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Fisher Folk: No Money, Happiness, Or Hope

By Phonesavanh Thikeo, Vientiane Times, Laos
     Tanida Sirorattanakul, The Bangkok Post, Thailand

Ten years ago when the high-tech trawlers came to fish near their village, the little girl who watched them never imagined the large ships would steal her way of life.
But for 23-year-old Aree Prommoon and most of her community plenty of food, money, and gold necklaces are now just a distant memory.
Born to a prosperous fisher family in Plai Sai village at the tip of Talumpuk Spit in Pak Phanang, southern Thailand, Aree is now familiar with the words " poverty and nothing ".
"Iím not the only one affected by trawlers. All villagers are. We suffer greatly and have [a] very insecure situation. No money, no happiness and no hope," said Aree, who, like her mother before her, is now the wife of a fisherman.
According to villagers, back in the good old days, Laem Talumpuk was one of the most fertile fishing grounds in the area. Plenty of fish, shrimp, and crab were always available for the small-scale fishermen in the village.
But during the last ten years the livelihoods of Aree and other villagers in Plai Sai village have been slowly eroded. And trawlers are no longer considered an interesting curiosity, but the enemy.
Experts agree trawlers cause severe damage to coastal fishing grounds by tearing into the reef and sea-grass beds which provide food and sanctuary to juvenile fish.
The fishing method is also indiscriminate, sweeping up everything in its path though trawlers may be hunting specific species like shrimp, everything is taken. The so called " trash "  species, often valuable in their own right, are likely to be sold to fish meal factories to be ground down into animal food and fertilizer.
Although the law prohibits trawlers from catching fish inside a three-kilometer zone off the coast, the Fisheries Department rarely succeeds in preventing encroachment by trawlers.
"They [trawlers] often steal in at night and sweep the area of all fish with their large nets. And there [is] nothing left for us," said Uan, who finally sold his fishing boat and became a truck driver several years ago because his catch dropped drastically.
He explained that some fishermen in the village have had to shift their fishing efforts to the nearby mangrove forests where toxic waste water from the shrimp farms is discharged. Others, he said, have given up fishing altogether and have moved to big cities like Bangkok where they work in factories.
The days when men would go out to fish and the women would stay home to care for the family have gone.
Today, everyone is working hard just to make ends meet.
"Many times, the catch is not enough to feed our family members. Many times, we have to eat canned fish. So, donít ask about saving money, itís impossible," said Aree, smiling through sad and tired eyes.
As the wife of a fisherman, she plays an important role in helping her husband to earn the familyís income.
As a poorly educated person Ė like most villagers Ė Aree doesnít have many choices. She collects small shrimp in the nearby deteriorated mangrove forest, earning only about 70 to 80 Baht a day.
About 70 percent of the villager at Plai Sai are suffering similar hardships Ė the richest people are food sellers and the owner of the grocery store.

"The fisherman has become history, a forgotten career that we can tell our children about in future,"  Aree said.


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