Fishery body approves common use fishing grounds plan

Myanmar Fisheries Federation recently backed a plan to ensure sufficient fishing grounds are left open to villagers in Rakhine State and Tanintharyi and Ayeyarwady regions.

The plan to ensure access to fishing grounds was formed during a three-day workshop from October 12-14 that was organised by MFF, Network Activities Group and the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers. However, the results of the workshop were not made available until the following week.

The workshop was attended by representatives of the regional governments of Rakhine State, Tanintharyi and Ayeyarwady regions, MFF officials and domestic and international NGOs, said U Han Tun, MFF’s vice executive chairman.

“According to current fisheries laws, regional governments are allowed to rent and tender fish ponds and rivers to businesspeople,” he said. “But it was decided at the workshop that this system causes many difficulties for grassroots level fishermen, so we decided that common fishing grounds must be established.”

He added that the existing system meant too little space was available to the public.

“We found out that fishermen have little chance to catch enough fish in the open areas, so we plan to remove the tender system used in those three regions. MFF has approved that proposal,” he added.

U Tin Soe, a representative of Tanintharyi Region’s government, said fishermen live difficult lives and are often trapped in debt cycles.

“They borrow money from rich businesspeople at high interest rates but to pay back their loans they have to sell their catches directly to the lender at lower-than-normal rates,” he said.

“They are caught in a debt cycle. We need to support them by improving their skills and providing low-interest loans to help them to lift their living standards.”

A representative for Ayeyarwady Region fishermen say they are struggling to survive as available fishing grounds are shrinking. U Kyi Win, a representative for small-scale farmers in the region, said during a workshop at the Myanmar Fisheries Federation in Yangon on October 21 that fishermen are also suffering from higher transport fees.

“Buyers come to fishing villages but they always pay lower-than-market prices because they charge transport fees of about 10 percent,” U Kyi Win said.

“If the normal price is K100 for 10 ticals [1 tical is 16.25 grams] they offer K90 because they charge K10 for transport,” he said, adding that buyers regularly cheat villagers by using rigged scales too.

He said large swathes of rivers and streams had been tendered by the regional government to businesspeople for use as fish breeding ponds, which provides a crucial income stream for the government but leaves little space for villagers.

U Kyi Win said fishermen were only able to access open grounds in far-flung areas, which adds significantly to transport costs.

He added that big fishing vessels also deliberately destroyed the nets and equipment used by small scale fishermen in coastal waters.

The Rakhine State government representative agreed that common fishing grounds were too small and often too far away from villages. He agreed that it was necessary to make common fishing grounds more available.

U Han Tun said MFF would begin conducting research trips to help regional governments to identify common fishing grounds.

The issue of access to fishing ground became hot news following the killing of two villagers by police in Ayeyarwady Region’s Kyonpyaw township on September 29. That incident was discussed in Ayeyarwady Region’s parliament on October 8.

At the opening of the fourth session of the Ayeyarwady Region Hluttaw on October 8, speaker U San Sint asked the regional government to explain the issue to the parliament on October 10. However, the responsible minister failed to address the parliament.

“We won’t give up on this issue. We will continue to push the government until we get a clear decision,” U San Sint said recently.

“Similar cases [of violence] can happen again at any time, that’s why the region government should take preventive measures,” he said.

“This case concerns the peace and tranquility of the whole of Ayeyarwady Region. But information about the violence in some areas of Ayeyarwady Region has not been provided to the hluttaw or regional government,” he said.

“The problems lead to conflict and so we need to talk about this issue in the hluttaw. In Bogale township, for example, there were cases where villagers surrounded and attacked the police station over this.”