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Asean Affairs  1  February 2011

Overfishing in Asia

By  David Swartzentruber

AseanAffairs     1 February 2011

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It’s now the high season for tourism in Asia as the weather has turned cooler and drier. Except for parts of flooded Malaysia, the weather is fine and many visitors enjoy the tasty fish dishes served up at the region’s restaurants.

How many years this delicious seafood will continue to be served is a question. A substantial part of the Asian diet is based on fish and between India and China lies a substantial part of the world’s population.

One of the biggest seafood industries is located in Indonesia, where the country’s territorial waters account for about 70 percent of its total area. The fisherfolk recently gathered for a four-day meeting in Kalibata, South Jakarta.

Kholid, (Indonesians traditionally go by their first names) a fisherman from West Java, has seen the problem spread across the Indonesian archipelago.

“I suspect we have lost thousands of fish and shellfish species — flying fish, crabs, white mussels, sea cucumbers and certain types of sea horses,” he said. “Where are they now?” he asked. He claimed that industrial waste from private factories near his village had killed off the fish near the coast. Thirty years ago, he said, fish were plentiful even just 50 meters from the beach.

“These days, I sail for thousands of kilometers and sometimes I still can’t find any fish,” he said A study by a marine environmental group, Oceana, highlights the issues.

The study, titled, "Hungry Oceans: What Happens When the Prey Is Gone," focuses on three threats: Overfishing of prey species are going unregulated, including immense stores of squid and krill. Whole schools of fish that feed tuna, whales and other long-lived animals and drive migrations are caught in nets, particularly by industrial fishing vessels.

Fish farms are driving the need for small species, which are turned into oil or feed. They use more of the ocean's protein than they produce. An estimated 4 to 11 pounds of prey fish are consumed to grow 1 pound of farmed salmon.

Warming ocean temperatures in the past century - and projected to rise in the coming decades - affect sea life survival. Changes in temperature and prevailing currents may sweep away newly hatched eggs and larvae, and hurricanes can wipe out a generation of larval fish.

A recent UN report highlighted that an agreement for limiting the killing of sharks for their fins (sharkfin soup) has been a total failure. Indonesia is the largest supplier of shark fins. Overfishing in the seas has been an underreported issue, but as fish stocks dwindle, expect more reporting but what is really needed is action.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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This year in Thailand-what next?

04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More

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