Tanintharyi’s fisheries potential marred by illegal exports

Although fishing and marine products make up the bulk of Tanintharyi Region’s GDP, illegal exports have for years deterred the industry’s potential for growth. Without new policies and oversight, authorities warn that Myanmar will continue losing millions worth of valuable fisheries exports to illegal traders in neighbouring Thailand.

Myanmar fisheries play an important role under the National Export Strategy. The government has earmarked locally produced marine products as key exports for the country.

Tanintharyi currently produces the largest volume of fishery products in the country. According to the latest available data, fish and prawn sales from the region’s Myeik district amounted to $9.7 million in the month of February, which is estimated to contribute more than 17 percent of the country’s total fisheries income of $55 million over the same period, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

That’s the official figure. “There are illegal sales taking place at a volume that we cannot guess, resulting in lost income for the country,” said U Win Myint, director from the Trade Promotion Department under the Ministry of Commerce (MOC).

Based on available data provided by the Regional Fishing Department, there are currently 1,433 offshore fishing boats licensed to operate between Myanmar and Thai waters. Each boat has the capacity to transport around 45 tonnes of fish. Out of this, around a third, of 15 tonnes, is permitted for export purposes, according to the department.

A back-of-the-envelope calculation implies that in 2017-18, 64,486 tonnes of locally produced fish should be exported. Yet, the Regional Fishing Department recorded only 52,275 tonnes of fish exports, implying that potentially 12,000 tonnes of exports went unrecorded by the authorities during the period.

According to an official from the Kawthoung border trade camp, some fishing boats bypass the border gate and sail directly to Ranong, Thailand, where high quality marine life such as red snappers and squid are sold directly to Thai buyers.

Indeed, an investigation conducted by The Myanmar Times showed that larger and more expensive fish from Myanmar are being sold illegally in Ranong compared to local markets.

Taking action

The authorities haven’t been sitting idle though. In 2015, the EU stopped importing fishery products from Thailand. Meanwhile, Thai authorities have also put a stop to imports of Myanmar fish.

The government of Myanmar has also taken efforts to issue official licenses to every vessel operating in Myanmar waters. For example, red-coloured licenses are issued to fishing boats, while white-coloured licenses are issued to transport and supply vessels.

“Still, it is not possible to control and stop the illegal trade of fish conducted out at sea,” U Aung Naing, department head of Kawthoung Fisheries Department told The Myanmar Times. “As we don’t have the capacity to patrol the waters and conduct checks, illegal fishing and trade will still continue.”

Building up the local market

Meanwhile, new fish auction markets will be established in Kawthoung, Myeik and Dawei to prevent illegal trade from taking place, said Dr Le Le Maw, Chief Minister of Tanintharyi Region.

The new marketplaces will supplement existing auction markets at Inn Lay Myine Industrial Zone at Myeik Township. The market was opened in 2001 and has the capacity to accommodate five fishing vessels. More than 2,500 tonnes of fish can be displayed at the market and there is also refrigerated storage capacity for around 400 tonnes of fish.

“We are trying to establish international-standard fish markets equipped with jetties that will have the capacity to handle fishing vessels as well as refrigerated warehouses for the storage of supplies,” said U Hla Than, chair of Pyae Phyo Tun Company, which is planning to build new fish processing factories at the new markets.

“Over the longer term we are also aiming to transport the fishery products in refrigerated containers to the Maw Taung border area by truck. We need to take steps to build up the local market.”

Source : Myanmar Times

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