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Conclusion and recommendations

The findings in Part I and Part II of this report are derived from two very different data sources, one a study mainly of the 1985 and 1995 marine fishery censuses, the other a field study that involved household surveys and interviews. Both studies are complementary, however. The study of the census data provides a general scenario of changes in the fishery sector, while the field study provides a dynamic profile of fishing communities in Thailand. Part III is an effort to synthesize the main findings, which will be divided into five parts: changes in fishing communities; changes in fishery resources and the coastal environment; implications of demographic changes; integrated coastal zone management for Thailand; and suggested further studies.

Changes in fishing communities

Traditionally, fishing communities did not comprise exclusively of fishing families. For example, fishing households in Sai Dang, Ranong province, accounted for only half of all households; farming households accounted for the other half. In Koh Maphrao, Phuket province, fishing households have always represented the majority of the households, while the minority were involved in coconut and, lately, rubber orchards. Not only was the economy relying exclusively on the agricultural sector, it was also subsistence in nature. The villagers produced whatever they could to sustain their families; whatever was left was bartered for other produce. The standard of living was more or less the same for all, as was the quality of life. There was no formal organization at village level. The communities were closely knitted, and the villagers related by kinship.

Women did not need to play an active economic role besides assisting their families in farming or in processing fish and shrimp. Family planning was unknown. Most families had six or seven living children and infant mortality was high. The steady growth in population was sustained by abundant natural resources, including fishery resources. Due to the limited technology, exploitation of fishery resources was not such as to deplete them.

Around the time the first National Economic and Social Development Plan was introduced in 1961, the rural economy started to change gradually from a subsistence to a monetary economy. Just before the introduction of family planning in the early 1970s, population growth was high due to high fertility but lower mortality induced by better public health care. As there was little economic growth in the non-agricultural sector, rapid population growth and accelerated industrialization were the main factors causing intensive exploitation of natural resources, including fishery resources. Forests were cut down, wild animals were hunted, fish became less abundant. Meanwhile, the introduction of new technologies gave rise to medium-to large-scale fishing vessels and efficient fishing gear, such as trawl nets, which accelerated the process of exploitation of fishery resources.

Better transportation linked fishing communities with urban areas, which offered economic opportunities other than agriculture and fishery. As the case of Sai Dang shows, economic diversification has occurred, and villagers are no longer only fisherfolk and farmers, but also employees in transportation, in ice factories, in fish freezing and processing works. With economic diversification has come income differentiation. Agriculture and coastal fishery have become less profitable and, as the service and industrial sectors grow, the proportion of fishing households in once predominantly fishing villages has started to diminish. In fishing communities where contacts with urban areas are not easy, change in the economic structure of the community is less pronounced. In Koh Maphrao, for example, it is only recently that travel between the island and Phuket Island has become more convenient and that young villagers have started to find tourism-related work on the main island.

Better transportation encourages population movement and tends to weaken family ties. The tradition of mutual help in times of hardship is replaced by the promotion of formal organizations that are economic in nature, such as agricultural or fishery co-operatives. These organizations are promoted by government officials and tend to be short-lived if they are not continuously supported by outsiders or by the villagers' feelings of kinship obligations.

Since the introduction of family planning in the early 1970s, fertility has started to decline. The acceptance of family planning has resulted in smaller families. Families in fishing communities are able to control their size and usually wish for two or three children.

With the advent of the cash economy have come greater expectations of material comfort and of better education for the children. Coupled with the inability of fishing households to rely on one income earner, women have started to play an active economic role to supplement family income. In Sai Dang, they have become sellers of processed seafood or workers in the central district of Ranong town, or both. In Koh Maphrao, they go out fishing with their husbands or work in rubber orchards, as full owners, partners or employees.

The future of fishing communities in Thailand is uncertain. The income gap between households in each surveyed fishing community is quite perceptible. It is very likely that poor fishing households will become non-fishing households and that the others, whose income from fishery is still good, will see that income grow. A change of occupation among small-scale fishing families at nearly subsistence level and simultaneous growth of the remaining better off, small-scale fishing households into more intense coastal and deep-sea fishing have already been observed. It is very likely that fishing communities in the Andaman Sea will follow the path trod by those in the inner Gulf of Thailand. There, small-scale fishery has been replaced by large-scale commercial fishery, and both subsistence fisherfolk and fishery employees have been absorbed into the non-fishery, urban sector and replaced by foreign labour.

