Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


Myanmar - aquaculture and inland fisheries

Inland fisheries and aquaculture resources

Myanmar has impressive freshwater capture fisheries. The inland waters are made up mainly of the interlocking/ mingling of riverine and estuarine systems of the Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy, 2 150 km long), Chindwin (844 km; a tributary of the main Ayeyarwaddy) and Sittaung (563 km) rivers, plus the large Thalwin River (2 400 km) to the east. The first three have adjacent deltas and are arguably part of a larger joint system. 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. The Ayeyarwaddy River alone has a mean discharge of 13 500 m3/second from its catchment of 424 000 km2 (Welcomme, 1985), notably, practically all within Myanmar.

Aquatic resource area of the river systems within Myanmar encompasses a total of 8.2 million ha (FAO, 1996) of permanent and seasonal water bodies and there were 29 000 ha of freshwater fishponds and a further 40 716 ha of shrimp ponds in 2001, and 115 687 ha of reservoirs (see Table 1). The Department of Fisheries (DoF) in Yangon estimates a figure of six million ha of floodplains, which likely excludes river area and floodplain lakes. This approaches that of the entire Mekong Basin (>seven million ha, MRC, 2001).

The country also includes a small section of the Mekong River basin but is not a member of the Mekong River Commission. The Mekong River which has only a slightly higher discharge (15 000 m3/second) but a greater length (4 880 km) and larger catchment (795 000 km2) (MRC, 2001). With a total population of about 50 million, 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. There are also great similarities in the fisheries of the Ayeyarwaddy and Mekong and Myanmar presents a fascinating opportunity to compare statistics and experiences between these regions, with potential for extension to elsewhere such as South America.

For management (licensing/regulation) purposes Myanmar divides its inland capture fisheries into two main categories:

1. "Inn" leasable fisheries. These are almost exclusively key fishing grounds on floodplains which are primarily fished through the erection of barrage fences around the lease area with fish collected in various collection pens or traps. The peak season involves capturing fishes migrating off the floodplain at the beginning of river draw-down. Lease holders enjoy exclusive rights to fish the lease area including preventing access by others and a certain degree of environmental management and control. This is referred to locally as the "Inn" fishery. For present purposes it is the same as the floodplain (and Great Lake) barrage fishing components of the "Lot" system in Cambodia. There are currently 3 722 leasable fisheries in Myanmar of which 3 490are still exploitable. Of these, 1 738 (52.3 percent) are located in Ayeyarwaddy Division (the lower floodplains and delta of the river). Leases have been auctioned every year but DoF is extending the lease period to up to 9 years to promote improved long-term management. There are no government owned leases. A register of leases is kept and details of lease arrangements are held on Land Revenue Forms.

2. Open fisheries. These are fisheries in all other areas including all types of fishing operation. The right to fish in these areas is licensed out by DoF. All fishing gears require a license. For most this is a set fee. Some of the larger gears, particularly "bagnets" set in rivers (comparable to those used in the lower Mekong), are allocated by a tender system ("tender fisheries"). Fees are variable between regions according to production and capacity. License fees for smaller-gears are low. Although the policy is for complete coverage of licenses for all gears (a monumental task in such a fishery) it was intimated that licenses tend to be neglected for smaller gears and the system concentrates on those people perceived as fishing for "profit".

Livelihoods from small-scale fish marketing - These women derive a livelihood from two days of fishing and two days of selling every five days. Inle women who catch and sell fish at several of the markets held on the traditional 5-day rotating basis. (See discussion of Inle fish catchers and seller)

Officially, it is a requirement for all licenses that holders report their catches, although in practice, this is only likely for the larger leasable fisheries and larger fixed gear fisheries. This is another source of underestimation of the actual status of the production from inland fisheries. The entire fishery is closed during June, July and August (to allow spawning and recruitment). In practice this is probably enforced only for the Inn fishery, tender fisheries and larger gears. The smallscale fishery occurs year-round and is considered technically "illegal" during these months.

The role of inland fisheries and aquaculture in people's livelihoods in Myanmar

There are repeated references to the crucial importance of fish and fish products in the nutrition of the Myanmar people. Whilst it is certainly recognized the fish is second only to rice in the diet of Myanmar, 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 of Asian countries where emphasis is paid to rice production as a crucial element of food security, with little or no recognition the fish component which gives the rice-based diet much of its nutritional value - in addition to calories and crude protein.

The size and scale of activities and opportunities within the inland fisheries and aquaculture sector varies from very smallscale to large-scale commercial operations. The livelihoods that were identified during the visit are:

This section is drawn from discussions and information collected during visits to Government Fisheries Stations and Fisheries Offices, Leasable Fisheries and Licensed Fisheries and large and small-scale Aquaculture Operations in Yangon Division, Mandalay Division and Shan State (see Annex 1, mission itinerary for details of places visited and Annex 3, persons met).

Participation in capture fisheries

Very few of the countries record participation in the capture fisheries sector to any significant degree in their statistics. Most do not record it at all. Some only report licensed fishers. None record participation in fishery-related activities often include those involved in processing, marketing, transportation and gear construction etc. Myanmar has a more extensive licensing system than other countries in the region and reports 1 398 410 fishers operating in inland waters in 2000-2001. This is higher than for the marine sector (1 278 000 fishers) and is approximately 3.5 times the number of fish farmers. Even so, the figure for inland waters is based on licensee records and in practice many small gears are not included and rice-field and reservoir fishing is excluded (the latter as a result of the ban on reservoir fisheries since 1998).

The inland fisheries of Myanmar almost certainly involve more people than reported since many families will engage in occasional, seasonal or rice paddy type fisheries, which is unlicensed and largely unreported. Thus this sector is probably impacting a far greater percentage of the population than currently recognized.

The number of people employed in the aquaculture sector are cited as 612 000 of which 175 000 are employed full time (Kyaw, 1998). This type of categorization does not particularly reflect the relative livelihood importance of the activity and the contribution to household income security and vulnerability reduction.

Gender aspects

Gender is used to describe all the socially given attributes, roles, activities and responsibilities connected to being female or male in a given society. It is one marker among others such as age, race, ethnicity, class, disability, connections, education and sexual orientation etc., that determines status.

Table 1: Freshwater resources in Myanmar

Freshwater fisheries resources

Area (ha)


Likely productivity (kg/ha)

Theoretical annual production (tonnes)

Seasonal floodplains

8 100 000

no data available

no data available

no data available

Permanent water bodies

1 300 000

no data available

no data available

no data available

Leasable fisheries

no data available

3 483 (3 722)

no data available

no data available


115 687



17 350

Freshwater aquaculture ponds (fish)

29 000

no data available


21 750

Women operate hatcheries as well as undertake routine management of fish ponds - "I inherited three acres of land from my parents in 1983 and created borrow pits elevating flood land on which to build a house. As the borrow pits flooded I grew fish. Then I came to realise that nursing fry to fingerlings was better business. Most market demand is for Rohu and Common carp."Over the last 20 years demand has increased year on year. It is not possible to satisfy the demand, small size is most popular" - small fish nursing and supply business east of Mandalay.

The involvement of both men and women in fisheries and aquaculture is evident in all of the locations visited by the mission. Fishing and harvesting from aquaculture is practised by male household members but women also often play an important role. Some small-scale fishers around Inle Lake are women and the marketing of fish is almost exclusively the domain of women.

In several of the small fish pond culture and hatchery operations visited by the mission the women of the household either managed the operation or were engaged in routine management operations, such as feed preparation and/or feeding.

It is possible that in Myanmar, in common with other places in Southeast Asia, much of the foraging of paddy field aquatic resources (such as fish, frogs, etc.) is an activity of women (and children). For this reason surveys that focus on male head of households often fail to completely capture fishing activities of a household.

Securing food

In common with many of its neighbours, rice and fish are key staples in Myanmar. Fish, commonly small fresh fish, dried fish, fish paste and fermented fish products from inland fisheries and aquaculture was observed to exceed other animal protein sources such as meat and eggs in local markets by a factor of 10:1. All those interviewed whose livelihoods fall within the fresh water fisheries sector reported demand in excess of supply. The price difference between red meats and fish (common varieties) are in the region of 4:1.

