Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Subregional review: Eastern Indian Ocean

Peter Flewwelling and Gilles Hosch
FAO Consultants, Fishery Policy and Planning Division, Fisheries Department
December 2003


In the mid-1990s, FAO Members adopted many global fisheries mandates that called upon them to bring fisheries under management. The new instruments focused heavily on the management of high seas and shared fisheries resources, and included the:

Ten years later, FAO is assessing the success of countries in implementing these instruments. The goal of this article on the State of World Marine Capture Fisheries Management is to provide an easy-to-read, informative reference for the countries of Asia that border the Eastern Indian Ocean sector. These countries, from west to east, include: eastern India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, western Thailand (Andaman Sea), western Malaysia and southern and western Indonesia.

The validity of the data for this review should be used with caution because they were produced from a variety of sources, may not have been cross-checked, and may be out of date. Where possible, the dated source of the data is supplied.[16] Furthermore, the data formats were not standard across the countries, nor was the capacity for collection or validation; thus demonstrating an impediment to responsible and sustainable fisheries management in each country and collectively for the region, and subregion - reliability and validity of fisheries management data.

The eastern portion of the Indian Ocean has a large continental shelf east and south of India that stretches almost to Sri Lanka where it drops off rapidly to the high seas. Along the northern coast it merges with the outflow of the two great rivers, the Jamuna (Brahmaputra) and Padma (Ganges), that drain much of the northeastern Indian subcontinent and form the delta off Bangladesh. The continental shelf narrows along the coasts of Myanmar, Thailand and into the Malacca Straits that separate western Malaysia and the western and southern area of Indonesia.

The economic status of these countries varies considerably from some of the poorest countries in the world, such as Bangladesh and Myanmar, to more developed countries, such as Malaysia. This variation in economic status has a significant impact on the capacity of the countries for fisheries management and often determines the priorities of management objectives: in poorer countries, fisheries tend to contribute greatly to food security, employment and foreign exchange earnings; therefore, priorities tend towards the development of the sector rather than towards goals of sustainability and responsible fishing. However, independent of macroeconomic status, fisheries are the mainstay of the rural coastal communities in all countries in this area.

These countries of South and Southeast Asia are of major importance to the world’s fisheries. In 2002, they comprised 24 percent of the world’s population crowded into 1.36 percent of the land mass. From their combined exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of 7 million km2 (6.5 percent of the world total), 45 percent of the world’s fishers harvested approximately 19 million tonnes of fish per year (20 percent of the total world fish production). The majority of multispecies fish catches were taken within 12 nautical miles (nm) of the coast. This spatial distribution varied between countries, from a high of 94-98 percent to a low of 60 percent of catches, thus placing tremendous pressures on coastal stocks and resulting in the general perception of overfishing in these areas. Most of the catches came from small motorized and non-motorized fishing craft and small vessels using seines, trawls, and nets (gill, trammel, push and bag nets) for the higher-priced shrimp and demersal fishes.

Some countries, such as Thailand and more recently Sri Lanka, relied on an increasing portion of their fisheries production to come from outside their EEZs, whereas most of the other countries assessed focused on coastal fisheries. The high migration of the large pelagics, the proliferation and huge appetites of the distant water fishing nation (DWFN) fleets and the low fisheries enforcement capability has resulted in this area being a prime target for IUU fishing by offshore fleets. Challenges for fisheries in the area include IUU fishing, heavy exploitation pressures on the coastal resources and the need for commitment and capacity to implement sustainable and responsible fisheries management systems. Furthermore, the very diverse cultural and economic status of the countries and the conflicting fisheries interests of the DWFN fleet in the area complicate the implementation of effective regional fisheries management initiatives. These are some of the challenges discussed in this article.

Table 1 provides a broad overview of the 2002 fisheries situation in the countries assessed: Bangladesh, eastern India, southern and western Indonesia, western Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and western Thailand.

General information related to Asian countries bordering the Eastern Indian Ocean sector



Land area




Fish production4



000s km²


000s km²


000s million

US$ millions


135 700




1 100

1 9008

2 494


1 030 000

3 300

8 041

2 010

6 7006

6 158

8 485


206 000

1 900

81 000

3 100

4 10010

4 49511

4 200


21 830


4 810



1 462

1 546


48 900


2 832



1 029

1 8009

Sri Lanka

19 000


1 770






63 392


2 624



3 470

2 400


1 524 822

6 929

101 557

7 098

13 429

19 191

21 266

% world








6 324 547

510 072

108 929

34 53612

78 00013

81 000

1 Source: World Population Clock, year 2002 or to mid-2003 where possible, available at

2 Includes entire coastlines (i.e. including other ocean bodies) but it provides comparative figures for South Asia and Southeast Asia vis-à-vis the world.

3 For 2000; includes all fishers, marine and inland capture fishers and fish farmers.

4 Includes national production data - capture and farmed fish (FAO, 2002).

5 All fisheries production value - capture and farmed.

6 2.4 million full time (DANIDA, 2003).

7 2002 figures from major fisheries recorded.

8 2002 figures and estimated that 22 percent or 415 420 million tonnes are from marine capture fisheries.

9 Estimate only.

10 1.2 million commercial fishers (FAO, 2002).

11 Estimated that 3.6 million tonnes were from capture fisheries.

12 Approximately 7 470 000 of the total are aquaculture farmers (FAO, 2002).

13 Due to inconsistencies in China figures, China is excluded from this total (minus approximately 20-40 million tonnes).


In 2003, fisheries policies in the countries assessed were defined by national fisheries management authorities such as ministries, in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, or ministry departments, in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Thailand. Policies were also influenced by the authority structure of government (i.e. centralized or devolved), the economic status of the country, the contribution of the sector to employment and government income, and the general political priorities. The wide variance of these factors in the countries assessed resulted in a similar variance in policies. However, one of the most common policies in developing countries was for increased production to address food security and unemployment. A second very common fisheries policy used in almost all countries was the continuation of the “open access” strategy for both the coastal as well as the offshore fisheries. The exception to this was Malaysia, which maintained a “limited access” and strict identification policy for its fisheries, fishers, vessels and gear. The open access policy was often defended on the grounds of employment creation and poverty alleviation, that is, using fisheries as the “employer of last resort”, without considering the consequences of such actions (including the lack of identification of alternative sectors that could assume this role if the fisheries resources were to become depleted).

Most countries had national agriculture and national fisheries plans that set their general fisheries policies. However, policies are statements of intent not of action, particularly if there is neither the commitment nor the means for implementation. Furthermore, political priorities of food security, poverty alleviation and unemployment often have higher profiles than conservation and responsible management, especially if policies were driven by short-term objectives. These varying factors manifested themselves through a range of policies in the countries assessed.

In coastal areas, usually defined as the territorial seas, the general fisheries policies were open access, increased production, and a lax or non-existent implementation of conservation measures provided for in the legislation and management plans. In the offshore fisheries areas, the general focus of fisheries policies was increased production and, where limited access or strict licensing and conservation policies existed, they were only for a few fisheries or directed towards foreign fishing vessels.

A common trend in most countries was to manage fisheries in accordance with a general country statement of development goals and to rely on management by reactive legislation as opposed to management through comprehensive plans, supported by legislation.

Bangladesh adhered to “poverty alleviation through creating self-employment and improvement of socio-economic conditions of the fishers” (Ministry of Fisheries, 2001). This translated into policy objectives that included:

The emphasis on production as opposed to conservation should be noted, a trend that was common in many of the least-developed countries.

