New wave of COVID-19 in Myanmar batters local seafood sector

Published on
October 5, 2020

As a second COVID-19 lockdown deflates demand for Myanmar’s seafood exports, aquaculture and sustainability training programs are struggling to remain viable.

Kevin Fitzimmons, an advisor on the EUR 25 million (USD 29.5 million) Myanmar Sustainable Aquaculture Program (MYSAP), funded by the European Union and German development agency GIZ, told SeafoodSource the local seafood economy has been battered by market complications caused by the knock-off effects of the virus.

“Most of the [Myanmar seafood] exporters have been severely impacted, with sales reduced and most of the cold storage full,” he said. “Some sales to China had started to pick up, but now the strong second wave of COVID across Myanmar has induced the Chinese to close the Muse land crossing, which was the main export point for much of the seafood going to China. [And] carp exports to the Middle East have dropped as many of the third-country nationals have left the Gulf states and returned to their home countries.”

In the domestic market, prices had recovered significantly since COVID first appeared early in the year, but new travel restrictions imposed to tame the second wave have caused seafood prices to nosedive, Fitzimmons said.

“Domestic seafood sales were not that hard hit by the first wave as the government had relatively great success – only 350 positive cases and six fatalities in six months. The situation is totally different now with new cases over 1,000 per day and fatalities over 30 per day and both still rising,” he said. “The seafood sales that had slumped domestically in the first months had come back with restaurants reopening and things were looking pretty good. But the severe second wave has reclosed all the restaurants and markets are weakening daily.”

Fitzimmons, who worked on a USAID-supported project from 2015 to 2017 to develop sustainable aquaculture in Myanmar, has been on leave from the University of Arizona for the past three years to work on MYSAP. The MYSAP project, which aims to transfer knowledge to help the country develop sustainable practices, was off to a promising start and even kept momentum through the initial wave of coronavirus infections in the country, according to Fitzimmons.

“During the window between the waves [of COVID infection], when things were almost back to normal, we were able to distribute crablets to farmers, provide training on sea bass nursery methods, complete a spawning of macrobracium in the hatchery, and make plans for additional mangrove plantings … before all came to a halt with the second lockdown,” he said.

Now, with the second wave underway, the program has continued online, but faces new challenges, such as cash-strapped farmers struggling to pay phone internet bills, according to Fitzimmons.

“Farmers are keen to log in and participate if we can send them top-ups for their phone,” he said. "Some of our time now is spent on reordering our priorities and achievable goals. With the many restrictions and many staff having returned to Germany, we are doing the best we can under the circumstances and achieving progress where we can.”

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