s largest industries and protect citizens from slipping into poverty.

Overview of SDG Goal 14

SDG Goal 14 calls for the conservation and sustainable use of all marine resources. The U.N. finds that “improved regulations, together with effective monitoring and surveillance, have proven successful in reverting overfished stocks to biologically sustainable levels.” The U.N. also finds that such conservation efforts are low in developing regions. A commitment to SDG Goal 14 is also imperative because, economically speaking, the global value of marine and coastal resources amounts to $3 trillion annually. This equates to an estimated 5% of global GDP. Vietnam’s multilateral approach to implementing marine conservation efforts could have a significant impact on SDG Goal 14.

The U.N. identified several targets for SDG Goal 14 with individual timelines for each. Upcoming deadlines for targets include reducing marine pollution significantly by 2025 and sustainable management of fishing and tourism industries by 2030. SDG Goal 14 indicates that Vietnam successfully prevented overexploitation of ocean fish stocks. However, the U.N. found that major challenges remain for Vietnam in achieving clean ocean waters. The setbacks on ocean cleanliness counteract the progress on marine life protection. Because of this, the U.N. determined in 2019 that Vietnam’s progress on SDG Goal 14 is stagnant. To achieve the 2025 target and make progress on SDG Goal 14 overall, Vietnam must prioritize marine pollution.

Vietnam’s Actions Toward SDG Goal 14

The Vietnamese government identifies plastic litter as a significant cause of marine pollution. This creates a barrier to achieving SDG Goal 14. In 2020, Vietnam developed the National Action Plan for Management of Marine Plastic Litter, which sets ambitious goals to reduce pollution in government-controlled waters. This plan aims to reduce plastic litter in oceans by 50% by 2025 and by 75% by 2030. To do so, the government developed strategies to target the pollution from the source. This includes eliminating single-use plastic in coastal tourist areas and cooperating with international partners to find better ways to manage land waste.

This long-term strategy for combating marine pollution builds upon the progress made from short-term initiatives. For example, Vietnam hosts a national Sea and Islands Week every June since 2009 to motivate citizens to engage in ocean-conserving activities. This inspires local action to stop marine pollution such as beach clean-ups and behavior-changing campaigns to reduce litter.

Partnerships for SDG Goal 14

In addition to national initiatives, Vietnam engages in multilateral strategies to combat marine pollution. Vietnam signed on to the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The declaration commits Southeast Asian countries to protecting oceans and promoting international cooperation to achieve sustainable management of shared ocean space. Cooperation on the issue is crucial for Southeast Asia as much of the coastlines overlap and are governed by multiple authorities. In line with targets set by the U.N. for SDG Goal 14, the declaration aims to greatly minimize marine pollution by 2025.

To accommodate the goal, ASEAN released the Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris in May 2021. The five-year plan offers countries very specific strategies for reducing marine pollution. Some strategies mirror Vietnam’s national initiatives such as reducing the inputs to marine pollution that originate from land and finding alternatives to plastic. However, ASEAN also developed highly specific guidelines for long-term projects, such as phasing out single-use plastics and improving the measurement and surveillance of marine debris. Partnering with multilateral institutions increases Vietnam’s ability to achieve SDG Goal 14.

Sustaining the Economy

As a coastal nation, Vietnam relies heavily on oceans to sustain its economy and support its population to rise out of poverty. SDG Goal 14 directs developing countries such as Vietnam to conserve marine life and restore clean waters to oceans. The Vietnamese government’s plans of action show its commitment to fully achieving this objective. Overall, the updates on SDG Goal 14 in Vietnam look hopeful. With plans in place, Vietnam is set to make significant progress on SDG Goal 14 in the next few years.

Viola Chow
Photo: Flickr

Fishermen Poverty in the South China Sea
The South China Sea represents more than just a geopolitical struggle; it is a hotspot for fishing. Beijing claims that its historic rights give it ownership inside the so-called Nine-Dash Line, covering around 80 percent of the South China Sea. These claims contradict maritime laws, among them The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and have received backlash from several Southeast Asian countries.

For example, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam all hold overlapping claims over the Spratlys Islands, a group of islands, archipelagos and reefs. Aggression from all sides and a lack of cooperation on fishing regulations have endangered the livelihoods of fishermen, who rely on the South China Sea for sustenance. Here are seven facts about fishermen poverty in the South China Sea:

7 Facts about Fishermen Poverty in the South China Sea

  1. The South China Sea fisheries constitute the economic lifeblood of claimant states. They are the home of upwards of 3,365 species of marine fish, and 55 percent of marine fishing vessels operate in the South China Sea. Moreover, approximately 12 percent of global fishing catches occur there. In addition to being a source of nutrition, the fisheries provide employment to at least 3.7 million people.

  2. Overfishing has depleted the fishing reserves of the South China Sea. A Stimson report released in December 2012 found that shallow reefs and shoals have been exploited to their limit. Relative to other regions of Earth, portions of the South China Sea are among the most highly affected marine ecosystems.

