The quantity makes up 20 per cent of the total marine catch landing in the country every year. Larger ships tend to have more efficient storage facilities than smaller ones, which still use ice or salt to preserve seafood, according to the directorate. In the past 10 years, the number of fishing vessels operating in the country has increased considerably, but most of them are small.
The conference on measures to reduce post-harvest fish losses held by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development on February 10, 2012 in the southern province of Kien Giang.
At present the country has nearly 130,000 fishing ships, 65,000 of which have the capacity of under 20 HP. Only 4,500 offshore-fishing ones have the capacity of over 90 HP making up 18.8 per cent of the total number, according to directorate statistics.
The ships often lack the working place for fish classification and proper cold store on board. In central provinces some fishers even store their catch in wooden hold linned with canvas.
Fish being handled at Van Don port in the northern province of Quang Ninh. With traditional preservation techniques, seafood remains in good condition for no more than 10 days, causing huge losses. Photo: Dung Minh
Using such traditional preservation techniques, seafood remained in good condition for no more than 10 days whereas it can take seamen 20 days to sell everything, said Nguyen Ngoc Oai, director of the Department of Capture Fisheries and Resources Protection under the Directorate.
Storage facilities are also often left unclean, leading to a reproduction of bacteria. Nguyen Duy An, director of the Food Canning Plant (Kien Giang Trading and Tourism Co), said the outdated preservation technologies affected the quality of the catch.
Fishers paid little attention to product preservation because they can sell their catch easily, even if deteriorated, he added. Tran Van Than, owner of a 50 HP fishing boat in the southern province of Kien Giang, said he often preserved his seafood with ice, which kept it fresh for 15 days, whereas it took him 30 days to sell all of his catch.
About 10 per cent of his seafood ended up stale after each fishing trip, leaving him with a loss of up to VND7 million ($330). "I do not have enough money to set up a standard storage facility or buy proper equipment to preserve the fish," he said.
Setting up proper facilities entails millions of dong, which means Than would have to mortgage his house and other property if he wanted to borrow money from banks. However, he has already mortgaged his house to have enough money to build his boat. Thus far, the directorate did not provide any other plan for giving financial support to seamen, he said.
Cao Minh, head of the Ben Tre Sub-Department of Fisheries Resource Protection, said no fishers in Mekong Delta provinces had ever managed to get soft loans under the Government's assistance policies. Relevant agencies should help remove the bottlenecks that prevent fishers from getting the loans while teaching them how to buy equipment and build standard preservation facilities, he said.
The chairman of the Viet Nam Fisheries Society, Nguyen Viet Thang, said to reduce post-harvest losses, the most urgent measure is to invest in advanced preservation technologies. He urged seafood processors to help fishers design standard preservation facilities for their vessels, and called on research institutes and fisheries agencies to pay a greater role in fisheries production.
For instance, Khanh Hoa Province has created a system that allows fishers to sell their catch right at sea instead of returning to shore to do so. Hai Vuong 68, a ship, has been deployed to buy ocean tuna and other seafood. It will make its first trip, buying from six fishing fleets operating near the Spratly and Paracel Archipelagos.
The ship has a quick freezing system that chills fish to minus 60 degrees Celsius, and can bring ashore 640 MT at a time. It will not only buy the fishers' catch but also supply them with fuel, water, and food to enable them to remain longer at sea.
Fishing boats from Khanh Hoa are all installed with GPS systems by which the Hai Vuong 68 will locate them. After buying fish, it will partly process it before freezing and taking it ashore. Dao Cong Thien, director of Khanh Hoa Province's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said 500 fishing boats have signed up for the new system.
He expected it to be expanded to all fishing communities in the province as well as elsewhere. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has set a target of cutting losses to less than 10 per cent by 2020.
To achieve this, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Vu Van Tam said, provinces should implement this year the decisions signed by PM Nguyen Tan Dung to support farmers and fishers.
The Directorate of Fisheries has instructed authorities to look at ways of partnering smaller vessels with larger ships as well as with seafood processing organisations. Fish processing enterprises with good preservation stores are encouraged to join hands with seamen to keep fresh.
The department has considered running training courses on setting up standard fish preservation stores for seamen, said Oai.
By DO VAN THONG
Compiled by NP