marine fisheries in Southeast Asia

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VI. Shrimp trawling

The development of shrimp trawling in the region paralleled the development of demersal fish trawling and, in many areas, shrimp were taken as a by-catch to demersal fishing. However, in Indonesia, the development of trawling in the 1960s was, from the beginning, specifically targeted at catching shrimp and Gulf of Mexico-type shrimp nets, rather than demersal fish trawls, were used.

The increasing interest in shrimp in the Indonesian trawl fishery, as well as in other areas, coincided with a growing demand for shrimp in Japan. It is therefore not surprising that Japanese companies were involved in the development of the Indonesian shrimp fishery, initially by themselves and, after 1969, as partners in joint venture arrangements with Indonesian fishing companies. Between 1967 and 1971, one wholly owned Japanese company and about 10 joint ventures began operating shrimp trawlers in the Straits of Malacca, the waters off Kalimantan and the Arafura Sea.

Supported by Japanese capital investment, these joint ventures were vertically integrated undertakings, operating a range of trawlers which delivered the catch to their own freezing and cold storage facilities and exporting the product. Exports of frozen shrimp from Indonesia rose from 5600 tonnes in 1969 (valued at US$873000) to 35000 tonnes in 1979, valued at over US$200 million. As the prices paid for shrimp increased substantially and additional freezing and cold storage facilities were added, landings and exports continued to increase dramatically as small-scale fishers and independent trawlers sold their product to the cold storage and export companies, and vessels travelled further to find new fishing grounds.

During the 1980s, the declaration of Exclusive Economic Zones also had a profound impact on shrimp trawling in the region. Countries with extensive EEZs were able to continue to expand their shrimp trawling operations (supported by onshore cold storage facilities and onboard freezing) while countries with smaller EEZs had greater difficulty in accessing shrimp grounds beyond their own EEZ. Because of this, the shrimp catches of Indonesia (FAO, 2004) continued to increase throughout the 1980s and 1990s (rising from 117000 tonnes in 1980 to 288000 tonnes in 2002) while those of Malaysia stagnated, declining from 84000 to 76000 tonnes during the same period.

As the price of shrimp increased dramatically in the late 1960s and early 1970s, trawl fisheries that had been established in other countries, particularly Thailand and Malaysia (see Section III above), targeted areas where good shrimp catches could be taken, although they continued catching and landing demersal fish. For example, between 1965 and 1972, the proportion by weight of shrimp to demersal fish landed in Malaysia increased from 38 to 59 percent and in Thailand it increased from 54 to 71 percent (FAO, 2004). However, shrimp stocks in most areas were soon under pressure and the focus returned to demersal fish species, particularly since the price of shrimp started to decline with the introduction in the early 1970s of shrimp culture in the region and its subsequent explosive growth over the next two decades. In Thailand, for example, the proportion by weight of shrimp to demersal fish in the landings declined from 71 percent in 1972 to 35 percent in 1992 (FAO, 2004; see also Figure 3).

In 2002, 73 percent of total regional shrimp landings of about 623 000 tonnes came from just three countries: Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia — a similar percentage (72 percent) to that from the same three countries in 1970. However, in 2002, Indonesia’s landings had increased to 287 990 tonnes or about 46 percent of total regional landings compared with only 50 200 tonnes or 22 percent of regional landings in 1970. By contrast, Malaysia’s share of total regional landings fell from 22 percent in 1970 to 12 percent in 2002, as landings there increased only slightly over the 32 year period.

With the possible exception of Indonesia, shrimp trawling in the region is inextricably linked to a more general, multi-species demersal trawl industry that takes fish, shrimp and other species. Its development and future direction therefore very much depends on the relative prices for shrimp and other species of the demersal trawl catch (and their relative abundance) since these relative prices will, in large part, determine the species that are targeted by trawl vessels. In this regard, the development of shrimp aquaculture in the region, and in other parts of the world, is a major factor since it has led to a long-term decline in world shrimp prices. These declining shrimp prices have probably eased the pressure on shrimp stocks and, throughout the region, shrimp now comprise a smaller proportion of demersal catches than at any other time (see Figure 3). Whether this is a result of fewer shrimp, because of overexploitation or habitat degradation, or an active targeting of other species, it is not possible to judge from the little data and analyses that are available.

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