The Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam, H.E. Mr. Mguyen Xuan Phuc, showed his support for the World Fisheries Co-operative day, held in Da Nang, Vietnam on 15 June.
Over two hundred co-operators from a dozen countries attended the event, which was organised by the International Co-operative Fishing Organisation (ICFO).
Fishing has been in a real crisis in recent years due to over exploitation, declining numbers of fishermen and commercialisation.
In 2010, the ICFO created the Seoul Declaration and agreed to hold an annual World Fisheries Co-operative Day each year to raise awareness of the crisis facing sustainable fishing; this was the second annual WFC day.
The event was hosted by President of the ICFO and last year’s winner of the Rochdale Pioneers award from the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), Mr. Lee Jong-koo.
Chuck Gould, Director General for the International Co-operative Alliance, attended both of the annual WFC days. He said the industry has always had a co-operative tone to it because of the nature of danger attached to it and the recognition that they all have a shared resource.
He added: “It has always been a very poor industry, even today fishermen are some of the poorest of the different sectors, poorer even than farmers.”
ICFO is made up of countries including Vietnam, India, Japan, France, Italy, Korea, Figi and the Philippines.
Korea is leading the way in co-operative fisheries, Korean National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives (KNFC) provide insurance, a mutual credit system, training and a central command centre to ensure safe travel for the fishermen and control the exploitation of fishing. Mr. Lee Jong-koo is also the President of the KNFC.
Vietnam, the host country for the Day, is starting to use co-operatives as a model for sustainable business.
Vietnam is now among the top 20 countries in fish catch and ranked sixth in terms of fisheries export.
Only five percent of fishermen and women have any form of education; they are a father-to-son industry; many find it hard to start co-operatives because they are so poor; and they cannot come together to form any capital.
Since creating pre-co-operatives — which are co-operatives that depend on economical and/or technical assistance from the state — and forming co-operative legislation in 2001, Vietnam now has 4,000 pre-co-operatives and has increased the number of full co-operatives — those that can operate independently — from 80 to 500.
Mr Gould added: “One of the highlights of the day was learning about the Vietnamese fisheries, how committed they seem to be to co-operative fisheries and the progress they’re making.
"And having a sense of going from a very basic father-to-son infrastructure, to try to put in place some systems that will really make a difference over time and to see the success they are having with that.”
Co-operative fisheries has also helped in efforts after the disasters in Japan, helping fishermen rebuild after the devastation.
The World Fisheries Cooperator Prize was presented to Ikuhiro Hattori, President of the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations of Japan.
“As Japan now recovers from the terrible tsunami of last year, the sophisticated systems of the Federation are demonstrating the value of thoughtful planning and steady growth,” explained Mr Gould: “Co-operatives do not seek government subsidies as part of an ongoing business model. Instead, if policy can simply acknowledge the unique structure and nature of co-operatives and allow them to fully leverage their potential, the resulting impact is very impressive.”
The agenda for the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development on June 20 -22 will look at sustainable ocean policy and the Food and Agriculture Organisation has acknowledged aquaculture and fishing as an essential part of tackling food insecurity.