On January 23, 2015, the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) collaborated with local community residents and leaders to celebrate the official opening ceremony of a local fish conservation project at Ler Wah Kho Der village, Khe Pa village-tract, Lu Thaw township, Mutraw District (Papun) in Karen State, Burma. More than a hundred people from 12 villages attended, including children, students, teachers, parents, religious leaders, community leaders, and local authorities.
Saw Ler Mu, a Karen elder and former head of Keh Pa village-tract, said that the plan for fish and aquatic species conservation in Kor Mu Lo River had been initiated in 2010. The aim of the project is to conserve fish populations in the river for sustainable consumption for current and future generations in the community.
In supporting Saw Ler Mu's statement, Saw Wee Eh Htoo, the event organizer from KESAN, stated that the overall goal of organizing this event is for the fishery to be sustainably conserved and protected, in addition to preventing the incursion of large-scale development projects (e.g. mining) into the area.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), inland fisheries are one of the main sources of food, nutrition and income for local communities around the world, especially in developing counties such as Burma/Myanmar. However, fish populations are threatened by environmental pollution, hydroelectric dams, overfishing, forestry practices, climate change, and unsustainable fishery management. It is therefore important for local Karen communities to become aware of these issues and to act collectively and collaboratively to conserve the rivers and fish populations that contribute to healthy local diets and economies.
During the event, religious rituals and prayers (e.g. Christianity and Animism) were performed. In addition, there were a number of activities, including fishing competitions (fishing with rods and small hand-net), fish catching, and underwater breath holding contests.
Naw Say Say Khu, Keh Pa Middle School principal, stressed that,
"I hope this activity (fish conservation) will benefit our community a lot. I am very hopeful that it will set a good example for our children in the next generation to be encouraged and passionate about environmental conservation to have a sustainable community."
One day prior to the fish conservation event, KESAN organized environmental awareness training on the causes and effects of environmental degradation, the benefits of forests and major threats to forests, and community forestry and food security.
Saw Ler Mu asserted that,
"If there is overfishing and poor fishery management, there will be the extinction of fish species and populations, so it is imperative for us to sustainably and systematically manage and conserve the river and fish populations."