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3. Inland fisheries of selected countries in the region

There are few Asian inland fisheries that can be considered to be "industrial" type fisheries. Such inland fisheries utilize large boats or large gears and land large quantities of fish with a degree of regularity. Good examples of "industrial" inland fisheries of Asia are the Cambodian "dai" fishery in the lower Mekong Basin and the "fishing lots" in the Great Lake. The important features of these fisheries, which are mostly very seasonal, including aspects of marketing and processing, have been dealt with previously (Sverdrup-Jensen 2002). In the Cambodian dai fishery, most of the catch is processed into various fish pastes and sauces, a portion is dried, and the rest is consumed locally as fresh fish, with a small proportion (of high-valued species) exported to neighbouring countries. On the other hand, most inland fisheries are truly artisanal; fishers operate in small crafts, on average ranging in length from about 5 to 8 m (Plate 6), which may be motorized (mostly with outboard engines) or unmotorized. Consequently, the catch per craft is relatively small, and more often than not, it is disposed of on the same day. However, the modus operandi of the respective fisheries differ markedly, both between countries and between waterbodies within a country. In general, the marketing aspects of inland fisheries have not received the attention that they deserve, except with respect to some countries (Murray et al. 2001), and are an area that warrants urgent attention.

Plate 6. Examples of the different types of craft used in inland fisheries in Asia. (A) Indonesia, (B) Myanmar, (C) Sri Lanka, (D) Cambodia, (E) Thailand

It is relevant to consider the inland fisheries of selected countries in the region prior to evaluating the strategies that are adopted to sustain them and before considering strategies to enhance production. The inland fishery production in most countries, as in the case of Asia as a whole (Figure 3), has been steadily increasing (Figure 9). In Figure 9, inland capture fishery production is compared with that from aquaculture. These two fishery sectors are sometimes in competition for primary resources such as water but more often, it is the loss of inland fishery resources as a result of water management or habitat degradation that leads to increasing interest in aquaculture. Thus, declining wild fish availability, increasing demand and rising fish prices mean that aquaculture often becomes more economically viable.

In almost all the countries considered presently, except perhaps in Indonesia (Figure 6), the inland capture fishery has increased over the years, the most significant increase being in Cambodia[1]. It is also evident that aquaculture is becoming increasingly important in most countries, although this sector is not always located in the same geographical area as inland capture fisheries and it may not be producing the same type of product (i.e. relatively low-value fish for domestic consumption). Even so, inland fisheries contribute more than 40 percent to the total inland fish production in six of these ten countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand. These trends are also reflected in per caput captured and cultured fish production (Figure 7). The current inland fish production per caput, and hence availability, varies widely among countries, ranging from about 2.2 for Sri Lanka to 28.2 kg/caput/yr for Cambodia (FAO 2003), with only Bangladesh, Cambodia, China and Lao PDR exceeding 10 kg/caput/yr[2].

It is also generally recognized that because of its artisanal nature, the inland capture fishery production of most countries is usually under-estimated (FAO 2003; Coates 2002). Other factors that may contribute to this under-estimation are the reluctance of some countries to include the production of certain species (e.g. tilapia production in India), and the inclusion of production from culture-based fisheries under aquaculture (e.g. PR China). Also, non-finfish resources that are exploited in inland waters are often incompletely recorded. One good example in this regard is the fishery for the small shrimp Macrobrachium nipponensis in most lacustrine waterbodies in Viet Nam. This resource is exploited using small traps and/or liftnets and is marketed, through middle-persons, to processing centres (Plate 7). Many hundreds of livelihoods are dependent upon this fishery in each waterbody, but very little is known of the total return and/or the biology of the species.