However, the key food production focus of the government is currently rice, and significantly the Department of Agriculture has representation down to village level. The conversion of rice land to other uses is carefully controlled. Low yielding land (e.g. 5-6 baskets/acre) however may be allocated by the Land Distribution Committee (with representatives from Department of Fisheries, Department of Forestry, Department of Agriculture, Department of Rural Development and District Government) to investors for conversion to fish ponds. An example of this is found to the north of Inle Lake in Shan State, where water management is purported to have reduced the quality of former paddy land which now floods regularly. Two thousand acres of this land is now being licensed for fish production by the Fisheries Department. A number of aquaculture entrants (who have converted their paddies to ponds) have suffered 'livelihood shocks' (see further for detail) such as fish loss due to flooding, four years out of the last four and had to sell up. This land is retailing for around K500 000/acre and therefore represents an opportunity mainly for medium-scale or large-scale entrepreneurs.

The development of small-scale fish ponds (less than 25 x 25 feet) is not licensed by the Department of Fisheries and therefore land converted to fish ponds below 60 m2 is not controlled or recorded. However, such small-scale ponds, managed initially with minimal investment have proven highly successful contributions to the livelihoods of poor farming families in neighbouring countries, especially where large fingerlings can be stocked or nursed in "hapas" before release. It is highly recommended that future poverty focused food security development involving small-scale pond aquaculture be considered also in Myanmar.

Fish consumption

Based on DoF estimates for national fish production (1 283 489 tonnes) and subtracting exports (144 624 tonnes) gives the total available fish for consumption in Myanmar at approximately 1 138 865 tonnes, suggesting a per capita consumption of 22.7 kg/caput/yr. However, the hidden production from unreported fishing and also the likely under-reporting of leasable and licensed fisheries catch means that the current national estimate should be far higher. Using estimates based on the inland fisheries areas (6 million ha of floodplain, 1.3 million ha of permanent water) of Myanmar the national per capita figure could range between 26-34 kg/capita/yr. These are only approximations and need to be verified by a household consumption study, since there will be strong differences in access to fisheries resources and distributional issues between lowland and highlands (see Table 2 for a detailed list of species present in fresh fish markets). It is interesting to note that even upland dwelling peoples, such as those in Shan State, whose cultural tendency is towards vegetarianism, will still consume small fish. For these people, access to dried as well as fresh fish is important and might be assumed to be an essential component to their vegetarian habits.

Table 2: Captured and culture fish species observed in markets in Mandalay and Shan State

Common Name

Scientific name

Freshwater species



Snakeskin gourami



Channa spp.

Spiny eel



Clarias spp.

Glass fish


Rasbora etc.

Rasbora spp., Danio

Gobies (sand)

Glossobobius spp.

Freshwater eel

Anguilla spp.

Various barbs

Puntius spp.


Osteobrama spp.(Rohtee coti).

Black shark minnow

Morulius chrysophekadion

Common carp

Cyprinus carpio


Labeo rohita


Cirrhinus mrigala

Grass carp

Ctenopharyngodon idellus



Large river catfish

Pangassius & Selonia


Wallago attu

Atyid shrimp

Attidae spp.

Freshwater prawn

Macrobrachium rosenbergii

Freshwater crabs

Paratelphusa (?)

Marine species


Tenualosa ilisha

Other indicators can show the relative importance of fish consumption. Official figures indicate per capita consumption of fish was three times higher than that of meat in 2000 (DoF, 2002).

Fish is a rich source of lysine (which complements lysine deficient rice protein) as well as all the other essential amino acids, vitamin A, essential fatty acids and calcium all of which are difficult to secure in non-fish products including many meats. The focus of investigations of the Myanmar diet should therefore include these aspects of nutritional quality, not merely the quantity.

Preserved fish plays an evident role in the Myanmar diet although the small quantities consumed make this an often hidden contribution to the overall fish consumption, since these products can be consumed at almost every meal, they can contribute a significant proportion of the diet. In one market in Shan State alone, there were 28 different types of preserved fish (freshwater and marine, see Table 3).

Table 3: Number of types/species of preserved fish in Nyaung Shwe market, Shan State

Freshwater species

Number of types on sale

Fermented fish


Dried fish (Snakehead, Puntius, Rotee, Rasbora, etc.)


Fish paste


Salted fish


Marine species

Fermented fish


Dried fish


Fish paste


Salted fish


Shrimp paste (gnapi)


Identifying the poor

Part of the terms of reference for the mission was to identify key constraints to future development of aquaculture and aquatic resource management, including its role in poverty alleviation and to recommend practical strategies to address these constraints. This first involves identifying the poor. Those studying poverty in Myanmar have reported difficulty in finding data and measuring trends, and report no systematic poverty study of Myanmar. There appear to be few indices of poverty or income distribution data available, though expenditure and percentage expenditure on food, purchasing power, calorific intake and GDP per capita is reported in the government Statistical Year Book. According to a study by Satio and Kiong in 1999 drawing on the Statistical Year Book, GDP per capita rose from around K700 after World War I to K1 600 in the late 1990's. The slow rise in GDP was punctuated by falls and periods of stagnation.

A nationwide census of expenditure was carried out in 1997 (Statistical Year Book, 1998). Expenditure on food and beverages amongst States/Divisions ranged between 65-75 percent of total expenditure. Lower Myanmar, closer to the main goods import base, Yangon (with consequent lower transport costs for imported goods) and with a productive coastal fishery tended to have lower food costs and may account for lower percentage expenditure on food compared to Upper Myanmar. Total expenditure (at 1997 prices) ranged between US$ 0.28-0.57 with an average of 0.44 US$/day (compared to the World Bank's somewhat broad-brush poverty level of 1 US$/day). On this basis, Chin state (bordering poor South Asian neighbours, Bangladesh and India, lying in the unproductive dry zone) is the poorest in Myanmar (0.28 US$) and Thanintharyi State (bordering Thailand and the lucrative Thai market, and benefiting from productive coastal resources) the richest (0.57 US$/day). Expenditure in Mandalay Division equates to the country average.

"Fish supply is much diminished from previous times" (Shan Community Development Workers) in Nyaung Shwe.

Much of Myanmar is a fertile, productive environment where food production is unlikely to be limiting. However, slender and volatile purchasing power and limited state managed welfare would be likely to impact heavily on non-food producer's access to food. One indicator of diminishing purchasing power is changes in price of food commodities compared to minimum wage, e.g. rice has increased in price 46 times (in Mandalay between 1960 and 1995) resulting in an 80 percent decrease in purchasing power of the minimum wage over the period (calculated from figures of Khin Maung Kyi et al., 2000).

The World Bank's generic poverty indicator "income to attain basic nutritional needs of 2 250 calories per day" is almost double the calorific intake calculated from monthly food consumption reported in the Statistical Year Book (1998), which varies from below 800 in Chin to 1 200 in Bago. Urban Yangon is reported (SYB, 1998) to be 1 000 calories.

These four indicators appear to suggest that Myanmar is poor compared to most other countries. Poverty is most likely to equate to hunger for people who purchase rather than produce food. 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.

An example of a more detailed local investigation into poverty is the Village Profile from 463 villages in Nyaung Shwe Township (UNDP, 1999), made available to the mission from the UNDP Human Development Initiative for "planning micro-interventions in different sectors".

UNDP findings from Nyaung Shwe Township suggest:

These indicative proxy indicators of poverty used by UNDP attempt to include basic factors which contribute to wellbeing such as access to farm land (food production), type of roofing system (shelter), education level and health care facilities and sanitation (health).

