THANH HÓA — Central provinces are facing a shortage of seamen in both quality and quantity, hindering the development of fisheries industry as many boat owners are forced to sell their ships and change their jobs.
With a coastline of 102km, Thanh Hóa Province is considered to be in an ideal position for fisheries activities. However, offshore fishing fleets in the province are struggling while locals are no longer interest in fishing.
The hustle and bustle in the past is completely absent at the Lạch Hới fishing port in Sầm Sơn City which once seen baskets full of freshly-caught seafood are transported ashore and then traders deliver to many places.
Hundreds of big and small boats quietly anchored at the port although the first months of the year was considered as the “golden season” for fishermen.
Nguyễn Văn Tuyên, director of Lạch Hới fishing port said the number of ships arriving and leaving the port have reduced significantly.
“Our port now operates at about 35 per cent of its capacity,” he said, blaming on economic restructuring which causes local workers away from fishing.
Phạm Gia Sơn, a ship owner, said his family has been attached to this ship for many generations.
“We used to make 3-4 fishing trips a month and need 12-14 labourers for a trip but we have faced a lot of difficulties in the past two years due to scarcity of labourers,” he was quoted by Quân đội nhân dân (People’s Army) newspaper as saying.
Sơn said those who have experience and have attachment to the marine for many years have shifted to other jobs.
“Although we are fully prepared to sail offshore, our ship dock for days because we could not find enough workers,” Sơn said, adding that there were trips that only the shipowner and the chief engineer are professional and the rest are seasonal labourers.
Echoing Sơn’s opinion, Nguyễn Văn Long, director of Ngọc Sơn Seafood Processing Co.Ltd said the hiring of seamen has met many difficulties over recent years.
His company had 6 large ships specialising in fishing logistic services. Each trip requires 12-15 workers but they could only employ 8-10 people.
Due to lack of labor, the company have to hire workers from other localities, even inexperienced ones from mountainous districts such as Quan Sơn, Quan Hoá, and Mường Lát.
Nguyễn Đức Cường, head of Thanh Hóa Fisheries sub-department said a lack of labour needed to set sail was occurring in coastal areas of the province.
He said unstable income and hard work were causing fishermen to seek other work.
A decline in fisheries resources, traditional fishing grounds have been narrowed and low efficiency were also problems.
The effect of COVID-19 pandemic, storms and floods and extreme weather condition as well as rising cost of gasoline and labourers have led to inactive of fishing boats.
Similar situation also reported in other central provinces including Nghệ An, Quảng Trị and Quảng Bình
The number of labourers engaged in fishing activities has tended to decrease and turned to “aging” in Nghệ An province in recent years. There are few seamen aged between 18 and 35, even 30 per cent of the marine workforce is more than 60 years old.
Nguyễn Văn Ước from Quỳnh Long commune in Quỳnh Lưu district said he had joined with seven households in the commune in building a fishing boat with capacity of 717CV.
Due to difficulty in fishing, especially the scarcity of labour, they had to sell the ship at the end of last year at VNĐ1.7 billion (US$73,557) , less than one-third of the initial cost. Selling the ship meant that Ước and dozens of other workers had to find another jobs.
Bùi Xuân Trúc, deputy head of Quỳnh Lưu District’s Agriculture and Rural Development Office, attributed the decrease in marine labour to unreasonable occupational structure, shortcomings in exploiting and preserving seafood products after harvesting and increasing competition between localities in a fishing ground.
“This requires fishing activities to renovate themselves to keep up with the current trend,” he said.
Coping with the labour shortage, many boat owners in Quảng Bình Province’s Bố Trạch district had to retain workers by paying salary for them in advance.
Shipowner Nguyễn Ngọc Hải in Bố Trạch district said: “It is difficulty to recruit enough workers who will accompany us. Thus, labourers will get paid in advance to entice them.”
However, some people did not work for them after receiving the salary, he said.
As the shortage of labour on offshore fishing vessels has negative impact on livelihood of fishermen and fisheries exploitation and processing, localities in the central region has adopted solutions to deal with the problems.
Cường, the head of Thanh Hóa Fisheries Subdepartment, said the province has encouraged boatowners to apply modern equipment in fisheries exploitation such as Sonar fishfinder and promote the mechanisation in the fishing and net collection stages which aims at increasing the exploitation efficiency and reducing the number of employees on the fishing vessel.
“In the short term, we are suggesting localities to have support policies for fishermen to change their jobs to ease their concern over income and livelihood.
“Special attention should be paid to reducing the pressure on exploitation in coastal areas,” Cường said.
Lê Cẩm Long, head of Bố Trạch District Agriculture and Rural Development subdepartment said, in order for the fisheries to develop sustainably as well as bring adequate income to people, local authority was directing communes to restructure the occupation accordingly, expanding the fishing grounds to the Trường Sa area to catch more valuable fish while reducing the pressure of exploitation in the Gulf of Tonkin at the same time.
Trần Như Long, Deputy Director of Fisheries Sub-Department of Nghệ An province said in the longterm, it was necessary to take measures to regenerate resources in the direction of both exploitation and protection due to declining marine resources.
“Only when the aquatic resources is well regenerated, people enjoy exploitation and have better income, people will engage with the marine again,” he said.
Lê Ngọc Linh, Director of the Fisheries Sub-Department of Quảng Bình province proposed the Government study more practical and long-term policies such as banning sailing the sea during the fish breeding season and providing fuel for fishermen.
More attention should be paid to dissemination work, calling on fishermen not to change their jobs, increase labour productivity and get training on how to exploit marine resources effectively. — VNS