Consequences of using draft legislation to introduce management strategies

Legislation generally encompasses a lengthy draft and debate process, during which government officials may feel that they come to own the draft legislation, investing it with an emotional attachment that may lead to reluctance to negotiate any changes when the draft is presented to stakeholders. The draft process thus loses its flexibility. Given the interconnections that drafts contain within themselves (i.e. between different parts) and related texts of law (penal, etc.), it is usually very difficult to make significant changes in intent or scope and this means that most of the original framework and content of the draft is untouched in the draft process. This effectively minimizes the input of stakeholders in the consultative process. This is clearly not a recommended method to encourage transparency and participatory management.

India devolved authority for management to its coastal states in such a manner that produced varying and sometimes conflicting or confusing policies and plans for the coastal fishers. At the central level, India endorsed an open access regime. The coastal policy, focused on production and exports, was placed under state control with support from the national government. The offshore, deep-sea (beyond 12 nautical miles [nm]) policy was developed without linkages between the coastal sectors, was based on outdated legislation and focused on increased production, with little emphasis on conservation or sustainable management. Interagency mechanisms to foster greater coordination and cooperation between national and national/state agencies for sustainable fisheries management remains a challenge for India.

Indonesia was evolving from a centralized fisheries department to a ministry responsible for facilitating the coastal fisheries policy and management planning in cooperation with new provincial and district authorities under the new Autonomy Laws (i.e. new authorities for the provinces covering 0-12 nm from the coast and for the districts covering 0-4 nm). The general policies for the ministry and the devolved authorities included:

There were initiatives to update the fisheries legislation and to write new laws addressing international obligations, thereby amending policies towards conservation and sustainable management of the fisheries. In 2003, however, the focus for control measures and conservation policies was directed at curbing illegal offshore foreign fishing, while coastal resources were still largely unmanaged and uncontrolled, except for small areas where donor agencies were active.

Malaysia was the exception to the rather general uncommitted approach to sustainable fisheries management in these countries. It had a strict conservation policy accompanied by important implementing mechanisms, manifested in their policies and strategies for the Department of Fisheries instructions to:

The strategies to attain these goals included:

The above policies and strategies, supported by increased budgets for operations, capital acquisition and maintenance, presented the best example of a commitment to sustainable and responsible fishing in the region.

Myanmar had a strict set of policies for the entire livestock and fisheries sector that focused on increased production and addressed socioeconomic issues. The stated long-term strategy and policy is for sustainability of the resources, but this was not visible in the actual daily operations that emphasized production and food security.

Sri Lanka, while recovering from two decades of internal conflict, was moving rapidly towards policies of sustainable fisheries development, especially within the offshore fishery. Its policies included open access for coastal fisheries, but it was working diligently on special area management and lagoonal committees for local management, facilitated by the Ministry and its Coastal Conservation Department, Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and National Aquaculture Development Agency. These coastal, community management committees were moving, albeit slowly, towards the development of sustainable fisheries management policies for the coastal area.

Thailand’s fisheries policies included production targets for fisheries within the EEZ (1.5 million tonnes per year) and outside the EEZ (1.8 million tonnes per year), increased aquaculture production and development of post-harvesting technology. Conservation and sustainable management goals were over-shadowed by the need for fish for food security. The new fisheries law, although feeding discontent from neighbouring countries over the lack of government control of the Thai fishing fleet, provided a new focus towards conservation and adherence to international fisheries management principles. The challenge for Thailand will be to address the interagency liaison between the fisheries department and the new coastal resources department as well as the enhanced devolution of responsibility to the provinces and coastal districts.

In summary, general fisheries policies for coastal fisheries were mostly based on open access and increased production. Policies for the offshore commercial fleets were also focused on increased production, generally allowing for open access with a minimum of management control measures on domestic fleets. The exception was Malaysia, which can be an example for the region of sustainable management policies and implementation mechanisms involving multiagency participation.


Structure for fisheries

The countries assessed have differing systems for fisheries management, which were reflected in the fisheries laws. As noted above, in 2003, most countries had a department or ministry responsible for fisheries and these agencies were further assisted by government or quasi-government agencies for their fisheries research, further supported by universities. The fisheries agencies were also supported by other law enforcement agencies (e.g. police, military or coast guard) for the implementation of fisheries laws. Only Malaysia and Thailand had their own effective fisheries patrol fleets (in excess of 60 vessels each), while other countries may have had one or two fisheries vessels, but these were largely old and poorly maintained.

Indonesia had a devolved fisheries management system with provincial and district government assuming authority for management of coastal areas. India had a devolved, split authority for marine resource management between the states for 0-12 nm and the national government outside territorial waters. Sri Lanka, although using a centralized system, was moving to special area management and lagoon management, with committees for management decisions to be supported by the minister and legislation. Malaysia had a centralized system, but with a comprehensive regional and local office network for implementation of its conservation and sustainable resource management legislation. Bangladesh, Thailand and Myanmar had centralized systems.

A short assessment of fisheries management structures follows. Table 2 provides a summary of the status of current fisheries legislation in each country.

Bangladesh’s centralized system under the Department of Fisheries of the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries had three principal directors and principal scientific officers, with implementation of management through district and subdistrict offices. The legal system did not address international agreements, obligations or international management principles as it was more focused on food security for its people.

India’s east coast had a decentralized management system whereby the national government maintained responsibility for overall policy development and authority for the waters outside the territorial seas (12 nm), but the individual states had full authority for legislation and management of fisheries within their respective 0-12 nm zones. The states were actively involved in discussions for collaborative management with communities and associations and the local police were their enforcement arm with assistance from the coast guard. The coast guard was fully responsible for enforcement outside the 12 nm zones. Current legislation was focused more on increased production for food security than on conservation, the latter being a low priority at that time for both the national and state governments.

Indonesia was attempting to address several issues simultaneously: (i) the devolution of fisheries authority to the provinces and districts; (ii) a shift in roles from a department to a full ministry; (iii) a shift from a centralized directive approach to one of facilitation and support to the devolved authorities as well as monitoring for compliance to national policies, strategies and standards; and finally, (iv) the coordination and support to the many agencies at all government levels involved in fisheries management in the coastal areas. As noted above, the districts had responsibility for 0-4 nm and the provinces from 0-12 nm. The national government addressed issues beyond 12 nm with its growing fisheries fleet and with support from the navy. The maritime police were to assist the districts and provinces in their individual jurisdictions. Indonesian fisheries legislation was in a state of review and rewriting while being updated to address the above as well as to accommodate the principles of sustainable management in international agreements to which it was a party. Future challenges include the changes needed to address its obligations under the new regional structure for large pelagics, the Western and Central Pacific Ocean Fisheries (WCPF) Convention, to which it was one of the 27 parties. Furthermore, the implementation of a collaborative coastal management system with licensed property rights was being approached under the new legislation. It will be a challenge to ensure that the property rights system, with aim of assisting communities, does not become overly influenced by private sector interests.

Malaysia had comprehensive fisheries legislation for sustainable management of its marine resources and was looking to accommodate newer international principles and IPOAs. The Department of Fisheries had the mandate for implementation and had further legislation for interagency support in this latter role from the Maritime Law Enforcement Coordinating Council (MECC) of navy, air force, coast guard and customs and maritime police. Its legislation for licensing and management was very comprehensive. The licensing system had the distinction of being one of the few fisheries licensing systems in the world with an ISO 9 000 approval rating.

