Vietnam will continue to follow its plan to develop the fisheries sector so that it achieves economies of scale and high global competitiveness in a sustainable manner, a senior official said last week.

Addressing a conference held in Hanoi , Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Vu Van Tam said the focus of the fisheries industry in the next five years (2011-15) would be to ensure output and export value, food safety and improved earnings and living conditions for fishers.

The fisheries sector, including both fishing and aquaculture, will also focus on developing the processing industry to raise product value and improve the competitiveness of Vietnamese fishery products.

The fisheries sector, has in the last three decades, recorded a high growth rate, generating jobs for many people in the country, especially in coastal areas.

Vietnam 's seafood exports increased strongly in the 2001-10 period both in volume and value.

In 2001, the country exported 375,000 tonnes of seafood, earning 1.78 billion USD. Last year, the country earned 4.94 billion USD from 1.34 million tonnes of seafood exports.

However, the sector faces many challenges that threaten its sustainable development, such as exhausting near-shore natural resources due to overfishing, many participants said at the conference.

The development of aquaculture without a proper plan has resulted in low efficiency and adversely affected the environment, Tam said, adding that relevant agencies should cooperate with local authorities to improve efficiency.

The lack of a long-term strategy for aquatic breeding development is another limitation of the industry, said Tran Dinh Vinh, head of the sub-department of Quality Management and Fisheries Resources Protection under the HCM City Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Tran Cao Muu, general secretary of the Vietnam Fisheries Society, agreed with the assessments, saying that the aquatic breeding industry has not progressed as expected due to scattered investment and overlaps in management.

As a result, the country now produces only basa fish fry, and imports other breeds including key species such as sugpo prawn and white-legged shrimp, Vinh said.

Muu said the country must reduce the number of near-shore fishing vessels, take measures to support these fishermen in changing their vocation and focus more on developing aquatic breeding.

Phan Minh Quang, deputy director of the Bac Lieu Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the Government should invest more in improving infrastructure to facilitate aquaculture.

The Government should also adopt a policy to support fishermen who shift from coastal fishing to offshore fishing, he said.

Training human resources is very important to further develop the industry, said Nguyen Van Viet, rector of Fisheries College .

The country's fisheries sector aims to achieve annual export growth of 8-10 percent until 2015, with export revenues estimated to reach 6.5 billion USD by 2015, according to a five-year draft plan.

The plan envisages an average annual growth in fisheries output of 2.66 percent.

In the coming years, besides seeking new export markets and boosting exports to South Africa and Middle East, the sector will further strengthen its presence in the key export markets of the EU, the US and Japan, Tam said./.