RANGOON — Burma has banned foreign fishing vessels from its waters as of the beginning of April amid concerns about overfishing, an official from the Myanmar Fishery Federation (MFF) said.
“Fish and other marine resources in our waters were declining. So [Burma] banned foreign fishing boats from fishing in our waters to prevent that,” said Han Tun, MFF vice chairman told The Irrawaddy.
He said that 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.
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 MFF.
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, estimating that foreign boats catch as much as 100 times as much fish as local fishers, who usually operate on a much smaller scale.
“Local fishermen are just using traditional methods while foreign fishing boats are huge commercial operations,” he said.
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.”
He said that 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.