Vietnam Blue Swimmer Crab Fishery Project Gains Buy-In at Critical Points in the Supply Chain
Phu Quoc Island, Kien Giang province, Vietnam
Vietnam’s blue swimmer crab population is threatened by overfishing. Some mini-plant operators purchase juvenile and undersized crabs and berried females (female crabs bearing eggs) from fishers. Fisher incomes decline because crabs have gotten smaller and harvest quantity has fallen. The population’s decline is further exacerbated by weak compliance and enforcement of regulations limiting harvest crab size, season and marine area closures, and fishing-gear mesh size. In addition, the U.S., a primary export market for the species, competes with Vietnam’s fast-growing domestic markets. However, unlike the U.S., Vietnamese buyers have no sustainability or traceability requirements at any point in the supply chain. U.S. seafood consumers demand sustainably caught seafood, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program gives the Vietnam blue swimmer crab an overall “avoid” recommendation because of this lack of enforcement and monitoring.
50in10, a collaboration among NGOs, businesses, funders, and governments that works to replicate successful small-scale fisheries management projects on a global scale supported the transitioning of the crab fishery to a co-management system. Bai Bon village on Phu Quoc Island in Kien Giang province was chosen as the 50in10 prototype pilot site to implement rights-based management and a fishery co-management plan in which fishers and government authorities share decision-making and enforcement functions.
Co-management and territorial user rights are new concepts in Vietnam. This initiative educated local, provincial, and federal government authorities and fishery stakeholders about the benefits. Policy actions included:
- Consensus-building among stakeholders on the need for a co-management and a secure rights model in which both fishers and government authorities share decision-making and monitoring responsibility to ensure marine resource sustainability
- Agreement to stop purchasing crab that is smaller than 10 centimeters
- Agreement to eliminate the 15 percent tolerance of small-size crab among fishers and buyers
- Agreement to strengthen the monitoring of landed catches to ensure compliance
The initiative fostered dialogue and consensus building among government authorities, local communities, and fishers, encouraging them to contribute to the planning and management processes for the pilot site. Actions taken to empower stakeholders included:
- Meetings and workshops to build relationships and garner support for the pilot site
- Workshops on blue swimmer crab stewardship and enforcement
- Trainings on principles of co-management and benefits of rights-based systems
- Stakeholder participation in selecting Bai Bon village on Phu Quoc island for the pilot site
The prototype leveraged the Kien Giang fishery improvement project’s scientific tools and data-collection programs. Science tools included:
- Logbook system for fishers to collect crab data
- Stock assessment report to guide sustainable fisheries management
- Bio-economic study to demonstrate that harvest controls increase the value of the fishery
The market demand for traceable, sustainably caught seafood is growing, fueled by increased government reporting requirements and consumers who want to know where their seafood comes from. Transitioning to a co-management model will align the economic interests of fishers and supply chain actors with the long-term health of the fishery. Activities to address this included workshops and meetings with processors and supply chain actors addressing new procurement policies and traceability regulations that have the potential to serve as compelling market incentives for middlemen to answer to both regulators and customers.
How successful has it been?
These actions have set the fishery on a course for implementing a co-management and harvest strategy system that sustains the resource and requires collective action from all stakeholders. Results include:
- Understanding and recognition among stakeholders of the need for a co-management and territorial rights model in which both fishers and government authorities share decision-making and monitoring responsibility to ensure marine resource sustainability
- Agreements by the local governing authority to strengthen enforcement of minimum landing size limits
- Middlemen (picking and cooking stations) have agreed in principle to stop trading undersized species, and the practical application is in process
Lessons learned and recommendations
Community empowerment: collaboration is key to success
The prototype brought support for collaborative management among fishers, supply chain actors, and government to adopt and enforce harvest controls.
Credible science: data-based controls and proof of value
WWF-Vietnam initiated the fishery improvement project (FIP) in 2012 to implement the Marine Stewardship Council standard; the FIP developed a logbook system for fishers to collect crab data and produced a stock assessment report. Using this data, the Research Institute conducted the 50in10-funded bio-economic study that demonstrated the effectiveness of enacting harvest controls to increase the value of the fishery. The study investigated the current state of the fishery in terms of market value and fishing effort and projected future value if controls in fishing were enacted.
Over the four-month grant period, project partners facilitated dialogue on sustainability of the species and the benefits of co-management. Participants learned the value of rights-based management to regulate catches and harvest areas so that fishers and suppliers enjoy a vested stake in the health and recovery of the crab and, ultimately, improve their incomes. These management systems are new concepts in Vietnam, and the prototype sought to secure buy-in from government authorities.
Buy-in from local management agencies is critical
The local enforcement agency agreed to eliminate the 15 percent tolerance of small-size crabs in the catch among fishers and buyers, and strengthen the monitoring of landed catches to ensure compliance. Through a series of meetings, the partners garnered support from the pickers and processors to reject too-small crabs and to put pressure on the fishers not to fish juvenile crabs. Stakeholders also learned about procurement policies and oversight and traceability regulations coming in 2016. A control system with a third-party auditor will monitor the sustainable harvest of the crabs and establish control points throughout the supply chain.
Market demand: traceable, sustainable seafood
A central sticking point was mini-plant owners’ concerns about additional costs. They expressed reluctance to adopt oversight measures unless forced to comply as they did not see any immediate business value, and they were concerned about giving an edge to competitors who don’t take the same approach. However, the market demand for traceable, sustainably caught seafood is growing, fueled by increased government reporting requirements and consumers who want to know where their seafood comes from. These new standards have the potential to become compelling market incentives prompting middlemen to respond to both regulators and customers. Moving forward, it’s likely that a collaboration of stakeholders will continue the traceability control and investment work for the co-management model.
50in10 provided support for this project by fostering collaboration among partners and provided a $25,000 matching grant to support a bio-economic study, along with workshops and trainings for fishers, suppliers, processors, government officials, and other stakeholders.
Partners on this project include: WWF-Vietnam, National Fisheries Institute (NFI) Crab Council, Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) Kien Giang, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), Provincial People’s Committee (PPC), Kien Giang mini-plants, and the Research Institute of Marine Fisheries (RIMF).