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Phuket Environment: Fishing till the seas run dry

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket Environment: Fishing till the seas run dry | The Thaiger

PHUKET: There are certain indisputable facts about fish. With very few exceptions, they look good, taste good and they do you good. Dietitians recommend at least two fishy portions a week. So-called “oily fish” – herring, mackerel, salmon, tuna and sardines – are especially good for you since they contain omega 3 fatty acids that help keep immune systems healthy and prevent cardiovascular problems.

Fish and chips, usually battered and wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper, used to be the favorite fodder of working class Britain. Not any more. Wild fish, even the humble cod, have become scarce and consequently expensive.

Phuket Environment: Fishing till the seas run dry | News by The Thaiger
TRAWL: The huge nets used by trawlers. Photo: NOAA

Why this parlous state of affairs? The over-riding reason is over-fishing. True, there are other factors such as pollution, global warming, and the loss of habitat. But the insatiable greed of the industry, coupled with the sheer efficiency of modern commercial methods, is to blame.

The herring and mackerel shoals of the North Sea are a thing of the past. It was estimated in the late 1960s that the herring population was down to one per cent of its former numbers and fishing was banned completely in 1977.

Across the Atlantic, the cod industry of Newfoundland collapsed, another victim of over-exploitation on a grand scale. A vast natural resource vanished, whole eco-systems were changed and the cod have never returned.

Closer to home, the commercial fishing of tuna – up from one million to four million tonnes a year – has reached such a state that a BBC documentary, “South Pacific”, estimates that continued fishing at current levels may see a collapse of stock within five years. And not just yellow-fin, but blue and black fin, albacore and big-eye tuna as well.
The story could be repeated about other species and habitats, as well.

In Thailand, one estimate leads us to believe that the Kingdom has about 40,000 fishing vessels, with the number of trawlers – the worst offenders – at just over 2,000. For some incomprehensible reason, the fishing industry wants to up these numbers to 3,619 vessels.

Both figures are almost certainly ludicrous underestimations anyway. And in any case, there must already be more than enough trawlers, since there is a severe and measurable decline in the numbers of fish being caught. If you don’t believe the figures, ask any sport fisherman.

A sailing friend, who regularly fishes by rod and line on extended trips around the islands, told me he is now lucky to catch three tuna a day. And the largest weigh less than three kilos.

But it is not just the sheer numbers of boats; it is the methods they employ. Trawling is the most annihilative of all techniques for catching fish. A trawl is a huge, bag-shaped affair with a closed end dragged for miles along the sea bed behind a powerful boat. Its maw is weighed down with heavy metal bars to ensure it scours the sea bed.

And scour the sea bed it does, divesting of everything that lives down below: fish and squid, crustaceans (such as crabs, shrimp and lobster), even the plants (such as sea grass) that grow there. Any coral that happens to be in its path is unceremoniously ripped from its watery home. The process has been likened to total deforestation, a technique known as “clearcutting”.

Remorseless and cruel, trawling ensures that fish trapped in its maw are often already dead before the net is lifted several hours later. It is, moreover, totally indiscriminate. What is euphemistically called the “by-catch” may contain sharks, dolphins, porpoises or turtles. Six Olive Ridley turtles found stranded recently on a Phuket beach were all in distress. One had a huge propeller gash in its shell, two were missing flippers, a likely result of becoming ensnared in the sharp nylon mesh of a trawl.

Worldwide, it is estimated that 1,000 marine mammals die every day by poor fishing practices; in Danish waters alone, the fishing fleet kills 3,000 porpoises a year. And up to sixty per cent of this by-catch is returned, already lifeless, to a watery grave.

Trawlers in Thailand are supposed to respect a three mile offshore limit. But if you frequent any west coast beach in Phuket, you will see trawlers sailing well within that boundary. Judged by their snail-like speed, they may already be trawling.

Indeed, it is estimated that the same furrow of sea bed may be ploughed three times a year – especially around Phuket, where the water is shallow enough and the bottom smooth enough to enable dredging to continue unchecked. Under these circumstances, what chance is there for the re-establishment of marine life?

There are of course other methods used by commercial fishermen. Gill nets are long panels of netting, set at any depth and supported by headline floats at the top and weighted foot-ropes at the bottom. Sometimes these small monsters can be several kilometers in length. Like trawls, they do not respect aquatic life: they catch fish by wedging their bodies and gills, or by tangling their fins in the mesh. They also accidentally ensnare cetaceans, especially whales and dolphins.