  3. Coastal development has further aggravated marine species. Mangroves, for example, occupy a mere 70 percent of their original land area in the South China Sea, and seagrass beds have shrunk to 50 percent of pre-industrial levels. Industrial pollutants, tourism and sediment runoff have endangered marine species, which use coastal habitats for spawning purposes. When these coastal habitats become depleted, fishermen venture beyond national limits, leading to confrontations at sea.

  4. Overexploitation of stocks has forced fishermen to turn to dangerous fishing techniques. In order to make up for economic losses, fishermen have used explosives and cyanide to boost yields. Some have resorted to blast fishing, in which dynamite is used to kills schools of fish. This allows for easy collection, but it seriously harms the coral reefs and seabed in the process. In Indonesia alone, fishing explosives have cost up to $3.8 billion between 1980 and 2000.

  5. Fishermen poverty is a common type of poverty in countries surrounding the South China Sea. 80 percent of Indonesian fishing households earn incomes below the country’s poverty line. In the Tay Ninh province of Vietnam, people working in the fisheries sector made up 88 percent of very low-income households in 1999. Moreover, poverty is more prevalent in Filipino fishing households than in the average Filipino household.

  6. Legal uncertainty about the status of artificial islands and false claims in the South China Sea have exacerbated tensions between fishermen from different Southeast Asian nations. Maritime border disputes have prevented countries from establishing a framework for cooperation. With no regulation of fishing activities, illegal and unreported fishing has gone rampant in the South China Sea.

  7. Border disputes have put the lives of Southeast Asian fishermen in danger. CNN reported that, in 2015, Chinese vessels attacked 200 Ly Son (Vietnamese) fishermen and 17 fishing boats. Starting in 2005 and lasting seven years, Chinese government ships kidnapped Vietnamese fishers for ransom near The Paracel Islands. Romel Cejuela, a Filipino fisherman, explained that the Chinese Coast Guard personnel “board our boats, look at where we store the fish and take the best ones.” China is not the sole perpetrator of these acts of violence and robbery. In 2017, Reuters article Indonesia’s navy shot four Vietnamese fishermen on a fishing boat in the South China Sea.

On June 27, 2018, representatives from the member states of The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China met in Changsha to negotiate a “code of conduct” for vessels traveling through the South China Sea. For the first time, China and ASEAN reached a consensus on a set of maritime rules and planned to hold joint maritime exercises in the future. While some critics dismiss the meeting as a Chinese ploy, agreements like this one are necessary for fishermen whose lives depend on stability in the South China Sea.

To alleviate fishermen poverty and create an environment more conducive to cooperation and sustainable fishing, it is essential that Southeast Asian nations delineate territorial claims and abide by a rules-based international order. With the negotiations currently underway, this may occur sooner than originally anticipated.

– Mark Blekherman
Photo: Flickr

Overfishing in Saint Pierre and Miquelon

The French islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon are located off the coast of Newfoundland and have a population of about 5,533, according to July 2017 data. It is estimated that about 90 percent of inhabitants live on St. Pierre, while a smaller population lives on Miquelon. The islands focus largely on the fishing industry and have for over a century, but overfishing in Saint Pierre and Miquelon has led to Canada imposing a long-term closure of the industry, causing a negative ripple effect on the economy of the islands.

The overfishing in Saint Pierre and Miquelon started when the United States repealed Prohibition in 1933. The islands’ thriving economy decreased dramatically and forced the laborers to turn back to fishing. Since then, Saint Pierre and Miquelon have constantly been fishing, leading to the overfishing problem.

In addition to the issue of overfishing in Saint Pierre and Miquelon, there has been a decline in the number of ships using the Saint Pierre harbor. This could be due to the weather and the natural environment of the islands. Surrounding the islands are “treacherous currents and fog [that] have contributed to hundreds of shipwrecks off Saint Pierre and Miquelon.”

The four-mile strip of water between Saint Pierre and Miquelon is called “The Mouth of Hell” by the local fisherman because of the strong currents that have contributed to about 600 shipwrecks near the islands. The residents of Saint Pierre and Miquelon have used this to their benefit, as they can add to their earnings from fishing somewhat by salvaging the wreckage.

Dealing with overfishing in Saint Pierre and Miquelon has not been easy for the residents of the islands, but there has been some progress with sustainability and trying to stabilize the island’s economy, as the residents have turned to other kinds of seafood fishing such as crab fishing. They have slowly developed other types of agricultural farming, including vegetables, poultry, cattle, sheep and pigs. The government of Saint Pierre and Miquelon is also working to grow its tourism industry. With the hope of more tourism on the islands, a more sustainable way of fishing and more farming, Saint Pierre and Miquelon’s prospects are looking brighter and more stable.

Jennifer Lightle

Photo: Flickr