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There are repeated references to the crucial importance of fish and fish products in the nutrition and livelihoods of the Myanmar people. Whilst it is certainly recognized that fish is second only to rice in the Myanmar diet, there is little information available on the patterns of consumption, inter-regional differences, availability and types of fish consumed. In this respect Myanmar is similar to many Southeast Asian countries where emphasis is paid to rice production as a crucial element of food security, with little or no recognition of the fish component, which gives the rice-based diet much of its nutritional value outside of calories and crude protein.

At the 13th Governing Council Meeting of the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) in Langkawi, Malaysia in 2002, the representative of Myanmar made a request to NACA for support to the aquaculture and inland fisheries sectors. In response, NACA, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAO RAP), fielded an aquaculture and inland fisheries mission to Myanmar on 2 to 12 December 2002.

The purpose of the mission was:

After an initial period in Yangon for consultations with the Department of Fisheries, United Nations agencies and NGO's, the mission split into two teams: one team visited coastal areas; and one team visited inland areas. This executive summary provides the combined conclusions and recommendations from the inland and coastal teams.

Inland fisheries and aquaculture: conclusions and recommendations

The people of Myanmar are poor compared to most other countries. Although no comprehensive poverty statistics are available, generic poverty indicators include:

Stagnating GDP; low total daily expenditure (between 0.28-0.57 US$ compared to the World Bank's somewhat broad-brush poverty level of US$ 1/day); slender and volatile purchasing power; limited state managed welfare (impacting heavily on non-food producer's access to food); low calorific intake (less than half of the World Bank's basic nutritional needs of 2 250 calories/day).

However, Myanmar has impressive freshwater capture fisheries. Inland waters are made up mainly of the interlocking/mingling of riverine and estuarine systems of the Ayeyarwaddy (2 150 km long), Chindwin (844 km; a tributary of the main Ayeyarwaddy) and Sittaung Rivers (563 km) plus the large Thalwin River (2 400 km) to the east and a small section of the Mekong River basin. Together these systems extend from the eastern part of the Bay of Bengal to the Gulf of Moattama and along the eastern edge of the Andaman Sea. Myanmar potentially has an inland fishery greatly exceeding that of any single national part of the Mekong River basin, and quite feasibly rivals that of the lower Mekong Basin in its entirety.

These resources support, in many ways, the livelihoods of the people of Myanmar. Examples include: leasable fisheries (including sub-leasing), small-scale capture fisheries (artisanal fish trap operations, larger trapping gears, trapping of fish resources in paddy fields), small-scale fish marketing (women who catch and sell fish, fish marketing systems such as that at Thaung Tha Man in Mandalay Division, dried fish sellers), small-scale aquaculture (family ponds, hatchery and additional services, nursing), licensed fish ponds, and aquaculture support services (such as feed production).

The following summarizes major recommendations arising from the inland fisheries and aquaculture team visits.

Information, statistics and appropriate valuation of fisheries resources

1. The role of fish and aquatic foods needs to be adequately evaluated, with special attention paid to the distributional aspects and penetration of both fresh and preserved fish into remote areas.

2. The leasable fisheries and open fisheries resource areas vary every year according to the extent of flooding. More effective mapping of these resources would facilitate the Department of Fisheries, Myanmar in estimating the likely production of these fisheries as well as allow better demarcation of individual leases.

3. It is crucial that fisheries related questions are appropriately incorporated into the household survey proposed by UNDP. Care must be taken to identify issues relating to access to fish, and the extent households undertake gathering, collection and purchase. Asking families if they fish is not sufficient and will almost certainly give a misleading impression of the importance of fish in the livelihoods and diets of the Myanmar people.

4. The Department of Livestock and Fisheries could incorporate some simple questions about rice-field fisheries into a proposed agriculture census (because the department's statistics do not cover rice-fields).

Aquaculture and aquatic resources in rural development

5. It is highly recommended that future poverty focused food security development involving small-scale pond aquaculture be considered also in Myanmar.

6. It is recommended that poverty alleviation objectives of the Department of Fisheries focus on those most vulnerable to hunger, who are likely to be the landless, the urban poor and small-scale producers, each with limited capacity to secure entitlement to food.

7. It is recommended that the capacity of line agency staff to investigate and understand the livelihoods of poor people who manage aquatic resources, and their capacity to use this knowledge in the development of policies, legislation and support services be strengthened. It should be recognized that this is a considerable undertaking.

