Fisheries are complex, socio-ecological systems, and unsustainable fisheries around the world threaten coastal communities and the marine ecosystems upon which they depend. Identifying areas of underperformance in the ecological, social, economic, and political dimensions of fisheries allows managers and practitioners to develop strategies to overcome these challenges and protect fisheries systems. We developed a set of multidisciplinary tools to assist managers and other practitioners to conduct these assessments of fisheries. In partnership with local government and stakeholders, we tested this set of tools in Myanmar, where nearshore ecosystems have experienced dramatic declines and coastal communities are heavily reliant on fisheries. In several fishing communities in Myanmar’s coastal states and regions, we used five fisheries assessment tools to assess fishery performance, policy and governance, economics, socio-cultural conditions (including human rights concerns), and ecosystem health.
The results of these assessments allowed us to understand the barriers and opportunities for improving fisheries management and promoting healthy marine ecosystems in Myanmar. Our findings demonstrated the potential impact that increasing coastal development will have on marine environment and coastal communities, identified gaps in current fisheries law and management, and showed that key interventions along the supply chain could improve product quality and ex-vessel prices. We identified a number of opportunities to improve governance throughout the nearshore sector, including an interest from fishers and governments in strengthening existing and establishing new systems of co-management. We also identified areas where gaps in current knowledge threaten Myanmar’s ability to design a sustainable fisheries reform strategy, indicating a need for additional research and methods for incorporating local ecological knowledge into management decisions. By using this set of multidisciplinary tools, we are able to paint a complete picture of the challenges in Myanmar nearshore fisheries and identify contextually appropriate strategies to address them. With this approach, we can design a durable and sustainable fisheries management system under many contexts that will enhance the performance of fisheries, allowing for healthy ecosystems and prosperous communities.