Understanding peoples livelihoods

According to contemporary development thinking, such data begin to explore the physical (infrastructure), natural (land, forests, fisheries) and human assets (such as health, fitness and skills) upon which people build their livelihoods. Further assets which play a vital role include financial capital (including access to credit), and the relationships of trust which link people with each other and which can also affect their access to services and support from service providers (sometimes referred to as social capital). It is the capacity of people, drawing on these assets, within the context of their vulnerability, for example to:

Such knowledge and thinking can help to us understand the role that, in this case, inland fisheries or aquaculture may play in different peoples livelihoods. This in turn can help to frame Fisheries Department Policies in support of people's livelihoods, including those people that are poor who can benefit.

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.

Nyaung Shwe market

Leasable fisheries

Leasable fisheries are floodplain fishing grounds which are leased to individuals (or groups) for fishery activities annually (see Table 4). In a leasable fishery, the lessee has the sole right to exploit all the fish resources, using any gear. The lessee is also expected to stock species of their choice, as the flooding occurs, but the numbers to be stocked is not defined. On the other hand, there are leasable fisheries that are dependent entirely on natural recruitment of indigenous species and in exceptional cases on exotics such as Oreochromis niloticus. Leasable fisheries contribute to the livelihoods of large commercial operators or institutions and depending on the management of the system can support large numbers of sub-lessees and fish sellers. (A background history of the management of leasable fisheries is presented in Annex 2).

Prior to World War II there were 4 006 'Inn' Leasable fisheries but post war this had declined to 3 710. By 1999 the number of leasable fisheries had further reduced to 3 474 with some of the leasable fisheries sites being converted to agriculture. If agriculture subsequently failed, the land essentially becomes 'open fishery' or available for exploitation by local business interests. This has apparently been the case where the promotion of agriculture, especially deepwater rice cultivation by private sector interests has seen the transformation of substantial areas of leasable fisheries into agricultural land. The subsequent failure of the deepwater rice cultivation locations did not see a return to government managed leasable fisheries and the current status, ownership and management of these ex-fisheries was not available to the mission, although obviously of concern to the DoF due to the impacts on fisheries resources. Total current area of the leasable fisheries is estimated at about 148 500 ha.

Auction process, duration of lease and renewal

In principle, the awarding of leases for leasable fisheries is undertaken by auction (sealed bid). The auction is overseen by an auction committee which includes representatives of DoF, the Revenue Dept, the Land Allocation Committee and the Township Committee. The lease may also involve some input/suggestion from higher authorities concerning extension or to whom the lease should be awarded.

Whilst this is the nominal process, in practice the system is similar to that referred to in the description of the history of leasable fisheries from 1948 (Annex 2 - U Maung Khin, 1948). In this case there is some discretionary power to re-award the lease to a 'good leaseholder' and also support from members of the auction committee obviously strengthens a case. The lessees visited had all had continuous leases for the past 8 years, although it can be expected that smaller leasable fisheries and less influential lessees might not enjoy such extended terms of leasing. It needs to be noted that the mission did not have the opportunity to meet with any previous lessee nor visit a lease that has changed "ownership".

There is an apparent proviso in the terms of leasing that allows an authority at the division level (possibly upon the recommendation of DoF or MFF) to extend the lease of the current lessee. In this situation the lessee would be judged to be managing their lease well and possibly even enhancing the production. The cost of the lease is generally relatively low and in cases where leases are renewed; there may be an annual incremental increase of 10 percent.

Fishery management

The mission visited several leasable fisheries locations that represented a range of management methods and habitat types. Leasable waters are mostly seasonal floodplain waters that recede into smaller permanent water bodies or dry up completely. Almost all of the leasable fisheries visited are productive although not typical of leasable fisheries that are reliant on wild recruitment. The productivity is due to the enhancement and management activities of the lessees.

Some leases in urban areas have been dammed and are now permanent water bodies. In two cases the proximity to urban areas and the inevitable drainage of domestic sewage/runoff greatly increased the productivity of the water.

One of the key factors that was evident to the Mission was that although leasable fisheries is managed by the lessee, all the fisheries provide a direct livelihood for a minimum of 40 to 60 families; these families are engaged in fishing, securing the resource, nursing, preparation of the water body if required and marketing. Moreover the families are drawn from the nearby village(s) and thus there is some spread of benefits into surrounding communities.

"The price (of fish) is increased, the supply is less, the environment is more degraded, there are pesticides from floating vegetable gardens (in Inle Lake), and more sediment". HDI Programme Manager Nyaung Shwe, Shan State.

All of the leasable fisheries visited were questioned regarding the manner in which illegal fishing/poaching of fish was controlled. The lessees had various capacities to control this depending upon the size of their leasable fishery, the number of people paid to patrol and control, and the population density in the lease area.

In a small leasable fishery, poaching was controlled by patrolling and guarding to deter the activity. Where fishers were caught fishing illegally action may or may not be taken depending upon the frequency of the infringement or the scale of poaching. It is likely that poaching at a level that incurs significant catches is probably dealt with severely. All of the leasable fisheries sites seemed to tolerate a level of fishing by local people since it is essentially impossible to prevent. There is therefore not complete exclusion, but at the same time there are certainly limitations on the local population from accessing the resource.

It was evident to the Mission that the improvements that have been made to the culture-based fishery practices of the leasable fisheries have been rather limited with some notable exceptions. Typically, the lessee has been complacent with the production levels, and that very few, if any, trial and error changes have been made to improve the production. Any changes that have been made have been mostly physical/ structural.

In this respect, there appears to be considerable scope for further enhancement of these fisheries through stocking of advanced large sized fingerlings, using appropriate stocking rates and possibly strategic feeding in some of the smaller leases.

Sub-leasing - Sub-leased lake-based fishing, such as the unique 'saung' trap (opposite) used by Intha fishers on Inle Lake in Shan State provides a livelihood for canoe owners for an annual fee of K1 000. Fishers can fish every day and sell their catch at K600/Viss.

Thaung Tha Man - Mandalay

In the case of this fishery (600 ha; permanent water body), which is so large that effective control is impossible, a system of engaging the local population in the activity had been initiated by the lessee. The lessee has introduced Oreochromis niloticus into the water body and now this species contributes nearly 60 percent to the total production (estimated at 2 800 kg/ha), the rest being stocked species such as Labeo rohita and minor, indigenous cyprinids, gobids, etc.

The lessee has developed an effective system of exploiting the fish resources and a marketing strategy which engages the community in the exploitation of the resource. The local men involved in the fishery activity and the women of the villages were involved in the subsequent marketing of the catch. Since this is an interesting case of management through involvement rather than exclusion, this is worth explaining further.

There are netting crews (2 crews) employed by the lessee who receive 20 percent of the catch to dispose themselves either by consumption or by sale to the lessee. The majority of fishers are not part of the netting crew and they sell their catch directly to the lessee at one of four landing stations. The prices paid in all cases are below the market rate, but the sale is guaranteed and convenient. The sale of the fish from the landing stations appears to be on a quota basis with women from the local villages (approximately 1 500 in total) queuing up for a fixed 15 kg of fish to sell. The sale price is below the market rate and the women can make a mark up (approximately 15 percent) when they sell at one of the many small markets in and around Mandalay. At the landing station visited by the mission over 100 women were waiting to purchase fish and all transactions were made in cash, indicating that a book or loan system was not operating.

Apart from involving the local communities in the exploitation of the resource, the lessee has also introduced protected areas that have been identified as tilapia breeding grounds and also releases some other species. There is a certain amount of feeding at the time that the lease floods, allegedly to prevent fish from migrating from the lease).

In total it is estimated by the mission that this leasable fishery provides the livelihood for nearly 5 000 persons living in the vicinity of the water body.

Mandalay town

Another leasable fishery in the heart of Mandalay, Kan Daw Gyi (300 ha; permanent water body) has adopted an exclusively stock (2-3 million fingerlings.annum-1) and recapture system (500 000 to 600 000 full grown fish. year-1). Species harvested are bighead carp (3-4 kg size) and silver carp (2-3 kg size) as well as major Indian carps. The yield from this leasable fishery is about 4 200 kg/ha. This leasable fishery is now treated as a pond, and accordingly a license fee of 45 000 kyats is levied from the owner. This lease has experienced fish kills in the past, and the current practice of feeding 3 tonnes/day needs to be given serious consideration, as this practice is bound to exacerbate the nutrient load of this already eutrophied water body. It could be that the present production could be achieved with a significantly reduced feed input, and consequently not only make the fishery more cost-effective but increase the possibility of reducing the price to the consumer.

