Myanmar’s marine resources have long provided sustenance to its coastal people. Over 25,000 small-scale fishing vessels are registered to fish its coastline and nearly half of the country’s population lives in coastal states and regions. Despite fisheries’ importance, Myanmar has limited capacity for sustainable management.
This overexploitation has resulted in drastic declines of stocks; a 2014 marine survey carried out by Norway showed that pelagic stocks are currently only 10% of their 1979 biomass, with similar estimates for inshore fisheries. Inshore fisheries are of particular concern as the decline directly influences local livelihoods and food security. The impacts of fishing practices on protected marine species, such as dugong, turtles, sharks and rays, are also evident.
Fortunately, the tide is on the turn. The newly elected government of Myanmar is in the process of decentralising authority of the inshore fisheries sector to its states and regions, a development that provides the platform for empowering local people and enabling fisheries co-management.
In support of this process, WCS is working in southern Rakhine state, and harnessing the needs of local fishers and fish-workers to explore how to rebuild their resources. By working in partnership with the Rakhine Coastal Association, Department of Fisheries, Pyoe Pin and our academic and technical implementing partners (University of Exeter, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) respectively), we are implementing a participatory process to document catch and effort, and collect social and value chain data (with a reach of over 1,200 fishers). Combined with outreach and training, we are working to improve coastal fisheries governance, secure fishers’ tenure for sustainable fisheries management and develop a spatially explicit sustainable co-management plan.
Owing to the political shift towards federalism, the model has significant potential to scale in Rakhine state, and beyond. Working in partnership with EDF, we are assessing additional sites across Myanmar to ensure our resources offer value for money and impact. Similarly, our work is enabling us to improve knowledge of shark and ray catches and trade. In addition, this is enabling us to support the government of Myanmar with preparations for CITES CoP17, and to build links with our broader efforts (funded by the UK Government’s IWT Challenge Fund) to combat illegal wildlife trade and support the national plan of action for the conservation of sharks.
For more information about Burmese fisheries, see: https://myanmarbiodiversity.org/portfolio-items/marine-fisheries
by Martin Callow, Marine Program Director, Wildlife Conservation Society.