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Big Trawlers: Donít Blame Us

By Pennapa Hongthong, The Nation, Thailand

One of the leading trawler operators in Trang has rejected the charge that big trawler boats are the cause of fish stock destruction.

Somphol Jirojmontree, chairman of the Commercial Trawler Association of Kan Tang, said his trawlers were too big to catch fish in the conservation zone, the area stretching out 3 kilometres from coastline where trawlers and push nets have been banned in a bid to restore fish stock.

"Trawlers and push net boats, which catch fish near the coastline and destroy fish stocks are the small ones operated by villagers Ė not by me,"  he said.

He said that big boats have to fish in deep seas at least eight kilometers (5 miles) off the coast because they are too big to operate in shallow waters. For big trawlers, it is not worth fishing near the coastline. His operations did not harm marine life, he added.

"As for endangered species, donít worry. Dolphins always swim faster than a boat so we canít catch them. And sea turtle and dugong live in shallow waters, not in the deep sea where we operate our trawlers."

Somphol was supported by Sithichai Pamonvisit, another trawler owner, who said that fishing in deeper sea had no impact on fish stocks.

"The most important port of the sea is near the shore. This is the nursing ground of fish and other marine life. So if villagers fishing along the coastline can keep it fertile, stocks will be rehabilitated," he said. He claimed his boats took only mature fish.

Asked whether he supported small-scale fishermenís demand to expand protection zone from 3,000 metres to 5,000 metres, Somphol made no direct answer.

" I think the protection zone should depend on geography. From the mainland 5,000 metres is all right because the water is shallow. From some islands only one kilometer would be enough because the water is very deep even it is near the coastline,"  he said.

Last year about 3,000 small-scale fishermen from Ranong, Phang Nga, Phuket and Krabi gathered outside Krabiís City Hall and demanded the government to expand the conservation zone. The villagers claimed that the extension would allow rehabilitation of fish stock.

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