Seines and purse seines are another weapon in the fisherman’s armory. Seines nets were used, as were gill nets, by artisanal fishermen the world over, long before the advent of huge vessels and sophisticated equipment such as radar, sonar, high-powered winches and high-wattage lighting.

Purse seines are more sophisticated: they operate by encircling shoals of fish and then preventing them from ‘sounding’ [going deep] by using a draw string to close the base of the net, thereby forming a purse from which the fish cannot escape. Often used for tuna or marlin fishing, or to catch varieties of pelagic fish which shoal near the surface, they can be used in deeper water where the bottom is too rocky or uneven for trawling. Even fishing by hook and line is more damaging than one might think. After all, some of these lines, baited at regular intervals, can stretch fifty miles behind a ship.

Nylon or polypropylene materials are bad news since they are virtually indestructible. Probably more responsible than any other single invention for the appalling efficiency of modern-day commercial fishing, mono-filament nylon nets last for years. They resist abrasion by rocks, tear coral to pieces, entrap, throttle and cut fish, and ensnare marine mammals. And these nets are practically invisible in sea water.

Some, have a mesh so fine that they allow almost nothing to escape. Melancholy mountains of tiny fish in any Thai fresh market, maybe millions in number, are testament to that.

Phuket Environment: Fishing till the seas run dry | News by The Thaiger
CATCH OF THE DAY: Scene at a Thai fish market after the catch has been brought in. Photo: Magnetic Globetrotter.

A visitor to Ranong fish market recently observed that, inexplicably, about 95 per cent of the fish on sale there consisted of juvenile barracuda. None of them had been given the chance to grow to adulthood, to reach a size where they might help replenish depleted stocks.

And not only hatchlings are killed: the impact on other species dependent on any small fish for food is incalculable. In temperate waters, huge catches of sand eels are made. Most end up as fish meal, while larger fish such as haddock or cod and birds such as kittiwake gulls or puffins are
deprived of their main source of fo

— Patrick Campbell

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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Business

500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies

Greeley Pulitzer

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500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies | The Thaiger

Roughly 36% of Thailand’s corporate equity is held by just 500 people, highlighting wealth inequality in the Kingdom, according to a study released by the Bank of Thailand’s research institute.

Each of these 500 amass some 3.1 billion baht (102 million USD) per year in company profits, according to the report from the Puey Ungphakorn Institute for Economic Research. In contrast, average yearly household income in Thailand is around 10,000 USD.

A report out this week from the Economic and Business Research Centre for Reform at Thailand’s Rangsit University also pointed to divisive and polarised politics being another root cause of the economic divide.

Thailand’s private sector is dominated by tycoons running sprawling conglomerates. According to the World Bank, the gap between the mega-wealthy and the rest of the Thai population of 69 million is among the many economic challenges for Thailand. According to Bloomberg, the perception of a divide, exacerbated by an economic slowdown, is a major political fault line.

“Magnates arise in Thailand from institutional factors that privilege certain businesses,” said the executive director of PIER, author of the study.

The institute said Thailand needs to promote competitiveness to reduce profits from monopoly power and bolster entrepreneurship to create a more equitable distribution of corporate wealth.

The research is based on analysis of 2017 Commerce Ministry data on the 2.1 million shareholders in Thai firms, and was funded by the University of California San Diego.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Thai Life

Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers

The Thaiger

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Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | The Thaiger

PHOTOS: Daily News

The answers are in the banana leaves.

Thai people LOVE playing the lottery (and gambling generally). In fact they’re BANANAS about the twice-monthly lottery (it was drawn again today). Daily News has reported about two unusual banana trees growing in front of a shop in Klong 4 Pathum Thani, just north of Bangkok. The trees did not have blossom and on one plant two bananas were pointing skywards. On another there was a whole bunch pointing up into the sky.

There was a steady stream of the faithful lighting incense, praying and rubbing powder on the trees to get lottery numbers. One group thought ‘542’ was the magic numbers and a path to riches (we’re not sure how they came to this conclusion). 53 year old Surachai says the trees had been growing for a few months and that he’d never seen anything like it before.