Livelihoods from leasable fisheries - Large-scale fisheries of 10s to 100s of acres are leased, via auction, to those with means to operate and sustain them. Lease holders are required to manage these as cultured-based fisheries.

Involving the community and spreading benefits - Leasable fisheries such as this one at Thaung Tha Man in Mandalay Division represent a decentralized management system for large fisheries and are the main income generating activity of the Department of Fisheries.

South Mandalay

The Mission visited what could be considered as a typical leasable fishery, a non-perennial flood plain water body, in its eighth year of lease, with a water spread of 222 ha at full flood level. The fishery is culture-based, primarily depending on common carp. Currently, the fishery yields 680 kg/ha, of which the stocked fish account for over 98 percent.

Inle Lake

Inle Lake, Shan State is the second largest natural inland water body in Myanmar. The township of Nyaung Shwe, encompassing 451 villages surround the Lake. The Lake provides the livelihood for about 460 fisher families and many "floating garden" agriculturists, and service providers such as boatmen. Importantly, the Lake provides the main animal protein source (as fresh and dried/preserved fish) for the township populations and the surrounding townships.

Production from the lake is estimated to be about 550-650 tonnes, representing a production of about 20-25 kg/ha/yr, which is about the expected level of exploitable production from a mesotrophic water body. The main fish resources appear to be snakeheads (Ophicephalus spp.), murrels (Channa spp.), featherbacks (Notopterus spp.), Wallago spp., spiny eel (Mastacembalus spp.), common carp. Fishers also exploit Rasbora spp., Puntius spp. (e.g. P. dorsalis), attid shrimps, etc., using traps and cast nets, the bulk of which is salted and sun-dried, and sold.

It is apparent that fish species occupying all the trophic levels are exploited, irrespective of size and or species. However, what was evident was that the number of gear types are extremely limited, the main ones being moveable, drop traps ('saung'), small stationary traps, cast nets, long lines (baited) and gill nets. In addition, the lake also provides the livelihood for an unknown number of weed collectors for grass carp farming inland.

Inle lake - Small traps are set also in larger lakes such as these being transported across Inle Lake (Shan State). Small fish play a valuable role in food security, providing essential minerals such as calcium, iodine (goitre is a common debility) and sulphurous amino acids, complementing protein from rice based diets.

This canoe owners at Inle Lake claims hook and line gear provides a better return for the same K1 000 annual fee. This man will leave his 200 m line (with hooks at meter intervals baited with shrimp) overnight every day of the year. Best catches are in April.

The lake, which is purported to have a relatively unique flora and fauna, that includes two finfish genera (Chaudhuri, Sawbwa) and seven species endemic to the Lake (Annandale, 1918), is fast changing in character as a consequence of the large scale establishment of floating gardens for soft vegetable production. There is also development of the northern part of the lake where excavation of sediment to reclaim land for industrial scale horticulture/agriculture is commencing. Such expansion and intensification is associated with high fertilizer use and pesticide use, the latter capable of influencing the nutrient loading and thereby the trophic status of the lake.

Although it is difficult to predict the outcome of these changes, particularly on the fishery, it is almost certain that the rooted, aquatic weeds (predominantly Charra spp.) will disappear due to light limitations due to planktonic growth, and hence affect the livelihood of the weed collectors directly, and the inland grass carp culture indirectly through the limitation of a readily available food source. In addition, it could also influence the newly established bird sanctuary, through a reduction in the diversity of the avian fauna over the years.

Open fisheries and rice field resources

All fishing gears require a license from DoF, although in practical terms it is difficult to collect license fees from all the small gear holders. There is widespread fishing activity in water bodies, streams, lakes, reservoirs and rice fields. These activities may be legal or illegal depending upon the location and the existence of fishing regulations or lease holding.

It is currently unclear as to the extent of fishing activities in the open fisheries as these are often occasional, seasonal and may or may not be strictly legal. The DoF has little opportunity to gather information on this dispersed activity and tends to accept that fishing for household purposes cannot and need not be regulated.

This gives rise to the situation whereby it is unclear as to the extent of participation in this activity and whether or not it is a significant part of rural food security or rural livelihood strategies. If comparisons are made with the other Southeast Asian countries then it would be expected that this resource is in deed a vital part of the household livelihood and especially for the rural poor. Myanmar has extensive ricefield resources and associated channels and streams. This network of water and shallow flooded paddy is a rich source of fisheries production, although since it is the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture and Irrigation, the Department of Fisheries does not have any data regarding the fisheries production of these environments.

Artisanal fishing - Small-scale yet widespread. Artisanal fish trap operations contribute to livelihoods of poor women and men (see discussion of poverty in Myanmar). A traditional Myanmar saying "Eat 100 heads" describes the virtue of consuming a diversity of products for good nutrition. In this regard small fish are especially popular amongst many Myanmar, Shan and Inle people.

Table 4: Description of the leasable fisheries visited by the mission


Years of leasing

Management interventions

Cost of lease (Kyat/yr)

Area of leasable fishery (ha)

Estimated Production (tonnes/yr)

Approx. value of production

South of Mandalay


· Small seasonally flooded area
· Agricultural activities take place in the dry season.
· Release of nursed advanced 3-4" fingerlings which also comprise a large proportion of the subsequent catch.
· Harvesting of fish
· Guarding/patrolling
· Supplemental feeding (1:1 rice bran & oil cake)
· Employs 40 people

500 000

222 ha

151 tonnes
(680 kg/ha)

Bad season 100 tonnes
(450 kg/ha)

$30 000

Mandalay Lake


· Stocking of advance fingerlings Chinese and Indian carp (2-3 million per year)
· Feeding at 3 tonnes per day, 50 percent of income
· High natural fertility from urban runoff into the lake
· Netting crews, continuous harvesting

45 000

300 ha

1 260 tonnes
(4 200 kg/ha)

$630 000

Thaung Tha Man


· A huge lake with permanent water.
· There is some stocking of nursed 4-5" fingerlings (1 000 000/yr) in accordance with lease regulations.
· Operates a 5 ha nursery pond for this purpose
· Tilapia have been introduced and form the bulk of the catch.
· There is demarcation of some Tilapia breeding grounds and fishing in these areas is not allowed
· Some of the species released are re-caught.
· Distribution of free fishing gear to villages surrounding the lake
· Two Catching teams are employed with a 20 percent of catch bonus
· Other fishers can catch but must sell to the landing stations
· Purchase of catch at 4 stations paying lower than market rates
· The onward sale of the catch to the wives of the fishers/local traders for resale in markets surrounding Mandalay town. (each gets 15 kg)

5 000 000

600 ha

1 680 tonnes
(2 800 kg/ha)

$840 000

Inle Lake


· The lake is divided into two leasable fisheries
· MFF holds the the lease in two and sub-leases to about 300 fishermen at 1 000 Kyat/yr

100 000

27 000 ha

>550-650 tonnes
(20-25 kg/ha)

$550 000

Setting of small bamboo and basket traps by women and men in wet paddy and small water courses catch valuable small fish (e.g. Amblypharyngodon, Ophicephalus, Rasbora and barbs). Catches can be a few fish up to 2 Viss/day. (1 viss = 1.6 kg).

Enhancement of freshwater leasable fisheries/culture-based fisheries

Myanmar also has extensive capture fisheries in its freshwaters and these are either leasable or open fisheries. As part of the regulations covering the leasable fisheries lessees must release some fish to their lot. The effectiveness of this is undoubtedly variable since the size of the fish released and the environment into which it is released will determine greatly the likelihood of survival of the fish. As a general rule, the larger the fingerling released the greater the chances it will survive long enough to be recaught. In one leasable fishery visited the recapture of the same species as those stocked by the lessee was a strong indication of the potential of this form of management and was considered to be related to the size of the fingerlings stocked.

