As part of a BCR training workshop for provincial government staff in Can Gio on April 4-6, 2012, IUCN organized a short visit to Dong Tranh, a fishing village located right next to Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve where the trainees could test their skills at carrying out vulnerability and capacity assessments.
Most of the people in Dong Tranh are involved in near-shore fishing along the coast from Vung Tau to Tien Giang. We arrived in the afternoon just as people were returning from fishing. Along the small street, fish were being sorted and fishing nets fixed. We were interested in whether people had experienced more extreme weather events, which can be a big problem for people who depend on capture fisheries for their livelihoods. Ba (grandma) Nguyen Thi Sanh, a 57-year-old who was born and raised in the village, said that the weather was increasingly unpredictable and that there were more storms compared to her childhood. The week before the workshop, a storm had swept through Can Gio and knocked over trees and destroyed roofs in HCMC, 65 km away. What was unusual about this storm was its timing. The storm season runs from August to November and storms never usually come this early. Fortunately, according to the village head, the local government was well prepared and had evacuated the villagers before the storm struck.
More erratic weather makes life even harder for people who depend on a declining resource base. Ba Sanh said fish production in 2011 was only half what it was in 2009 and 2012 was looking even worse. At the same time, more and more boats with modern fishing gear are out fishing. Most of villagers have no alternative and are forced to keep fishing even though catches are declining. They understand that it’s an unsustainable business but without land or capital they have no other option.
To reduce over-capacity, the local government has over the last five years worked hard to persuade villagers to increase mesh size (to protect young fish from capture). Our interviews suggest that there is broad support in the village for these regulations. Even though Ba Sanh and her husband only earn enough from fishing to cover their basic needs, she refuses to use illegal gear because she knows that it will make the situation even worse. Some of the people we interviewed said they were frustrated because fishing boats from outside the village did not always comply with the mesh size restrictions.
The question is whether or not this will be enough to bring demand in line with supply. Other programs to reduce off-take, such as fish sanctuaries and marine protected areas, are almost certainly needed. And judging from these interviews, the most important alternative income source is a job in HCMC for those young and strong enough to move to the city. What is clear from the visit to Dong Tranh is that multiple approaches will be needed to move the near-shore fishing sector to a more sustainable footing.
Ms. Nguyen Thi Phuong Thanh - BCR Field Coordinator - IUCN Viet Nam