goback to main page

FAO Fisheries Circular No. 920 FIRM/C920

Rome, 1997

ISSN 0429-9329

Marine Resources Service,
Fishery Resources Division,
Fisheries Department,
FAO, Rome, Italy


FAO Statistical Area 71



This FAO Statistical Area (Figure B12.1) extends from the seas of the Southeast Asian countries down to north and east Australia and further eastwards to the smaller island countries of the South Pacific (as discussed in the regional review of the South Pacific Islands). The area is dominated by a large continental shelf area, which is bordered in the north by southeast Asian countries and in the southeast by Indonesia and Australia. The majority of this shelf area lies within the EEZ's of Southeast Asian countries, reflected in the major contribution these countries make to the total production of Area 71. In 1994 catches by Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam accounted for 97% of the total. The shelf areas are rich in demersal resources, including penaeid shrimps, and small pelagic resources, while the oceanic waters of the Pacific have rich tuna resources.

Development of fisheries in the region has been much influenced by the global market. This has been reflected by the rapid development of trawl fisheries in southeast Asia in 1970s targeting shrimp for export, the relatively fast development in the early 1980s of purse seine fisheries targeting tuna for canning, and of tuna longlining since mid 1980s targeting tuna for the fresh sashimi market. The decline in wild shrimp catches and the resulting shortfall in demand resulted in the development of shrimp culture since mid-1980s.

Despite the rapid development of fisheries in this region, the level of knowledge of the status of resources is inadequate. Many management decisions have been made on an ad hoc basis and only in some cases have management measures been based on advice from the scientific community. The situation is of course different in the southern part of the region, where scientific advice has been an integral part of the management process in most of the Australian fisheries for some time.


Figure B12.2
figure Total catches in the area have risen almost continuously since 1950, although the rate of increase has flattened since 1990 (Fig. B12.2). No single ISSCAAP group can be singled out as the key factor in explaining variation in (Table XII) total catches. In 1994 the top seven ISCCAAP species groups (by catches) accounted for 87% of the total. The top seven were, in order of catch share: ISSCAAP Groups 39 (miscellaneous fishes); 36 (tunas); 34 (jacks); 35 (herrings); 33 (redfishes); 37 (mackerels), and 45 (shrimps). The typical multispecies nature of tropical coastal resources seems to be reflected by the high proportion of the miscellaneous group and the relatively even spread of catches between the other ISSCAAP Groups. Although lower than in the Eastern Indian Ocean, the contribution of miscellaneous fishes is still high and accounted for 24% of the total landings in 1994. The higher rate of catch increase in the later years for this group may very well be explained by augmented fishing pressure in coastal waters.

Figure B12.3 Figure B12.4
figure figure The patterns of catch share by different species within ISSCAAP Groups 34, 35 and 37 are all similar, with a few species standing out. For example, various scads make up ~50% of the catches within ISSCAAP Group 34 (jacks, mullets, sauries, etc.) (Figure B12.3). The ISSCAAP Groups 35 and 37 are similarly dominated by catches of Sardinella species and Indian mackerels (Rastrelliger spp.) respectively (Table XII).

Coastal fisheries are still dominant in the major fishing countries. Shrimp are a main target of these fisheries, with the banana prawn as the most valuable species. The majority of the catch is made up of unspecified Natantian decapods and other shrimps and prawns (Figure B12.4). While shrimp exports from capture fisheries have been relatively constant, if not declining, those from aquaculture have increased and overtaken them. The preferred cultured species is the tiger prawn, P. monodon, due to its sturdiness and relatively large individual size.

Figure B12.5 Figure B12.6
figure figure The catch of cephalopods has increased from 165 000 t in 1984 to 270 000 t in 1994 (Figure B12.5). Thailand contributed about 43%. Some resources are still lightly exploited in some Indonesia waters and in a limited part of Vietnam waters, and there could be potential for further development. Tunas are an important export commodity for the area. Catches for export are made primarily by distant-water fishing fleets, with the major species being skipjack and yellowfin (Figure B12.6). Much of the coastal tuna catch comes from other species and is for domestic consumption. Total tuna catches by the distant water fishing fleet in 1994 was of the order of 600 000 t, as contributed by Japan, Korea Republic, USA and Taiwan (Province of China). China, as a relative newcomer to the fishery, landed 10 000 t in 1994.


Despite the continued increase of catches in the major fishing countries, strong indications of overfishing exist for some species in coastal waters. For instance, the abundance of demersal fish stocks in the Gulf of Thailand in the early 1990s was only one tenth of the 1960s level when the trawl fisheries started. The shrimp resources in the Arafura Sea seem to have experienced increased fishing pressure in the 1990s, with an increase in the number of small trawlers operating in the northern part of the Arafura Sea. Coastal tuna resources in the Philippines waters continued to decline, which encouraged expansion of tuna fishing in Indonesian waters through bilateral arrangement.

Various conventional management measures have been introduced by countries in the region (including closed seasons, closed areas or zoning, mesh-size regulations etc.). However, fishing pressure has kept increasing. Increases in human populations seems to be an important factor for many countries. Despite impediments in the buyback scheme that Malaysia introduced in 1985, the country is presently initiating a second try to reintroduce the scheme in its effort to reduce fishing pressure in coastal regions. Relatively lower fishing intensity is typical in the southern part of the region (Australia, New Zealand, and some small island States in the South Pacific). The management of fisheries in the southern part of the region seems to show encouraging results, and although northern areas may have different resources and different fisheries management structures, countries to the north could learn from this experience.

The main environmental problems in the region arise from a combination of high population pressure in coastal areas and poor facilities for waste treatment, as indicated by the high level of coli bacteria in some coastal areas. More environmental problems appear in the developing countries in Southeast Asia, although fishing with cyanide for ornamental fish has decreased to some degree in the region. However, the high prices for live food fish from the coral reefs (such as groupers and snappers) have led some fishers to return to cyanide fishing again. Concerns over environmental issues relating to fisheries have received special attention among academics and research scientists of the region, as reflected in discussions during the recent Asia-Pacific Fisheries Commission (APFIC) Symposium on Environmental Aspects of Responsible Fisheries, held in Seoul, 15-18 October 1996. The need to strengthen fisheries management, including the promotion and implementation of integrated coastal area management, formed one of the recommendations of the symposium.