A common form of aquaculture is related to enhancement of culture based fisheries or leasable fisheries. As part of the regulations concerning leasable fisheries, fish fingerlings must be released to the fishery. The lessees therefore purchase fry or fingerlings and nurse prior to release to their fishery sites once the flood waters have risen. The impact of this activity on the productivity of the leasable fishery is probably variable.

The mission visited one site (Su Sann Inn, perennial water, 48 ha) where the fish returned were almost entirely of the species stocked (Rohu and common carp). The stocking rate was about 0.4 piece/m2 and the size at stocking was an advanced fingerling of about 5". The yield was approximately 3.3 tonnes/ha, with total harvest reaching 160 tonnes.

Licensed gears - Larger gears, like this stream trap (Nyaung Shwe, Shan State) provide more visible livelihoods and are licensed by the Department of Fisheries. They are therefore recordable and can be strategically managed by government. Such systems set below paddy land can capture up to 75 kg/day during peak months (e.g. November-December) prior to the rice harvest. In the market Ophicephalus bring K700 and Amblipharygodon bring K800/Viss.

Su Sann Inn, Mandalay - Before setting up his 160 tonnes carp farm, this farmer went to the DoF everyday to learn fish farming. "My wife's parents are 'middlemen' in the fish trade and encouraged me because demand for Rohu could not be satisfied in this region". Su Sann Inn, Ta Mar Kone Village, 27 Miles from Mandalay.

In other leasable fisheries where small fingerlings were released or the numbers released were insignificant relative to the area of water, there was little indication that the fish stocked were being recaught and the catch was mainly self-recruiting species or wild fish species - suggesting that the impact of stocking was limited.

The mission was of the opinion that the culture and release of advanced large sized fingerlings does enhance leasable fisheries catch and is responsible for the quite high catches that are obtained from them. However, there had not been any cost-benefit studies on stocking of these large waters in Myanmar, and the economic rationale of the activity remains unqualified.


Reservoirs are rarely built for fishery purposes. However, fisheries are a significant user of reservoir water resources, and increasing emphasis is being laid on reservoir fisheries development, particularly in developing countries, almost without exception, such as for example, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, etc. The primary reasons for such a developmental emphasis are:

The reservoir resource in Asia is the highest in the world, and reservoir fish production in Asia contributes significantly (80 percent), and increasingly to the estimated global inland fish production of about 10 million tonnes. Asian countries that until recently did not have major programmes for reservoir fisheries development have embarked on such programmes, as for example in Viet Nam; the Government of Viet Nam expects to increase reservoir fish production to 250 000 tonnes by year 2010 from 50 000 tonnes at present.

Myanmar has very large lake and reservoir resource estimated by DoF at about 115 867 ha. Previously, reservoir fisheries were encouraged in Myanmar, and it provided the livelihood for many thousands of families, and contributed significantly to the rural fish supplies, as well as contributed to the national revenue through the revenue generated from the issue of fishing licenses.

However, since 1995 fisheries activities have been banned through a decree by the Department of Irrigatio which has jurisdiction over all reservoirs in Myanmar. The Department of Fisheries nevertheless continues with a reservoir stocking programme of Indian and Chinese major carps for conservation purposes.

DoF does not include reservoir catches in its current reports since it does not collect license fees. The Mission had the opportunity to visit only one reservoir (in Upper Myanmar; Se Dew Gyi Reservoir; 2 890 ha; impounded in 1986/87) and had discussions with some fishers. It transpired that there was some degree of fishing in the reservoir, but to a very much lesser extent prior to the issue of the decree of banning fishing. Although fishing continues on reservoirs, it is considered only for home consumption and also nominally allowed only for families that have a livelihood in the area. Consequently, this "illegal" fishing for household purposes not only deprive the Government of Myanmar of revenue, but inevitably means that the fishers are operating in a manner that is likely to affect fishing efficiency and marketing strategies.

Even if a production level, as low as 150 kg/ha is used, the reservoir fishery resources of Myanmar should yield about 17 350 tonnes of fish per year, and also provide employment opportunities to at least 20 000 to 30 000 persons in the rural areas.

It was unfortunate that the Mission was unable to obtain copy of the decree banning fishing nor documentation of the underlying reasons for the decree issued by the Department of Irrigation. The numerous discussions that the Mission had with officials, fishers and persons knowledgeable on the matter indicated that the decree has been issued for the following reasons:

Based on the experiences of other nations which continue to have well developed reservoir fisheries, for more than 50 years, it is concluded that fishery activities in the reservoir would have little or no relationship to the fish availability to farmers in the command area. Reservoir fisheries are considered one of the least environmentally invasive forms of fishery and should be encouraged. This is an area which could contribute significantly to total fish supplies. It is the conclusion of the Mission that fishing activities will not physically affect the reservoir or the dam.

Based on the above reasons 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.

Freshwater aquaculture

Freshwater aquaculture contributes to the economy of Myanmar in a number of ways. The production of fish fingerlings and stocking into aquaculture ponds is the typical form of aquaculture and is currently practised for a range of species. This is also the form of aquaculture that is promoted by the DoF along with some cage aquaculture. Typically the aquaculture operations that were observed by the mission were over 1.2 ha and were not of a type that could be widely adopted by Myanmar farmers in general, due to the scale and the requirement for capital investment.

Some small operations visited (in Mandalay and Shan State) had been constructed over a number of years by the owners, investing the opportunity cost of their time and typically converted their compound gardens (in Mandalay) or marginal/ abandoned rice fields.

Land use for aquaculture

The strict control by the agriculture department regarding the conversion of rice lands into other uses (especially aquaculture) is one of the strongest restraints to more widespread development of aquaculture in freshwater areas. Paddy lands flat and typically inundated by flooding or rainfall for rice cultivation. Paddy land also has few alternative uses for agriculture because of the tendency to be covered in water for parts of the year. Aquaculture is one of the few activities that are profitable enough to repay the cost of conversion of paddy (through raising earth walls and excavation into ponds). In areas where the profitability of rice farming is quite marginal, fish pond aquaculture can be an attractive alternative.

Se Dew Gyi Reservoir 2 890 ha - Previously, reservoir fisheries were encouraged in Myanmar, and it provided the livelihood for many thousands of families and contributed significantly to the rural fish supplies, as well as contributed to the national revenue through the revenue generated from the issue of fishing licenses.

"I went into fish hatching because I knew it was good business" - Small Farm Owner, Baw Ri Tha Village, Taungyi District, Shan State.

Rice-fish culture

The DoF in response to the need to improve income from paddy farming, whilst still maintaining some rice production, DoF reports that it has had nominal approval from the Ministry of Agriculture to start experimentation with the culture of fish in rice paddies. Rice-fish culture has a very long history in most of Southeast Asia and there is a great deal of information available regarding the various reasons why it has been successful in some circumstances and failed elsewhere. The success of rice fish culture is extremely variable and relates to the reliability of water supply, control of theft, prevention of flooding or escape of the fish and the availability of large sized fingerlings at the start of the paddy culture season. In a country such as Myanmar, where the wild fisheries resources are still very extensive, the presence of large numbers of carnivorous fish in the paddy fields is another cause of poor return from stocked fish. This is generally avoided by the stocking of large fingerlings but this adds another step in the culture process and increases the overall cost of stocking making it unattractive to some farmers.

Ultimately rice fish culture can only be tried in a practical situation and the impacts evaluated, ideally with the participation of farmers so that any results are grounded in the realities of their farming systems (i.e. participatory/farmer based research).

Pond aquaculture

Pond aquaculture in Myanmar is set against a Buddhist tradition of non-culture of fish (religious avoidance of cruelty to fish) and unwillingness or preference not to kill animals. It is apparent though that freshwater aquaculture is increasing and is growing fastest where ethnic Chinese are becoming involved since they do not have this cultural avoidance. The ethnic Chinese are also able to raise the input capital for aquaculture development more readily and also have access to information and technologies from China.

