The fishery sector is important for social and economic development as the population consumes fish at every meal. The industry ranks third in the earning of foreign exchange, after agriculture and forestry. Aquaculture has grown considerably during the last ten years. The State provides support in research and training to promote the supply of both low-cost items for local consumption and high value shrimp and fish products for export.
Aquaculture in Myanmar began in 1953 with the farming of imported species such as the Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus ) in 1953 from China, common carp (Cyprinus carpio ) from Indonesia in 1954, snakeskin gourami (Trichogaster pectoralis ) from Thailand in 1954 and giant gourami (Osphronemus goramy ) in 1955 from Indonesia.
In 1955 the introduction of alien species to native waters was suspended for a decade, the main reason being that aquaculture had not received an appropriate level of interest or attention from local fish farmers and fish consumers. The ease of capture and low price of fish from natural waters were major constraints to the expansion of aquaculture. Although the Government established demonstration and seed production farms in a few areas it could not tempt local communities to invest in aquaculture, it was estimated that not more than one hundred acres of fish farms were established countrywide. The farming system was very extensive and production was subsequently very low and sold only to local villages; stocking densities were unlimited and production was not recorded.
However, the industry started to accelerate in 1960 as its economical viability and consistency of production increased. Subsequently potential fish farmers began to increasingly request assistance in farming techniques, advice on suitable culture species and a regular supply of juveniles. As a result the State exerted increased effort in promoting the aquaculture sub-sector through research and development schemes. Training was provided and hatcheries established in some areas with potential, meanwhile the Chinese carps, namely the grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus ), silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix ) and the bighead carp (Aristichthys nobilis ) were introduced from China in 1967 with the objective of maintaining water quality in the ponds and producing more fish from each unit of water area. The fish were accepted by fish farmers only as a means to biologically control water conditions in their ponds since their market price was rather low when compared to local species.
Meanwhile local species such as mrigal carp (Cirrhinus mrigala ), rohu (Labeo rohita ) and catla (Catla catla ) were becoming popular among farmers due to high demand and market prices. At the same time the farmers had acquired a good working knowledge of farming as a result of research and development as well as their own experiences.
Juveniles of local species were collected from the wild and nurtured at state run farms despite drawbacks such as uncertainty of species collected, volumes and availability as well as high risks from storms, strong currents, floods, local predators etc. To overcome these constraints and to ensure the supply to the industry of quality juveniles the Department of Fisheries asked for FAO assistance in providing expertise to initiate a captive fish breeding program. FAO expertise and local technicians succeeded in breeding rohu (Labeo rohita ) by hormone injection in 1963 following three years of experimentation, the methodology was improved by local technicians and used to breed other carp and finfish species. The technique spread widely among farmers and hatcheries were subsequently established in the private sector.
In 1977 the introduction of non native species was resumed with Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus ) and blue tilapia (O. aureus ) with the aim of increasing production from shallow and saline waters. Meanwhile the breeding of the local species of catfish (Clarias batrachus ) succeeded through the manipulation of natural conditions in the field and the use of hormone injections in the hatcheries. At the same time additional non native species were imported into Myanmar for a variety of reasons, for example for export to the international market and to increase production from the various aquatic resources available.
The giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon ) was cultured extensively by local people in Rakhine State near Bangladesh during the 1970s, local people constructed small embankments around large areas fixed with sluice gates and post-larvae entered the impounded areas on incoming high tides. No feed or manure were applied with the resultant production being no more than 50 kg/ha after a six month period. The substantial relative income from so small an investment was so attractive that the system expanded to other parts of Rakhine within a short time. Almost all available saline paddy fields and waste land were converted to extensive shrimp farms.
The culture of crustaceans was initiated on a pilot scale with giant river prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii ) in 1980 and giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon ) in 1986. The broodstock were collected from the wild and acclimatised to hatchery conditions until they bred in the spawning tanks. Due to the low demand by the farmers at that time the prawn seed were produced only for State owned farms and research activities.
Rice bran and oil cakes are the major ingredients used in the daily feed for fin fish with organic fertilisers such as cow dung, poultry waste and limes also being applied. At present pelleted feed is replacing the powdered form and probiotics are increasingly being used to control the water conditions. The quantity of chemicals used as feed additives and water quality conditioners are however, almost negligible.
