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Epilogue: Sai Dang and Koh Maphrao revisited

The mass protest of small-scale fisherfolk in Songkhla province in mid 1999 against anchovy fishing with luring lights seems to indicate that they are powerful enough to organize themselves to protect their interests in a collective manner. Their mass protest and demands were serious and persistent enough to draw attention at the national level and finally led to the government's decision to set up a national-level committee to solve the conflicts between them and commercial fishing operators over the use of luring lights.

This new visit to Sai Dang and Koh Maphrao arose mainly from the above events, as they raised the question whether small-scale fisherfolk were as powerless as is generally believed. If they are not powerless, the question that follows, in relation to the subject of integrated coastal zone management, is whether they now have a greater ability to manage their coastal and land-based resources collectively in an integrated and sustainable manner. Our second visit was also meant to be a follow-up on the changes and problems of the two villages.

The visit took place from 7 to 10 December 1999, first to Sai Dang and then to Koh Maphrao. The methodology used, besides field observation, was the interview of two fishermen, two fishermen's wives and a public health volunteer in Sai Dang and of the same number of fishermen and their wives as well as the assistant chairperson of the Coastal Fishermen's Group in Koh Maphrao.

The information obtained is reported in two parts. The first part pertains to the changes and problems one year after the first field study was conducted in late 1997 and early 1998. The second part concerns the villagers' current ability to participate in or set up any integrated coastal zone management programme.

Changes and problems

In Sai Dang village, illegal migration of Burmese labour resulted in a group of Border Patrol Police being stationed in Ranong province. One of the unintended effects of their presence was a reduction in the use of dynamite for fishing by “outsiders”. Another change was a small increase in the number of fishing boats (typically 4- to 8-metre-long, with a 5 HP Honda engine). This change was a solution to the problem of unemployment of the children of poorer fishing families who could not afford to attend secondary school. The total cost of a boat with an outboard motor is around B20,000, and father and son share the fishing gear. The third change was the beginning of catfish cage culture, which seemed likely to spread. One other change was the increase in fishing gear to enable fisherfolk to engage in fishing activities all year round. Crab traps were still the most often used type of gear, but by the end of 1999, there were also pomfret gill nets and fyke nets.

One change in Sai Dang apparent both through field observation and in the interviews was that the level of solidarity among villagers was lower than only one year earlier. The coastal side of Sai Dang village where the fishing community is situated comprises two clusters of households. One cluster consists of Thai fisherfolk who have been fishing for generations, the other of quite a number of newcomers who hold both Burmese and Thai citizenship. These newcomers use a type of fishing gear the Thai fisherfolk do not approve of because it catches only juvenile fish.

Alongside the changes were a number of problems, whose priority in people's minds too had changed. The survey carried out in Sai Dang in December 1997 had found that the most frequently mentioned problem among fisherfolk was the high operating costs. Exactly one year later, this came second to complaints over the use of push nets, perhaps because by working harder you could offset those costs, yet what could you do about pushnetters. Fisherfolk had a feeling that the government was not sufficiently responsive to this problem, even though pushnetters have posed the most serious threat to small-scale fisherfolk for over ten years. Interviewees did not mention the conflict over anchovy fishing with lights. The only one who did said that the mass protest of small-scale fisherfolk was possible only because of support from non-governmental organizations.

Small-scale fisherfolk, at least in Sai Dang, appeared to have little faith left in the government. Their requests seemed to be ignored and whatever projects officialdom initiated were not followed through. Interviewees mentioned that there had been no response to their requests to the government, through the Sub-district Administrative Organization, to be provided with technical training in aquaculture. Through the local administrative organization, a fund had been made available to promote shrimp paste processing and to obtain fish fingerlings for cage culture, but there had been no further technical assistance, follow up or evaluation. Their resignation and sense of powerlessness are, we feel, a very serious problem and a threat to any efforts, including integrated coastal zone management programmes, to conserve and manage their own coastal and land-based resources.

The fourth problem mentioned in 1999 was the lower quantity of planktonic shrimps caught in bamboo-screened traps called chanta and used to make shrimp paste. Fishermen as well as their wives put the decrease down to the high level of rain that year and to the untreated water from shrimp farms released into the sea from further inland. Because Sai Dang is close to the Burmese border, it has little space for fishing activities. These are carried out in shallow waters near to shore, where the depletion of fishery resources translates into dwindling income from year to year, so much so that the processing of shrimp paste has become more important as a supplementary source of income.

