Written by: Deputy Director for Research and Development division, Head of research and development division and local cruise leader onboard R/V Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, Mya Than Tun
The small fishing boats sell their fish to buyers at land, who will transport the fish to Thailand. The other fishing vessels transfer their catch to bigger vessels that sail to foreign harbours to offload the catch. It is the best quality fish that is exported, while the low quality fish is used for fish paste or fishmeal (mostly as feed for the chicken industry).
The total length of the coastline from the mouth of Naff River to Kawthoung is approximately 2, 832km. The total swamp area along the coastline, serving as spawning, nursery and feeding grounds for aquatic and near shore brackish water fauna is about 0.5 million hectares. The fisheries sector of Myanmar is one of the major components of Myanmar’s economy. The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is demarcated from baseline to 200 nautical miles. The territorial sea of Myanmar extends 12 nautical miles from baseline towards the sea and the total area of Myanmar Fisheries Waters, including the (EEZ) is 486,000km2. The coastline can be divided into three coastal regions, the Rakhine coastal region, the Ayeyarwady and Gulf of Mottama region (the Delta Zone) and Thanintharyi coastal region. Marine capture fisheries can be categorized into two main types, namely coastal or inshore fisheries and offshore fisheries.
(a) Inshore fishery: Fishing vessels range from the traditional type to commercial vessels of < 30 feet or using engines < 12 HP and operating in coastal zone.
(b) Offshore fishery: Offshore fishery means the capture fishery that is being operated by active fishing gears (e.g. trawl nets, purse seine nets etc.) using fishing vessels > 30 feet in overall length and with engine power > 12 HP. The offshore fishery fishing grounds are beyond the outer area of the coastal zone.
Fisheries survey and biomass
Marine Fisheries Resources Survey and Exploratory Fishing Project (BUR 77/003) were carried out with the assistance of FAO during 1980-1983. Project activities consisted of acoustic and experimental fishing surveys using the R/V DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN in 1979/80 and after that, trawling survey using M.F.V 525 and others vessels from Myanmar's Fisheries Corporation.
The marine fisheries resources surveys were undertaken during the years 1980 to 1983, and estimated that a biomass about 1.0 million tonnes of pelagic fish and 0.8 million tonnes of demersal fish existed in Myanmar waters. Out of this total biomass, 0.5 million tonnes of pelagic fish and 0.55 million tonnes of demersal fish (totalling 1.05 million tonnes of marine fish) were estimated as the Maximum Sustainable Yield, (MSY).
Myanmar fishing boat
Due to the size, equipment on board and engine capacities, Myanmar fishing boats are limited to fish close to land, not going much deeper that up to the 50 meter-depth line zone. There are seven types of fishing gears; bottom trawl, purse-seine, drift net, long line, stick-held falling net and trap. Among these, the bottom trawlers are the biggest in number and therefore also have the most powerful fisherman organization.
The second most abundant gear type is the purse-seine, followed by drift net, stick-held falling net (using anchored at sea bamboo raft with no engine power). Most of these gears are located close to Yangon, in Ayeyarwady and Mon state waters. Long line and traps are used near islands or near rocky shore water. The official statistics says that total numbers of fishing boats in Myanmar are 2572 (1118 bottom trawlers, 278 purse-seining boat, 708 drift net, 35 long lines, 349 stick-held falling net bamboo rafts and 84 trap boats). However, there might be a lot more boats than the official statistics says. By passing through the bamboo raft on this survey, we believe that we saw more than thousand rafts.
Myanmar marine fisheries production
According to the Myanmar Fisheries Statistical Year Book, the catches have increased since 2003. From 1,232,340 metric tons in 2003, they grew steadily to 2,483,870 metric tons in 2012. Department of Fisheries is still making reference to the old data and information from the survey with RV Dr. Fridtjof Nansen in 1979- and 1980 and the Marine Fisheries Resources Survey and Exploratory Fishing Project 1980 – 1983 (BUR 77/003). The fishermen organizations are no longer willing to adjust their fishing according to the request from the government because they claim that decisions are made without any scientific evidence. So, in order to establish effective fishery management regulations, it is clear that the status of the stocks needs to be updated.
Foreign fishing fleet
To fully utilize the Myanmar off shore water between EEZ and 200 m depth line and also the condition and capacity of local fishing boats, the Department of Fisheries agreed to give fishing right licence to foreign fishing vessels into Myanmar water. It will reduce the IUU fishing in Myanmar coastal water and promote the export value. At present the fisheries sector is the fourth most valuable export earning sector for Myanmar.
In 2003, 72 foreign fishing vessels were fishing in Myanmar water. This number increased steadily to 391 in 2010. In 2011 it decreased to 245 and further to 139 in 2012. Foreign fishing vessels, which have modern equipment and more powerful engines, operate in open waters and can easily transport their catch to international ports within a short time. These catches are not reported and included in the Myanmar fisheries statistics and the sizes of the catches are unknown. This fishing effort comes in addition to the one recorded by Myanmar fishing vessels and it is obvious that the fishing pressure is far higher that what was recommended in the 1980’ies.
In 2013 Myanmar announced that, by the end of March 2014, no more fishing licence for foreign fleet will be granted. Also here, Myanmar needs documentation for why they would like to stop the foreign fishing fleet. A stock status update of the fishing biomass is essential for further international agreements to be made.
RV Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, EAF-Nansen Project and BOBLME
R/V Dr. Fridtjof Nansen is the only marine research vessel that has been in these waters to do biomass estimates of the main fishing resources. Myanmar is one of the member countries of the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem Project (BOBLME), the project, Norad and FAO, brings a rare chance for Myanmar to conduct this survey and promote the ecosystem approach to fisheries in Myanmar waters. The timing is good also, with regard to the many changes in regulations that are needed in Myanmar waters in the near future.