The poorer fishing households have fought for economic survival by participating in non-fishery occupations. To ensure their survival, we recommend that the government give them an opportunity to shift from fishery to other occupations that provide higher incomes. Hotta (1994) maintains that to facilitate such occupational transfer, there is a need to formulate and implement rural enterprise development programmes in order to promote and diversify local rural economies.

In the case of the better-off fishing households, there is also a natural trend toward commercial fishery. This trend should be promoted, so as to reduce the proportion of fisherfolk in coastal fishery and increase catches per capita. It is further recommended that this category of fisherfolk be monitored in terms of their fishing grounds. They should not operate within the 3km protected zone any longer.

The exit from fishing of very poor artisan fisherfolk and the entry of richer fisherfolk into commercial fishing imply that the medium-income artisan fisherfolk will be the group to benefit most from integrated coastal zone management. It is thus recommended that they be the main participants in such programmes.

Changes in marine resources and in the coastal environment

Lack of adequate and accurate data makes it difficult to gauge the changes in marine resources and the coastal environment. It is generally believed that marine living resources have been depleted beyond a sustainable level, but how much beyond has yet to be assessed. Statistics on catches include an unknown proportion of fish caught outside of Thai waters. The declining catch rates per unit effort indicate that fishery resources are depleting but the paucity of statistics prevents reliable estimates of the stocks remaining in Thai waters.

Data on coral reefs and seagrass beds too are found to be fragmentary and outdated. Efforts are being made to carry out scientific research on the resources but the data are unavailable at present, because of the time-consuming nature of the research as well as of the lack of expert manpower. It can only be stated that coral reefs and seagrass beds are being damaged and deteriorating due to such man-made activities resulting in coastal water pollution, silting and reef damage as urban sewage, untreated water from shrimp farms, construction, mining and tourism.

Mangrove forests have been diminishing during the past two decades, albeit at a slower rate lately due to government efforts to replant them. Most mangrove areas have been lost to shrimp farms. Due to the unsustainable nature of shrimp farming in the inner Gulf area, derelict shrimp farms have been turned into residential areas. In other coastal zones as well, mangrove areas are being turned into shrimp farms, especially in the eastern and southern parts of the Gulf and the Andaman Sea. Because of increasing external demand and subsequent profitability of shrimp farming, the encroachment of shrimp farms on mangrove areas will continue. In fact, the enterprise has become so profitable that not only mangrove areas are used. Recently, shrimp farms have encroached upon rice farming areas in coastal areas, on arable land in the Central Region and even in uphill rubber orchard areas in the South. Although the Cabinet ruled in early July 1998 that such encroachment was detrimental to the environment and was to be stopped, the effective implementation of such a ruling has yet to be seen.

The pattern of land use in coastal zones, besides the use of mangrove areas for shrimp farms, is not adequately documented to provide a database for planning integrated management there. There is first the technical problem of defining what a coastal zone is, and second the unavoidable fact that coastal land is used for multiple purposes, particularly in urban coastal areas. What came out clearly from the interviews with provincial officers representing various ministries was that the land use pattern in urban coastal areas is constantly changing and coastal land use plans usually lag behind spontaneous land use, due to bureaucratic delays and ineffectual implementation. Coastal land use in rural areas will not be difficult to plan and manage. Rural coastal land is mainly used by villagers as their place of abode and the only land use conflict has been the encroachment of mangrove areas by outside investors to turn them into shrimp farms. Unfortunately, it is in the urban coastal areas that management is urgently needed. There is competition for coastal land to be put under conservation, to be used as residential area, tourist resorts, shrimp farms, fish landing piers and fishery-related processing plants. Each type of activity not only competes with the others for land, but also impinges on the offshore environment. In the future, with the promotion of tourism and the unregulated growth of deep-sea fishery, urbanization and industrialization in coastal provinces will accelerate, and along with them will come more serious and extensive coastal land use conflicts. Unless provincial administrators are more capable of coastal land use planning and effective, proactive management, the changes in coastal land use will continue to be spontaneous and largely detrimental to the offshore environment.

The above conclusions lead to the recommendation that relevant government agencies be made aware of the urgent need for adequate, accurate and up-to-date databases. In relation to the exploitation of marine living resources, efforts should be made to estimate fish stocks and the number and capacity of the various types of fishing craft and gear, and to find effective means to control and regulate large-scale fishing operations. Regarding other marine coastal resources, there is still a need to obtain up-to-date data on mangrove areas, seagrass beds and coral reefs. Reliable databases are a prerequisite for the effective management of these resources. The information on coastal land use is also inadequate for integrated coastal zone management planning. This is particularly true in the case of urban coastal land use.

