The Cua Lo beach in northern Vietnam, where the Lam River joins the South China Sea, is home to the Song Lam cooperative, which provides invaluable services to local fishermen like supplying petrol and diesel, repairing vessels, running training courses and purchasing and processing the catch. A member of the Nghe An Cooperative Provincial Alliance, it also actively mobilizes people and organizations to set up other fishing cooperatives.

The cooperative was established in 1971, during the war, and initially went through a difficult period, including having to evacuate to another location to protect members and assets. However, says the cooperative’s chairman, Le Thanh Ty, “with tireless efforts and a spirit of determination to find the right direction for development, the cooperative’s operations grew from simple and single activities to multi-purpose operations, gradually accumulating profits for further development and diversifying the activities.”

Another challenge, he explains, has been prejudices about the old cooperative model set up during the era of the state-controlled, centrally planned, subsidized economy. “It’’s taken much time to remove people’s negative images,” he says.

Now, though, the cooperative is flourishing. The number of members grew from 85 to 148 between 2008 and 2011, and the number of workers it employs from 250 to 410. “The cooperative creates jobs on site and trains and sends 700 local fishermen to work abroad, in Korea, Japan, Taiwan and elsewhere, helping to reduce poverty in the communities,” says Le Thanh Ty.

The cooperative also builds, repairs and maintains fishing vessels, repairing 120 to 150 boats a year. It manages the quay and ports where the fishermen can unload their fish, and supplies them with petrol, diesel, water and ice. The cooperative also has four vessels for refuelling fishing boats while they are at sea.

Once the fishermen have returned with their catch, the cooperative helps with the marketing, classifying the different kinds of fish for freezing, fish sauce production or drying. Its seafood processing workshops produces 300,000 to 350,000 litres of fish sauce a year, and sells 400 to 450 tonnes of frozen fish. To help market the frozen fish, the cooperative manufactures frozen carriers to transport the product and carries out auto maintenance, repairing 200 to 250 trucks each year.

The cooperative also operates a restaurant nearby the river, where sailors can relax after returning from long trips. It also campaigns against overfishing and damaging the environment. The benefits for the community as a whole are many. “We are participating actively in poverty reduction by helping the young and poor people to get jobs in order to ensure a stable life,” says Le Thanh Ty. “We want to be a focal point for cooperating with foreign companies to send skilled Vietnamese fishermen and sailors for work. We’’re addressing social vices and keeping social order in the area, and contributing to a social welfare fund to help the old and poor families.”