Government of the Union of Myanmar has formed a State level committee to facilitate a three-year project of fresh water fish production through aquaculture. This is directed towards sustaining food security (freshwater aquaculture and enhancement of fisheries) and increased export earnings (principally shrimp aquaculture but also some freshwater culture and brackishwater aquaculture). The goal of this is to increase fishpond area up to 40 650 ha (100 000 acres) at the end of the project.

The size of aquaculture ponds observed in Mandalay province are rather large and may be constructed or more likely converted from low lying or flooded ground. There were reports of large numbers of small-scale ponds but the mission did not observe many and this can only be speculated upon. In Shan State a number of smaller fish culture operations and hatcheries were visited, but these still occupied water areas of over 1 hectare.

There is no record of small pond holdings because this information is not collected and ponds less than 8 m x 8 m do not require licensing. Based on the observations of the Mission, there appear to be very few small (less than 400 m2) fish pond operations. This is unusual relative to other countries of Southeast Asia, where small ponds are quite popular, but may reflect a cultural reluctance to farm fish (unlike the ethnic Chinese in Myanmar, who readily engage in fish culture), or possibly uncertainty over the legality or potential of small scale fish culture. Another possibility is that wild fish are sufficiently available to lowland rural people to render fish culture in small ponds unattractive.

Identification of the underlying reasons for this would have significant implications for aquaculture development in rural areas especially where the rural poor are targeted. It is recommended that this be clarified and documented.

Freshwater species cultured in Myanmar

Typical aquaculture ponds are stocked with a number of species on an annual basis. The favoured species are Rohu and common carp, although some tilapia may also be found in larger ponds. Grass carp are also cultured in Shan State, since they are easy to feed and there is a market with the ethnic Chinese communities. Some market prices are shown in Table 5.

Stocking and harvesting

Fingerlings may be nursed to larger sizes before stocking by the owners and there is also nursing of fingerlings prior to release to culture based fisheries and leasable fisheries. Prices vary with the regions although a typical price for 0.5-1" fish was 3 kyat each.

In ponds with perennial water harvesting may occur after a period of one year and in some instances a year and a half. There is a growing tendency to produce smaller table sized fish than the larger (0.2 kg) fish that were previously produced which shortens the culture period. This also allows the marketing of fish during the season during which there is a shortage of fish from the wild fisheries due to the closed season (May-June).

Typical stocking densities are about 0.5-0.8 pieces/m2 but there is reportedly and trend to increasing stocking density that is part of the reduced size at harvest. The source of fingerlings is varied - either from the government hatcheries (there are four in Mandalay division, none in Shan State) or from a number of small-scale private hatcheries (Shan has three private hatcheries and will shortly have five due to a rapidly increasing demand from development of aquaculture ponds at the northern part of Nyaung Shwe).

The greater availability of fingerlings in this area may further stimulate aquaculture pond construction further away. The ready availability of fingerlings is a strong driving force for aquaculture development especially when coupled to improved road communications and access to markets.

The breeding of fish using hypophysation is reasonably routine in Myanmar government hatcheries and there is now access to Chinese fish-breeding hormones (HCG, Luteinizing hormone and possibly LHRHa). This allows the mass spawning of the Indian and common carps and also unseasonal/repeat-breeding of common carp. Small-scale hatcheries can also obtain the breeding hormones but may tend towards the use of carp pituitary which they can produce themselves.

Government hatcheries

There are currently 16 DoF hatcheries located in 5 divisions and one state. DoF estimates of fingerling production are difficult to interpret as no distinction is made between fry (typically 7 days post hatching) and fingerling (0.5-1" or 4-5") production.

The release of 7 day old fry to natural waters is considered to have questionable benefits since the survival rate of such small fish can be expected to be so low as to have no significant impact on the fish population already presenting the water body.

The DoF hatcheries produce both fingerlings for stocking out in aquaculture and for sale to leasable fisheries. These are typically 0.5-1" in size and there is usually some onward nursing by the buyer.

A DoF estimate of its hatchery production is approximately 398 million fry (size unspecified) of which 98 million were destined for fisheries enhancement. Private sector production is considered far higher at 700 million from 3 hatcheries and there are about 54 private hatcheries operating nationally (Win Lat, 2002). The considerable vagueness of reporting of hatchery production is quite typical and the number of hatchlings is only a vague reflection of the number of surviving fingerlings that are stocked into aquaculture or released to fisheries.

Table 5: Prices of cultured freshwater fish in Shan State and Mandalay Division

Commercial scale

Mandalay Kyat/kg

Shan Kyat/kg


Labeo rohita




Cirrhinus mrigala




Catla catla



Common carp

Cyprinus carpio



Grass carp

Ctenopharyngodon idellus



Silver carp

Hypophthalmicthys molitrix



Big head

Aristichthys nobilis



Snakehead spp.

Channa spp.




Oreochromis spp.



Hybrid catfish

Clarias gariepinus x C. macrocephalus



Striped catfish

Pangasius hypothalamus



Great white sheatfish

Wallago attu

1 350



Freshwater prawn

Macrobrachium rosenbergii

1 400


Local barb

Rotee cotio







Thai Silver Barb

Barbodes gonionotus



Small-scale hatcheries - Small-scale hatchery and nursing supplies not only Mandalay and the surrounding area but buyers even come from surrounding states to purchase - additional services are provided such as technical and market information.

Private hatcheries

The mission visited several small-scale private hatchery operations. These operations are producing common carp and Rohu at both fry and fingerling size for sale to aquaculture pond owners and the owners of leasable fisheries (particularly in the northern parts of Mandalay division and further). In Shan State there was demand for common carp and grass carp and these were being produced for stocking both local ponds and for export to Yangon.

The hatcheries have different strategies for production either producing their own fry or purchasing fry from the DoF hatchery and nursing on for sale. The small private operations produced about 1-1.5 million fingerlings annually and a substantially greater number of fry (50 million).

These private hatcheries compete for markets with the larger DoF hatcheries (where DoF hatcheries exist), but have a number of mechanisms by which they can provided additional services to customers - one hatchery provided accommodation for customers that lived far from Mandalay, another provided (for a price) a pump rental service for draining and filling ponds. These types of services are crucial for smaller farmers that cannot afford to purchase capital items. In addition to this the experience of the hatchery owners is often greater than that of their customers and they also provide advice on the culture of fish as well as advice on harvesting times and likely markets. The four sites visited ranged between were 2.0-2.8 ha.

The entry into the hatchery business has been gradual and both owners mentioned that they had started as fish pond owners and gradually developed the hatchery business as they realized the profit return for a small site was greater if they focussed on hatchery and nursery activities.

Feeds and feeding

According to information available to the mission, typical productivity of aquaculture ponds is about 1.0-3.5 tonnes/ ha depending upon the level of stocking and feeding. Feeding of aquaculture ponds is variable with tendency to supplemental feeding of rice bran and agricultural by-products. Some farms are integrated with livestock (principally chickens) production but these are certainly a minority.

The production of significant amounts of Rohu, tilapia and common carp as well as other cyprinid wild fish form the leasable fisheries in Mandalay inevitably means that cultured fish compete in the same markets. This means that there is a relatively low price for tilapia, Rohu and common carp (typically 600-800 Kyat/kg) and this makes high investment in aquaculture unattractive. Since market prices are low, the investment in feeds and fingerlings must be equally low and hence the intensity of production and use of pelleted feeds is limited.

There is one feed mill in Mandalay (in upper Myanmar) producing fish pellet feeds with a capacity of 75 tonnes per day although it is currently producing less than this due to lack of market demand. The quality of the feed is low (claimed to be >27 percent crude protein, <percent fish meal/dried fish content) and it appears to be used only as a supplement. In the future, the development of further demand for aquacultured fish, expansion of culture into higher value species may increase demand for fish feeds. It is also important that as demand for improved fingerlings for stocking into aquaculture ponds or for release to water bodies, the need for better quality feeds will emerge.