8. There appears to be considerable scope for further enhancement of leasable and floodplain fisheries through stocking of advanced large sized fingerlings, using appropriate stocking rates and possibly strategic feeding in some of the smaller leases.

9. The mission is of the view that Myanmar should take steps to reintroduce reservoir fisheries, initially on a small scale (and in conjunction with the irrigation authorities) and over time, supported by research, evolve suitable strategies to optimize yields, including the cost-effectiveness of any proposed stocking programme that is to be included, and sustain it in the long term.

10. Rice fish culture can only be piloted in a practical situation where the impacts can be evaluated, ideally with the participation of farmers, this ensures that results are grounded in the realities of their farming systems (i.e. participatory/farmer based research).

11. It is recommended that more nursing of stock for enhancement be undertaken by Department of Fisheries stations to increase the effectiveness of enhancement programmes.

Institutions, communications and networking

12. It is strongly recommended that Myanmar Department of Fisheries increase its formal and informal networking with other line agencies and organizations within Myanmar and also with similar national networks in other countries. It is recommended that Myanmar contact the NACA secretariat to investigate playing a role in the Support to Regional Aquatic Resource Management (STREAM) initiative in this regard.

13. It is recommended that the communication remit of Myanmar Fisheries Federation be expanded and that links be made with other organizations in other parts of the world so that lessons learnt elsewhere may be shared with fishers and farmers in Myanmar and Myanmar can also share its insights and learning with the rest of the world.

Research priorities

The Mission recognized the following areas as research priorities, and recommends that the Department of Fisheries, Myanmar liaise with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and other donor agencies to develop suitable research projects.

14. The mission is of the view that moderate research inputs into typical leasable fisheries in a selected region, e.g. Upper Myanmar, will enable increased fish production in such fisheries, and could have positive influences on improving the lives of the communities involved in such fisheries and on the fish supplies in rural areas. Research on leasable fisheries in non-perennial waters might develop suitable stocking strategies, including species combinations, cost-effectiveness of stocking, and the socio-economics of such fisheries.

15. Inle Lake in Shan State is an important natural resource. In the recent years the traditional, small-scale "floating gardens" have been expanded significantly through the intervention of commercial growers. The lake supports the livelihood of at least 800 fisher families and is the main source of animal protein for the inhabitants of Nyaung Shwe Township and many of the surrounding townships that purchase the fresh and dried fish produced. The increasing intensity of local agricultural activities is bound to increase the nutrient and pesticide load in the lake. The consequences of such increases are difficult to predict at this stage. It is proposed that a study be conducted on the livelihoods of fishers and farmers around the lake and the changing physio-chemical character of the resource (e.g. water quality and the fishery of Inle Lake). It is expected that such a study will help in bringing about suitable management measures for the fishery, in the light of increasing and possible eutrophication of the water body.

In the event that the Department of Fisheries, Myanmar adopts the recommendation to reintroduce reservoir fisheries, it will be imperative that a new management strategy be developed for the fisheries. In order to do so it is suggested that a research programme be undertaken in conjunction with potential fishers/fishing communities/Department of Fisheries to develop a co-management strategy(s) to ensure the long term sustainability of the fishery resources.

Coastal aquaculture: conclusions and recommendations

Coastal aquaculture in Myanmar is mainly limited to shrimp farming, with smaller quantities of mud crab and groupers farmed. The sector already contributes significant export earnings, and shows potential for future development and diversification. Extensive brackishwaters, tidal estuaries and clean marine environments exist along a long coastline of nearly 3 000 km, with significant scope for coastal aquaculture development. Most coastal aquaculture in Myanmar is practiced with traditional methods, but intensification of shrimp farming in particular is gathering pace. Because of low urbanization and industrialization in coastal areas, water pollution caused by chemical and industrial waste is negligible providing opportunities for production of high quality products. However, degradation of the resource base and habitats, such as coastal mangroves and coral reefs, is a concern. Government policy is supportive to expansion of coastal aquaculture, but careful attention is required to ensure the sustainability of coastal aquaculture, to maximize creation of opportunities for employment, income generation and improve livelihoods of the many people living in Myanmar's coastal areas.

The following summarizes major conclusions and recommendations arising from the coastal aquaculture team visits to Yangon, Rakhine and Tanintharyi regions.

