Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shrimp larvae harvesting and the Coast Guard

Today I noticed a lot of yelling on the banks of the river and then all of the shrimp larvae boats began rapidly paddling ashore all at once. While there are generally dozens of boats out with their fine blue nets set up to collect the shrimp larvae, and dozens more people (men, women, girls, and boys) pulling smaller versions of the same nets through the water, the river was suddenly empty. A short time later, a Coast Guard vessel passed.

It is illegal to catch shrimp larvae since the fine nets catch 1,800 other creatures for every targeted shrimp larvae captured, resulting in a devastating impact on the overall fish stock in the rivers. So every so often, the Coast Guard goes around and confiscates some nets and roughs a few people up to make a show of enforcing the laws. Chaddpai clearly has an effective early detection system in place – not to warn of impending cyclones, but rather to warn of Coast Guard raids.

Interestingly, a Coast Guard vessel is parked at the main dock in Chaddpai all day. But I am told that that is a “different” Coast Guard, which means the crew are part of the local community and there is no way they are going to take anyone’s nets. Chaddpai’s Coast Guard probably only goes on raids a few miles downriver, where I am sure an equally effective early-warning system is in place.

Chaddpai’s entire economy is dependent on the shrimp larvae harvest, yet the shrimp larvae harvest is destroying the ecosystem Chaddpai depends on. Laws have been put in place to try to protect the ecosystem. But there is no local buy-in at all and thus the laws and enforcement are not effective whatsoever. This situation perfectly demonstrates the codependence of development and conservation. Without addressing local economics (e.g. providing an alternative income source than collecting shrimp larvae), it will be impossible to protect this valuable ecosystem. And yet, without
protecting the ecosystem, the economy here is only going to get worse, as over-fished waters begin to fail to support the population. Both the people and the environment near Chaddpai desperately need an alternative to shrimp larvae collection. International Development Enterprises is an organization that has come up with creative solutions to such problems (see www.ideorg.org).

Hopefully a similarly inventive organization will help find a solution in Chaddpai. And hopefully the Endangered Species, Empowered Communities project will be able to
effectively generate funding to support both the communities and ecosystems featured in our books.

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