June 5, 2020


Myanmar fisheries sector's decline puts a million jobs at risk



Myanmar's fishing sector may lose nearly a million manpower, after almost all shipments to China and the US have been cancelled since February due to COVID-19, Bloomberg reported.


Processing plants would not have been able to deliver anyway, as factory closures were part of the government's measures to stall the pandemic. Before the outbreak, the Myanmar Fisheries Federation forecast record exports of US$1 billion this year, up about 40% from 2019. That is been slashed to US$350 million.


The fisheries sector employs about 3.5 million people in Myanmar, roughly 6% of the Southeast Asian nation's workforce. In some coastal regions, one in three workers earns a living from seafood and marine products, according to a World Bank report in June 2019.


"It is a time of zero exports without any new orders from buyer countries," Hnin Oo, senior vice president of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation, said Friday. Myanmar fishery exports largely depend on China, the US, Japan and European countries, he said.


Hnin Oo said aquaculture businesses and the animal-feed industry are among the most-vulnerable in the COVID-19 crisis. Without exports, the tap on cash flow has been turned off. Many companies, most of them small, face high "interest burdens" because they lack collateral required by commercial banks, so they turn to black-market lenders for funding. Some businesses have already folded.


"It's almost impossible to sell locally because normal people can't afford the marine products that are processed and tailored for exports," he said. A sizable portion of products, including shrimp, prawn, crab and both fresh and ocean fish, involve cold storage.


Even domestic sellers are at risk. Lockdowns, social-distancing rules and the closures of restaurants and markets—as well as tumbling incomes—have crimped consumption. Sales at the Sanpya Fish Market, the nation's biggest wholesale outlet for marine and seafood products, have plunged by nearly half since the COVID-19 outbreak.


Hnin Oo urged the government to ease land-use policies, increase stimulus spending and provide long-term discounted loans to aquaculture businesses. In some coastal regions, as much as 56% of revenue for regional governments comes from the fisheries sector, according to the World Bank.

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