Rakhine fish­er­folk left out of ex­port boom

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Front Page - EI EI TOE LWIN news­room@mm­times.com OC­TO­BER 26, 2018

De­spite record-break­ing ex­ports in the fish­ing in­dus­try dur­ing the past two years, or­di­nary fish­er­folk in Rakhine State say they have not ben­e­fit­ted.

MORE than 560,000 tonnes of fish were ex­ported last year, the high­est vol­ume in the past 20 years, worth over US$700 mil­lion (K1.1 tril­lion), ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment.

But these fig­ures do not mat­ter to fish­er­men such as Ko Than Zaw Ht­way, who said that de­spite the area’s rich marine re­sources, they live in ab­ject poverty.

“We are poor. Rakhine’s coast is long and rich in nat­u­ral re­sources, but Rakhine is among the poor­est re­gions in the coun­try,” he said.

An­other fish­er­man, Ko Than Zaw Oo, blamed in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

“The pop­u­la­tion is in­creas­ing but the sea is not. The num­ber of fish­er­men is in­creas­ing too, so we are suf­fer­ing,” he said.

Al­though he has been a fish­er­man for more than 20 years, he is still un­able to buy his own boat.

He works on some­one else’s boat catch­ing fish and shrimp at in­shore sites along with 40 col­leagues. They share the in­come from their catch equally with the ves­sel owner.

“We spend K500,000 (US$314) to K600,000 a month to op­er­ate our boat. Fuel costs K240,000 per bar­rel. We have to limit our use to one bar­rel per month. For­get about catch­ing fish, fuel is used as soon as you leave for sea.

“I make about K150,000 to K200,000 a month. It is just enough to buy food for my fam­ily,” said Ko Than Zaw Oo, who lives in Pone Nyet vil­lage in Kyein­tali sub-town­ship, Gwa town­ship.

U Khin Aye, 63, also of Kyein­tali, has been a fish­er­man since he was 13. Even though he owns fish­ing boats, his com­plaints are the same.

“There has been lit­tle im­prove­ment in my liv­ing con­di­tions, but I have to keep fish­ing, since I can’t do any other work. The sit­u­a­tion is worse now. We aren’t catch­ing as much as be­fore be­cause of for­eign fish­ing ves­sels. It would be bet­ter if for­eign ves­sels were con­trolled,” he said.

Kyein­tali has seen very lit­tle eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. There are nine other vil­lages along a 38.6-kilo­me­tre stretch of coast in the area where the peo­ple mainly make a liv­ing by fish­ing.

The Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Live­stock and Ir­ri­ga­tion clas­si­fies ves­sels with 25 horse­power en­gines and lengths of less than 7 me­tres as in­shore fish­ing boats. They are au­tho­rised to fish up 10 nau­ti­cal miles (18.5km) from the coast. Any­thing larger is clas­si­fied as an off­shore fish­ing ves­sel.

Fish­ing ves­sels are au­tho­rised to work in Rakhine wa­ters most of the year, ex­cept for the mon­soon months of June, July and Au­gust.

There are 4700 in­shore fish­ing boats and 370 off­shore fish­ing boats li­censed by the Rakhine Fish­ery Depart­ment. There are also an es­ti­mated 7000 small fish­ing boats with no en­gines. Only 43 off­shore ves­sels are owned by res­i­dents of the state, said depart­ment Deputy Head U Naing Win Thein.

U Zaw Min Tun, who owns sev­eral fish­ing boats, said in­cur­sions by for­eign fish­ing ves­sels, ris­ing com­mod­ity prices, and de­ple­tion and degra­da­tion of marine re­sources are the main prob­lems fac­ing Rakhine’s fish­er­folk.

He says catches have de­clined about 70 per­cent from 15 years ago, but the prices of fish have re­mained rel­a­tively un­changed. He also said the fish they catch are get­ting smaller, so they don’t fetch good prices.

“In the past, we could catch about 100 viss (one viss, a tra­di­tional mea­sure­ment, is equal to 1.6 kilo­gram), but now we can catch only 10 or 20 viss. Prices are be­tween K6000 and K10,000 a viss,” said U Zaw Min Tun.

