Myanmar Bans Foreign Fishing From Its Waters

With foreign fishing boats taking an estimated 100 times as many catch as locals do, Myanmar has banned all foreign fishing vessels from its waters effective at the first of April, according to an official from the Myanmar Fishery Federation.

“Fish and other marine resources in our waters were declining. So Myamar banned foreign fishing boats from fishing in our waters to prevent that,” said Han Tun, MFF vice chairman. Large Burmese fishing companies would also reduce their fishing operations at sea by 35 percent during April and May—the reproductive season for many marine species—to allow fish stocks to replenish, Han Tun said.

Foreign fishing boats have been allowed to purchase permits to fish in Burmese waters since 1989. In the 2013-14 fiscal year—which came to an end earlier this week—around 40 foreign fishing boats were operating, according to the fishery association. Exclusive economic zones as prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) normally extend 200 nautical miles from national coasts. In Myanmar’s case, the territorial waters surrounding the country cover 542,775 sq km.

Myanmar shares a growing dilemma with the world’s fishing grounds, which are fast being fished out, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which estimates that a full 32 percent of the world’s fishing grounds are overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion and that another 52 percent are fully exploited. Several commercial fish populations have declined to the point where their survival is threatened, and stocks of all species currently fished for food are expected to collapse by 2048.

Maung Maung Soe, chairman of the Yangon branch of the Myanmar Marine Fisheries Association, said the government’s ban on foreign boats was a long time coming, as the local fishing industry has been lobbying for a ban for a decade.

He estimated that the government earned about US$12 million during the last fiscal year from selling fishing permits to foreign boats, but said the true scale of fishing by foreign boats was unknown.

“No one knows how many foreign fishing boats are actually fishing in our waters, how much they have caught and also to what extent marine resources have been destroyed. Even the government doesn’t know,” he said.

Zaw Tin Moe, secretary of Fish Federation in Irrawaddy Division’s Latputtar District, welcomed the ban.

“It’s really a relief for local fishermen,” he said. “Local fishermen are just using traditional methods while foreign fishing boats are huge commercial operations.”

However, Kyi Ngwe, a fisherman also from Irrawaddy Division, said that as well as large foreign fishing boats, large Burmese companies’ fishing operations are a threat to the livelihoods of small-scale fishers.

“The prohibition in our waters will not affect us because even though there will be no foreign fishing vessels, there are big fishing boats from local big companies,” Kyi Ngwe said. “I also don’t think it will be implemented fully.”

Kyi Ngwe said fish stocks in the seas off the coasts of Irrawaddy Division had been declining significantly year by year for the past five years due to increased large-scale, modern fishing operations, which catch huge quantities of fish at a time and cause damage to the seabed.

Reprinted from Irrawaddy, with which Asia Sentinel has a content-sharing agreement