There is a period during which the leasable fisheries are closed (April to June) and at this time the price of fish rises. Aquacultured fish have a window of opportunity to exploit the shortage of fish and some operators may schedule harvests to exploit this advantage. Larger riverine fish (Wallago, larger cyprinids, Pangassius like species) command a higher price (1 000-1 200 Kyat/kg) and there is some interest to culture these species.

Fresh fish sellers - Nyaung Shwe - These women bring 40 kg/day to the main market. The rising demand and cost may limit access to fish for more remote people who depend also on the lake resources for their fish protein. Iodine deficiency is quite prevalent.


Inle Lake fishery and marketing

In Shan State, community markets are held on a traditional rotating basis, in which every town within a given area hosts a market every five days. At Nyaung Shwe market and Nam Pan market at opposite ends of the Inle Lake, women gather to sell their fish, totalling around 1 tonne for the day. Some bring fish they have caught with basket traps and hook and line that day or the previous day, others have purchased from fishermen. Two women from a village on the eastern shore who operate together have 10 kg of fresh fish, mostly snakehead both large and small and catch and sell fish twice in 5 days. The women have no scales and sell the fish strung together in groups. Their catch is worth US$ 16 and represents 4 days effort earning them the equivalent of 1.14 US$/day nearly three times the average daily expenditure for Myanmar of US$ 0.44 (as reported in Statistical Year Book, 1998). Some women who sell all there fish return with a second batch sometimes selling 40 kg in the day.

Institutions and their roles

The role of the Department of Fisheries (DoF)

Recent history

Fisheries were recognized in the late 1920's and early 1930's as an important provider of income and employment and as a source of revenue to the colonial administration. The 1931 Census of Burma, reported that the industry employed 55 000 full time fishers as well as 16 000 part-time. According to the Department of Fisheries, administration of aquaculture originated in 1954 when the Agriculture and Rural Development Corporation (ARDC) set up an Aquaculture Section, starting with a station in Yangon. Tilapia (probably Oreochromis niloticus) was introduced from Thailand and cultured locally. By 1956, ARDC had established 100 fish farms. Aquaculture expanded via the capture and nursing of wild-caught Rohu, Catla and Mrigal fingerling (collected June-October and nursed by ARDC). The Corporation also conserved the spawning grounds of these species especially in Thrawaw, Hinsata Shwe Daung Pyae townships in lower Burma and Mandalay district and Amarapura (Mandalay), around Myit Ngae river and Sintgu areas.

In 1964, common carp were introduced from Israel and Indonesia for aquaculture. Their growth rate was greater and they proved popular for culture. In 1967, with the support of FAO, induced breeding of Rohu was established. In 1990 hybrid Clarias was introduced to Myanmar and in 1994 Pangasius culture was initiated. There remains a government focus in freshwater aquaculture with induced breeding of Indian major carps, as well as grass carp, big head carp, silver carp and common carp.

Aquaculture support industries - This feed mill in Mandalay produces a low quality fish feed for supplementing pond culture and the owners leasable fishery. Improvements in feed quality might be targeted at nursery production for stocking into aquaculture ponds and leasable fisheries.

Current role

The Department of Fisheries in Myanmar comes under the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, its key role being the management of fisheries and aquaculture. The Department was reorganized in April 2002 to better address the increasing importance of aquaculture in Myanmar. However its size and the scale of resources for the Fisheries Department does not reflect the central importance of fish in Myanmar, both in terms of it expanding economic contribution and the contribution it makes to food security nutrition and livelihood opportunities. The new administrative structure has four directorates dealing with capture fisheries, aquaculture, research and development and administration (see DoF Organogram, Figure 1). Some roles are cross-cutting whilst others relate to fisheries or aquaculture administration; they can be summarized as follows:

The national DoF office in Yangon has a staff of about 1 000, whilst the State and Divisional Fisheries administration varies with the importance of fisheries locally. Mandalay Division which is an important fish production centre for Upper Myanmar has 4 Fisheries Stations. Thayetkone Fisheries Station near Mandalay town is an example, which has a staff of 35 engaged in carp hatching, restocking, fingerling sales, training and to a limited extent extension.

Figure 1: Organogram for Myanmar Department of Fisheries (12.2002)

There is typically one DoF officer per 3-4 townships (and this officer does not usually have a vehicle). The officers will check fishing gears, mesh sizes and licenses. In Shan State, all 20 DoF staff currently operate in the south of the state west of the Thalwin River, 18 of whom monitor the Inle Lake and two others work further east.

Aquaculture Development and Stock Enhancement planning in Myanmar

The first plan produced for aquaculture in Myanmar was written as a project spanning 2000-2003. It remains unclear if this will become a regular, perhaps 3-yearly, planning process. The stated objectives of the plan are quoted directly as follows:

1. To set up aquaculture of fish by government and the private sector to increase production per acre, to expand fish ponds and to distribute suitable species for states and divisions.

2. To increase the fish consumption amongst local people nationally.

3. To upgrade the style of fish eating so as to support the wellbeing.

4. To initiate and expand marine fish culture (as most marine fish have an export market).

5. To expand production of other freshwater fish which have an export market.

6. To conserve the freshwater fish resources in man-made, natural and marine water bodies and

7. To increase and sustain overall production, especially via stocking of seed.

Implementation procedure for the current 3-year national 'plan for aquaculture' involves upgrading fish farming methods, looking at feasible methods in relation to conditions, monitoring effectiveness, supporting access to electricity and fuel, and safeguarding fish farmers. This will take place in the context of sustaining and increasing natural stocks, reviewing internal and export markets and identifying the best methods for improvement.

The 3-year plan is 'projectised' and target based, with targets for fry and fingerling production, for seedlings distribution in natural water bodies, coastal aquaculture and brackish water stocking, fish hatchery expansion and the development of research programmes and demonstration sites. An example is that Fish Farm Number 2 in Upper Myanmar has stocked 12 million fry this year and sold 52 million for aquaculture and leasable fisheries, (which exceeds the project target). In open waters the DoF stock 100 fry/acre, including, popularly, into communal village ponds.

Based on experience elsewhere in the region which suggests there was negligible enhancement effect from stocking fry into natural waters, the mission is of the opinion that the stocking of 7 day old fry is unlikely to have any enhancement effect on a natural water body. Successful enhancements are typically found with the stocking of nursed fish of a larger size (>4 inches), as practised by some of the leasable fisheries visited by the mission.

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

In future the likely emphasis of management policy will require consideration of enhancement, sustainability, and maintenance of bio-diversity and possibly a selective effort reduction in some fisheries, with promotion of alternative employment especially in coastal areas. Coastal brackish water aquaculture is becoming constrained by environmental and disease concerns (white spot syndrome of shrimp, mangrove removal) while freshwater aquaculture expansion may already finds itself in competition for water and land with agriculture (paddy) and irrigation. The fisheries that are currently 'open' may change in the future with increasing commercial interest and resultant limitations in access to the current users of the resources and will require the safe guarding of the livelihoods of aquatic resource users who are poor. In all these contexts, benefit would be gained from increased networking within the region with others.

Research and Communication

Although the formalization of research within the Department of Fisheries in Myanmar only occurred in April 2002, it had already gained considerable experience and knowledge through its monitoring and development functions and through formal and informal research conducted at its fisheries stations. Such as improvements on artificial propagation of the species that are currently cultured and/or stocked in to perennial water bodies. As highlighted by the Minister at the outset of the mission, the increasing importance of aquaculture and continued role of fisheries in the livelihoods and diet of the Myanmar population, as well as an important foreign exchange earner in the future, highlights the need for regular research and extension support to sustain fisheries and aquaculture development in the long term, and also to maintain environmental integrity.

In this regard, the recent establishment of DoF Directorates dedicated to Research and Development and to Aquaculture Extension is extremely timely. This provides a useful administrative framework, to strengthen and systematise a process, firstly to bring together and share the lessons learnt, and thereafter to communicate widely the knowledge gained.