Implications of demographic changes

In recent years, the Thai population has been increasing at slower rates than in the past. In 1985, the natural population growth rate was 1.74 percent. In 1995, the crude birth rate of 17.9 per 1000 and the crude death rate of 6.02 per 1000 resulted in a natural growth rate of 1.18 percent. This implies that though the population will increase, the rate of growth will in the long run play a minor role in the food security equation of the country, because Thailand has always been a net exporter of food. The country ranks second only to the United States as the top rice exporter and is among the top ten countries in terms of fishery export. The sheer size of the Thai population will not make Thailand a food-deficit country because its food requirements will be met by the growth of pig and poultry farms on a commercial scale, of coastal aquaculture, of deep-sea commercial fishery and, of course, of rice farming.

Assuming no massive foreign migration into Thailand, the population pressure on food will start to lessen in the next few decades, as the population growth will be reaching its replacement level. As the population becomes more educated and westernized, there will be a greater national demand for seafood, especially fish, as the western trend toward health food is embraced.

The assumption of no immigration is not supported by reality. In the future, the single most important demographic factor will be the large-scale immigration of labour from neighbouring countries due to political turmoil there and Thailand's preference for cheap foreign labour. In September 1996, the phenomenon of illegal migrant labour from neighbouring countries, especially Myanmar, Lao PDR and Cambodia, led the Thai government to grant two-year work permits to foreign labourers who had entered the country illegally. Upon the expiry date, the issue of migrant labour was raised and a National Committee on the Issue of Migrant Labour was set up. Within that committee, only the Department of Fisheries of the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives insisted that the Burmese migrants be exempted from repatriation and legally employed in the fishery sector. At present, fishery employees in Thailand consist mainly of Burmese migrants.

The direct economic impact of the employment of Burmese fishery labourers is the lower labour cost, as they are paid about half the wages their Thai counterparts receive. Other things being constant, the Thai fishery sector and related industries will grow rapidly, given the higher profitability caused by lower labour cost and higher demand for seafood.

The epidemiological impact of immigrant labour is the recurrence of certain diseases which had long disappeared such as elephantiasis and tuberculosis. As the immigration of Burmese fishery employees is followed inevitably by Burmese commercial sex workers who are relatively ignorant of AIDS, the spread of AIDS among the Burmese migrants is believed to be alarming.

The direct demographic impact is caused by the high fertility of Burmese migrants, which will put a pressure on limited resources for public health care and education. Socio-culturally, Thailand will become more diversified. Language and cultural barriers will make integration of immigrant fishery labour into Thai culture and society an unlikely or at the very least a long-drawn process.

Hence, the demographic changes point to the need to focus more on the migration factor. At the provincial level, it is worth looking into unregistered migration toward coastal areas, which affects the pattern of urban land use in coastal provinces. At the national level, the role and long-term impact of the Burmese migrant labour in the Thai fishery sector and Thai society should be closely examined.

The demographic changes in coastal fishing communities characterized by low fertility and mortality but increasing migration imply that these communities will be less cohesive and that interpersonal relationships will be based less on kinship ties. This lack of cohesion among community members will be heightened by occupational diversification. Thus, it will be more difficult to mobilize and organize community members into cohesive groups with common interests. It is therefore recommended that in selecting sites for integrated coastal zone management, fishing communities that are in the state of occupational transition be left out and poor fishing households in those communities be encouraged to engage in rural undertakings. Integrated coastal zone management should be introduced in the fishing communities where middle-income fishing households predominate and where there is a high level of community integration.

Integrated coastal zone management in Thailand

As mentioned in the first part of the study, the structure of the Thai bureaucracy is not conducive to integrated management at the national level, because of the lack of horizontal co-ordination among line agencies. In fact, it was stated in a discussion on community-based fishery management in Phang-nga Bay as recently as 1996 that Thailand does not have the institutional framework needed to fully apply such a programme (FAO, 1998, p. 8). As community-based fishery management constitutes one half of integrated coastal zone management (ICZM), which has to deal with both the sea and coastal land, it follows that ICZMs in Thailand will have to wait for its formulation at the national level. Provincial-level ICZMs will be extremely difficult because of the bureaucratic preference for top down planning, which cannot take into full account the various problems and issues faced by different fishing communities. Provincial administrators in coastal provinces could play a leading role in laying a foundation for effective ICZM programmes. They should be aware that, if they do not take decisive measures now to manage urban coastal land use and its negative impact on near-shore resources, they are the ones who will have to tackle the problems in the long run.

