Newsletter Vol-4

The Change Faces of Fishery in Yahaingato

Having about 700 households, Yahaingato is among the larger villages of Gwa township in southern Rakhine State. It is also the oldest fishing village. Situated on the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal and with more than 150 species of fish in the waters, conditions have been good for the development of a fishing industry at Yahaingato. But it is only within the past fifty years that the face of fishery has really changed in Yahaingato.
Sixty or more years ago Yahaingato was a much smaller village, with about 120 households, all of them Rakhine. Most of the villagers were engaged in fishing but it was very difficult to make a living. They went out to the sea in rowboats and, using a tan net, caught a variety of fish—nga yaw, nga pani and nga pie.
The fish that was caught was made into salt fish and sent to Pathein by schooner. Pathein was the headquarters of the Ayeyarwady Division and a seaport which figured in the export of rice abroad. It was a major market, but the journey to Pathein along the coast took seven days. The salt fish of Yahaingato did not fetch much of a price at Pathein, because the Ayeyarwady Division itself had a flourishing fishery. Against the low price of salt fish was the cost of maintaining their boats and their nets. Life was indeed hard for the villagers of Yahaingato!
Then in 1955 a man from Dawei came to Yahaingato. Dawei was a very distant place, far south on the Tanintharyi coast and with historical links to the Malay peninsula. The reason and the circumstances of the man coming to Yahaingato are obscure, but he had with him six companions. The men of Dawei spoke a language which the villagers of Yahaingato did not understand, but, they were like them in having a long tradition of fishery.
The men from Dawei were skilled fishermen and they brought with them a knowledge of fishing as well as skills which the villagers did not have. Learning from them, the villagers began using new equipment: the nga kuinsha paik net for catching nga kuinsha, nga maelon and nga kyigan; the myo paik net for catching nga nima and nga man.
There was another innovation, this one quite simple. It was the adoption of the mee shuu (fish torch) for night fishing. It was a torch attached to the end of a 6-foot long bamboo pole and held up in the boat. The nga konenyoe fish were particularly attracted to the light, and with the fish coming to the boat fishing became very much easier.
Another change in the late 50’s required a heavier investment. A few villagers, better off than the others, used some of their savings to acquire motorized boats, enabling them to travel more speedily and work to greater effect.
The changes brought about increased catches. But the problem of a market for them remained. A change of government in 1962 and the introduction of measures to create a socialist economy brought about economic disruptions. For most of the 60’s there was a slump in the market for the fish of Yahaingato. The fishermen came back with big catches, and unable to sell them off, went through the heartbreaking experience of having the fish used as fertilizer for the coconut palms. In an effort to adjust demand and supply the fishermen, before leaving in their boats, asked the buyers how much they would be buying in order to adjust their catch.

A breakthrough came in 1976. That was the year when salted nga konenyo fish from Yahaingato was first sent to Yangon. Two routes developed for the trade in salted fish. One was by motorized boat up the coast to Taungup, and from thence by car to Yangon. The other was by car all the way to Yangon via Thandwe.
The development of the Yangon market greatly stimulated the fishery of Yahaingato. Nga konenyo fish which had not figured much in the 60’s now became a major item in catches. Gwa with its flourishing fishing industry became a frontier of opportunity and Bamar people from Ngathaingchaung in the Ayeyarwady Division came to Yahaingato to catch fish and to settle there.
Further developments came after 1988 when Myanmar reversed its earlier economic policies in order to develop a market-oriented economy. There was an improvement in infrastructure, in particular the building of roads and bridges in the Ayeyarwady delta region, where transportation had previously been almost exclusively by rivercraft. The construction of the Gwa-Ngathaingchaung road in 1990 helped to link Yahaingato to the network of roads and to make Yangon much more accessible.
With the stimulus of a growing market, fishermen improved their equipment and the nga konenyo paik nets which had been made of cotton in the 70’s and 80’s came to be made of nylon from 1992.
Ice factories were constructed by the government in Gwa, Aleywar and Kantharya in the early 90’s, and they further helped to transform the fishing industry in Yahaingato. It was now possible to send fresh fish in frozen form to Yangon, and among the fish that was sent, nga tautoe and nga bartar, groupers (Serranidae) with a high demand in foreign markets, came to figure prominently.
Yahaingato has been greatly transformed. The opportunities provided by the new developments have made it possible for every one to have a share. Men catch the fish and women help in its processing. There is no friction at all between the old inhabitants and the immigrants, they work together and they intermarry. Some old men remember the days when fish was used as a fertilizer, but every one in Yahaingato is optimistic about the future of the fishery of their village.

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Last Modified : 10 Feb 2011 (NWA)

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