Through the “Sustainable Small Scale Fisheries and Aquaculture Livelihoods in Coastal Mangrove Ecosystems” (GCP/MYA/010/ITA) project, the Department of Fisheries (DOF) in Myanmar is working in partnership with Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to promote and undertake pilot level implementation of practices for the co-management of fisheries in a demarcated management area in the Ayerawady Delta. The area covers 13 villages along the main branch of the Bogale River. The project is part of the Environmentally Sustainable Food Security Programme (ESFSP), funded by the Italian Government with a total contribution of US$5.3 million is supporting this initiative
The freshwater and Delta fisheries of Myanmar are largely under a form of management whereby the rights to fish are allocated to individuals in exchange for a fee.
The leasable fisheries of Myanmar are large areas in which fishing rights are granted to individuals (originally through a bidding process, but now often through an allocation process). These individuals may operate the fishing activities themselves or sub-lease the fishing to local individuals who manage or operate the fisheries. In the case of the large leasable fisheries, which are considered to be very profitable, the lease holder may manage the operation themselves.
Tender lots are small areas in the mainstreams of the delta, where set-bags nets (or “stow-nets”) are permitted to be operated.
In these tender lots, the tender holder may sub-lease the site to a “tender lot sub-holder”, who may typically be a local fish trader. The “tender lot sub-holder” may further sub-lease the right to fish to stow-net operators (local fishers). The operators pay an up-front partial payment to operate the stow-net, and then pay of the rest of the sub-lease in sales of fish to the fish trader. This means that they are bound to accept the prices offered by the traders. The fees paid by the stow-net operators are also higher than the original value of the tender lots. Although the fishers are able to catch fish with a value beyond the fee and thus generate income, they have less choice in marketing their fish and little incentive to manage or conserve resources. The stow-net operations are using very small mesh sizes on their gear, which is contributing to impact on recruitment and an overall decline in the state of the fisheries of the area.
Amongst the stow-net areas, there are open-access fishing areas where other gears can be operated (upon payment of a license fee to DOF).
These gears include trammel nets, gill nets and fine mesh fence nets. Operation practices of some of these gears also contribute to impacts on juveniles of commercial species and the numbers of gear involved strongly contribute to fishing pressure.
The overall poverty status of the area coupled to competition means that there is little regard for fishery regulations. The “closed season” during May-July is more or less totally ignored.
There is need to develop more sustainable fishing practices amongst the various gear users, and to develop a greater sense of responsibility and ownership of the fishery resources. This is probably impossible to achieve through the existing system of allocation of rights to outside individuals and the consequent system of sub-leasing.
In recognition of this, the Department of Fisheries has agreed to initiate a pilot activity to transfer a number of tender lots for stow nets to local communities.
These communities are based inside a Special Management Area (declared by DOF) where there will be a concerted effort between DOF, the GCP/MYA/010/ITA FAO project and two NGOs (Ever Green Group and Mangrove Service Network) to support and enable the communities to manage and benefit from the lots. The approach will be to enable the communities to manage these operations, either through their existing members or to make arrangements to allow the stow-net operators to pay the community a fee. Fishing regulations on other gears will also be developed by the communities as parts of an overall plan to better manage the resources in the area as a whole. Some communities have also variously indicated their willingness to increase gear mesh sizes, establish sanctuary zones and take other measures to reduce pressure on vulnerable resources, especially juveniles and recruits of commercial species.
Village Fisheries Societies with executive Fisheries Management Committees are being formed under the project for the purpose of managing these tender lots and other aspects of the fisheries.
This delegation of management decision making is completely new for the communities and there is currently no experience or capacity to undertake such tasks in the project villages. The Fisheries Management Committees and the Village Fishery Societies will therefore have to be carefully guided and trained during the first year of tender lot management.
A major step forward in exploring how communities can be more involved in the management of their fisheries.
Through the Italian contribution for the GCP/MYA/010/ITA FAO project, this is the first time that the management responsibility for fisheries has been transferred to a community in Myanmar and reflects the longer term vision of DOF Myanmar to develop more effective management arrangements whereby measures to limit fishing pressure, manage resources more effectively and ensure greater compliance by fishers can be achieved. This pilot initiative will explore the potential and modalities of working with fishing communities to better manage fisheries activities and resources in their fishing area. It is expected that the experiences and lessons learned will inform DOF policy in fisheries management and that successful approaches would be expanded on a wider scale in future.