Myanmar had a relatively old set of legislative instruments that were, however, comprehensive in their intent for increased production and conservation. Implementation of the system was not well documented and the data system in support of such mechanisms was very weak; consequently, verification was not possible. Neither collaborative management nor the incorporation of international agreements was a priority for the current government of Myanmar.

Sri Lanka had a Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources within a Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans, supported by other departments and quasi-government agencies addressing research, aquaculture, coastal area management and fishing ports. Cooperative mechanisms were in place between these agencies and Sri Lanka was a model for integrated community or coastal area management mechanisms with its special area management (SAMs) and lagoon management committee systems. Sustainable fisheries resources planning was effective in Sri Lanka with many examples supported by legislation, but implementation was weaker than expected, especially for limited entry and conservation measures because increased production was still required for food security. Sri Lanka was reviewing a comprehensive, integrated-model fisheries legislative instrument to replace the current legislation, but the internal political environment had stalled this exercise.

Summary of fisheries legislation and systems


Type of system

Current primary legislation




Marine Fisheries Ordinance of 1983

Accompanying rules and regulations to this base ordinance were outdated and did not include the latest international agreements or the new principles of collaborative management. These isolated pieces of legislation did not form linkages for integrated management necessary in countries today. An ongoing donor project was assisting the Fisheries Ministry in developing new fisheries legislation.



Fisheries Act of 1981 and ensuing individual State Fisheries Acts

Union government (>12 nm) and maritime states (0-12 nm) responsible for separate issues but co-legislated and managed other issues - all of which were enshrined in the constitution of India



Fisheries Law No. 9/85 and Conservation Law No.5/90 as well as Autonomy Laws 22/99 and 25/99 for devolution

The Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF, formed in 2000) was drafting a new Small Islands and Coasts Act that would have considerable impact on the management of the coastal zones, with the private sector being offered the right to procure tenure for small islands and coastal areas. How this would be implemented with the devolution of authority to districts and provinces was not known.

FAO was involved in redrafting the Fisheries Law in 2000.

The World Bank COREMAP1 I Project conducted a full review of the current fisheries-related laws and made suggestions for redrafting and/or amending laws and government regulations. Incorporation of these suggestions into MMAF policies and new legislation was under consideration.

The new Western and Central Pacific Ocean Fisheries Convention (WCPF), to which Indonesia was a signatory, was expected to come into force early in 2004 and should bear considerable impact on Indonesian fisheries management. The WCPF will focus on pelagic fisheries management, reflagging of foreign vessels to fish in other zones, IUU fishing, fisheries data collection and analysis, and licensing obligations to meet international, legal commitments to the Convention.



Fisheries Act of 1985 (amended in 1993) and EEZ Act of 1984

Malaysia had a very comprehensive legislative system for fisheries, perhaps the most effective in the region, but it had not yet endorsed community, collaborative management or the full use of NGOs as management tools. FAO had an initiative to review the Fisheries Act in 2000, but the suggested amendments had not yet been incorporated in new legislation.



Myanmar Marine Fisheries Law of 1990

The lead agency was the Fisheries Department under the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries and the law was relatively comprehensive for sustainable management, noting the absence of internationally agreed principles due to the date of the legislation.

Sri Lanka


Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act No. 2 of 1996 and Fisheries (Regulations for Foreign Fishing Boats) Act No. 59 of 1979

This act, and all those for fisheries including the Coast Conservation Act, were rewritten in 2002 and were currently before parliament. The Act of 1996 and the new proposed Act incorporated all the international principles of responsible fisheries and international agreements to date.



Fisheries Act B.E. 2490 of 1947

This Act had been reviewed and rewritten with the assistance of FAO and was before parliament as proposed Fisheries Act B.E. 2545. If enacted, the new act would include all the intentions and clauses of recent international agreements and the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, and would give the Department of Fisheries all the authority and tools to manage its resources in a sustainable manner.

International fisheries agreements with neighbours may be influenced by the WCPC Convention when it comes into force, especially the mutually agreed dual-flagged vessel fishing arrangements in Indonesian waters.

1 Indonesia Coral Reef Management Program. For more information, please refer to
Source: FAOLex, 2003.

Thailand’s fisheries legislation was outdated and focused on increased production with little focus on conservation. The establishment of a new Department of Coastal and Marine Resources under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment will undoubtedly overlap and require joint management initiatives with the Department of Fisheries under the Ministry of Agriculture for the coastal areas. It was assumed that the offshore fisheries management would rest with the Department of Fisheries. Fish production requirements as stated in national plans, both inside and outside the EEZ, tax the capacity of the fishing fleets in their areas of operations, resulting in negative reactions from neighbouring countries regarding illegal fishing of Thai vessels in their waters. Although Thailand had not yet ratified international agreements for sustainable fisheries management, international pressures and attention to its own rapidly depleting marine resources were forcing a change in approach to more sustainable practices. New legislation, incorporating international agreements and internationally agreed sustainable management principles, was before parliament. Implementation of the changes resulting from the new legislation will be a major challenge for the future departments as the decades-old focus of increased production with minimal control mechanisms was firmly rooted in the minds and activities of current fishers.

In summary, India and Indonesia had devolved the management of fisheries to provincial/state levels and to district levels, respectively. Sri Lanka was moving towards setting an example in special area and lagoon-wide management authorities, while Malaysia had a strict and comprehensive centralized legal fisheries management system with a network of provincial and local offices. Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand had centralized systems with provincial, district and local offices. All countries relied on other agencies for support for implementation of fisheries laws, with Thailand and Malaysia fisheries departments adding considerable financial commitment to their own fisheries patrol fleets. Most fisheries legislations were more than five to ten years old and thus focused on increased production with little emphasis on conservation or sustainable fisheries management or on the implementation of international agreements or principles for responsible fishing. Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand were working on updating their respective fisheries laws to accommodate international agreements and management principles, but the other countries had not begun this updating process. The key to responsible fisheries and sustainable management will be the creation of appropriate and supportive legislation and the implementation of these laws. Aside from Malaysia, all countries were weak in implementation, thus reducing the effectiveness of their legislative efforts.


The fisheries in the seven countries of this report were multispecies fisheries in the coastal areas, except perhaps where targeted for shrimp or fish fry. The coastal fisheries usually targeted small pelagic or demersal finfish (sardinellas, silverbellies, catfishes, perches, anchovies, Indo-Pacific mackerel, scads, threadfin breams, big-eyes and lizard fish), or crustaceans (squid, cuttlefish, shrimp and shellfish). Offshore fisheries were usually targeted to the tunas and other large pelagics, the demersals or shrimp.

The general status of the coastal fisheries,[18] defined here as inside the 12 nm zone for ease of reference, was that they were all overfished and have been under considerable fishing pressures from uncontrolled, open access fisheries management schemes for several years in all countries in the region. However, Malaysia was attempting to gain control of its coastal fisheries through zoning, identification and data collection.

In all countries, except perhaps Thailand, the offshore/deep-sea fisheries were underexploited and represented a very small portion of the total catches, e.g. approximately one percent in the east coast of India, less than six percent in Indonesia and ten percent in Malaysia. The indication therefore was that, even with incentives for offshore fishing, countries were not successful in luring fishers further away from the coast. The exceptions were: (i) Thailand, where the national development plan directed a large percentage of the fishery to work outside Thai waters; and (ii) Sri Lanka, where coastal fisheries had become so crowded that fishers themselves were venturing further offshore, even to other EEZs (e.g. India and Africa).

