US controls & too many boats jeopardise Tsunami aid impact
According to Pieter Tesch, a Red Cross report just published says that lack of coordination between aid agencies has meant far more new boats than those which fished pre-tsunami. This may cause serious overfishing. Further, Indian exporters have attacked new US duties on shrimp saying the economic impact could be even worse than the damage caused by the tsunami itself.
Many fishing communities, including those in Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands responded generously to the plight of the fishing communities after the tsunami. Indeed their generosity sometimes meant the aid effort was hampered by a glut rather than a lack of money and goods.
Fishing communities which have been able to acquire safer, faster and bigger boats, may now find the fish stock is coming under greater pressure because of increased effort, according to some aid organisations.
At the same time, however, what has been given as aid to help the reconstruction of the fishing industry in some of the tsunami-affected areas, seems to be being taken away by restrictions like the new US duties on Indian shrimp.
The number of boats being provided to tsunami survivors in Indonesia's Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra could lead to problems of overfishing. This specific case is cited by the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in a report published in late November.
The waters off Aceh were rich fishing grounds, particularly for red tuna which can fetch a high market price in countries such as Japan, according to John Sparrow, a Red Cross spokesman in Banda Aceh. He also told World Fishing that he feared that if local fleets were to increase substantially in size and capacity, fish stocks could be put at risk in the longer term.
“A survey in Aceh's coastal villages, done for us by Antoine Munoz, a Belgian fisheries expert shows that the number of small boats is increasing rapidly and because they are all of a similar small size they are all fishing in the same reef waters close to shore that serve as hatcheries,” said Mr Sparrow.
He explained that, following the destruction caused by the tsunami, non-fishermen such as farmers had turned to fishing for income instead of trying to reclaim their fields which had been laid waste by the salt from the tidal wave. Because of an apparent lack of coordination between aid agencies they all had been given boats. It is suggested that with the number of small boats increasing rapidly (and if all the plans of donors and agencies are carried out) there will be far more vessels out at work than were in 2004.
“We already see a lot of fish, smaller than allowed under Indonesian regulations, being landed and brought to local markets. If this trend continues then we will have another disaster for the local communities on our hands in a few years time,” said Mr Sparrow.
Better for red tuna
Sparrow stressed that the potential for a sustainable Acehnese red tuna fishery in the Malacca Straits was much better. “From records we know that there were only 17 bigger boats before and we are only replacing them with 17 boats of a similar size of about 17m,”
By using lines, instead of nets, these boats could catch six to seven tuna each weighing between 150kg to 250kg on a three-day trip. There was not only a ready-made domestic market but a potentially rewarding export market in Japan for the product.
The €900,000 project would also help to resettle 289 fishermen and around 1,000 family members, as well as helping a local shipyard to become active with orders for the new vessels as well as the work providing jobs for local craftsmen.
Munoz is also setting up fishermen's commercial cooperatives. “Before the tsunami, many boats had a single, absentee owner who would take half the revenue and pay the fishermen what remained after expenses. Many worked for little more than a dollar a day and without any form of security," Munoz said.
“With dramatically increased income, and the boats in their own hands, the fishermen will need less fish to improve their lives and be open to conservation measures as a consequence,” Munoz added.
The Red Cross' projects also includes the setting up of processing industries like canning, once the size of the fleets has been restored.
Director of Coastal and Small Islands, Alex Retraubun, told World Fishing that the Indonesian government would carefully study the Red Cross report. He pointed out that while the fishing communities of the large number of small islands in Indonesia had not been affected by the tsunami, they needed development aid as well.
According to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Fisheries, 401 members of fishing families were reported dead or missing in Matara and 482 in Hambantota after the tsunami, said Frank Kelly of Irish aid agency GOAL, which runs a programme aimed at restoring the fishing communities.
“Of a total of 1,489 vessels registered pre-tsunami in Matara, 1,367 have been reported as damaged or destroyed. In Hambantota, this figure is 1,597 out of 1,733. An unknown number of nets and other fishing gear has also been lost in or damaged by the tsunami,” Kelly said.
"All this means that by June of 2005, in spite of strong efforts by aid agencies, fish-landings have barely been reaching one third of landings during 2004. The result is that communities in Matara and Hambantota are on reduced incomes, combined with a strong rise in the price of fish in both areas. As fish is the staple diet, lack of availability is having adverse affects on local populations,” Kelly told World Fishing.
In Matara, GOAL has helped with the repair of nearly 500 traditional boats. “GOAL's boatyard project was the single biggest repair-project for traditional craft in Sri Lanka,” Kelly said. GOAL also erected a temporary boat-yard in its compound in Ambalantota to build 13 sea-canoes, which were destined for fishermen in the Pallemalala area.
At the request of the Sri Lankan authorities GOAL also repaired the damaged market building in Kottegoda anchorage. Subsequently it became involved in introducing some basic provisions for the hygienic handling of the fish.
India criticises US
But now there is a danger that trade policies could undo all the good the restoration effort has tried to achieve, according to Gul Kripalani, vice-president of the Seafood Exporters Association of India. He slammed new US import duties on shrimps as more devastating in the long term than the tsunami itself.
“These duties are putting the livelihood of 50,000 fishermen and workers in the processing industry in danger as we have already lost up to U$40 million in trade this year,” said Mr Kripalani. In Thailand Dr Waraporn Prompoj of the Fishery Department said that her government aimed to match the capacity of the restored fleet with stocks, but it was too early to say what the long term effect of the tsunami was on stocks.