The dras­tic drop in in­come has taken a toll on fish­ing fam­i­lies.

Near a beach in Ky­wel Chaing vil­lage of Kyein­tali, women dry small fish over blue fish­ing nets. They re­ceive K12,000 per bas­ket of the fish, called ngar kone nyo. They have to share the in­come among them­selves.

“In­come is not reg­u­lar. We get more if we dry more fish. I make from K3000 to K10,000 a day,” said Ma Moe Moe Aye, adding that she has to work be­cause her hus­band’s in­come is not enough to sup­port their two chil­dren.

Her el­dest son also works as a fish­er­man to help the fam­ily sup­ple­ment its mea­gre in­come, as they have to pay for the treat­ment of her other son for a speech prob­lem.

“We have a dis­abled child, so we have to work. Com­mod­ity prices are ris­ing but we have lit­tle in­come. I am lucky I have work,” she said.

To re­vive the fish­ing in­dus­try in Kyein­tali, a three-year project was launched in 2016 to es­tab­lish an in­shore fish­eries co-man­age­ment area with fund­ing from Bri­tain’s Dar­win Ini­tia­tive and the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety-myan­mar (WCS).

On Au­gust 8, the Fish­ery Depart­ment des­ig­nated a 725sq-km co-man­age­ment area.

Un­der the project, a com­mit­tee of 10 lo­cal fish­er­men and the depart­ment will des­ig­nate fish preser­va­tion zones, sea­sonal non-fish­ing zones, fishinge­quip­ment re­stric­tion zones, and sea tur­tle con­ser­va­tion banks.

“Ev­ery­one must co­op­er­ate to help the in­dus­try. The project is for the good of the peo­ple in 10 vil­lages and we will work closely with them,” U Kyaw Thinn Latt, WCS se­nior strategy marine man­ager, said.

U Myint Zin Htoo, deputy direc­tor gen­eral of the depart­ment, said it will set up check­points to in­spect nets used on fish­ing boats to en­sure that catches do not ex­ceed lim­its.

“Fish­ing nets will be scru­ti­nised be­fore the boats set out to sea,” he said. “If they don’t fol­low reg­u­la­tions, we will ar­rest them and in­form the Fish­eries Depart­ment. The depart­ment takes care of the seized items and those ar­rested must go to court.”

But U Myint Zin Htoo ad­mit­ted the depart­ment has lim­ited re­sources to mon­i­tor such a big area, so he ap­pealed for help from lo­cal res­i­dents.

“There are only five fish­eries of­fi­cers in Kyein­tali. We need the par­tic­i­pa­tion of res­i­dents. We need sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment to in­crease the num­ber of fish,” he said. “If they catch fish with­out re­straint, there may be a day when none are left.”

Ac­cord­ing to the fish­eries law, boats caught break­ing the law will be sus­pended from fish­ing for three months and fined K3 mil­lion the first time. Sec­ond-time of­fend­ers face six­month sus­pen­sions and K6 mil­lion fines, and third-time of­fend­ers could lose their li­cences.

Gen­eral U Myint Zin Htu, deputy direc­tor gen­eral of the depart­ment, said each year the gov­ern­ment seizes 60 to 70 boats for break­ing the law. He added that from Jan­uary to Oc­to­ber this year, around 50 fish­ing boats were caught for first-time vi­o­la­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey of the marine ecosys­tem in the area by the depart­ment and Norwegian ex­perts, the shal­low wa­ter fish pop­u­la­tion de­clined by 90pc be­tween 1980 and 2013, while deep wa­ter fish de­clined by 75pc.

While the coun­try’s fish ex­ports to China, Thai­land, Singapore, Malaysia and Euro­pean coun­tries have recorded im­pres­sive growth, or­di­nary fish­er­men like U Zaw Min Tun ap­pear to have been left out of the wind­fall.

“I don’t know how much money the coun­try makes from fish­ing, but more help to make our lives bet­ter would be good. We would be sat­is­fied if the au­thor­i­ties stopped for­eign ves­sels from us­ing our tra­di­tional fish­ing grounds,” he said.

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