Four of the countries in the region (India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand) overlap the FAO reporting areas, but do not appear able to provide split information on catches, fishers or vessels in each of these areas;[19] consequently, it must be noted that general figures given above contain a mix of data, some for total countries and some for the area in question, where they were available. Table 5 attempts to separate these data using very rough percentages where no accurate data were provided.

Challenges in compiling fisheries statistics

Noting the above general statements, it would be remiss of the authors to present statistics without discussing the data collection challenges faced by managers. It should be noted that, in order to understand Table 5, it is necessary to understand some of the management schemes to clarify the data provided. The information provided will indicate trends for fisheries that, despite their inaccuracy, may assist managers.

The fisheries statistics for Asian countries, and probably all developing countries, were difficult to collate as there were no common standards for collection, identification and reporting, and no effective regional organization to assist in such data coordination. This lack of standards for fisheries data reporting resulted in varying systems: (i) by species; (ii) more commonly by fishing gear type; (iii) combined fish groups such as pelagics and demersals; or (iv), a conglomeration of all the above. The classification of fisheries sectors by each country (e.g. into sustenance or subsistence fisheries, artisanal, small-scale, coastal, medium/large-scale, industrial, offshore and deep-sea fisheries) complicates the collation of fisheries data. In addition, the lack of cross checks to assure the validity and veracity of collected data automatically constrains the user in the use of such data for projections or management decisions.

None of the countries assessed, aside from Malaysia, had taken measures to identify accurately its coastal fisheries according to categories for regulation and control towards sustainable fisheries. Most countries, e.g. Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand did not register or license small coastal fishers (< 5 gross tonnes (GT)) or require or collect reports, even if they were legally mandated to do so. As open access was prevalent in these areas and ineffective practices of registering larger vessels in small categories were rampant, data were lost for accuracy in stock/fisheries assessments.

Fishing zones of countries in Southeast Asia


Fishing zone 1

Fishing zone 2

Fishing zone 3

Fishing zone 4


Within 40 m depth

Outside 40 m depth


From shore line out to 12 nm (territorial sea) - state control

From 12 nm out to EEZ- national control


From shore line out to 3 nm

Four nm from the outer limit of first fishing zone or 7 nm from shore

Five nm from the outer limit of second fishing zone or 12 nm from shore

More than 12 nm from shore


From shore line out to 5 nm

From 5 nm to 12 nm

From 12 nm to 30 nm

From 30 nm to EEZ limit


From shore line out to 5 nm in the northern area, 10 nm in southern area

From outer limit of first fishing zone to EEZ limit

Sri Lanka

0-1 nm - beach seines (unofficial)

0-3 nm low-powered and non-motorized (unofficial)

0-15 nm fibreglass 6-7 m outboards (unofficial)

0-EEZ, 10 m+ in length, multi-day boats (unofficial)


From shore line out of 12 nm

From 12 nm to EEZ limit

Small-scale/artisnal and commercial/industrial fisheries


Small-scale/artisanal fisheries

Commercial/industrial fisheries


Non-trawlers in Zone 1

Shrimp and finfish trawlers max. 100 GT in Zone 2


Coastal fisheries: non-motorized vessels and beach gear in Zone 1

All mechanized vessels (inboard engines) in Zones 1 and 2.


Small-scale fisheries:

outboard engines less than 10 hp or 5 GT operating in Zone 1. Trawls, purse seines and gill nets not allowed, except for purse seine with a head rope of less than 120 m

inboard engines less than 50 hp or 25 GT operating in Zone 2. Trawl and purse seines not allowed, except purse seines with a head rope of less than 300 m

Industrial fisheries:

inboard engine less than 200 hp or 100 GT operating in Zone 3. Purse-seines allowed, except those with a head rope of less than 600 m

all fishing vessels and fishing gear operating in Zone 4


Traditional fisheries: small-scale fisheries using traditional fishing gears (i.e. other than trawls and purse seines) with vessels less than 10 GT operating in all zones concentrating in Zone 1

Commercial fisheries: medium and large-scale fisheries using commercial fishing gears such as trawls and purse seines

with vessels less than 40 GT operating in Zone 2
with vessels from 40 to 70 GT operating in Zone 3
with vessels above 70 GT operating in Zone 4


Coastal fisheries: vessels of less than 10 m or using less than 12 hp engine operating in Zone 1

Industrial fisheries: vessels more than 10mt or using more than 12 hp engines operating in Zone 2

Sri Lanka

Non-motorized vessels and beach gear in Zones 1 and 2 (unofficial)

All motorized vessels 0 - EEZ


Small-scale fisheries: vessels of less than 5 GT operating in Zone 1

Large-scale fisheries: vessels of more than 5 GT operating in Zone 2

Note: Due to different legal definitions used by each country, the above are classifications between coastal and commercial fisheries of countries in the region.

The offshore, deep-sea and commercial fisheries were all regulated by licences; however, verification of these licences was weak. In some countries, the lack of enforcement was such that fishers were able to ignore the licensing requirements, decreasing official statistics, and resulting in false indications of decreased effort when in fact it had become totally unregulated. Malaysia is the exception, where special vessel identification numbers had to be certified by fisheries officers and special fisheries tags placed on the bow post of all commercial vessels[20] with non-removable nails. In Thailand, only key mobile fishing gears were licensed; consequently, the actual scope of fishing and resultant catches were largely unknown (e.g. the Department of Fisheries estimated 17 000 licensed fishing gears (presumed to be equivalent to fishing vessels) and the government in its 2000 census registered 53 500 fishing vessels). This again raises the question as to the validity of fisheries statistics and the use of these data to indicate the state of the fisheries.

Summary of fisheries and their value


vessls/gear in

in 2000

Catch and
value in 2000

Catch and
value in 1996

Catch and value
in 1990


Commercial (Shrimp
and bottom trawls)


3 000

25 164

13 564

9 641

Artisanal (Mechanized
gillnet, estuarine bag
net, trammel net
and shrimp fry
push net)

32 860

650 000

326 914

209 795

196 685


32 940

653 000

352 078

223 359

206 326


Coastal commercial
(Shrimp, sardines and
leiognathids - mechanized
commercial vessels,
i.e. with inboard engines)

23 966

153 360

173 254

196 569

136 648

Coastal artisanal
(Shrimp, sardines and
leiognathids- non
mechanized, i.e.
non- motorized or
outboard engines)

112 118

707 300

876 746




136 084

860 660

1 050 000


Commercial (LL,

2 815

1 166 764

910 060
$3 476.81

836 110

524 140

Artisanal (GN,
seine and trap)

417 0002

2 911 385

1 689 980

1 313 420

1 038 640


402 104 (1997)2

4 078 149

2 600 040
$3 477.7

2 149 530

1 562 780

(WCP Ocean)

Commercial (TRL
and PS)

3 225

17 719

409 687



Artisanal (Drift GN,
H&L and bag net)

7 974

18 974

89 073




11 229

20 753

498 760




Offshore (trawl and
purse seine)

1 999


648 133

428 924

390 667

(motorized and non-

28 240


380 650

251 908

209 203


30 239


1 028 783

680 832

599 870

Sri Lanka

Vessels in 2002

in 2002

Catch and
value in 2002

Catch and
value in 1997

Catch and
value in 1992

Commercial (Multiday
and longline)

