Scientists and sailors shepherded groups around a US$80 million Norwegian research vessel docked in Yangon last night (September 12).

Named after Norweigian explorer, scientist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr Fridtjof Nansen, the ship is surveying fish stocks in Myanmar waters in order to help sustainable fishing.

Over the past 16 days it has covered 2,500 nautical miles, trailing up and down the coast since the border with Bangladesh. The 15-strong crew and 30 scientists use sonar and trawls to count the fish, a process RV Dr Fridtjof Nansen has completed around the world since March, 2016 when it began its latest five-year program.

Comparing the recent results from a similar survey 40 years ago, senior scientist Jens-Otto Krakstad said there had been “tremendous change” in fish stocks.

“About 80-90 percent of the fishing biomass has disappeared, mainly due to overfishing,” he said, adding that the program aims to rebuild fishing resources in Myanmar and “ensure fishermen here are making a good living.”

Achieving the goal would mean lowering the number of fishing jobs—“a huge challenge for families,” he said, but opportunities in eco-tourism and government would fill the void.

Retrieving the data is easy compared to the political challenges of ensuring it is acted upon, explained Krakstad. “The most difficult thing is to liaison with government and politicians and make them understand they need to make unpopular decisions and carry them out,” he added.

Solutions to increasing the fish population include establishing marine protected areas enforced by local management and reducing the length of the fishing season.

Chief officer Asbjorn Austevoll in the bridge of the ship. (Myanmore)

The EAF-Nansen Programme, which was launched in 1975, also trains local scientists who explain the data to their governments. The Norwegian government-owned vessel was built as part of a UN project and is the only ship in the world officially bearing the UN flag. On its decks are wet, dry, plankton-sampling, climate, and seawater laboratories.

In the bridge of the ship, chief officer Asbjorn Austevoll showed guests controls and digital navigation charts, which drew a trail of rectangles along the coast.

Though the next stop for RV Dr Fridtjof Nansen is Phuket, Thailand, Norway’s involvement with Myanmar’s fishery sector continues with its aquaculture program Fish for Development.


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