In June, our staff travelled to Myanmar’s capital city of Nay Pyi Taw as an ambassador for Fish Conservation Zones (FCZs) in Laos. Our collaborators from Fauna and Flora International (FFI) in Myanmar invited FISHBIO to share our FCZ experiences with government officials as part of an effort to legalize community-managed FCZs in Myanmar. During our field trips to advise FFI on their projects to establish FCZs in Indawgyi Lake and Phonganrazi in Kachin State, we noticed that one of the biggest differences between Laos and Myanmar is that Laos, like many other Southeast Asian countries, has explicit articles in the national fisheries law that allow local communities to designate and enforce FCZs in their villages. As such national-level laws currently do not exist in Myanmar, communities who tried to set up local conservation areas faced challenges when the government and other communities did not recognize them. Several villages shared the difficulties of trying to promote conservation without government support during our field visits in Kachin State. Recognizing this, FFI convened a national workshop to try to develop a legal framework for Fish Conservation Zones in Myanmar.
This year marked Myanmar’s first civilian elections in 50 years, and as a result, much of the authority to create legislation is now being handed to the states. The workshop we attended included government authorities and community members from Kachin State in northern Myanmar, where FFI and FISHBIO have been working to establish FCZs, and Tanintharyi Region in southern Myanmar, where FFI is establishing locally managed marine protected areas. Our communications director and fisheries biologist Erin Loury presented on FISHBIO’s experiences establishing Fish Conservation Zones in Laos, and also provided a review of the Lao Fisheries Law. Adopted in 2009, the Lao Fisheries Law provides for villages to manage their local fish resources through Fisheries Management Committees, including the development of Fish Conservation Zones. It was a treat for us to see some familiar faces from our recent trip to the mountain villages of Phonganrazi. Several community leaders from these villages made the trek to the national capital, and attended in their traditional formal dress.
During the meeting, all parties recognized the importance of establishing FCZs to protect fish habitats, and agreed that the Fisheries Department should provide guidance for how to establish and manage these areas. They also decided that the Freshwater Fisheries Law of Kachin State needed to be amended to allow for the community establishment of FCZs, and plans are in place to submit such changes to the parliament for approval. Attendees also agreed on the need to issue fisher licenses with the support from FFI, and community leaders stated that more awareness raising activities around fisheries regulations need to be planned in Kachin State. We hope that this meeting is an important step forward for helping local communities in Myanmar manage their fisheries resources, and for protecting Myanmar’s unique fish species.