The Asian 2004 tsunami was probably the worst natural disaster in human memory because of the numbers of people affected, its extent and complexity. Much has been written about its impact on human life, communities and livelihoods as the countries affected and the international community grapple with the enormous task of rebuilding. In this context, the fisheries sector has featured prominently as one of the sectors most affected by the disaster; most effort has focused on the human toll and losses in fishing capacity. This study was funded by contributions from the Laotian people, diplomatic corps, international organizations, entrepreneurs, traders, residential expatriates, local provincial authorities and donors from different sectors of Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), as part of their tsunami assistance to the region. It focuses on the issue of whether fisheries resources were affected by the tsunami. The answer to this question is fundamental to efforts to recover fisheries livelihoods in the region.
Over 100 studies were assessed, including a range of anecdotal reports, rapid assessments and quantitative surveys and carried out participatory rural appraisals with fisherfolk in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the two most impacted countries. Where available fisheries data was also examined. Assessment of impacts was made on fished resources as well as on the ecosystems that support them and how humans have responded in terms of fishing effort.
The available evidence shows that overall, impacts of the tsunami on fisheries are more related to ongoing and new tsunami-related "human" factors, rather than the physical or biological effects of the disaster on resources and ecosystems. That is, existing overexploitation trends had already brought many of the fisheries under severe stress before the tsunami. Evidence from participatory rural appraisals of fishing communities suggests that when the tsunami struck, some of these resources may have been driven down further. Greater impacts on livelihoods are now becoming apparent, with oversupply of boats and gear in some locations, increasing fuel prices and lower fish prices, added to pre-existing issues concerning illegal fishing methods and fishing by foreign vessels.
Some localized biological impacts were reported in Indonesia and Sri Lanka and in other tsunami-affected countries. Where fished resources and supporting ecosystems were in poor condition, almost all researchers concluded that the effects were part of pre-tsunami trends. This included direct damage to resources, plus decreased resilience to the tsunami resulting from chronic degradation and misuse of resources. Rehabilitation of fisheries therefore needs to focus not on the effects of the tsunami, but on addressing pre-existing trends in resource use and environmental damage, including building resilience against future shocks.
The main recommendations of this study are that: