For the past few weeks, I had the honour of training Myanmar media on investigating fisheries crime and corruption from ethnic media, to national outlets and Myanmar journalists at international outlets.
Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported or IUU fishing is a major issue around the world with 1800 pounds of fish stolen from the oceans every second.
One reason why fisheries crime has not received enough attention from investigative journalists is that the size of the sector is often unknown. I was shocked to learn that IUU fishing brings in between US$10 billion and US$23 billion annually. Like other natural resources, IUU fishing is still a very profitable illicit market.
At the same time, fish is an important source of protein and livelihood for millions of people. So much so that sustainable use of the oceans and their resources is a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal.
The fisheries sector is also essential for the Myanmar people. The country was the 11th largest fish producer in 2017 exporting to over 40 countries including the US, EU, China, Thailand, Singapore and Japan. But Myanmar’s fish has not been without controversy.
After forced labour was exposed in the Myanmar fisheries sector in 2015, the U.S. banned the import of products tainted by slavery. Since the coup d’état of 1 February 2021, the risk of human trafficking increased according to the United Nations Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Noeleen Heyzer.
Experts are warning of an increase in illicit trade due to the economic decline since the coup and impunity for perpetrators. Especially exploitation of natural resources can be used to fund the military and anti-corruption measures are being undone.
In the Gulf of Martaban in northern Myanmar, illegal fishing almost doubled since the coup. According to the Fisheries Federation, the cause for the increase in illegal fishing is the reduction in patrols from monthly to once every six months.
In October 2021, the military junta instated the first ever Myanmar coastguard and transferred environmental protection from the navy to the coastguard, which only has four vessels.
All of this is creating opportunities for illegal fishing and fisheries crime, and story opportunities for Myanmar reporters.