Coastal communities

The general picture that emerges from the mission, and review of secondary information, is of a coastal population that includes significant numbers of poor and vulnerable people with a high proportion dependant on fisheries activities and aquatic products for income and nutritional security. Coastal aquaculture development is presently quite limited, but already the livelihoods of perhaps several thousand people are directly and indirectly linked to the sector.

There appear to be significant barriers to entry of poor people directly into coastal aquaculture. These barriers seem to include land access, skill acquisition, access to credit and support services, scarce availability of small land holdings, lack of micro-credit systems and security of land tenures.

1. The mission was unable to evaluate to what extent poorer members of the coastal community have already benefited from coastal aquaculture. Opportunities may be substantial to support local development through sustainable aquaculture initiatives. Information is required (e.g. through livelihood analysis in Rakhine and Thanintharyi regions) to better understand livelihoods and gauge opportunities for participation in aquaculture. Such information could be obtained by the upcoming UNDP census, or perhaps through special local (e.g. township) level assessments.

2. Investment in coastal aquaculture so far is focused on export commodities; and it appears to be mainly wealthier individuals/companies who are directly involved, with shrimp as the main item, and smaller quantities of crab and grouper. Investment by larger companies/individuals has proved important in developing technology and infrastructure for aquaculture, for example, private sector investment support to shrimp hatcheries, and employment, such as several hundred people involved in Myeik (women in soft-shell crab farm) and input supplies (mud crab, trash fish, and grouper fry supply to cage farms in the Thanintharyi division).

3. The opportunities for participation of local smallholders in coastal aquaculture should be further explored, and government, donor and private sector investment could then be focused on support to poor people where appropriate. There are major questions of technology, extension support, capital access and security that remain unanswered on the potential for small-scale poverty-focused mariculture. If nontechnical constraints can be better understood and addressed, technology for several species might offer opportunities to support small-scale aquaculture in coastal areas, which will contribute to foreign exchange earnings and poverty alleviation in coastal areas.

Environmental issues, resource sustainability

4. There are questions about the resource sustainability of aquaculture systems based on capture of wild stocks. Mud crabs, grouper and potentially lobster culture, are based on capture of wild stocks. The sustainable development of such systems depends on sustainable supply of inputs (feed and seed). Value-added culture can provide positive economic benefits to fishers and the country, as they value add to existing resources and provide foreign exchange. However, sustainability is a long-term issue and it is already apparent that for groupers this is already an emerging constraint.

5. Research should be conducted on capture fishery based aquaculture systems to determine the sustainability of present practices, and used to prepare advice on sustainable management. Mud crab farming and fattening practices show considerable potential for smallholder involvement and should be given priority in such research, because of the high volume captured and traded.

6. Shrimp farming in mangrove environments, classified as 'secondary' mangrove habitats, raises questions of sustainability due to acid sulphate soils, and downstream environmental and social effects due to replacement of mangroves with shrimp ponds, particularly low productivity extensive systems requiring large areas. The role of secondary mangrove systems should be assessed and effective mangrove management plans put in place. Mangroves should be evaluated for their contribution to fisheries, acid-sulphate soil problems, economic values, and retention for mixed silviculture/shrimp farming to diversify income risk among farmers. Knowledge of sediment dynamics in these coastal regions is also required to identify the role of coastal mangroves in sediment entrapment deposition and erosion.

7. The productivity of existing shrimp farming systems developed in mangrove areas is extremely low, in some cases probably less than the fishery values of original mangrove resource (commonly 100-150 kg/ha of fisheries products from other regional countries, but values need to be verified for Myanmar). Upgrading and rehabilitation of low productivity coastal ponds and degraded mangrove areas should therefore be given attention. This may involve introduction of improved aquaculture systems, such as mud crab culture, and restoration of mangroves where suitable. Opportunities exist for sharing experience with previous ACIAR and NACA projects on mangrove-aquaculture systems in Viet Nam and acid-sulphate soil mapping in Indonesia.

8. The Department of Fisheries is making progress in environmental management of more intensive shrimp farms, and is encouraging the private sector through zoning and water treatment protocols. These initiatives are welcome and should be continued and improved for effective environmental management of the sector, and for ensuring sustainability of existing private sector investments. A comprehensive environmental management plan should be agreed with private sector investors in the shrimp industry in Myanmar as a voluntary Code of Conduct for future investment and development of the industry.