1 614

9 684

87 300

62 000

22 000

Artisanal (Fibreglass
18-23 ft, traditional
craft, beach seine)

25 405

105 027

145 382




27 019

114 711

232 682

62 000

22 000

(Andaman Sea)

fishing gear4

Fishers in 2000

Catch and value
in 2000 (tonnes/
US$ millions)

Catch and value
in 1996 (tonnes/
US$ millions)

Catch and value
in 1990 (tonnes/
US$ millions)

(TRL, PS, GN and Ent N)

1 489

19 550




(sGN, trap and H&L)



34 192

18 094



1 703

19 968

34 867

18 900


Values are in US$ millions, year 2002 equivalent.

n.a. = not available
LL = longline
PS = purse seine
BED = bycatch exclusion device
ShTRL = shrimp trawl
WCP Ocean = Western and Central Pacific Oceans
TRL = trawl
GN = gillnet
H&L = hook and line
Ent N = entangle net
sGN = small gillnet
Small Gillnet = sGN
Trawl = TRL

The catch statistics were not separated between the Western and Central Pacific Ocean and East Indian Ocean sectors. However, as an estimate, the following percentages were used: India, where the east coast represented 38 percent of catches, 55 percent of the total number of fishing vessels of which 99 percent were less than 20 m overall length (LOA); Indonesia, where two-thirds of the catches came from western Indonesia, although these catches were not broken down into west and south Indonesia; Malaysia, where 44 percent was estimated to be taken from FAO statistical area 57, coinciding to some extent with the east Indian Ocean sector).

1. Personal communications with government officials, Jakarta, October 2003.

2. FAO Indonesian Fisheries Country Profile web page (FAO, Multiple), noting that this includes all artisanal fisheries, with 56.9 percent of the boats non-powered; 70.6 percent less than 5 GT and another 21.95 percent between 5-20 GT, all making daily fishing trips.

3. All figures for Malaysia estimated from national figures and the assumption that 56 percent of fishers and catches are from the Western and Central Pacific Ocean side of Malaysia and 44 percent from the East Indian Ocean sector (not confirmed by government).

4. In Thailand, the Department of Fisheries licenses key mobile fishing gear only and not fishing vessels. The Department of Harbours registers all vessels for safety, including fishing vessels (total for Thailand is more than 53 000 for the year 2000).

The Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) has assisted in clarifying the categories in their development of responsible fisheries guidelines (SEAFDEC, 2000) to provide clarification of zones according to country definitions and then relating this to small-scale and commercial fisheries. The SEAFDEC country information has been augmented by information from the country reviews for non-SEAFDEC countries and presented in Tables 3 and 4.

Bangladesh fisheries were concentrated inside the 100 m isobath for small pelagics and demersals and shrimp. The deeper waters were unexploited by Bangladesh fishers and even the 100 licensed trawlers, which accounted for six percent of the total marine catch of 410 000 tonnes, fished within the 100 m line.

In India only one percent of total marine catches was from vessels greater than 20 m LOA (Mathew, 2003), while all other craft reported total marine catches of 2 700 000 tonnes (2000 last data). Only 1 050 000 tonnes of this total was caught on the east coast by 136 000 fishing vessels (24 000 of which were mechanized[21]).

Indonesia had approximately 625 000 capture fishers in its west and southern waters[22] that captured approximately 1.6 million tonnes of multispecies fish of which less than six percent were from offshore vessels.[23]

Challenges in compiling fisheries data

  • Basic fisheries data collection (fishers, boats and gear) and verification/cross checking mechanisms in the region were weak for all fisheries. This was especially so for artisanal/inshore fisheries (an exception being Malaysia). This makes national fisheries management planning very difficult and further complicates regional fisheries cooperation due to the lack of data and data standards.

  • Categorization of fisheries by species, gear types or size of the operations was not standard throughout the subregion and thus comparisons become very difficult.

  • IUU fishing within the subregion was reported to be significant, but no efforts were made to quantify this claim. Without a monitoring capacity, such anecdotal data cannot be factored into stock assessment exercises and thus constrains management planning.

  • Even without up-to-date and verifiable data, anecdotal data from fishers indicated that the fisheries in all countries and especially in the coastal areas were stressed, over fished and over exploited.

  • The status of the stocks in the subregion was not well known and had not been subjected to a national or regional review in several years, except perhaps in Malaysia where data were available from science-based catch analysis and stock projections.

  • Efforts to establish and implement data collection standards and to carry out stock assessment effectively were evident neither in the region nor within regional organizations tasked with fisheries management. This is of the utmost importance in order to achieve management goals within the important, regionally intertwined fisheries.

Malaysia had approximately 11 200 vessels fishing on its west coast (44 percent of fishery is west coast) and they collectively caught some 500 000 tonnes, with the commercial trawlers and purse seiners taking four-fifths of this catch, the majority of which taken within 12 nm and less than 30 nm from the shoreline.

Myanmar reported catches in 2002 of approximately 1.028 million tonnes, divided between the offshore trawl and the purse seine fishery (650 000 tonnes with 2000 vessels) and the remainder from the 28 000 inshore, coastal motorized and non-motorized vessels. Figures on fishers varied considerably between studies, ranging from 540 000 fulltime fishers noted in the 2001 FAO Country Profile (FAO, Multiple) to a total of approximately 1.8 million people that derived direct benefits from all fishing activities of which 444 000 were fulltime fishers (Flewwelling, 1999).

Sri Lanka reported catches of 232 742 tonnes in 2002 from 114 711 fishers (105 000 artisanal) using 27 000 fishing boats (25 400 of which were artisanal craft). Coastal fisheries were perceived as being overfished while offshore fisheries underexploited, but high levels of illegal foreign fishing in the EEZ were suspected.

In the Andaman Sea, Thailand, 20 000 fishers (19 500 of whom were commercial fishers) caught a reported 34 900 tonnes of fish using 1 700 licensed fishing gear of which 1 500 were defined as commercial entities that fished mainly within the coastal waters because of the narrow shelf area.


The variances in the economic situation and capacity in the countries assessed means that management strategies will also vary considerably according to government priorities and financial capability. Bangladesh, one of the ten least developed countries in the world, cannot be expected to have the same capacity and commitment to marine resource management as Malaysia, which is moving into a much higher level of development. It is for this reason that one must appreciate each country’s situation and note their relative progress in addressing responsible and sustainable fisheries and marine resource management.

The countries assessed used a wide range of fisheries management tools, some of which were very sophisticated and required considerable commitment from the government. Malaysia was such an example and can be used as a model for fisheries management, commitment and multiagency implementation. Malaysia had utilized almost the full range of management tools, including:

Malaysia’s fisheries management is an example for other countries in Asia, but it depends on sincere commitment, funding, capacity building and integrity of its officials for success, especially for the implementation component.

Nevertheless, there are two tools in the management toolbox that Malaysia had not utilized to the fullest. The first tool includes participatory management practices with resource users (fishers, their organizations and communities) for input into the management processes. This is to encourage fishers to gradually accept the joint stewardship role, through collaborative management with government, of their resources and to ease the financial burden on government. The participatory approach can result in cost sharing and acceptance of partial responsibility by communities and fishers for the health, welfare and conservation of the fisheries and coastal resources. The second tool useful in bridging the gap between centralized, or even devolved government systems, and the public stakeholders (i.e. fishers, tourism industry, coastal trade, etc.) is the use of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to assist in bringing the message to the communities. Malaysia was reluctant to embrace these two tools until it clearly identified the relevant stakeholders. Furthermore, Malaysia noted that, from the experiences of neighbours, the choice of NGOs is very important to ensure a supporting mechanism as opposed to “feeding” a confrontational mechanism. Other countries in the subregion have dealt with these concerns effectively and these experiences are noted.

