Known locally as ‘pla ching chang’, anchovies have been a steady source of income for the last 40 years for fishing boat owner Kumnueng Dumead. However, business is not always plain sailing, especially during the rainy season.
“During the monsoon season it is very tough for us to get out and fish. Nonetheless, I still have to take care of my crew and their families, which includes feeding them and housing them,” said Mr Kumnueng.
Mr Kumnueng’s boat nets anywhere between 80,000 to 800,000 baht worth of fish every month, causing massive swings on his profit and loss statements, while his operating costs run at an average of 500,000 baht a month.
“Though this is an unpredictable business – we never know what fortunes or lack thereof we will pull from the sea – this is what we were born to do. I can’t imagine doing any other kind of work.”
Despite the cost of living outpacing the increase in value for anchovies, which went for about 3.5 baht per kilogram 40 years ago and now fetch about 20 baht per kilo, Mr Kumnueng has no complaints.
“We’ve never had the market bottom out on us, and that’s what matters,” he said.
Further up the food chain are the buyers at the dock, such as Pairuch Pengjan, who is a member of the ‘Anchovy Development Community’ based in Rassada.
The Anchovy Development Community was created after the 2004 tsunami as a way to build a stronger community and help generate the necessary income, explained Ms Pairuch.
“There are about 50 groups in Phuket that process anchovies. Just within our group there are 32 families,” said Ms Pairuch.
The buyers take the fresh fish from the boats, dry them and then re-sell them for about 80 baht per kilo.
The fish are washed and then dried for about eight hours in the sun, before they are ready to be sold.
“Our fish are sold throughout Thailand and even in Malaysia and China,” Ms Pairuch said.
Well known Prontip Phuket, a souvenir shop on the island, is one of the many distributors of the dried anchovies.
“At our shop we sell many different kinds of anchovy products, costing between 50 baht and 100 baht per package,” said sales manager Natthaya Kraikoljanad. “Our best sellers are the plain ones, the ones with herbs added in to flavor them and those mixed with sesame.”
The majority of end-buyers of the product are Thais, Chinese and Indonesians on group tours, said Ms Natthaya.
Additional reporting by Chutharat Plerin
— Boonyawat Saelim
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