As shrimp culture is a recent development in aquaculture, feed was initially imported from neighbouring countries, however, at present, to supply the rapid development and subsequent demand a good number of feed factories have been established with more under construction. A whole range of technology, machinery and additives have been supplied from various countries including Taiwan P.C., China, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand. The original farm made pellets are now seldom used in some extensive farming areas.
Fig. 1. Distribution and characteristics of the main aquaculture production sites by administrative units (National data, 2002)
Among the indigenous species, the rohu (Labeo rohita ) has been the dominant species since aquaculture began, it could be considered almost as the national fish. Its taste is much more widely accepted than that of other species, the price is affordable by all communities and its production is comparatively simple. Rohu's ready adaptability to different climatic conditions, tolerance to a wide range of varied environments including low salinity, and the herbivorous nature of the species are the reasons for its choice as the major cultured species countrywide.
In the past, tilapia species were cultured in shallow, narrow and temporary water bodies and were targeted only for rural populations. Nowadays the tilapia, particularly hybrid and mono sex species, are widely cultured in intensive farms as a result of the high demand from local consumers and an increasing demand from restaurants and barbecue shops.
Although the common carp (Cyprinus carpio ) is inferior in flavour to other carp species in lowland and warm areas due to it fat content, it is still the major essential component of cold and upland aquaculture ponds. Rural producers prefer to produce common carp because they can easily feed the whole family within a short production period.
The striped catfish (Pangasius hypophthalmus ), rohu (Labeo rohita ), giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon ) and giant river prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii ) are the highest valued farmed finfish and shell fish in terms of exported product and as generators of socio-economic enhancement for the fish farming sector.
Striped catfish (Pangasius hypophthalmus ) was introduced from Thailand in 1982, the farming method was quickly adopted by the local farmers to produce food fish for the local population and it soon also became an important commodity in the export industry.
Finfish culture is the major source of aquaculture product with a dominance of roho (Labeo rohita ) in production. Most farmers follow poly-culture production regimes utilising all available substrata as well as the natural food in the pond water enriched with organic fertiliser and supplementary feeding. As of 2003, 13 finfish species are commonly produced in polyculture systems and two species of crustaceans are cultured using monoculture systems.
Farmers in the northern part of Myanmar, where small fish are traditionally preferred by consumers, stock their ponds with a high density of 25 000 fish per hectare as fingerlings 2-5 cm in size before harvesting as 19-25 cm size juveniles within 6 months. On the other hand in the southern regions the juveniles are stocked at a low density of around 5 000 fish per hectare to reach a marketable size of 2-3 kg in one year with an average production of 12 tonnes/ha.
Net cage culture
Net cage culture of tilapia was demonstrated successfully by the Department of Fisheries in the Ayeyarwaddy river in Magway Division, where the soil is sandy and porous and water resources for pond culture are limited. As a general practice a 3x3x2 meter net cage is stocked with 2 000 fish per cage.
A privately owned company is also running a net cage culture facility for striped catfish (Pangasius hypophthalmus ) in the delta region using 19 cages with steel frames measuring 28x28x8 meters in total stocked with 110 000 fish. To shorten the ongrowing period in the cage the juveniles are nursed in rearing ponds until they reach 19-25 cm. The feed is in pellet form and is manufactured by the company's own feed mill.
Large scale grouper net cage culture is being operated in Myeik, the southern coastal area. Different sizes of grouper juveniles are collected from the wild during May through until November when same size fish are stocked in the net cages of 3x3x3 meter in size. The general stocking rate is 800-2 500 fish per cage depending on the fish size and the survival rate is about 30 percent at harvest. The most common species being cultured are the orange-spotted grouper (Epinephelus coioides ) and the greasy grouper (E. tauvina ).
A barramundi (Lates calcarifer ) hatchery and net cage farm was set up in 2001 in the delta region, the barramundi fry were imported from Thailand and nursed and ongrown at the farm. In 2003 the farm began exporting its first harvest to Australia and the fastest growing and most healthy fish are selected and held back in net cages and earthen ponds to be used as broodstock.
The giant river prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii ) is mostly used as a complementary species in the fish ponds. As a result of the increase in demand for the largest size prawns from foreign markets the monoculture of prawn under intensive management is now underway in some of the larger farms.