Bangladesh’s fisheries policy was focused on increased production for food security, a key government priority for all sectors. Although the base law required updating, the mechanisms were in place to promote sustainable fisheries management. However, problems arose from a lack of government funding to implement these mechanisms and to find alternative employment and food security sources. Lack of sustainable fisheries management could only hasten the depletion of fish stocks and result in a worsening economic situation due to a loss of a renewable resource base. In 2003, the management system was non-participatory and not oriented to conservation or sustainability, nor was there the internal capacity to ensure compliance with the management strategies. Bangladesh was aware of the consequences of inaction, but given its limited financial capacity, its focus was on issues for food production in coastal fisheries. International initiatives were a low priority for Bangladesh.

India’s east coast had a split management strategy because of the devolved coastal management authority to the states. This strategy resulted in a high variance of management systems in zoning and the adoption of regulatory measures (e.g. differing coastal zone definitions, licensing regimes and closed seasons). Minor gear restrictions and spatial restrictions were in place but enforcement appeared to be ad hoc. In areas of national jurisdiction, the focus was on eliminating illegal foreign fishing with little compliance checking of local vessels. Fisheries focus was on increased production; however, the Ministry of Environment and Forests was moving towards conservation, thus creating a potentially sensitive and challenging situation for the future. India did, however, have a significant track record in the use of NGOs as a management tool, ensuring participatory consultation at the state level with fishers who were well represented by associations and community groups. In summary, although devolved and participatory management practices were in place for the coastal areas, there appeared to be a lack of integration, coordination, cohesiveness and commitment to sustainable management and implementation of current laws at both the state and national level.

Indonesia’s fisheries management processes relied on legal instruments to manage the fisheries as opposed to formal management planning schemes. Management goals were set for the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) and included: harvesting limits based on scientific information; reduction of conflict between users; conservation and prevention of overexploitation; improved quality to users and reduction of waste, as well as increased production and use of new or little known species. The goals also included stakeholder participation and devolution of management authority to the provinces (coast to 12 nm) and districts (coast to 4 nm) with greater consultation for management planning, implementation and conflict resolution. The MMAF were also finalizing a new Small Islands and Coasts Law that intended to bring in communities and the private sector as investment partners to secure tenure of coastal areas in an attempt to implement sustainable coastal resource management. This was an innovative and challenging measure, if one considers the difficulties in monitoring these agreements for compliance and integration with the devolution process.

Unfortunately, these measures had not shown an appreciable positive impact on stock recovery, stock stability, or the realization of sustainable management in either the commercial or coastal/artisanal fisheries. The apparent lack of commitment to data collection and verifiability of such data and enforcement of the laws continued to have a negative impact on stock recovery, and hence enhanced fishers’ financial returns. The foreign joint venture scheme vessels (900+), accurate data collection and analysis and integration of international agreements and principles were continuing management challenges. In addition, the challenge of interagency coordination and cooperation mechanisms between national agencies were made more complicated by the devolution to the provinces and districts. FISHCODE[24] assistance provided tools to assist in the process towards responsible and sustainable fisheries management; however, the financial and political commitment to implement this process through the country had not been fully established.

Myanmar’s fisheries management strategy remained largely unknown as a result of insufficient information. Fisheries legislation, although dated, appeared to exist and was implemented onshore and included licensing, port inspections, movement reports, gear and spatial restrictions and effort controls, but the effectiveness of these measures was not known or available. At sea, control mechanisms and the implementation of international agreements and principles for management were largely ignored because of a lack of resources and the focus on food security and production.

Sri Lanka had all the tools for sustainable management, especially with the new fisheries law awaiting parliamentary approval, but civil strife and a lack of funding and commitment at the local level with respect to implementation of the law were the challenges facing the Fisheries Ministry. Sri Lanka did, however, have a very effective lagoon management system and an integrated, multisector/agency special area management (SAM) system, complete with a formal conflict resolution process. These systems could become a model for participatory and interagency management planning mechanisms for other countries. Management planning was more by regulatory fashion than formal presentation of management plans. The open access strategy was taxing coastal resources and forcing fishers further off shore in small ill-equipped vessels where they were coming into conflict with international fisheries agreements and risking their safety at sea. The management challenge remained in the implementation phase of the management strategies, that is, remaining weak, except in small pockets of the SAMs and some lagoon management committees where there appeared to be progress that could be monitored and replicated.

Thailand was moving into a new era of fisheries management whereby its focus on increased production was to be tempered by compliance and implementation of international agreements and sustainable fisheries management principles. The centralized management approach, focused on open access, production and only large mobile fisheries, was being countered by the need for the government to take responsibility for its fishing fleet outside its waters and to regulate its fleet inside in order to prevent increased conflict and pressures on coastal resources. The new Fisheries Law BE 2545, currently under consideration in Parliament, intended to address international obligations, move towards sustainable fisheries and encourage greater stakeholder participation, was being encouraged by ongoing donor initiatives. Management control measures were being developed, but as in all countries, the challenge remains in the commitment to implementation. The interagency coordination mechanisms between ministries, provinces and districts will be another challenge that has been expanded with the establishment of the coastal resources department and devolution of authority to provinces and districts. Again, training in the benefits of the FAO FISHCODE Programme, much of which have taken place in Thailand, could be useful in this transition from the focus of fisheries on production to responsible and sustainable fisheries management in Thailand.

Challenges for the future:

  • Encouragement of the commitment from legislators, judiciary, fisheries authorities and stakeholders is necessary to implement responsible fisheries management measures, especially for the implementation of FAO’s IPOAs for IUU fishing and management of fishing capacity, the two main concerns in Asian fisheries.

  • Legislation updates are needed in all countries except Sri Lanka and Thailand, which were considering updates in their respective parliaments.

  • Countries need to consider that IUU fishing is not only illegal foreign fishing, but includes all illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities, many exercised by their own national fishers.

  • Regional cooperation to implement sustainable and responsible fisheries practices has yet to take an active role in the subregion. Very little has evolved from regional or subregional organizations with respect to implementation of sustainable practices for capture fisheries in Asia, the exceptions being the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) efforts in the Indian Ocean and the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) efforts in aquaculture and in regional guidelines to implement the FAO Code of Conduct.

  • Regional cooperation to set minimum standards for fisheries management, data requirements and information exchange could be an effective step towards responsible fisheries, followed by more complex issues (e.g. regional cooperation for enforcement).

  • Obligations under many of the international agreements signed or ratified over the past 10-20 years are still outstanding with respect to implementation in many of these countries and new obligations under the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Convention (WCPFC) for Indonesia will present further challenges.

  • Implementation of basic and verifiable fisheries licensing, registration of all fishers, vessels and gear, and data collection systems are the general first steps required for responsible fishing and fisheries management.

  • Implementation of the laws through preventative and deterrent MCS operations are the second steps.

In summary, in the countries assessed, excluding Malaysia, the open access strategy was still in place. Legislation was generally outdated, but in several cases had adequate spatial, temporal, gear and participatory restrictions or permissions, enabling the move towards sustainable fisheries management. The commitment to implementation of these mechanisms, however, was very weak. The varying socioeconomic situations of each country resulted in a mix of fisheries management goals, with the prevalent objective being increased production, especially in the poorer countries such as Bangladesh. The concept and implementation of international fisheries agreements or principles for sustainable management were largely ignored in the poorer countries because of financial constraints. Changing management strategies and structures and lack of commitment hampered the implementation in other countries. Malaysia can be a model for sustainable fisheries management, including multiagency implementation mechanisms; while India and Sri Lanka can provide lessons and strategies for stakeholder participation and integrated multisector, multiagency input into management planning. Thailand was in a state of flux from several decades of focus on increased production but was moving towards sustainable fisheries management. Indonesia was also in a state of change (i.e. devolution from a central authority to provincial and district management with central facilitation and support). Bangladesh and Myanmar were primarily focused on food security issues and were not expected to make major changes towards sustainable fisheries management in the near future.

Deterrence as a management tool

Experience shows that when the risks of being apprehended are low due to ineffective monitoring and the penalties are low in comparison to the potential gains, infractions will increase. Inversely, if the deterrence level is increased, fewer infractions should occur. Deterrence as a tool requires understanding and support of the prosecutors and judiciary through knowledge of the damage that illegal fishing has on the resources and the negative social and economic impacts for fishers. Finally, a basic data system for licensing and registration, the latter possibly free of charge, vessel marking and identification, and data reporting can facilitate fisheries control mechanisms and enhance deterrence, thus moving closer to sustainable fisheries management.


All countries assessed reported that they had not yet implemented any cost-sharing arrangements with fishers or stakeholders to address increasing management costs. Increases in consultation with stakeholders, increased pressures on the resources resulting in overfishing, conflicts and subsequent increases in infractions had led to higher costs for fisheries management. Licence fees provided minimal contributions to offset such management costs. It was only in Malaysia that a significant commitment from government was provided to increase the fisheries-related budgets to enhance fisheries management capability and capacity. All other countries reported that funds were insufficient to carry out their mandates.


Table 6 summarizes the status of signatures and ratifications of international agreements for the countries reviewed. Many countries had included internationally agreed sustainable and responsible fisheries management principles in newer legislative instruments, but these principles were not addressed in older legislative instruments or amendments. In all cases, the implementation of these principles was weak, with the exception of Malaysia, possibly because of a lack of political and bureaucratic commitment in the subregion.

Status of international agreements


UN Law of the Sea Convention

UN Fish Stocks Agreement*

FAO Compliance Agreement**


Ratified /


Ratified /


Ratified /


27 July 2001

India (east)

29 June 1995

19 Aug 2003


3 Feb 1986


14 Oct 1996


21 May 1996

8 Sept 1994

Sri Lanka

19 July 1994

24 Oct 1996



* United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the Convention relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks

** Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas

In the case of FAO IPOAs,[25] some of the countries reported that they had commenced national implementation activities (see Table 7), but these appeared to be in the form of meetings with stakeholders. In most cases, supporting mechanisms for management (science, data collection, licensing/registration of all fishers, limited access, reports and cross verification of catches and landings, monitoring and enforcement) were not in place.

Status of national plans of action (NPOAs)


Management of fishing capacity

Reducing incidental catch of seabirds in longline fisheries

Conservation and management of sharks

Prevent, counteract and eliminate IUU fishing

No. of assessed fisheries










India (east)

Capacity to be measured by 2005

Plan being formulated

Not perceived as a problem

Ten species protected since 2001; resources being assessed

Under investigation; plan being formulated







All coastal

Yes (ongoing)


Yes (ongoing)

Yes (ongoing)


No (not a problem)

Yes (ongoing)

Sri Lanka

Yes (ongoing)


Yes (ongoing)

Yes (ongoing)


Yes (ongoing)


Yes (ongoing)

Yes (ongoing)

Some countries had reported commencing work on national management plans for the IPOAs. The two most important IPOAs for the subregion are the management of fishing capacity and IUU fishing, both of which would require the existence of a licensing and registration system to enumerate clearly the fishers, vessels and fishing gear, generally lacking in all countries, except Malaysia. SEAFDEC was attempting to assist by developing regional guidelines for the implementation of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, but it appeared that the reception, assumption and integration of these guidelines by its members were slow.

In summary, there has been considerable verbal and written support for sustainable fisheries management, international agreements to which most countries are a party and for the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and its IPOAs to which all FAO Members have given unanimous agreement. In practice, however, these plans have generally not yet been adopted by national authorities, and hence, have not been implemented in the field. If allowed to continue, several important fish stocks in the region may reach levels of severe depletion or collapse before action is taken, resulting in serious impacts on the social and economic status of each country and also gravely impacting national peace and security. Therefore, a focus on action by regional organizations would be a positive step towards the goal for implementation of global fisheries mandates and initiatives.


The common subregional and regional fishery bodies to which the countries are members, or in which they participate include:

APEC - Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation formed in 1989 to enhance the economic growth and prosperity of its 21 members. It has no treaty obligations, decides by consensus, represents 2.5 billion people, has a combined GDP of US$19 trillion and 47 percent of the world trade. However, it appears to have accomplished little in the way of regional coordination for the implementation of sustainable fisheries management agreements or principles.

APFIC - The Asia-Pacific Fisheries Commission formed in 1993 through several name changes from the 1948 Asia-Pacific Fisheries Council. It has some 20 members and has the objective to ensure full and proper utilization of living aquatic resources of the Asia-Pacific Region, development and management of fishing and culture resources, and the development of processing and marketing. The Commission has no regulatory powers. It appeared to have the greatest potential for actually implementing regional fisheries management programmes until it cancelled its subcommittees on these matters. However, FAO notes it is attempting to revive interest in this Commission as a tool for assisting countries in responsible fisheries management.

CCAMLR - The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources was formed under Article IX of the Antarctic Treaty System in 1982 with a preliminary concern for the krill fishery. It now has 24 members with 7 non-member participants and addresses Antarctic marine resource issues.

CCSBT - The Commission for the Conservation of the Southern Bluefin Tuna has five active members and two other countries considering membership at this time. It was founded in May 1994 to address the conservation of bluefin tuna. Indonesia is involved in this organization because of its interest and role in the conservation and protection of southern bluefin tuna.

IOTC - Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, evolved from the Indo-Pacific Tuna Programme into the new commission in March 1996. It has 20 members with a common objective to manage the tuna and tuna-like species of the Indian Ocean and adjacent seas. This organization has taken several steps to assist countries in sustainable fisheries management, but it still has to encourage standardization in fisheries data systems.

SEAFDEC - The Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center was formed in 1967 to promote fisheries development in Southeast Asia though research, training, information exchange to improve food supply and rational utilization, and development of fisheries resources to improve the livelihood of the people of Southeast Asia. SEAFDEC has 10 members, many from this subregion. The thrust of SEAFDEC to address the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries through the development of regional guidelines for countries is a new and positive role for this organization.

WCPF - The Western and Central Pacific Ocean Fisheries Commission has a long-term objective for the conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory stocks in the West and Central Pacific Ocean area. Twelve countries have ratified this Convention and it is expected to have the 13th ratification early in 2004, thus bringing it into force. There have been 27 countries involved in the several years of development of this convention, most of these countries being expected to become members of the Commission. Indonesia is a signatory to the Convention. This Fisheries Commission will have some mutually agreed regulatory powers.

Tables 8 and 9 reflect the status of membership of the countries assessed of regional and intraregional fisheries bodies.