3.1 Inland fishing gear

This subject warrants a special study in itself and because its relevance to stock enhancement is not direct, the types of fishing gear used in inland fisheries in Asia will not be reviewed in detail. An excellent text on the fishing gears of the Cambodian Mekong River has been produced by Deap et al. (2003) and similarly for Lao PDR by Claridge et al. (1997). There is a great diversity of fishing gear used in inland capture fisheries, ranging from simple traps, to large (many kilometers long) fences with associated large, stationary fishing traps, as in the Great Lake, Cambodia, to the large bagnets or stationary trawls in the Mekong River dai fishery in Cambodia (Sverdrup-Jensen 2002), to the more traditional and common gears such as gillnets, castnets etc. Purse seines and trawls are also used in some fisheries, e.g. in Ubolratana Reservoir, Thailand and Tonle Sap, Cambodia, but this is more the exception than the rule. In China, a technique referred to as the integrated method, which basically consists of the operation of two very large seinenets acting in the form of a trammelnet, is used to harvest stockenhanced fisheries (details are given in Li and Xu 1995). Typical gear types used in stocked enhanced fisheries are gillnets and/or trammelnets, seinenets, castnets and liftnets. In inland fisheries, dragging gear such as trawls is rarely used, principally due to the uneven nature and obstacles on the bottom.








Sri Lanka


Viet Nam

Figure 6. Changes in yearly inland capture fishery and aquaculture production in selected Asian countries, and the percent contribution of the capture fishery to total inland fish production (based on FAO data)








Sri Lanka


Viet Nam

Figure 7. Production per capita of the inland capture, culture and total fishery in selected Asian countries in selected years

3.2 Catch composition

Only a limited number of fish species and/or species groups are recorded as contributing significantly to the inland fish production of most countries. To some extent, this could reflect the fact that inland catches, in general, tend to be under-estimated, and that most inland fisheries occur in isolated waterbodies where it is often difficult to obtain reliable statistics. The inadequacy of the reporting of freshwater fisheries catches is best exemplified by the data given in Table 4. In the inland catches of the ten countries used in this study, only nine finfish and two crocodiles were recorded to the species level. Another five finfish, two crustaceans and one mollusc were recorded as species groups. The category "freshwater species nei" (an FAO term meaning "not elsewhere identified"), used to denote nonspecific groups, was common to all countries and often topped the species list of most countries. Indeed, this category accounted for less than 40 percent of the total inland fishery only in three countries (Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand) and in five countries, it accounted for over 80 percent of the total. The implications of this relatively inadequate species or species-group collation of statistics on stock enhancement, which necessarily depends on one or two species, will be appraised further in the forthcoming sections.

Plate 7. (A) Small traps commonly used in the shrimp fisheries in vietnamese reservoirs. (B) A woman fisher with her day’s catch (from ThacBa reservoir, Yen Bai Province, Northern Viet Nam; about 11 kg; farmgate price- 5 500 VND per kg; 1 US$ = 14 000 VND). (C) Activities at a shrimp processing site, Yen Bai. Viet Nam

Table 4. The top six species and/or species groups contributing (tonnes) to the inland fishery of each of ten selected countries, based on the landings reported for 2001. The number of species and or species groups recorded for each country, if exceeding those cited in the Table is given in parentheses (extracted from FISHSTAT, the FAO Fishery Statistics Web site

Species/species group



PR China






Sri Lanka

Viet Nam

FW crustaceans1


586 985

1 000


17 625

FW molluscs1

529 645

FW fish1

590 000

359 600

1 033 302

591 550

107 180

25 500

235 376

67 710

2 640

169 000

Asian barbs1

42 800

Common carp

7 310


148 622

4 500

FW siluroids1

76 809

Hilsha shad

80 000

Java barb

17 080

Kelee shad

54 554

Kissing gourami

18 320

Mozambique tilapia

19 550

Nile tilapia

41 740


58 856

31 820

Striped snakehead

21 400

Snakeskin gouramy

21 260

Torpedo-shaped catfish1

20 470


27 230

Estuarine crocodile

25 000

Siamese crocodile


No. species/ groups recorded




1 Refers to species groups and denoted as nei in FAO statistics.

[1] This huge increase in Cambodian production is the result of a change in estimation of the production of the fishery. Earlier figures did not account for a significant production from artisanal fishing, and estimates of this have now been incorporated into national statistical reporting, resulting in an apparent upsurge in production. In fact, production probably has not increased - merely the statistics have been adjusted to reflect the actual total that is currently being taken from the fishery.
[2] These FAO figures are based on ‘apparent consumption’ and are typically under-estimated in those countries with large inland fishery resources. Research in several Asian countries has shown that these figures can be substantially higher.

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