Climate change, illegal fishing on Asia fisheries radar

Published on
January 31, 2013

Climate change, illegal fishing and the early mortality syndrome (EMS) disease affecting shrimp farms are three priorities for 2013 for the FAO’s senior fisheries officer in Asia.

In an interview with Seafoodsource, Bangkok-based Simon Funge Smith said EMS has caused large losses among shrimp farmers in China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand. “We don’t know what causes it ... we don’t know if it’s a disease or something that comes from the environment.” Mass mortalities caused by the disease are also worrying shrimp farmers in Indonesia, which thus far has not been as badly affected as other countries.

While there hasn’t been a move away from shrimp yet in the region, Funge Smith believes the disease may force a return to production of alternative species in 2013. Diseases aside, the FAO is also witnessing a keenness among Asian states to clamp down on illegal fishing. A request from Thailand for assistance on a model port under the FAO Port State Measures (PSM) agreement (coming into force recently) is part of an effort by Thailand to control the movements and trading of illegal fishing. PSM is a list of information-sharing and other requirements that a foreign fishing vessel must comply with to be allowed to use ports within the port state.  “Thailand suffers both as a major transshipment point and a fishing nation … Illegal fishing is on the rise and as a major exporter and importer of fish Thailand needs and wants to show it’s a responsible trader of fish.”

Indonesia and Myanmar have also signed the code, notes Funge Smith. “Commitment by countries to close off ports to vessels and illegal products … thus it becomes less viable, less attractive … the stakes become too high.” Indonesia, with its huge water area, has been a major victim of illegal fishing, says Funge Smith. Likewise Myanmar, which now wants to develop its fisheries while also “keen to be seen as a responsible global player.”

Myanmar/Burma has also sought FAO assistance in preparing for the effects of climate change. “It sees the potential of aquaculture and wants to develop that,” says Funge Smith.

Funge Smith’s office has also had a request for assistance from the Mekong River countries for “guidelines on best practice on inland water fisheries.” The Himalayan nation of Bhutan has also requested assistance on an inland fisheries plan.

The FAO is overseeing a program improving cooperation between countries on fishing and the environment in the Bay of Bengal. Another program, funded by Spain, seeks to improve the livelihood of fishing communities in countries like Cambodia.

Southeast Asian states have been keen to build up their fisheries and aquaculture sectors to benefit from strong demand in the region. Meanwhile, China’s tilapia industry faces challenges from the “major ambitions” of pangasius producers in Vietnam, says Funge Smith who believes rising costs in China will continue to squeeze tilapia producers here and hasten the inflow of pangasius fillets into China’s supermarkets.

China’s seafood demand remains very hard to understand, says Funge Smith, but undoubted wealth here has made the country “the objective of everyone’s exports” with particular attention from southeast Asian producers, though exporters from the region have found China to be a lower value market for farmed species compared to yields enjoyed in the EU and US, adds Funge Smith.

EMS — also known as acute hepatopancreatic necrosis syndrome or AHPNS — is wreaking havoc on shrimp farmers in Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia, as well as China. It’s also begun to affect shrimp stocks in Thailand. Asia is frequently hit by aquatic animal disease problems with white spot syndrome, yellowhead disease and Taura syndrome all emerging in the last decade to hurt the shrimp aquaculture sector across the continent.

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