Participation in regional organizations


Indian Ocean






India (east)













Sri Lanka







Note: M = Member

Participation in intraregional organizations


Pacific Ocean







India (east)









Sri Lanka



Note: M = Member; C = Cooperates but not a member; S = Signed

* APEC General Membership.

** On 4 September 2001, the Convention that will create the WCPFC was signed by 19 countries but has not yet entered into force.

*** Indonesia’s agreement is being pursued as a matter of urgency as the Indonesian catch, which is significant, includes mature fish taken in the only known southern bluefin tuna spawning ground. The Commission is developing a status of “cooperating non-member” and discussions will be held with Indonesia on participation with this status as an initial step in formal engagement with the Commission. See CCSBT Web site:

None of the subregional organizations, except for the new WCPFC, have regulatory powers, which may explain why the organizations have not been as effective as expected in bringing about sustainable fisheries management schemes in the region. Without regulatory powers, there is no obligation for members to cooperate or implement agreements. In essence, subregional organizations have no “teeth” and have been reduced to “paper tigers” as opposed to engines for economic development, conservation and sustainable renewable resource management. This may change when the subregion becomes exposed to the long-standing and successful South Pacific Forum-type organizations that include obligations for action and respect implementation of agreements.


The seven eastern Indian Ocean countries reviewed are of major importance to the fisheries of the world. In 2003, the Asian Subsector of the Eastern Indian Ocean Sector comprised 24 percent of the world’s population, crowded into 1.36 percent of the land mass. From their combined EEZs of 7 million km2, 45 percent of the world’s fishers harvested some 19 million tonnes of fish (20 percent of the total world fish production). The majority of multispecies fish catches were taken within 12 nm of the coast, i.e. the coastal areas. This spatial distribution varied between countries, from a high of 94-98 percent to a low of 60 percent of catches from within 12 nm of the coast, thus placing tremendous pressures on coastal stocks in these areas by small motorized and non-motorized fishing craft and small vessels.

The proliferation of the attitude of “fisheries are the employer of last resort” was still evident, but the aging demographics of fishers in many of the countries assessed indicated the lack of popularity of fishing as a livelihood. However, rural, coastal communities remained almost totally dependent on these resources for their survival.

The fisheries in the offshore waters of the region were assumed to have room for expansion; however, a precautionary approach in the region would indicate that the surveys of the 1980s are outdated and merit review and resurveying before taking action based on these surveys. The fisheries in the coastal, inshore areas were found to be at or exceeding maximum sustainable yields (MSY) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, “open access” policies were still prevailing in all countries assessed, with one exception: in Malaysia, limited access mechanisms were in use for fisheries management. In all countries assessed more than 90 percent of all recorded catches were taken in the coastal/inshore areas; therefore, one could assume that these stocks are severely overstressed.

Responsible fisheries management mechanisms are overdue and would include the availability of viable data for planning; responsible and precautionary decision-making involving stakeholders; limited entry as a key principle of management; supporting legislation; formal and effective interagency mechanisms for cost-effective operational planning and action; and a commitment to compliance and preventive and deterrent enforcement. Necessary to this process would be the political and field-level commitment and capacity for implementation of such management measures.

Malaysia had one of the more advanced, centralized fisheries management systems in the subregion, and reputedly, in the world. This can be a model for Asia for marine capture fisheries for:

Sri Lanka with its Special Area Management and Lagoon Management committees can be an example for involvement of stakeholders in the wider scope of area management and integrating sectors for development, including fisheries. India and Indonesia, with their devolved management to the provinces/states and districts, were examples of learning from the experiences of other countries (e.g. the Philippines) and could be new models for the future implementation of such strategies. Draft fisheries laws being considered in Sri Lanka and Thailand included sustainable management ideas and principles covered in international agreements, the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and its IPOAs. Implementation of these legislative instruments could be used as learning experiences for other countries of this region.

Subregional organizations for fisheries management are fora for discussion, effective management planning and training. However, if this training is not put to use and there is no commitment for regional cooperation and harmonization of strategies for sustainable fisheries management implementation, the subregional organizations will remain ineffective.

One such subregional fishery body, APFIC, was an organization that had the potential to address these concerns. However, APFIC was rendered ineffective by the cancellation in 1997 of its four working groups. The WCPFC is another regional fishery body that could potentially be effective and would directly impact Indonesia, but there is concern that without a commitment towards implementation from the countries involved, this organization could also suffer from lack of support and inadequate and verifiable fisheries data for decision-making, thus severely weakening WCPFC’s potential to conserve the large pelagic stocks of the Asia-Pacific region.

Sustainable fisheries management is not only a series of planning and discussion sessions; it requires a commitment for implementation, demonstrated by funds and political will. Efforts by individual countries and through regional cooperation to show this commitment for implementation will be the single greatest challenge for the sector to realize sustainable and responsible fisheries management.


DANIDA. 2003, The Future for Fisheries. Findings and recommendations from the Fisheries Sector Review and Future Development Study, FAO Representation - Bangladesh, 65p.

FAO. Multiple. Fishery country profiles and Information on fisheries management for Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand (available at

FAO. 1999. International Plan of Action for reducing incidental catch of seabirds in longline fisheries. International Plan of Action for the conservation and management of sharks. International Plan of Action for the management of fishing capacity. Rome, FAO. 26p.

FAO. 2002. The state of world fisheries and aquaculture (SOFIA): 2002. FAO, Rome (available at

FAOLex. 2003. Resumes of Fisheries Legal Texts.

Flewwelling, P. 1999. Report on travel to Myanmar. Mission Report No. 19, FishCode Project MCS. Rome, FAO. Unpublished.

Mathew, S. 2003. Trade in fisheries and human development: country case study - India. Asia-Pacific Regional Initiative on Trade, Economic Governance and Human Development. New York, USA, UNDP. Unpublished.

SEAFDEC. 2000. Regional guidelines for responsible fishing operations in Southeast Asia. Amphoe Phrasamutchedi, Thailand, SEAFDEC Training Department.

[16] The information for this article was gathered from the individual FAO country management reviews presented in this report, many multimedia sources, the Internet and articles, some published and some "grey literature". A key source was an FAO questionnaire sent to fisheries contacts in each country to assist them in formatting their responses and the FAO country reviews of this report. Data provided in these questionnaires came from officials and government department files, and were reported as "personal correspondence and discussions with department officials".
[17] There was an initiative by FAO in 1999/2000 to amend further the Fisheries Act to incorporate the terms of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982, UN Fish Stocks Agreement and the FAO Compliance Agreement where these had not been included in the 1993 amendment. At this time no new amendment has been implemented.
[18] "Coastal fisheries" definitions vary between countries (Table 3), but the common outer limit is 12 nm.
[19] Except Thailand, which provided split statistics for each area.
[20] Defined as medium- and large-scale fisheries using commercial fishing gears such as trawls and purse seines.
[21] Mechanized in India refers to vessels with inboard engines (source: discussions with government officials).
[22] Interpolation from the country review of this report and FAO Country Profile (FAO, multiple).
[23] Two-thirds of total catches from western area (FAO, multiple).
[24] Interregional programme of assistance to developing countries for the implementation of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries - called the FISHCODE Programme (
[25] IPOAs were published by FAO (1999) with the aim of reducing the incidental catches of seabirds in the longline fishery, conservation and management of sharks, management of fishing capacity and prevention, deterrence and elimination of IUU fishing.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page