Stories from the field

Author Hannah Shin

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

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. 


Hannah Shin – Blog 2: My internship life in Myanmar

Mingalaba (hello) everyone,

I am currently interning at the Network Activities Group (NAG), a local NGO located in Yangon, Myanmar. I have been with NAG for about a month and I am enjoying the project I am involved in. I am working on the Community-led Coastal Management in the Gulf of Mottama (CLCMGoM) project, specifically on co-management.  Co-management is flexibility and cooperative management of resources by the community civil society and the government. Thus, the responsibilities of the resources, decision-making, implementations and policies should be shared between the government, civil society and most importantly the community.

This project has diverse partnerships from various sectors, such as the government, universities, private business sectors, NGOs, conservation organizations, and the communities. By working together will help strengthen the goals for this project.

The main purpose of the project is to address current disparities in coastal fishing communities and to increase their livelihoods through sustainable fishing practices in the Gulf of Mottama. There are three main goals for the CLCMGoM project:

1. Improve sustainable fisheries management in the Gulf of Mottama through value chain approach and equitable market access

2. Improve access to non-fisheries resources, such as agriculture to increase livelihoods of coastal communities.

3. Improve protection of special habitats of the Gulf of Mottama through scientific knowledge and public awareness.

 I thought I use this platform to discuss one of the important workshops I attended for the CLCMGoM project on October 22, 2016. It was a consultation workshop on land erosion issues on Sittuang River in the Bago region, and participants included, government officials, CLCMGoMP team members, Land Core Group, and the local communities from the Kawa and Thannatpin townships. The land erosion is one of the biggest threats (along with illegal fishing) to most coastal communities, which is affecting the livelihoods of the people in the Bago region. 

Google map of Gulf of Mottama.

The Minister of the Natural and Environmental Conservation and Forestry in the Bago region, U Kyaw Min Zan, addressed the importance of preventing land erosion through collaborative work between the community, the government and civil society. He strongly believes in community-based approach to prevent land erosions that are affecting the livelihoods of the people.

U Daw Nyi Nyi Aung is the Director of the Department of Environmental Conservation in the Bago region and she addressed how global warming is a major threat to our world, especially melting of the ice caps that cause flooding and land erosions. She also mentioned that it is not only natural disasters causing land erosions, but land mining and sand digging are also major contributors to land erosions.

The Director of the Department of Forestry, U Zaw Win Myint, emphasized the importance of mangrove forests in the riverbanks because they will help prevent land erosion and also provide good habitats for fish species.

U Shwe Thein is the Land Core Group leader and he stressed the importance of finding the root causes of riverbank erosions because it is affecting the livelihoods of the people and the economy. In order to better understand these root causes, more knowledge is required on natural habitats and land infrastructures.

This workshop provided a platform for the communities to work together to create a list of land erosion prone villages and to formulate priority list for villages that are currently affected (please see picture below). This empowers the communities to work together and to find effective solutions that work for their community. I was very moved by this whole processes because it provided communities to have a voice and strengthed their own relationship with other villages.

Workshop in Waw Township: The community members from various villages discussing land erosion and creating a priority list for villages that are affected by land erosion.

Everyone agreed that community involvement and participation is very important factor when it comes to protecting their livelihoods and the environment. I also believe that it is very important to empower the community and to provide better information on their rights to resources. For the most part, I’ve found that there is always a lack of communication between the government and the community (no matter where you are), but this is slowly changing. The CLCMGoM project through co-management is trying to bridge this gap by collaboration of the government, civil society and the community.

Prior to this workshop, I was invited with Kenneth MacKay to travel to some of the coastal fishing villages in the Bago region and in Mon State to talk to the villagers about their fishing history, fishing practices, gender equality and major issues the village is facing. I assisted Kenneth with data collections for the co-management part of the CLCMGoM project.

Project village: Aung Kan Thar in Mon State with local villagers, John Kurien (consultant), Nalini Nayak (consultant), Tint Wai (IUCN) and me.

At first I was unsure of what my role was with this project, but as weeks go by my role is becoming clearer. My role is to collect indigenous fishing knowledge and customary practices. What is most important to me is to build rapport with the people in the project villages because it is important to gain respect and build trust with each other. This approach will provide better interaction and understanding of their cultural practices; therefore collect detailed qualitative data.

I am very grateful for meeting people from various villages. Even though we may not speak the same language, laughter and smiles do go a long way. I feel very privileged to be part of a project that allows me to learn from the locals and experience various cultures.




Hannah Shin – Blog 1: Introductory Interview

Hello viewers,

Today, I had the chance to meet other interns and I was privileged to be interviewed by Nate from Ottawa who is heading off to Nepal for his internship. 

Safe travels to everyone.


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