Windfall for Tanintharyi fishermen

Since the end of last year, the price of diesel has halved from K200,000 a barrel to around K100,000 today – a major boon for fishermen who can now afford to fish longer hours.

“The price has dropped by close to half, so we can double our fishing time,” said U Thet Soe, secretary general of the Tanintharyi Region Fisheries Federation.

The federation oversees 10,021 local inshore fishing vessels, 759 foreign-owned offshore boats and 455 local offshore ships, according to data for 2014-15 from the fisheries ministry.

Exporters are also bringing home more kyat as the exchange rate weakens. The kyat had fallen by more than 25 percent to touch an all-time low of K1300 to the dollar yesterday, and is likely to continue to fall.

The value of the local industry is rising fast. In 2003, fisheries exports from Tanintharyi, mostly to Thailand and Malaysia, were worth US$40 million. By last year they were worth $144 million, according to the local federation.

In the low season, between April and October, the value of fisheries exports from Tanintharyi this year had reached $60.36 million, for 468,934 tonnes of fish and 74,170 tonnes of prawns, according to data from the fisheries ministry. Typically exports pick up during the dry period from November to March.

A crackdown on illegal fishing vessels in Thailand is also likely to support the industry in Myanmar, said U Thet Soe.

Thailand – which exported US$3.2 billion worth of fisheries products last year – has been under much international pressure to clean up the sector amid reports of fishermen being forced to work under dire conditions.

Since the country’s military government took power last year it has scrutinised the industry, insisting on tax payments and seizing vessels, leading some businesspeople to abandon fishing altogether, said U Thet Soe.

As the number of Thai boats falls, traders are looking increasingly to Myanmar, he said. Fishermen in Tanintharyi export mostly to Thailand, though finished products can also be exported to China.

“It’s not so easy to produce finished products, but it’s much more profitable than selling raw fish,” he said.

The main hurdle is the cost of power. “We have to use generators for cold storage, which are very expensive,” he said. “It would be so much easier if the cost of electricity was the same as in Yangon – just K50 per unit.”

There are just four cold storage facilities in Myeik and 11 factories that produce ice. The region is notorious for its high cost of electricity – more than K300 per unit – though this has fallen from more than K500 in the past.

Power will only become cheaper if the national grid is extended to the country’s southernmost region, which was planned for last year but has not yet happened. The alternative is to buy gas from Thailand.

Plans to build a coal plant at Myeik have been widely protested by civil society groups over fears it will harm the environment, but for U Thet Soe, cheaper electricity is critical to the region’s development.

“If even a country like Japan can accept coal plants, why can’t we?” U Thet Soe said. Electricity will support production of finished products and create job opportunities, preventing migrant workers from crossing the border into Thailand.

Under the new government, local fishermen hope greater collaboration between businesspeople and regional ministers can boost the industry further.

A democratic transition following the country’s first largely free election on November 8 will create more

opportunities, said U Hnin Oo, senior vice president of the Myanmar Fishery Federation (MFF).

The federation visited its sister organisation in Myeik earlier this month to discuss how the industry is likely to change under the new leadership.

For Myanmar to truly become a market-based economy, decentralisation and deregulation are necessary, said U Hnin Oo, adding that the banking industry must also be developed to support growth in the sector.

Business plans to develop Tanintharyi Region must include foreign investment, he said, adding that accurate data on how many businesses are operating in the region, and in which sectors is still lacking.

Comparing the fishing industry in Tanintharyi with that in Rakhine State on the western coast of Myanmar, he said the industry in Rakhine was a little further behind, as under military rule and a centralised government Tanintharyi was given more of a chance to develop.

U Win Kyaing, secretary general of the MFF, told businesspeople in Myeik that they should closely monitor the new government’s attention to reforms in the fishing industry, amid growing international demand for Myanmar’s fisheries products.

“If the new government focuses on the industry, it has great potential to develop, and for this we are very hopeful,” he said.

Source: Myanmar Times

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