The last problem was the lower quality of water. This may well be caused primarily by the release of wastewater from shrimp farms, but it was definitely made worse by the rubbish dumped into the sea by another village up along the coast. The Sai Dang villagers had tried to talk to the headman of that village and to the Sub-district Administrative Organization, but to no avail. When the interviewees talked about their problems and lack of effective solutions, they did so in such a manner as clearly indicated they believed they had little power over their own lives.

In Koh Maphrao village, there had been more changes and fewer problems than in Sai Dang during 1999. There had been no change in fishing gear, but a significant increase (70 to 80 percent) in raft culture of green mussels. This was mostly in response to the increasing demand from Phuket Island and partly to the Agro Tour Project being introduced by the Department of Agricultural Extension, which was then in preparation and would be in operation by October 2000. The project will consist of: first, a demonstration centre of green mussel culture and fish culture, together with floating restaurants within the location of the green mussel culture; second, a demonstration centre for rubber tapping and processing; third, such tourist facilities as a food centre, bungalows and tents, as well as mountain bikes for touring the island. Fourth, tourists will have the opportunity to go out with fisherfolk in their boats to observe their fishing operations. Fifth and last, there will be tours to small islands near Koh Maphrao.

There was an increase in the number of boats in Koh Maphrao, as more young adults married, set up their own families and became income earners, and as a few rich fishermen could afford more boats. Fishery was still the most valued main occupation as it brought in food for the family, and green mussel culture was considered only a secondary occupation. However, one of the main conclusions reached in Part III was still valid, that small-scale fishing communities were in a state of transition. In the case of Koh Maphrao, there were clear signs of further diversification of secondary occupations and of greater income disparity. One reason was the introduction of the Agro Tour Project, which would benefit only a small number of villagers. Another was that the Miyazawa loans had allegedly been given only to those who were close to the members of the Sub-district Administrative Organization, regardless of the real needs of other poor villagers.

One change that was not reported by interviewees but was derived from conversations and observation was that the more pressing need for economic survival seemed to be overcoming their awareness of the need for coastal resource conservation. A few months earlier, when fisherfolk had found a large site of short-necked clams, the clams had been dredged within a very short time and no efforts had been made to replace them.

As for problems, two were reported. One was the small size and dwindling numbers of sand whiting around the island. This was believed to be due to overfishing, as sand whiting gill nets have been the most popular fishing gear of Koh Maphrao. Fisherfolk now had to go out as far away as Phangnga, which unavoidably raised their operating costs. To make the outing worthwhile, they had to harvest 10 to 15 kilograms of commercial fish. The second problem that was mentioned by all interviewees was the further depletion of fishery resources. They still blamed this on the pushnetters, which now came as close as less than five hundred metres from shore and even trespassed into the conservation area around Rang Island. A fisherman mentioned the possibility that the lights used to lure anchovies also attracted the fish from the 3-km coastal zone. Neither fishermen nor their wives nor any of the local officials in the village, however, mentioned the anchovy controversy. All seemed to distance themselves from it and to be preoccupied instead with their own problems and the economic survival of their households.

Possibility of integrated coastal zone management programmes

The conclusion from our return visit to Sai Dang is that small-scale fisherfolk are still powerless. Even when they protest against such incidents as rubbish dumping from up the coast or request local government assistance for some occupation-related activities, they are still unable to organize themselves to solve these fishery and community problems in an effective, organized manner. Asked point-blank if they would be able to organize a coastal resource management programme on their own, they answered that they would need outside help, either from the government or from non-governmental organizations. Thus, any integrated coastal zone management programme involving villagers as active participants will take a long time to be fostered. The villagers' distrust of the government and the inefficiency of the concerned provincial bureaucracy also do not bode well for any such programme taking off in the near future.

The conclusion from our return visit to Koh Maphrao is that there too, small-scale fisherfolk are powerless. They could not initiate any project by themselves. The Agro Tour Project was introduced by the Department of Fisheries, and most of the villagers just accepted it as a given. They had not really bothered to figure out whether they liked it or not and how it would affect their community in the long run. The questions concerning integrated coastal zone management programmes unsurprisingly brought the same negative answers.

The overall conclusion from the visit of both communities this time is that increased economic hardship for the majority of the fisherfolk there unavoidably makes them more concerned with their own survival first and foremost. Any integrated coastal zone management programme will not be able to be established so long as they still have to struggle for their own economic survival and so long as the concerned government agencies are not restructured to facilitate such programmes.

In short, the evidence gathered in Sai Dang and Koh Maphrao villages one year later confirms the conclusions and recommendations made in Part III.

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