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Hannah Shin - Blog 3: Understanding indigenous fishing knowledge and customary practices in the Gulf of Mottama, Myanmar

Hannah Shin - Blog 3: Understanding indigenous fishing knowledge and customary practices in the Gulf of Mottama, Myanmar

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Mingalaba fellow readers,

I have been with the Network Activities Group (NAG) for about three months now, and so much as happened, and I am finding that my sense of time feels very warped. As I am writing this and thinking about my placement here, it feels like three months has flown by, but there have been times where time just stood still. My last blog, I talked about the project I am part of and the workshop I attended. Now, it has been about three months since I have joined NAG, and I finally have a project that I am “leading”*. I will be working on this project until the end of my placement with NAG.

*Side note: What I mean by “leading” is that I have been in charge of designing the project (it feels a bit foreign to me because this was my first time designing a project where I get to apply it out in the field – I wished I have taken research methods prior to coming out here).

I am studying the indigenous fishing knowledge (IFK) and customary practices in the Gulf of Mottama. So, how does my project fit into their community-led coastal management in the Gulf of Mottama (CLCMGOM), especially in co-management? I think it is important to understand the IFK and customary practices of the fishers when implementing fishery policies and regulations that affect fishers’ livelihoods. I believe in providing platform for the local fishers’ to share their fishing knowledge, which will help civil society (ie. NGOs and universities) and government to better understand current state of small scale fishing industry. It is also important to empower the local fishers’ and their community because it is their livelihood at stake; therefore they should be involved in the process.

I met with Yin Nyein (supervisor), Thant Zin Phyo (Thant Zin Phyo) and Soe Min Oo (fisheries officer) to discuss the objectivity of the project, preliminary outline, survey questions, and logistics for the field visits. There are 30 project villages for the CLCMGOM project and we will visit 10 project villages to collect their indigenous fishing knowledge and customary practices. We planned out our visits to four villages in Mon State areas, and decided that Soe Min Oo would be my cultural and language broker for this project.

Soe Min Oo (fisheries officer and cultural/language broker) in motorbike taxi in Mon State.

From our field visits, both Soe Min Oo and I have learned tremendous amount from our challenges. He realized the difficulties of being the only language broker and I realized that I needed to improve on my research skills, especially in methodology, and need more supervision. There were other difficulties and challenges, but the two I highlighted above were our main weaknesses. 

Sometimes, we travel by boat to visit our field sites.

I presented our preliminary findings from our field visits, but mostly I wanted to discuss the challenges we encountered and to find solutions. Soe Min Oo and I agreed that it was too difficult for him to facilitate all the translation so we need another language broker to help us. Also, I mentioned that it was very difficult to collect everything in one day and I needed more feedback and supervision. During our meeting we all agreed that one visit per village to collect data (history of the village, IFK and customary practices, conflict resolution, and gender) was not sufficient enough, so I had suggested three days per village that way I am able to build rapport and relationship with the villagers. However, due to time constraints we compromised to two days per village. We also discussed methodologies and what would be best suited for this project. Currently, I am working on my project plan for January and waiting to meet with my new supervisor, Thant Zin Phyo and Soe Min Oo to discuss new logistics and plans for our next field visits.

Here are some things I have learned from my field visits to remotes fishing villages in the Mon State:

-       One of the major problems that the fishers’ encounter is illegal fishing, such as using illegal mesh size, use of poison, and fishing in closed areas.

-       The word “taught” does not have the same meaning in Burmese language. I have learned from my own experience that the fishers’ were never taught to fish, but learned through observation and experience out at sea.

-       All fishing villages retain and hold very similar indigenous fishing knowledge and customary practices.

-       Most of these remote villages have poor infrastructure, such as roads; therefore have more difficulties accessing resources (ie. clinics, hospitals, and schools).

-       Indigenous fishing knowledge and customary practice information are orally passed down and there are not written documentations.

 

She is making a gillnet for her husband, but she also makes nets for other fishers for profit.

Here are some of my non-work highlights of 2016:

-       I never know when I am going to be out in the field so it has been difficult for me to take language lessons, so I am learning Burmese language from my co-workers, especially from finance ladies. They teach me new vocabulary and in exchange I teach them English and Korean.

-       I spent my Christmas holiday at the Ngapali Beach, which is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in South East Asia. I ate my way through this beautiful coast and enjoyed the luxury life of a tourist.

-       I have finally adjusted to Yangon lifestyle and have made friends from various organizations (eg. CUSO, VSO, British Council, and many more). It has taken me awhile to adjust to my new lifestyle, but I am enjoying every bit of it.

 

Hanging out with the local school kids. They all knew how to say hello in Korean!

Thus far, I am learning invaluable research skills, interpersonal skills, and self-discovery/personal growth. I am fortunate enough to have an internship where I am gaining experience out in the field. This experience is a great exposure to potential masters program.