For the time being, it is more appropriate to formulate ICZM programmes at community level in order to tailor them to the specific problems and needs of the rural fishing communities, and to leave out the urban coastal zones. The interviews with provincial government officers revealed clearly the lack of co-ordination and of effective implementation concerning urban land use. Unless provincial administrators are more willing to collaborate across bureaucratic lines and able to implement urban land use plans in a timely and effective manner, the use of urban coastal land will remain a free-for-all. Provincial administrators could facilitate the ICZM programmes in rural coastal areas by providing information and institutional support via the tambon administration.

If ICZM programmes are to be introduced into rural fishing communities, they should be dovetailed into the existing community-based fishery management pilot projects, for the practical reason that half of the management plans, implementation strategies and support services have already been worked out and identified. Not only are these pilot projects already in place, but they are facilitated by the Department of Fisheries, which belongs to the same ministry as the Department of Land Development and the Royal Forestry Department, which are the most suitable facilitators for coastal land use management. This fact should ensure smoother collaborative efforts among programme facilitators. Local non-governmental organizations, too, would be better able to participate as facilitators in community-level projects.

According to the Department of Fisheries, a potential framework for community-based fishery management in Thailand will consist of a national committee and community-level committees. The community-level “local committees for coastal fishing” would comprise small-scale fisherfolk whose role and responsibility would include managing marine resources and permitting fishing and culturing activities (FAO, ibid.). If ICZM is to be included into community-based fishery management, then the local committees will have to manage coastal land use as well, which means that the Thai government will have to explore the idea of granting exclusive coastal land rights to coastal fishing communities. If the communities could manage both coastal land and marine resources, the community-based fishery management projects would eventually become community-based ICZM projects.

The difficulty in achieving a successful ICZM programme at grassroots level in Thailand stems from the fact that fisherfolk are poorly educated, relatively powerless in relation to the middlemen, outside investors and government bureaucrats, and lack a sense of political solidarity. The field study and interviews also revealed that they do not have much trust in the efficacy of the government in protecting their interests.

One certain advantage is that small-scale fisherfolk are by now very much aware of the depletion of fishery resources and of the need for resource conservation. Hence, given their awareness and willingness to protect their long-term interests, introducing ICZM programmes into fishing communities should not be difficult. Yet it is difficult for a committee of relatively powerless fisherfolk and local leaders to implement a programme. The difficulty will have to be overcome by providing them with support services, such as institutional credit, information on supplementary income-earning activities, technical know-how on such simple but lucrative activities as green mussel or bloody cockle culture, and informal education on management and organization. These support services will gradually reduce the shortcomings of the fisherfolk and increase their political solidarity and management capability.

In short, ICZM programmes cannot be formulated or implemented at the national or provincial level at the present time. In the light of the recent introduction of community-based fishery management into the Eighth National Economic and Social Development Plan (1997–2001) and the subsequent community-based fishery management pilot projects, it is recommended that the actual formulation of ICZM at the national level be delayed. Meanwhile, community-level ICZM programmes could be formulated and implemented at the same sites as the community-based fishery management pilot projects. Despite the low initial capability of small-scale fisherfolk to play the key management role in ICZM programmes, the provision of support services will help them become effective participants in the programmes. Given the political will of the Thai government, the support of non-governmental organizations and the vested interest of small-scale fisherfolk themselves in protecting and conserving their source of livelihood, formulating ICZM programmes at the national level in Thailand should not be an impossible task.

Suggestions for further studies

The desk study and the field survey presented here raise a number of questions and issues that merit further study. They are, inter alia,

  1. An assessment of the registration statistics on fishing vessels and fishing gear of Thailand;

  2. A study on the evolution of fishery organizations in Thailand;

  3. The occupational and income differentiation among small-scale fishing households in Thailand;

  4. The occupational differentiation in fishing communities in Thailand;

  5. The economic and social impact of Burmese migrant labour on the Thai fishery sector and Thai society;

  6. The role of women in coastal fishery in Thailand;

  7. Institutional measures for the sustainability of shrimp culture in Southern Thailand;

  8. The state of coastal land use in the urban coastal areas of Thailand: baseline data for integrated coastal zone management;

  9. An assessment of community-based fishery management pilot projects in Thailand; and

  10. A feasibility study on incorporating coastal land use management into community-based fishery management pilot projects in Thailand.

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