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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 18:25 GMT
Fisheries 'devastated' by tsunami
By Richard Black
BBC environment correspondent

Sri Lankan fishermen
Sri Lankan fishermen wait while their boats are fixed
Fisheries in many countries affected by last month's Asian tsunami have been devastated, according to a United Nations assessment.

It says some countries have lost about three-quarters of their fishing boats.

In many affected countries fishing is a major source of food for local people and an important export commodity.

"The situation is extremely serious," said Jeremy Turner, chief of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Fishery Technology Service.

"In Sri Lanka, our reports suggest to us that something like 80% of fishing vessels have been either lost or damaged, and similar levels of destruction have taken place in north-western Indonesia, that's northern Sumatra," he said.

Fish shortage

Of Sri Lanka's 12 major fishing ports, 10 have been seriously affected, with damage to facilities such as cold stores and slipways.

Figures from other countries are less comprehensive, but surveys suggest that Thailand has lost more than 4,000 boats.

We also have to be concerned not to re-create one of the major problems within fisheries prior to the tsunami, and that is over-capacity within the coastal fisheries
Jeremy Turner, FAO

It is thought that Somalia has lost more than 2,000, and the Maldives is without about a third of its fleet.

In some regions fish supplies in markets have dropped by 90%, the FAO has reported.

"We're already aware that the fish in the market, the prices are going up, there are shortages of fish," said Mr Turner, "and this reflects back to the situation within the fishing sector.

"Clearly, without boats and without fishing gear, families are unable to have their incomes and their livelihoods."

Longer term eye

In a separate assessment, the Asian Development Bank commented that fishermen and their immediate communities would bear the brunt of losses.

Even so, the FAO estimates that India's exports of seafood products may decline by around one-third.

With international assistance, work has already begun to rebuild these devastated fleets.

But Mr Turner believes that the rebuilding work must be carried out with one eye on the longer-term future.

"We also have to be concerned not to re-create one of the major problems within fisheries prior to the tsunami, and that is over-capacity within the coastal fisheries," he said.

"There were too many boats, too much fishing effort given the levels of fish resources.

"So in the long-term, we must ensure that we do not introduce capacity which is either equal to or greater than what it was before the tsunami."

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