The future of fish farming in Myanmar

Alex Whitebrook/ October 10, 2018/ News/ 0 comments

Myanmar faces a choice of either continuing to sustainably increase its aquaculture production or to shift its focus towards more intensive methods which will allow it to cater for the ever-growing demand for seafood in China

Myanmar is the second largest country in South East Asia, spanning 2,000 kilometres – from the Himalayas in the north all the way to the tropical archipelago around the city of Myeik in the south. The snow-fed rivers, combined with the country’s tropical monsoon climate, have formed vast deltas and swampy areas that are perfect for the development of ponds and the farming of native fish. For over 2,000 years, carp have been extensively farmed in ponds in both Myanmar and in neighbouring China, prompting some scholars to believe that this is where aquaculture originated.

Myanmar’s military rulers previously held a tight grip on the country. In the past 10 years, however, the country has embraced an open market economy, has started the process of moving to a democratic government and has slowly begun to attract foreign investments into some of its most promising sectors, including aquaculture.

Production figures

Most fish farming in Myanmar takes place in freshwater and brackish ponds. In 2017, the country produced a total of 1,048 million tonnes of seafood from 240,000 hectares of ponds, providing direct employment for about 215,000 part-time and full-time workers. In the northern part of the country and in the low-lying areas around the former capital of Yangon, a little over 120,000 hectares of freshwater ponds are in use. These are mainly stocked with native carp – with rohu topping the list, followed by common carp, catla and non-native tilapia. Other species which have been more recently-introduced include pacu and Pangasius. Along the coast lie a similar number of brackish water and saltwater ponds used to culture shrimp. These shrimp are mainly exported, with China, Thailand and Malaysia being the main buyers.

Although the aquaculture sector is dominated by 100 or so large Myanma aquaculture companies, there are also many small- and medium-scale farms. The larger companies typically operate anywhere from 500 to 10,000 hectares of ponds, while an average grow-out pond covers four to eight hectares.

Freshwater production systems

Seed stock of farmed species is sourced from local hatcheries or from the wild. The Myanma Department of Fisheries operates about two dozen hatcheries around the country and sells fry and fingerlings to farmers. A typical 2cm rohu fingering is priced at 3 kyat (US$0.002). There are also a number of private hatcheries which produce fingerlings, but these often prioritise supplying their own grow-out farms. As there is a regular shortage of hatchery-produced fry and fingerlings, wild seed stock is still commonly sourced. However, more and more fishermen and locals have started to object to this practice as it is believed that wild stocks of many native fish species are rapidly declining.

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