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Asia Dive News : Greenpeace: fishing boats destroying Gulf of Thailand

For the past two weeks, the Esperanza - a vessel operated by Greenpeace to collect information on the health of the oceans - has been patrolling the Gulf of Thailand. And what it's seen is not pretty.

The Greenpeace ship arrived in Thailand on June 15 to find out why the once-abundant sea has reached such a sorry state within such a short period of time. It did not take the Greenpeace team long to find out who the culprits are.

After just a week in Thai waters, the ship has encountered nearly 100 commercial bottom-trawlers freely bulldozing the seabed and whole habitats of marine lives with impunity.

Their fine nets - illegal because of their annihilative power - continue to scoop up fish big and small and all sorts of marine life indiscriminately.

Baby fish are not allowed to grow. Called "trash fish", they are sold along with other low-end catch to the fishmeal industry to produce cheap feed for pig, chicken and prawn farms.

The Esperanza crew also saw illegal and destructive trawlers operating in the 3-kilometre protected zone that allows no industrial fishing. Equally distressing is the pervasive illegal cockle farms that destroy the shores with their annihilative harvesting methods.

What the Esperanza crew has witnessed is nothing new. Its findings only expose the decades-long problems that the authorities refuse to see. When the trawlers started operating in Thai coastal waters in the early 60s, they caught nearly 300kg of fish per hour.

According a study by the Fisheries Department, the catch plunged to 14kg per hour in 2009 and only 30% of the catch had economic value. The rest was "trash fish" going straight to fishmeal plants.

It is not simply overfishing that is causing the rapid decline of the fish catch in the Gulf. It is the catastrophic technique used by commercial bottom-trawlers, backed by government support for the seafood export industry.

Corruption is also involved at local levels. Despite the trawlers' pervasive presence, the Greenpeace ship has not witnessed any arrests.

It is not all bad news, however. During its mission, the Esperanza crew also met fisherfolk and environmental groups committed to protect the locals' sources of livelihood and to preserve the country's food security and marine biodiversity

In Prachuap Khiri Khan, the fisherfolk led the Greenpeace team to demarcate their fishing ground and declare it off-limits to trawlers. The law sets the off-limit zone at 3km from the shore.

It remains impotent. The Prachuap Khiri Khan network set its no-trawlers zone at 5km, which is part of their proposal to the government to strengthen coastal conservation. It remains to be seen if commercial bottom trawlers can treat it as a joke again.

Which brings us to the crux of the problem - lax, or zero legal enforcement. Thailand has many laws to protect its coastal waters. The trawlers, the fine nets, commercial fishing in protected areas, environmentally destructive cockle farms, factories' release of waste water - all of these are illegal.

So is the widespread abuse of migrant labour on fishing vessels that has given the country a bad name.

When the Esperanza, which means hope in Spanish, leaves Thai waters at the end of this week, it is leaving a dying sea because illegal, excessive and unregulated fishing and negligent authorities go unpunished.

Source: Bangsaphan Guide