Fishpond owners in Bago Region say they are fighting a losing battle against villagers who steal fish from their ponds.
Villagers near the Hla Blue Natebanpout and Kyite Mae Moe Khaing Gyi fish ponds in Thanatbin township are allegedly fishing at ponds leased from the regional government, said U Maung Maung Naing, owner of Kyite Mae Moe Khaing Gyi fish pond.
“I’m facing heavy losses this year because people are catching about K30,000 worth of fish a day from my ponds,” he said. “Business is the worst it has been in the 15 years I’ve been in the industry,” he said.
U Maung Maung Naing said he usually earns from K2-3 million in profit a year but invested K2.4 million to rent the pond from the Bago Region government and spends about K10 million in feed, fingerlings and maintenance.
“It costs K1.5 million a month, including wages and other maintenance costs. We are doing business fairly but are facing losses for things beyond our control. We think the law cannot protect us.
“We’ve reported the thefts to the Department of Fisheries in Thanatbin township and township authorities but they have not taken action,” he said.
Another fish pond owner, U Hla Ohn, said the problems with theft of fish in Bago is related to a similar situation in Ayeyarwady Region on September 29 that resulted in police shooting dead two villagers.
“If we had people stealing our fish last year we reported the matter to the Department of Fisheries and they sent one or two police to solve the problem,” he said. “But this year the department has not sent any police. They should protect our businesses according the law because now doing this business is a major risk.”
U Hla Ohn said more than 50 villagers fished from his pond from 11pm every night in the past week but the number increased to at least 80 from October 23 onward.
“I’m only earning about 20 percent from my ponds compared with this time last year,” he said. “I have no intention to do this business next year because the risks are too high and nobody is protecting us.”
He added that many of the people illegally fishing at his ponds practise illegal electronic-shock fishing using batteries. The punishment for people caught using this method is a three-year jail term and a K100,000 fine.
“But the law isn’t enforced in practice,” he said.
The fish produced by the ponds is mostly consumed within Bago Region but some is also shipped to Yangon.
U Aung Zaw Win, the spokesperson for Thanatbin township’s branch of the Department of Fisheries, said that the department would move to solve the problem soon.
“Our difficulty is that the area is four hours away by boat and we can’t get there when water levels are low,” he said.
However, U Aye Myint, a lawyer who represents a number of farmers in Bago Region said all parties in the dispute were violating the law. He said the Department of Fisheries needs to clarify the ownership status of the ponds and then ensure that action is taken against people found to be stealing fish or pond owners found illegally tampering with streams and rivers.
“According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation it’s illegal for anybody to place poles or barricades in streams and rivers, but some fish ponds owners are colluding with fisheries officials to enlarge their ponds and divert water and fish into their enclosures.
“As a result, there are few fish in the streams and farmers have little choice but to fish the ponds instead.”