An unnamed agricultural expert suggested that there was probably something wrong with the banana plants. Trees and malformed animals are a favourite source of inspiration to select numbers for the lottery, as are numbers of houses and vehicles involved in events where people experience “miracle” escapes from danger, or even bizarre accidents.

SOURCE: Daily News

Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | News by The Thaiger Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | News by The Thaiger

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Entertainment

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival

The Thaiger

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The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | The Thaiger

On the streets, in parks and garages, seven Cuban youngsters spent seven months practising K-pop moves to secure a spot on their dream stage: an appearance in South Korea to imitate their idols. 13 final teams from 80 countries are competing in the 2019 event.

At the grandly titled and government-funded Changwon K-pop World Festival contestants from around the globe perform imitation dances or sing cover versions of the genre’s biggest hits, with thousands of fans cheering them on.

In terms of global heft, South Korea is overshadowed by its much larger neighbours China and Japan, but the event is a way for Seoul to derive soft power from one of the country’s biggest cultural exports. In terms of pop-power, South Korea’s K-Pop is now a recognised world-wide music phenomenon with bands like BTS and Blackpink figuring amongst the other big-hitters on the Billboard charts and outselling their western counterparts with millions of albums and downloads.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Finalists for this year

Cuba’s Communist government is one of North Korea’s few remaining allies: when President Miguel Diaz-Canel, successor to the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul, visited Pyongyang last November he was only the third foreign head of state to do so since leader Kim Jong Un inherited power in 2011.

But rather than geopolitics, Havana performer Karel Rodriguez Diaz – whose mannerisms and sleek hairstyle could easily be mistaken for those of a K-pop star – is more motivated by high-tempo beats and superslick dance moves.

“We never had a place with a mirror or a choreographer who could teach us the steps” but they kept on practising, he said.

His team-mate Elio Gonzalez added: “We are so excited to represent not just Cuba but also the whole of Latin America.”

Some 6,400 teams from more than 80 countries entered the competition, according to organisers, with 13 groups from places as diverse as Kuwait and Madagascar winning through to the final in Changwon, where they appeared on stage waving their national flags.

“This is like watching the Olympics, a K-pop Olympics,” said the event’s host Lia, a member of K-pop group ITZY.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

The Korean Wave

K-pop – along with K-drama soap operas – has been one of South Korea’s most successful cultural exports to date. A key part of the “Korean Wave” which has swept Asia and beyond in the last 20 years, the K-pop industry is now estimated to be worth $5 billion, with boyband BTS its latest high-profile exponent, becoming the world’s most successful band in the past 12 months, selling out stadium concerts within minutes, around the world.

The South Korean government has financed a variety of K-pop themed events in what CedarBough Saeji, a visiting professor at Indiana University Bloomington in the US, said was a form of long-term “soft power diplomacy”.

“When you are covering you get to ‘become’ those idols for the three and a half minutes of the song,” she said, adding that performers will go so far as matching their clothing, accessories and hairstyle to their heroes and heroines.

“The cover dancers of today will be diplomats, news reporters, and business leaders in forty years,” she went on.

“And hopefully they’ll still have a soft spot in their heart for Korea. Korea can’t win the world through hard power – armies, economic bullying – but with soft power even a small country like Korea has a chance.”

The music also provides an artistic alternative for overseas fans, especially those in developing countries, Saeji added.

“The West, especially the United States, has been so dominant culturally for so long, and having a different cultural pole to look to provides hope that one’s own country can experience similar success in the future.”

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Be who you want

Beneath its glitz and glamour, the K-pop industry is also known for its cutthroat competition, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.

Sulli, a popular K-pop star and former child actress who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead on Monday, with her death sending shockwaves through fans around the world.

“I think a day where (people) would be ashamed of the K-show business will surely come,” a South Korean online user wrote in the wake of the star’s death.

“I think an industry that makes money by (making people) sing, dance, undergo plastic surgeries and go on a diet to please the gaze of others since they are teenagers should really go bankcrupt.”

But for Kenny Pham, a finalist from the US at last week’s contest, K-pop’s diversity – with some tunes having dark themes, while others were “cute” or sensual – is what gives him a sense of liberation.

“I like how expressive you could be,” the 19 year old told AFP last week.

“I feel like it’s a place where you could show the passion you have for music, dance or fashion. No one is bashing you for what your likes are.”

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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