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1. Introduction

About 90 percent of the world’s 30 million fishermen work in Asia (FAO 1998b), roughly 80 percent of them as small-scale or artisanal fishermen (IPFC 1994). Population growth, open access to the sea, and the belief of unlimited fishing resources in the sea have doubled the number of fisherfolk since 1970 (FAO 1998b). On the other hand, fishery resources are limited and are depleting fast in most coastal areas in Asia.

The work and production of most commercial fishery are well documented by national and international organizations. However, the importance of small-scale fishery for national food security and for specific social groups within a region is not fully understood. One reason is that many fisherfolk involved in small-scale fishery offer their products on local markets or consume their catch themselves. This makes it difficult to collect reliable fishery data and assessments probably underestimate the total catch. Also the differentiation between small-scale or artisanal fishery and industrial or commercial fishery differs from one country to another in Southeast Asia. Therefore, comparable data about the catch and value of small-scale fishery in the region are not generally available.

Besides supplying food, small-scale fishery also provides employment for a large group of mainly poor people. Fishing is often the only opportunity for villagers in coastal rural areas to earn some income. A study of small-scale fishery in Southeast Asia should therefore cover social as well as economic aspects.

Population growth has caused a rise in the demand for fish. The increased fishing pressure, particularly in coastal waters, has resulted in already overexploited inshore fish stocks in many parts of Southeast Asia. The consequences for the fisheries as well as for the marine environment have been disastrous. Lower catches further increase the fishing effort and lead to the use of destructive fishing techniques such as fishing with too fine mesh sizes (mosquito nets) or with dynamite, which further accelerates the overexploitation of the aquatic resources and results in the destruction of the marine environment. Finally, in order to make a living, fishermen are forced to turn to other occupations or explore new fishing grounds. Although open access to marine resources is practiced in most areas of the region, migration into other fishing grounds has resulted in conflicts with the folk already fishing there. Migrating fishermen, who use different, mainly destructive, fishing gear, are seen as competitors for local fish stocks. Besides, the higher number of fishermen further increases the fishing pressure on fish stocks and further depletes fishing grounds. Therefore, migration into other fishing grounds is no solution for the problems of overexploited inshore resources.

The alternative is for fishermen to change their occupation. However, in rural areas with a low average income and often no possibility of land ownership, opportunities for alternative income-generating activities are limited. In most cases, fisherfolk have to leave the village. This increases migration pressures on cities and leads to changes in the population structure of rural areas.

The best way to ensure the livelihood of small-scale fisherfolk in rural areas is to establish sustainable fishery management plans that will support the rural poor fisherfolk. For fishery management, the implementation of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishery (1995) will provide the necessary legal framework to achieve this goal. However, fishery management also has to recognize the social importance of small-scale fishery. It has to address the problem that the sustainable use of marine resources may no longer generate enough income for all fisherfolk engaged in small-scale fishery. Only if the economics of small-scale fishery is fully understood and its social importance as source of employment and income is fully recognized can proper recommendations for socially equitable and sustainable fishery management be made. This stresses the need for socio-economic studies on small-scale fishery.

This study is a step in this direction. It was carried out in Southern Thailand to review the situation of small-scale fisherfolk along the west coast, with special emphasis on the bay of Phang-nga. With the full picture of the social structure of the area and a thorough description of its main fishery activities, their cost, profit and value as job-providing businesses, this study presents a fishery management plan adapted to the conditions of Thailand’s Andaman Sea.

The objectives of the study were to:

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