marine fisheries in Southeast Asia

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X. Other industrial fishing operations, including failed types of industrial fishing

While much of the large-scale industrial fishing technology in the region, such as purse seining and trawling, has been introduced by expansion from other areas of existing fishing methods, there are a number of large-scale production technologies that have developed from existing techniques used by small-scale fishers. Perhaps the most important of these is the technology of fixed stake nets used in various parts of the region, and particularly the muro ami net that was first introduced by Japanese fishers to Manila and Singapore in 1919 and later into Batavia in 1925. These nets, which were portable fixed nets secured to coral reefs, were used to take fusiliers (Family Caesionidae) around the reef areas and quickly became so important that, for example, between 27 and 42 percent of all fish landings in Singapore between 1931 and 1938 were fusiliers from muro ami nets. Similar developments occurred in Batavia (where, in the period 1935-38, 25 percent of all fish sales were fusiliers from muro ami fishing) and in the Philippines where a single muro ami team typically landed 70-80 tonnes of fish per month in the late 1930s.

The technique, however, was so effective that it not only quickly resulted in declines of the stocks of reef fish but also impacted severely on the coral reefs where the nets were used. This was particularly so during the period 1945-1960 where the technique was used on a vastly increased scale in the Philippines with mother vessels, large nets and very large teams of divers and fishers being used to serially deplete coral reef areas in the region. However, by the 1980s there was an increasing concern about not only the heavy fishing pressure on coral reef fish stocks, but also on the physical damage that was being done to coral reefs in the Philippines and the South China Sea and the employment of children in the dangerous work of diving.

The technique was first banned in the late 1980s in the Philippines but later permitted using a modified moru ami net (called pa-aling fishing) which did lesser damage to the coral reefs. However, the technique was finally banned under Section 92 of the new Philippines Fisheries Code in 1998 because of the continued destruction of coral reefs and a study which concluded that stocks of reef fish, particularly on isolated reefs in the South China Sea, had been severely depleted.

In the transition from subsistence fishing using traditional techniques to the development of industrial fishing techniques to supply a rapidly increasing regional population, there were a number of other ventures that were tried but were not successful. Some of these, such as the attempted introduction of diving bell technology into the pearl shell industry in the 1870s, failed because they were inappropriate technologies while others (such as the early attempts at demersal trawling and purse seining for small pelagics) failed because they were pioneering attempts at introducing new industrial fishing methods and therefore, although failing, provided the experience for others to later successfully introduce similar technology. Throughout the history of fishing in the region, fishers in Southeast Asia have been characterized by their ingenuity in developing innovative ways of catching fish using local materials or materials available at the time. For example, items such as marine engines and munitions were abundant after the Second World War and were used to power fishing vessels and, particularly in the Philippines, to capture fish using explosives. However, this tradition of innovation has often been restricted to small-scale fishers where the costs of experimenting with innovation were minimal.

Innovation in the industrial fishing sector has also been entrepreneurial and opportunistic (and often assisted by government financial incentives) rather than the result of any detailed analysis of the long-term risks and rewards of investment in the fishing industry. Some of these government financial incentives were spectacularly successful (such as the promotion of a fish canning industry in Thailand in the 1970s) while others were less so. In several instances, development of new fisheries production methods occurred rapidly despite government policies, such as in Malaysia where, despite a government rejection in 1958 of trawling as a potential direction for the fishing industry, trawling accounted for 48 percent of total landings of 440000 tonnes by 1974. However , the common factor that unites both successful and unsuccessful government intervention and incentives for investment has been the often scant regard that has been paid to the capacity of the fisheries resource to support the proposed development. The region is littered with examples ranging from national government support for the unregulated development of the trawl industry in Thailand and Indonesia in the 1960s to the support, up to 1998, of large-scale moru ami fishing discussed above.

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