9. There is a need to explore and introduce effective coastal planning to support balanced development in coastal areas between aquaculture, coastal fisheries, and other coastal resource uses. The land use policy in coastal areas is directed towards agriculture development, and there appears to be lack of flexibility in using agriculture land for aquaculture. This may be focusing shrimp farm development towards less suitable mangrove areas, whereas more suitable aquaculture sites may be available on sub-optimal agriculture land.

10. Coastal planning processes and zoning should be reviewed as a basis for moving towards more integrated coastal planning processes that would allow for balanced use of resources for aquaculture in harmony with other uses. As integrated coastal planning and management appears to be a new concept in Myanmar, one or two pilot areas might be used for testing and development of a suitable approach, for subsequent wider adoption. Zoning principles should also be applied to separate major shrimp farming and hatchery zones away from each other, as part of a health management strategy for the shrimp industry.

11. Coral reefs are probably important for sustaining coastal fisheries, particularly in the southern part of Myanmar. Further information on the status of coral reef resources, the people dependant on them, fishing practices and conservation status, should be obtained. This would form the basis for establishing suitable management measures for this important resource. The Department of Fisheries has institutional responsibility for one marine protected area in a coral reef area, but has limited capacity and awareness of coral and marine protected area management. It is recommended to build awareness and capacity within the Department of Fisheries for marine protected area management. The Department of Fisheries is also encouraged to explore linkages with the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN).

Aquaculture technology

12. Most shrimp farms practice traditional methods, but the Department of Fisheries is trying to encourage improvement of extensive systems, and intensification of shrimp farming in particular is gathering pace with several recent investments in more intensive shrimp farms. The technology and management practices can be further upgraded through capacity building and awareness campaigns based on experiences in other Southeast Asian countries, particularly on issues that influence the sustainability of the sector (e.g. shrimp disease and environmental issues).

13. There are several promising species for diversification of coastal aquaculture in Myanmar, and considerable opportunities to learn from other countries in the region. Therefore, technical cooperation with other countries in coastal aquaculture technology and management should continue to be promoted. A programme of technical exchanges should be established to effectively draw on experiences of other countries for development of sustainable coastal aquaculture in Myanmar. Such networking should include the Department of Fisheries, the private sector, educational institutes and NGOs (such as the Myanmar Fisheries Federation (MFF) and others active in community development).

Institutional support and capacity building

The Department of Fisheries appears to be mainly focused on licensing and quality assurance through a laboratory in Yangon. A coastal station is planned near Myeik to support mariculture development in an area with significant potential.

14. In general, the mission felt the need for capacity building in extension and delivery of services to the private sector and coastal poor engaged in aquaculture/ fishers.

15. Capacity building among Department of Fisheries staff, and particularly the younger staff, should be given a high priority. Education and training should be addressed through both short and long-term approaches. A structured approach and plan involving the Department of Fisheries, universities and NGO's should be prepared for long-term capacity building in the sector.

16. Donor assistance might be provided in designing and developing course materials, training of trainers and teaching, both within the Department of Fisheries and in NGOs (e.g. MFF) for better informed management of coastal aquaculture development in Myanmar. Promoting linkages to other countries in the region is essential for effective exchange of experiences and capacity building.

17. The Department of Fisheries recognizes the potential for future development of mariculture in the southern part of Myanmar. The main initiative for mariculture development in this area within the Department of Fisheries is the plan to establish a marine aquaculture station at Kyun Su Township in Thanintharyi division, starting in 2003. The Department of Fisheries plans to start work with seabass culture, but eventually will extend to include groupers. External assistance should be considered for training of staff, and design of the facility.

Aquatic animal disease control and health management

Shrimp disease problems have recently emerged and are already causing severe economic impacts on shrimp farms, in Myanmar, including semi-intensive and extensive farms. The effects on wild populations are unknown, but it appears that shrimp broodstock are already infected with white spot syndrome virus (WSSV) to varying degrees. There is evidence that WSSV was introduced to the country through introduction of shrimp post-larvae. The current situation, if not brought under control through urgent and coordinated action, represents a serious threat to the sustainability of shrimp farm investments, Myanmar's ability to attract foreign investment, and future trade status.

