KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 22 (AFP) - Thousands of new boats given to fishing communities to replace those destroyed in last year's tsunami risk bringing “economic misery” by exhausting already depleted fish stocks, according to a new report.
The Malaysia-based WorldFish Centre labelled as “misguided” aid projects that were supplying affected countries with more vessels than they had before the December 26 disaster.
“Armed with good intentions and awash with money, but without clear co-ordination and a coherent strategy, many of the rehabilitation efforts will fail,” it said in a report.
“Worse still, they may imperil the longer-term livelihoods of the communities they are seeking to help. For fishers, the grim possibility that efforts to rebuild might actually send their communities on a downward path to economic misery is very real.”
The research institute said that in the Indonesian province of Aceh, which was worst-hit by the tsunami, some 8,000 boats were destroyed, but that some 10,800 new vessels had either already been delivered or were about to be.
“In many cases we see higher numbers of smaller boats which are used for inshore fishing, and this has potential negative consequences on the stocks which are the small fisherman's catch,” said WorldFish expert Madan Dey.
“Smaller fishermen cannot go to the deep sea and catch tuna -- they will be relying on the fish in inshore areas and if this ecosystem is destroyed, that will have a big long-term effect,” he told AFP.
WorldFish said that reviving depleted fisheries should take precedence in reconstruction efforts, even if that meant abandoning plans to provide replacement boats and fishing gear.
And it called for money to be spent instead on restoring marine habitats, enforcing sustainable fishing quotas, and providing training in other skills so that fishing communities could reduce their dependence on the sea.
It said that with Southeast Asian fish stocks estimated at a tenth of their levels in the early 1970s, they must not be allowed to “continue on their downward spiral and condemning fishers to become even more vulnerable.”
“Yet there is a very real risk that this will happen if our rehabilitation response is developed without due thought given to the complexities involved and is dominated by easy and ill-considered options for replacing lost boats and gear.”
WorldFish director-general Stephen Hall said the fishing grounds affected by the tsunami were poorly understood, but it appeared the disaster had not caused mass fish deaths. “However, as to the question of whether the destruction of mangroves has compromised the ability of those stocks to reproduce, the impact will only be known in a year or two's time,” he said.
Hall conceded that in the “murky area between relief and rehabilitation”, where many tsunami survivors remained without permanent housing, changing the focus onto the long-term implications of aid was difficult.
But he said regional governments and civil society groups were already listening, and that the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation had decided recently to suspend a project to supply Indonesia with an extra 2,400 boats.
Hall said it was vital to widen coastal economies by introducing new businesses like small-scale aquaculture in farms which would create a variety of job openings.
“All these things will make those communities more stable and more resilient to the kinds of shocks they received in December last year,” he said.
The WorldFish Center is an independent body funded by grants from private organisations and governments.