Thai fishing communities get organized

25 August 2014 | Article

“If we don’t protect nature, no one will do it. Then we’ll have to suffer,” said P’ Sanae, Chairman of Pakklong Ao Ra Wa Community Conservation during a study tour by Vietnamese provincial government officials and villagers to Trat and Chanthaburi Provinces in Thailand. The tour was organized in late February/early March 2014 by IUCN as part of its EU-funded Building Coastal Resilience to Climate Change in Coastal Southeast Asia (BCR) Project.

What impressed the Vietnam visitors most was how aware and well informed local communities in Thailand were about the need for environment protection. We saw several models, initiated and managed by the communities themselves, which are helping them adapt to a changing climate.

More than 80% of P’ Sanae’s community conservation group members depend on fishing. But over-fishing and use of illegal fishing gear have caused a sharp decline fish catch. In 2010, local fishers formed a conservation group and established a conservation zone to protect the high-value blue swimming crabs. They received no government or NGO funding. Instead, the locals donated money. They also made artificial sea grass from old fishing ropes to create a safe habitat for juvenile fish. They issued a community regulation that banned fishing in the conservation zone. They established a crab bank to protect gravid females and release their larvae into the conservation zone where the juveniles are protected. This has helped to restore crab stocks. A savings group and women’s group were also set up to support families who faced financial difficulties. Together, these steps have increased the fish harvest and living standards.

When asked how they cope with illegal fishing by outsiders, P’ Sanae stated firmly that: “You just need 10 people for the conservation group and forget about the 90 who don’t follow you”. What he meant was if we do our own work well, others will follow us. We don’t persuade people by words but by actions. The key point is that your group of 10 should be people you trust like relatives or close friends and who understand the values of conservation. Only when you are strong can you overcome the lack of cooperation and misunderstanding by others. If the violation is serious, we can ask for help from the local authorities who are always willing to help us.

Thanks to these efforts, fish resources have increased dramatically. This also means that there are now more fishing boats and more competition. But P’ Sanae is determined: “We are fishermen who take resources from the sea and we have to do something in return for the sea.”