Vietnam's agriculture ministry has demarcated no-fishing zones along the central coast, saying these swaths of water need time to recover from the toxic spill scandal linked to Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa.
In an official statement, the ministry set the zones over 800 square kilometers in total around Son Duong Island off Ha Tinh Province, Nhat Le Beach in Quang Binh Province and Son Cha Island off Thua Thien-Hue Province. The zones stretch as far as 1.5 kilometers from the shore.
Nguyen Ngoc Oai, deputy head of the fishery department at the ministry, said the temporary ban is mainly to give time for sea creatures in the areas to recover.
Oai admitted that the levels of iron as well as the toxic phenol and cyanide in the zones are higher than elsewhere, but said they are still “within permitted levels.”
The ministry also asked fishers to refrain from harming deep-sea habitats within 20 sea miles from the shore in the four affected provinces, which also include Quang Tri.
“Our research team found that the ecology system, like coral reefs, is starting to recover, and fishing at or near the seabed will compromise that process,” Oai said, as cited by news website VnExpress.
Fishers are also required to send samples from their catch to be tested for toxins and heavy metals every two or three days, the ministry said.
An estimated 70 tons of dead fish washed ashore along more than 200 kilometers of coastline in April in what was possibly Vietnam’s most devastating environment disaster.
A unit of Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics which operates a steel plant in Ha Tinh has been held responsible.
The government said the company had discharged waste containing phenol, cyanide and iron hydroxides in the water, harming the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishers. The company has pledged to pay compensation of US$500 million.
The disaster has created a seafood scare across the country and also hindered tourism in local beach towns.
The environment ministry last week released a study assuring that the water is now safe for swimming and aquaculture. The new fishing ban from the agriculture ministry may have weakened that assurance somewhat.