18. Policy should be clearly developed on the introduction of aquatic species to Myanmar. Practical implementation of the Asia Regional Technical Guidelines on Health Management and Responsible Movement of Live Aquatic Animals is essential.

19. The current ban on further imports of live aquatic animals should be continued, including Penaeus monodon and Penaeus vannamei, since there are no risk assessment measures in place for imports, and no facility for quarantine and extensive testing of the quality of the imported animals. Introduction of suitable risk assessment procedures, in cooperation with the private sector, is strongly recommended. As Myanmar will likely continue to receive requests from the private sector for imports of P. vannamei, further advice should become available from an assessment being planned by FAO/NACA in 2003.

20. White spot syndrome virus (WSSV) is proving to be the major current problem in shrimp culture, and the mission has identified major risks and actions that can be taken, based on experiences in other countries:

a) Establish disease-testing facilities in major broodstock sourcing areas, with priority on Thandwe, to reduce the chance of postlarval (PL) contamination;

b) Introduce a PCR testing centre in the southern area (for example in Myeik);

c) Support PCR testing laboratories by development of standard protocols, training and laboratory procedures. Other countries within the region can provide assistance in such training and protocol development;

d) Urgent extension programmes should be undertaken. The government lacks experienced extension staff to support local farmers, and a concerted effort and collaboration between government and the private sector should be initiated as a matter of urgency to ensure that farm staff are properly trained and equipped with the know-how to identify and manage disease problems;

e) A health management "Code of Practice" should be agreed between government and private sector, including an agreed programme of broodstock testing, chemical and drug use and an agreement on imports, that should be a condition of investment in the shrimp farming business in Myanmar; and

f) Existing experiences from NACA, FAO and ACIAR support in the Asian region should be engaged to support development of a responsible shrimp sector.

21. The use of chemicals in shrimp aquaculture remains a serious concern. The team recommends development of regulations, with the private sector, on chemical and drug use, including a list of banned chemicals, instructions on safe storage/use, ingredients and withdrawal periods clearly written in the Myanmar language.

Business investment in coastal aquaculture

22. There are several large investments on-going or planned for coastal aquaculture in Myanmar. The mission was concerned whether the question of (environmental, economic, social) sustainability had been fully addressed, and what incentives exist for long-term perspectives on investment. Problems have already emerged because of introduction of disease by the private sector, which has jeopardized shrimp farm development in Myanmar. The private sector should be encouraged to positively support the development of the sector, such as through longer-term capacity building, development of Codes of Practice (e.g. regarding local employment, movement of live aquatic animals, etc.). The mission suggests a Code of Practice be developed that would be a condition of further investment in the sector.

Market trends and implications

23. The current markets for coastal aquaculture products are almost solely export oriented. Products are exported to a wide range of countries, as frozen product (shrimp, soft-shelled crabs) or in live form (mud crabs, groupers and lobsters). There are a number of market trends that have implications for coastal aquaculture, particularly shrimp (chemicals, trace-ability, certification) and live marine fish (standards are currently being developed for import of live fish to Hong Kong by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)). These regional and global trends will influence the future development of aquaculture in Myanmar. The team considers that Myanmar's coastal environment offers opportunities for a "clean and green" image for aquaculture products.

24. There has been some commendable work on quality assurance in Myanmar, and there is a need to continue to develop quality assurance/clean quality products through working closely with the private sector. Therefore, the emphasis should be towards responsible development of the sector. This may be accomplished by the development and adoption of Codes of Practice with the private sector that would provide a basis for a set of informal "rules" that might guide investment and management of the export-oriented sector. Myanmar is also encouraged to engage in regional and international discussions on such issues and promote international investment in aquaculture that adheres to such codes and emerging certification principles.

Coastal fisheries resources

25. The mission noted the need to generate more updated information on maximum sustainable yields of marine fish stocks, as a basis for sustainable management. Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, including possible use of destructive fishing practices in coral areas should be further investigated and actions taken to address problem areas. The mission did not investigate this issue in detail, but felt it was worth noting that there is a need to generate a better understanding of marine fish stocks and catches to provide a sound basis for sustainable management. FAO, UNDP, Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) and other supporting agencies may be approached to support such investigations.

Entry points for support in coastal aquaculture

The mission has identified several initial entry points for collaborative support with particular reference to the programme areas of NACA, FAO, UNDP and ACIAR programmes. The priority areas include:

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