The Federation of Southern Fisherfolk (Thailand)

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The Federation of Southern Fisherfolk (Thailand)

Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Recognizing that sustainable marine resource management hinges on the economic survival of small-scale fishers, Wichoksak Ronnarongpairee is creating Thailand’s first market for sustainably captured seafood, owned and operated by fishing communities by, simultaneously, creating a national awareness and consumes demand for healthy marine food.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

There is a common misconception that small-scale fishers are small in number and make little contribution to the economy. In fact, three quarters of the world’s fishers still capture food from the wild, and 90 percent are employed in small-scale fisheries, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. The typical small-scale fisher owns one boat and a variety of fishing equipment, targeted at different types of aquatic animal in different seasons based on vernacular knowledge of the local ecosystem. Small-scale fisheries are usually family-owned operations, involving a variety of jobs such as capturing, processing, net-making and boat repairs. According to a 2010 survey, small-scale fisheries employ some 480,000 people in Thailand, or 89.7 percent of all fishing households. Although small-scale fishers are the majority population, they have access to a decreasing share of coastal resources, due to unsustainable and sometimes illegal fishing practices by large-scale operations. For instance, many large-scale fishing boats in Thailand still use bottom trawlers – nets that drag along the bottom of the sea, destroying marine ecosystems and indiscriminately catching young aquatic life along with target species. Since 1972, Thailand banned the use of bottom trawlers in coastal areas, defined as the area within 3,000 meters from the coastline. However, more and more bottom trawlers are granted fishing permits each year, and officials often turn a blind eye when trawlers cast their nets in coastal areas. Overfishing is a severe problem in Thailand. When the country first announced national plans to promote industrial-scale fishing in 1961, the average catch volume in the Gulf of Thailand was 298 kilograms per hour. Since then, the average catch volume has plummeted to 39 kilograms per hour in 1981, and only 3 kilograms per hour in 1999. In addition, the Department of Fishery surveyed the contents of seafood catch from large-scale trawlers and found that 19.2 percent contained juvenile economic fish, further limiting the sea’s ability to regenerate. There is a recognizable difference in the quality of seafood captured by small- and large-scale operations, but small-scale fishers do not benefit from the profit margin. Due to their small size and limited engine capacity, small-scale fishing boats are limited to overnight fishing along coastal areas. As a result, small-scale fishing boats provide fresh seafood, mostly used for direct human consumption. In contrast, large-scale fishing boats can travel into deep water and stay offshore for as long as several months. The products from large-scale fishing boats are not as fresh, sold mostly as processed seafood and animal feed. In addition, many large-scale fishing operations in Thailand use toxic chemicals to extend the shelf-life of sea products. For instance, market samplings by the Ministry of Public Health regularly find seafood products contaminated with formaldehyde, a carcinogenic substance normally used to preserve corpses. Despite the superior quality of seafood caught by small-scale fishers, they receive only a tiny share of the profit. In Thailand, a typical small-scale fisher sells fresh crabs to the middleman at 80 baht (2.60 US dollars) per kilogram, but the same crabs will be sold in urban markets at a price at least 10 times higher, 800 baht (26 US dollars) per kilogram. Most small-scale fishers have their entire household income determined by middlemen, without any negotiation. Thai fishing regulations reflect a cultural bias against small-scale fishers. The skills of resource management involved in small-scale fishing are not recognized as valid technical knowledge. There is an underlying stereotype that fishers are poor and ignorant. Until late nineteenth century, Thai law prohibited fishers from serving as witnesses in court, deemed unreliable alongside beggars and thieves. Today, there are no mechanisms for small-scale fishers to participate in policy decisions about fishing resource management. For example, no small-scale fisher has served on the Advisory Board to the national Department of Fishery, the sole authority in managing fishing resources according to the Fisheries Act of 1947, which still in effect. In 2007, Thailand adopted a new constitution which guarantees the rights of local communities and local governments to jointly manage natural resources, but the idea has yet to be put into practice by Thailand’s largely centralized government structure.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Wichoksak Ronnarongpairee is creating a new market of sustainably captured seafood, to ensure the economic survival of small-scale fishers who are the most motivated protectors of Thailand’s coastal resources. Previously dismissed as scattered and invisible producers, small-scale fishers are now taking ownership of the seafood market and branding their products to create added value based on sustainable fishing practices. Wichoksak has developed pilot models of community fishing ports along Thailand’s coastline, owned and operated by local fishers. He initiated a certification system for sustainably caught seafood, the first of its kind in the Thai domestic market. He is also creating consumer demand by generating widespread public recognition about the valuable role of small-scale fishers both as producers of quality seafood and as proactive guardians of coastal resources, through seafood trade fairs, fishing derbies and online campaigns. As a result of Wichoksak’s efforts with consumer markets and mass media, there is a growing public interest in safe and sustainable fishing, pressuring large-scale fishers to develop new products of sustainably captured seafood. To ensure long-term competitiveness, Wichoksak has established the first national trade association of small-scale fishers in Thailand, which functions in harmony with small-scale fishers’ trade associations set up in local communities. With economic and civic presence, small-scale fishers are beginning shift the direction of Thailand’s coastal resource management policies, including the successful campaign led by small-scale fishers to halt the use of destructive fishing equipment and the first local government ordinances declaring coastal preservation zones for sustainable fishery.