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  PlanetArk 8 Nov 07
Fish Vanishing from Southeast Asian Oceans - Report

Straits Times 8 Nov 07
Overfishing: Fish-head curry a rare dish in 10 years?
Overfishing depleting seas in South-east Asia and could cause diplomatic tensions, says Australian study
By Nilanjana Sengupta

FISH-HEAD curry might soon become an 'endangered' dish, a possibility that will dismay Singaporean foodies.

In fact, intense commercial fishing of the seas of South-east Asia could wipe out many of the region's seafood favourites in just 10 years, warns a new study by an Australian think-tank.

A massive - and continuing - surge in both legal and illegal fishing to meet the blistering increase in demand since the 1950s has already depleted the fish populations of the region's seas dramatically, it says.

The report was released yesterday by Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy, and written by fisheries expert Meryl Williams.

For instance, the density of fish in the Gulf of Thailand declined by 86 per cent between 1961 and 1991, the report says.

As a result, the amount of fish caught per hour by each trawler there fell 'more than sevenfold' between 1966 and 1994.

Likewise in the Philippines, catches are now as low as 10 per cent of what fishermen used to bring in when there were a lot fewer fishing boats at sea and a great deal more fish.

'Since the number of fishers, vessels, and the intensity of fishing is still increasing, all resources are expected to be exploited and over-exploited in a decade,' the report says.

Dr Malcolm Cook, Programme Director, Asia and the Pacific at the Lowy Institute, told The Straits Times over the telephone: 'This is an emergency problem which is likely to occur sooner than you expect.'

Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines now rank among the top 12 fish-producing nations in the world.

Thus, the report says, the crisis will have an impact not only on eating habits in those countries but also on their economies.

Indeed, it could affect the livelihoods of up to 100 million people in those countries.

These South-east Asian countries have moved from simple stationary fish nets blanketing the coasts to more mechanised and mobile industrial fishing. This includes the use of one or more vessels to trawl the seabed for cod, groupers and lobsters.

As well as feeding people, fish brings in much-needed foreign exchange - a fact that has further driven the growth in fishing.

As a result of that drive for food, profit and foreign exchange, most South-east Asian fisheries are overfished.

Thus competition is hotting up for what is left in the seas from the Gulf of Tonkin near Vietnam and the Philippine archipelago to the Gulf of Thailand and the waters around Indonesia.

This could ignite 'serious sources of bilateral tensions and regional tensions unless urgent action is taken', the 90-page report says.

The declining fish stocks are pushing fishers to illegally raid the seas beyond their maritime borders, creating a source of diplomatic tensions, it says.

Vietnamese vessels, for instance, are frequently caught for illegal fishing in the waters of Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Illegal fishing is a major issue also for Malaysia, a mid-sized fish producer.

Moreover, 'there is an increase in the incursion of illegal boats from non-South-east Asian countries like China and Taiwan into the traditional waters of the region, leading to a reduction in resources', Dr Cook said.

'This in turn is pushing Indonesian trawlers into the waters of neighbouring Australia.'

In the report, Dr Williams recommends that the highest priorities be given to allocating catch limits for the migratory southern blue fin and Pacific and Indian Ocean tuna.

Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines are involved in regional tuna fishing and trade.

A high proportion of Singapore's fish imports consists of tuna products from Indonesia, possibly bound for further processing and re-export.

Although fishing matters do not appear to have deeply affected the overall Australian-Indonesian diplomatic relationship, Dr Cook says 'it is only a matter of time'.

PlanetArk 8 Nov 07
Fish Vanishing from Southeast Asian Oceans - Report

SYDNEY - Southeast Asia's oceans are fast running out of fish, putting the livelihoods of up to 100 million people at risk and increasing the need for governments to support the maintenance of fish stocks, an Australian expert said.

Fisheries in the region had expanded dramatically in recent decades and Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines were now in the top 12 fish producing countries in the world, Meryl Williams said in a paper for Australia's Lowy Institute.

"As the fourth largest country in world fish production, Indonesia is a fisheries giant. Yet ... Indonesian marine fisheries resources are close to fully exploited and a significant number in all areas are over-exploited," she said.

Williams, a former director general of the international WorldFish Center, said the number of fishers was still increasing in most Southeast Asian countries despite a trend since the 1980s to close frontiers due to territorial claims and overfishing.

In the Gulf of Thailand, the density of fish had declined by 86 percent from 1961 to 1991, while between 1966 and 1994 the catch per hour in the Gulf by trawlers fell more than sevenfold.

In Vietnam, a new fishing power and a rising source of imports by Australia, the total catch between 1981 and 1999 only doubled despite a tripling of capacity of the fishing fleet -- a sure sign that fishing was reaching capacity, she said.

In the Gulf of Tonkin, where Vietnam shares resources with China, the record was even worse with fish catch per hour in 1997 only a quarter of that in 1985.

"In the Philippines, most marine fisheries were overexploited by the 1980s, with catch rates as low as 10 percent of rates when these areas were lightly fished," she said.

Williams said Southeast Asian fisheries were serviced by a plethora of regional bodies and agreements, but few acted effectively on illegal fishing and shared stock management.

At the same time, illegal fishing was "dynamic, creative, clever and usually one step ahead of authorities".

A Southeast Asian government may issue a single fishing licence only to find it being used by four different boats, she said. In Indonesia, foreign fishing vessels, often Chinese in joint-ventures, operated on the "margins of legality" in a geographically vast archipelago.

Williams said Australia should step up collaboration with Southeast Asian countries to help manage fish stocks. (Reporting by Michael Byrnes; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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