Most of the giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon ) farms are located in Rakhine State where traditionally the big 20-50 ha size ponds stocked with wild post-larvae stock coming into the pond at high tide are in operation. Indian white prawn (Penaeus indicus ), brown shrimp (Metapenaeus spp.), Indo-Pacific swamp crab (Scylla serrata ) and barramundi (Lates calcarifer ) are by products of this process.
The monoculture of Penaeus monodon under semi-intensive cultivation is most visible in Ayeyarwaddy and Yangon Division and the farming practice is rapidly expanding to Mon State and Tanintheryi Division. The ponds are stocked with hatchery-bred post larvae, stocking density ranges from 25 to 45 shrimp per square meter and the production generally averages at 4-5 tonnes/ha, of which production is largely export orientated.
Though the total farming area cultivating giant tiger prawn (P. monodon ) was 79 984 ha in 2002 only 2 128 ha areas are practicing semi-intensive methods. The Department of Fisheries is encouraging extensive farmers to upgrade to semi-intensive culture with some success.
The shrimp culture industry is promoted under the second shrimp culture development plan (2004-2006), under this plan 8 000 ha of new semi-intensive shrimp ponds have to be established by the end of the plan. Potential investors in hatcheries, farms and feed mills are now strongly encouraged by the State.
Rice / fish culture
Though rice / fish culture has been demonstrated as long ago as the mid 1990s the technique has only recently become popular. The Department of Fisheries implemented a pilot scheme in 2003 covering 2 200 ha of paddy fields to be stocked with 2.75 million fish juveniles.
The aquatic products for export are checked and certified by the Department of Fisheries before they leave the country, currently fisheries exports, including aquaculture products, are encountering technical trade barriers and strict restrictions from the major purchasing countries. It is rather hard for the local processors and farmers to meet these countries requirements due to a lack of investment in the very expensive equipment and high-level technology required. The Department has encouraged the producers, processors and farmers to comply with HACCP, best management practices (BMPs) and the FAO's Code of Conduct for Responsible Aquaculture coupled with basic health management systems for farming facilities in order to maintain the quality and safety attributes of the products.
In Myanmar there are enormous and varied resources for the expansion and growth of aquaculture and culture based fisheries, nevertheless, the full potential for further development of its contribution to food security, employment and rural and national economy has not yet been fully realised and documented.
In 1988 only 2 550 ha of aquatic farms existed, after the State had promulgated the Aquaculture Law in 1989 the industry has expanded and by 2002, 50 248 ha of fish farms and 80 956 ha of shrimp farms were in operation. Although statistics on employment in the aquaculture sub-sector are not available, a significant increase in employment, both full and part time, is subsequently being observed in the industry.
In Myanmar, of all the various food producing systems, aquaculture is considered to be the main animal protein source at an affordable price for rural people and is an important provider of employment opportunities. Very recently aquaculture products were being exported to neighbouring countries, expanding the scope of income generation even at a small-holder level. On the other hand, low level income from low level production with low-investment is still the main component of household protein sources and income generation in the livelihood of rural people in some remote areas.
In view of these positive activities it is perhaps not surprising that aquaculture has been the fastest growing sub-sector for over a decade, accounting for an overall annual growth rate of over 40 percent per year since 1991, compared with only 5 percent for capture fisheries.
For more information on aquaculture legislation in Myanmar please click on the following link:
National Aquaculture Legislation Overview - Myanmar
The sectoral policy and principle aims of the fishery sector are to:
There is an urgent need to ensure the sustainable development of aquaculture, practical management of sustainable development should ensure that it is environmentally viable, socially acceptable and economically sound. As a result of their experiences and education by the department, awareness and responsibility is widely spread and practiced among fish farmers.
The aquaculture sub-sector, despite its prosperity and varied potential for expansion and continued growth, has not been without its difficulties.The main issues / trends are as follow:
Department of Fisheries, 2001 .Fisheries Statistics of Myanmar, 2001.
Department of Fisheries, 2002 .Annual report.
Win, H. 2003 .Alien Species in Myanmar.
Win, H. 2003 .Fishery Development Potential in Myanmar.
Win, H. & Khin Ko Lay, 2002 .Opportunities and Challenges in Myanmar Aquaculture.
Ministry of Information, 2002 .Myanmar facts and figures.