From Asia to Africa, the December tsunami killed at least 160-thousand people, and scoured shorelines of buildings and other structures. Among the hardest hit were those who made their living from the sea.
For millions of fishers and their families, the Indian Ocean was the source of their food and livelihood. But when an earthquake caused a tsunami to race across the ocean floor and slam into coastlines, many lives and livelihoods were wiped out.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization is working to help rebuild the fishing industry. Jeremy Turner, chief of the FAO’s Fishing Technology Service, says fishers made up many of the casualties.
"Now it would seem that close to 50 percent of those are people coming from fishing communities, usually small-scale communities. Many of their villages have been devastated. So, it would seem of the human loss close to 50 percent. When it comes to fishing vessels, it would appear in the magnitude of tens of thousands of fishing vessels have been either lost or very seriously damaged," he says.
He says fishing fleets in Sri Lanka and parts of India were literally washed away.
"It’s hard top believe I know but roughly 80 percent – 80 percent – of the small-scale fisheries fleet has been lost or very badly damaged. In Tamil Nadu, in India, again a similar figure in the region of 75 to 80 percent of the small-scale fleet," he says.
The tsunami hit fishers in Somalia hard as well, but a full assessment of the losses is yet to be completed.
"Somalia I have a figure. I have a figure of 2,600 fishing boats have been destroyed and that is the only figure that I have. I don’t know what type of fishing boat that is, but I would assume that these are traditional boats. I don’t know what sort of size. But that number would suggest that the magnitude of the impact has been high. If 2,600m fishing boats have been lost, then one assumes the loss of life would be high, " he says.
The current tsunami death toll in Somalia is less than 200, but again a full assessment of the situation is yet to be done.
In the Seychelles, extensive damage is reported to coastal fish farms and artisanal fisheries. Artisanal fisheries are generally small-scale, subsistence operations using small boats on short trips. Damage is also reported to two fish processing plants and cold storage facilities at the port in Victoria.
The FAO has received $25 million in donations for the fishery operation. Jeremy Turner says the money will be used to build boats and buy equipment.
Mr. Turner says, "Amongst our staff we do have people like master fishermen, naval architects, marine engineers and we know where to find boat builders and wooden boat builders. We’d be working in the area of ice plants, cold rooms, infrastructures, acquaculture. So, we are a mixture of hands on people, but we’re also keeping an eye as to what will be happening in the future with regard to the later stages of rehabilitation and further development and reconstruction."
He says care must be taken, however, not to recreate the problems that existed before the tsunami. For example, some areas had too many fishers, too many boats and too much fishing gear in relation to the amount of fish available.