The creation of a Directorate for Research and Development and to Aquaculture Extension has to be followed up, rather quickly, with capacity building in major areas of research thrusts that are pivotal to sustained development of the fisheries sector in Myanmar, and it is suggested that the DoF liaises with the Department of Planning and formulate a proposal for UNDP support in this regard. It is strongly recommended that the cross-cutting functions of these two new directorates be co-ordinated, strengthened and developed. This could take the form of scheduled semi-annual meetings perhaps hosted by station teams on a round-robin basis.

There is an increasing recognition within Southeast Asia of the benefit of increased communications and of sharing lessons with other fisheries line agencies which face common issues. This would be likely to include not only technologies, but also strategies (including communications) as well as ways of working (incentive structures, monitoring systems).

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 STREAM Initiative in this regard.

Communications and extension

In common with other extension systems in developing countries around the region, the reach of the extension system for fisheries in Myanmar is constrained by the resources available. As the Myanmar government begins to work more closely with local aquatic resource managers from poor rural communities, increased attention will need to be paid to the use of communication strategies and tools. In particular, the Department of Fisheries will be seeking mechanisms to share information about aquatic resources co-management practices and the livelihoods of people who depend upon the resource.

Poverty, limited education and a lack of access to telecommunications, transport and other communication opportunities all isolate poor rural communities from the rest of civil society in Myanmar. In practice, most rural communities have limited access to general information, and even less to information specific to the management of aquatic resources. Accessing such information can be impossible without the assistance of an external third party. And even if aquatic resource management information is within their midst, pressing and immediate livelihoods needs amongst the poorest can lead them not to take heed.

An initial assessment of communication suggests that:

Table 6: Televion & radio stations in Myanmar




Myanmar Radio and TV (MRTV)






Yangon City Development Station



Possible mechanisms to increase the effectiveness of communications might include investigating some of the following recommendations:

The role of Myanmar Fisheries Federation (MFF)

Two important drivers have recently given rise to the creation of a Myanmar Fisheries Federation (MFF). One was the pressure on Myanmar during the period of its accession to ASEAN to increase the representation of civil society in local and national administration. Another is the Yangon Government policy focus on developing a market economy through encouraging private enterprise. In 1998, the Myanmar Fisheries Federation was created from the Myanmar Fishery Association. The organization has national and local coverage; most of the larger (fish) farmers are members of the local MFF branch. A Central Executive Committee (with office holders each having a 3 year tenure) plays a co-ordinating role. The current office holders are drawn more from academia and the private sector. Each local MMF chair is selected by a steering committee every 3 years. A 3-day annual meeting is held in Yangon bringing together 10 local MFF branches whose membership includes Fishery operators, fish farmers and related industries and people. The MFF has a variety of roles in supporting its members:

In many locations the membership is comprised mainly of wealthy business people who are lessees of leasable fisheries or who own substantial aquaculture operations. There are a number of members with smaller holdings and this is more evident is an area such as Shan State. The membership cost is 300 Kyat/year (or 5 000 Kyat for life) and as such it is probably not the cost of membership that currently limits participation.

The MFF could represent an important vehicle for co-ordination and communication amongst aquaculture producers and fisheries actors both inside and outside of Myanmar.

It is recommended that the communication remit of MFF 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 fisher and farmers in Myanmar and so that Myanmar can share its insights and learning with the rest of the world.

Inle Lake opposite is leased as two fisheries at K60 000 and K40 000. The current lease holder is the Myanmar Fisheries Federation (MFF). The Federation sub-leases to at least 300 fishers raising an income for MFF Shan State of K200 000

Inland fisheries and aquaculture: conclusions and recommendations

Information and 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 distribution 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 DoF 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 to which fish gathering, collection and purchase are undertaken by households. Asking families if they fish in 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. 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 re-introduce 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 tried in a practical situation and the impacts evaluated, ideally with the participation of farmers so that any 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 DoF stations to increase the effectiveness of enhancement programmes.

Institutions, communications and networking

12. It is strongly recommended that the cross-cutting functions of these two new directorates be co-ordinated, strengthened and developed. This could take the form of scheduled semi-annual meetings perhaps hosted by station teams on a round-robin basis.

13. 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 STREAM Initiative in this regard.

The following recommendations relate to communications:

14. Increase the use of mass media, in particular television, radio and any other appropriate communications mechanisms, e.g. travelling theatre/puppetry.

15. Organize more focused communication activities in villages such as facilitated sessions using posters and flip charts, picture books, etc., farmer field training schools, video sessions broadcast from a mobile broadcasting unit, and pre-recorded information and music broadcast on a village public address system.

16. Increase the use of village volunteers, study tours, community theatre/role plays, t-shirts, music and song to complement the use of mass media and village-focused communication activities.

17. Maximise the use of local resources to produce communication materials and involve communities in the development process.

18. Understand the audience - conduct a base-line knowledge, attitudes, and practices survey before developing a communication strategy.

19. Improve stakeholder networking at the national, provincial and community levels, increase accessibility of existing newsletters, prepare more case study materials, catalogue existing literature in a central resource, and encourage informal networking and cross-sectoral communication.

20. Communication remit of MFF 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 fisher and farmers in Myanmar and also share its insights and learning with the rest of the world.


The Mission recognized the following areas as research priorities, and recommends that the DoF, Myanmar liaise with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), and other donor agencies to develop research projects on one more, as an initiative.

21. The Mission is of the view that moderate research inputs in to typical leasable fisheries in a selected region, e.g. Upper Myanmar, will enable to increase the fish production in such fisheries, and consequently have positive influences on improving the lives of the communities and the fish supplies in rural areas. Research on leasable fisheries in non-perennial waters; develop suitable stocking strategies, including species combinations, cost-effectiveness of stocking, and the socio-economics of such fisheries. The project will also address the role of naturally recruiting indigenous species in leasable fisheries. It is expected that such research could lead to enhancing production in leasable fisheries, and also will provide useful information on the biology of important species, and thereby on biodiversity and conservation aspects, and enable to uplift the standard of the "communities" involved in leasable fisheries. It needs to be re-emphasised that although an individual is the lessee, the overall activity is essentially a community activity which provides livelihood to many families, ranging from 40 to whole villages. The Mission is of the view that such a programme would be able to draw from the ongoing activities, under the auspices of the ACIAR, in Sri Lanka and Viet Nam on culture-based fisheries, and consequently generate synergies beneficial to all three programmes.

22. Inle Lake in Shan State is an important natural resource to persons, and is important from a biodiversity view point with over 20 animal species being endemic to the Lake. In the recent years the traditional, small-scale "floating gardens" have been expanded significantly through the intervention of commercial growers. The Lake provides the livelihood for 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 the surrounding agricultural activities is bound to increase the nutrient and pesticide load in the Lake. The consequences of such increases are difficult, if not impossible, to predict at this stage. It is proposed that a study be conducted on water quality and the fishery of Inle Lake, including the socio-economic status of the fishers. 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.

23. In the event the DoF, 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 to estimate potential levels of productivity, using suitable yield-predictive models that are already available. The study is also expected to look at the historical data on stocking and returns, and evaluate a rational stocking strategy accordingly. Based on such results, and in conjunction with potential fishers/fishing communities DoF could develop a co-management strategy(s) to ensure the long term sustainability of the fishery resources.

24. The perennial water leasable fisheries tend to use large amounts of artificial feeds, in spite of the high natural productivity of the waters. Fish kills of a minor scale have already occurred in some waters. Detailed studies on the productivity of the water bodies and modelling based thereof could provide useful information on the effectiveness of use of artificial feeds in such large waters, and consequently on the carrying capacities and cost-effectiveness of current practices. It is expected that the research could lead to long-term sustainability of the practices and reducing the cost, thereby reducing the price of fish to the consumer.

25. Biology and artificial propagation and culture of the indigenous river catfish (no firm identification possibly Selonia) and other important, potentially culturable indigenous species.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page