Protests in Vietnam Over Fish Deaths

Traditional Vietnamese fishing coracles (image courtesy Ray Zhouli)

By The Maritime Executive 2016-05-03 21:13:44

On Sunday, in Hanoi, hundreds of people demonstrated against a Taiwanese firm they accuse of causing mass fish deaths along 120 miles of the country's central coast.

A steel plant run by a unit of Taiwan's Formosa Plastics reportedly has an underground drainage pipe emptying to the sea. Formosa said in a statement that there was no evidence that its plant's activities were in any way responsible, and said that it was "deeply shocked and sorry" for the fish deaths. "We cannot understand why so many fish have died," the firm said. 

Formosa Plastics Group did not immediately return a request for comment.

An official government investigation has found no links between the fish deaths and the plant. At a news conference last week, deputy environment minister Vo Tuan Nhan said that so far, "there is no proof yet to conclude a link between Formosa and the facility to the mass fish deaths." Nhan suggested that either "red tide" or unspecified toxic discharges were causing the fish deaths, and said that more investigation would be required. 

But many citizens have expressed strong doubts, fueled in part by a recent company statement. A spokesman for Formosa Plastics appeared to suggest last week that Vietnam had to choose between its fisheries and its steel industry, sparking controversy. The spokesman apologized for his statement, Vietnamese media report, and the Diplomat suggests that he was removed from his position shortly thereafter.

Vietnam's seafood industry is worth $7 billion a year in exports; the government has reportedly ordered its trade and agriculture ministries to help support fish sales through purchases. 

The Formosa Plastics Group's steel plant was also the scene of large protests in 2014, as Vietnamese citizens targeted foreign-owned enterprises in a reaction to the Chinese decision to drill for oil in a part of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam. One Chinese worker was killed and 90 were injured in the protests, according to a statement from Formosa Plastics.