Invited guests arrived early onboard the ship and everybody got the possibility to talk to each other and get the latest news from the sea. Ms. Bui Thi Lan, FAO’s country representative held a welcome address, followed by an introduction to the 2013 Myanmar Ecosystem survey, from the cruise leader on the second part of the cruise, Ms Kathrine Michalsen. Then there was an address from the First secretary from the Norwegian embassy to Myanmar MS. Marte Briseid, the Union Deputy Minister of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development, Mr Khin Maung Aye, Director General of the Department of Fisheries, Mr. Khin Maung Maw, and from the local cruise leader Mr. Mya Than Tun.
Four elements for sustainable fisheries
All the speakers were talking about sustainable fisheries and how important it is to get updated information about the status of the sea. This topic is not only important for Myanmar, but also for the rest of the world. Sustainable development has been defined as "the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (Brundtland 1987, World Commission on Environment and Development) but for sustainable fishery this simply involves-How to gain more food out from the sea in the long run.
Today, Norway is among the world leading countries in fisheries and fisheries management, but we have learned it the hard way, from serious mistakes with overfishing and stock depletion in the 1960-70's. Fisheries research, management, control and sanctions are the four elements that were used to build up a sustainable fishery in Norway (Gullestad et al. 2012). Fisheries research will help out to say something about how much fish is available. Fishery management involves development of management measures such as quotas, mesh sizes, closure of areas, who should catch the fish, how much and at which size. The third element is Control- It is important to know how much fish actually is caught in order to estimate the degree of illegal fishing and the amount of overfishing. The last element towards a sustainable fishery is Sanctions. The necessary legal instruments and enforcement should be available so that those that do not follow the law will be sanctioned or prosecuted (i.e. give penalties or take arrest in fishing vessels or gears). These 4 elements require competence building within each element, it will require stakeholder participation and international cooperation, but it is also important to build the necessary legal instruments (law and regulations).
Fishing from bamboo rafts
During the time Dr. Fridtjof Nansen has been along the coast of Myanmar, we have seen a lot of fishing vessels. Some of these vessels are very basic, only small bamboo rafts with three persons that stay onboard for 3 months. They do not have any kind of electricity or ice onboard so they dry or salt all the fish that they get. The rafts stay close together and within a 12 nautical mile radius we could see more than 300 rafts.
They were clustered together and along our transect we encountered many thousand rafts. Other fishing vessels are bigger and are equipped with engines. Some of them are using gillnets, others are utilizing the strong current in the area and have a trawl that is anchored on the bottom and that works as a combination of a trawl and a gillnet. None of these vessels have ice onboard and the fish is mainly salted. There are also some bigger foreign trawlers around which have ice, but no freezers onboard. It is said that the people in Myanmar do prefer freshwater fish and that the fish caught outside the coast of Myanmar is mostly exported to China, Japan, Thailand and India.
The catch rates along the coast of Myanmar have been reduced greatly the last decades even though the fishing equipment has been improved and the area exploited increased. As a demonstration, one fisherman (fisher?) told us that his grandfather could come home with three baskets of fish; his father could come home with one basket, while he himself only managed to come home with only a small plastic bag after a long day at sea. The acoustic recordings from the same area where we passed more than thousand fishing vessels, showed close to zero values for fish.
Expect economic growth
It is expected that the economic growth in Myanmar will increase tremendously in the coming years. That may involve increased transportation activity at sea, increased activity related to energy development (oil and gas), increased use of fertilizers on land and increased pollution in general (plastic, chemicals). In addition it is known that there is a climate change going on and that increased sea water temperature might have a direct and indirect influence on marine life. All these elements will mainly have negative effects on the production (or productivity?) in the sea. It is therefore more important than before to establish good monitoring lines and a sound management of the sea.
This also demands a special focus on international cooperation, especially between regional countries, sharing the same stocks, markets and experiencing the same environmental changes. It is also important to get agreement about control of fishing vessels and landing of catches from the different countries. Next year Myanmar will be hosting the 24th ASEAN Summit for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This is a geo-political and economic organization of ten countries located in Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam). The Association aims to include accelerating economic growth, social progress, cultural development among its members and might be the right place to address the issues mentioned above, through the ASEAN Working Groups on Fisheries, and on Coastal and Marine Environment.