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10. Socio-economic issues related to stock enhancement in inland waters

It is evident from the preceding sections that all forms of stock enhancement in the Asian region have one purpose: to increase the foodfish supplies, thereby contributing to human nutrition, providing additional employment opportunities, and in the long term, contributing significantly to poverty alleviation. It is also important to note that the great bulk of stock enhancement practices in Asia occur in rural areas, by design rather than choice, because the waterbodies used for this purpose happen to be located in rural areas.

One of the major features of larger waterbodies in Asia is that they are often common-property, open-access resource waters. This could be one reason that stock enhancement in large, lacustrine waters, in most Asian countries, such as lakes and reservoirs, has not yielded the expected results. Floodplain stock enhancements, which are designed to enhance fisheries benefits in a more equitable manner, have been undertaken in Bangladesh and Myanmar. However, it must be recognized that despite the effort to deliver benefits to the fishing community as a whole, social traditions and hierarchies are still prevalent and often an integral part and parcel of the societal structure, thus benefits may not be distributed evenly and may still be captured by an elite group.

As previously discussed, the success of most stock enhancement practices is highly dependent upon community participation. Different practices bring together different communities. Enhancement in beels in Bangladesh succeeds when coherent groups of traditional fishers are formed, whereas culturebased fisheries depend on mobilizing farmer groups into adopting a somewhat alien practice that will generate synergies and community well being for individual and community benefit. In all instances, some intervention is needed, at least at the initial stages, that will finally culminate in sustainable practices managed and owned by the relevant community/stakeholders. The successful stock enhancement practices that are prevalent in the region are perhaps good examples of the purposeful secondary use of a primary resource - water - for the community well being, whose benefits are expected to filter down to other such activities as the practices mature.

Of course there is also a down side to stock enhancement. In the main, this pertains to stock enhancement of large lacustrine waters, which are usually a common-property resource. All evidence indicates, with perhaps the single exception of stocking giant river prawn in Thai reservoirs, that the returns are not cost-effective. Indeed, the most devastating affect on inland fisheries, resulting in a complete collapse of the inland fishery in large lacustrine waters, occurred in Viet Nam when the subsidized stock enhancement programme was withdrawn by the government as a consequence of economic liberalization that commenced in the mid-1980s. Asian countries need to reconsider strategies in respect of stock enhancement of such waters. It may be that the size of fingerlings at enhancement needs to be significantly increased if a economically viable return is to be obtained, or it may be that countries are better advised to use the stocking material for other purposes, such as rationalizing stock enhancement programmes in smaller waterbodies that are more suitable for culture-based fisheries development, and so on. Most importantly, stock enhancement practices should not be used for the sole purpose of political gain, as is often the case.

In contrast to large lacustrine waters, stock enhancement in floodplain and culture-based fisheries has shown to be cost effective, economically viable and sustainable in the long term. It needs to be pointed out however, that the number of socio-economic studies on stock enhancement practices in Asia is few. There is an urgent need for such studies to ensure improvement and sustainability of these practices, and to effect a greater mobilization of the communities. A sizeable array of studies in individual countries will also enable a better comparison of performances among countries and a realization of technologies and extension work that should be put in place in order to achieve better results.

It has also been shown in the previous sections that the success of stock enhancement practices depends largely on the availability of suitable institutional structures, aptly demonstrated for Bangladesh (Toufique 1999), Sri Lanka (Pushpalatha 2001) and Thailand (Lorenzen et al. 1998). In Viet Nam, where culture-based fisheries are in a relatively early stage of development, the average tenure of a lease ranges from three to six years, but varies both between and within provinces. More often than not, farmer lessees find the lease period too short, and the uncertainty has, on occasion, inhibited development. However, with the current commitment of the Government of Viet Nam to develop inland fisheries, it is expected that more uniform lease regulations will be brought forward. Such problems are not unique to Viet Nam. For example, in Sri Lanka the non-perennial, small waterbodies used for culture-based fisheries development are under the purview of the Department of Agrarian Services, which delegates its authority for water management purposes to Farmer Committees that essentially consist of downstream users. However, under the Agrarian Services Act fisheries development/activities are prohibited in such waters, suggesting that there is an urgent need to change the statute to encourage downstream farmers to take up fishery activities. The most important change that is needed in all Asian countries is a change in public perception - that fishery activity in a waterbody does not negatively affect downstream activity and/or use of the waterbody for daily household needs.

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