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5.1 Introduction

Bangkok was designated as the royal city of the Kingdom of Thailand in 1782, by King Rama I. Since then, Bangkok has grown through the years and the most dramatic growth has occurred since the mid-1900s. Despite Bangkok’s modern features and numerous shopping complexes, this fast-growing metropolis still maintains much of its magnificent temples and palaces. Greater Bangkok has an estimated population[19] of 10 million in the year 2000, which represents about 16 percent of the total country’s population. According to latest estimates, the total projected population of the Kingdom of Thailand[20] for 2000 is about 61.23 million.

In general economic terms, Thailand was one of the countries in Asia worst hit by the economic crisis in the region. The authorities had to strengthen the social safety net by supporting priority areas in rural and urban sectors in order to augment broader agricultural and fisheries production and industrial restructuring. They accelerated the social investment programme targeted at addressing unemployment. With an average per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of US$ 1,901 in 1998, only Japan, Singapore, Korea, Chinese Taipei, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Hong Kong, China had higher per capita GDP among the Asian countries.

According to the official figures of the Department of Fisheries, in 1997, Thailand exported US$ 5 billion worth of fishery products, therefore maintaining its supremacy as the world’s leading exporter of seafood products. Bangkok supports a substantial market for live, fresh, frozen and cured fish and canned fishery products. In 1997, FAO fisheries statistics reported an apparent annual per capita fish supply of 29.5 kg in the Kingdom of Thailand. A breakdown of the data is shown in Table 32, with pelagic fish at the top in terms of per capita supply among seafood, followed by freshwater fish.

Table 32: Fish per Capita Supply (1997)

Food Item

Annual per Capita Supply

Freshwater fish


Demersal fish


Pelagic fish


Marine fish, other






Molluscs, other


Total Fish


Source: FAO Food Balance Sheets, 1994-97

Table 33 shows the national meat and eggs per capita supply in 1997. When comparing meats with seafood products, the highest per capita supply item was poultry meat (including chicken, duck and other birds) with 15.52 kg/year, followed by pelagic fish with 12.3 kg/year.

Table 33: Meat and Eggs per Capita Supply (1997)

Food Item

Annual per capita Supply

Beef and Veal


Mutton and Goat Meat




Poultry Meat


Other meat




Source: FAO Food Balance Sheets, 1994-97[21]

5.2 Fish Distribution Channels

The domestic market for fish and fishery products is distinguished principally by the dependence on supplies from commercial fisheries, aquaculture and small-scale fisheries. It should be noted that a significant proportion of aquaculture produce, particularly shrimp, is exported. The strong export orientation of the Thai fisheries sector has limited the supplies available for domestic consumption. To counteract this trend, the development of aquaculture and improved utilisation of fish by-catches for direct human consumption is being encouraged.

Both freshwater and marine fish and fishery products are regularly traded in Bangkok’s domestic fish market. Chilled and live fish are landed at the Bangkok wholesale fish market, located on the bank of the Chao Phraya River. The Fish Marketing Organization (FMO), a state-owned enterprise, is in charge of the management and operation of the Bangkok wholesale fish market and of related fish marketing affairs. This wholesale market handles about 105,000 to 157,000 metric tonnes of fish annually. Estimated total daily volumes of fish traded in the Bangkok wholesale fish market vary according to the fishing season, from about 290 to 360 tonnes, of which about 129 tonnes of freshwater fish are traded daily. The wholesale fish market is equipped with two main trading halls, where the fish agents or commission agents display and trade fish. Fish at the wholesale marketing halls is sold mainly by auction or through negotiated prices in public sales conducted by brokers, who sell to retailers, institutional buyers, processors and seafood traders. Fish is usually graded according to different sizes (large, medium and small). Shrimp are often classified into “small”, “medium” or “large,” while the industry sizing is based on count-per-pound of headless shrimp. During field visits, most head-on black tiger shrimp auctioned at the Bangkok wholesale market were 35 - 40 or 40 - 60 pieces/kg, while smaller shrimp were also available. Table 34 shows the average wholesale prices of selected fish in Bangkok during December 1999 to January 2000.

Domestic shrimp and freshwater prawn consumption has declined after the economic recession. Decreases in the standard of living and disposable incomes typically result in lower high value seafood consumption in most markets. This is reflected in the lower sales of these products reported at public retail markets as well as in the catering sector during the last two years. However, increased domestic demand for shrimp and freshwater prawn is forecast, given that the Thai economy is projected to recover gradually, with a growth rate[22] of 3 percent in terms of the real GDP in 2000.

Table 34: Average Wholesale Prices of Selected Seafood in Bangkok

Period: December 1999 - January 2000


Wholesale Price (Baht[23]/kg)

Indian Mackerel

7 - 35

(Rastrelliger kanagurta)


Spanish Mackerel

8 - 60

(Scomberomorus spp.)



50 - 125

(Nemipterus spp.)



60 - 140

(Lates calcarifer)


Red snapper

50 - 115

(Lutjanus spp.)


White Pomfret

120 - 320

(Pampus argenteus)


Black Pomfret

25 - 75

(Formio niger)


Mangrove Crab

85 - 120

(Scylla serrata)



30 - 100

(Loligo spp.)


Snakehead (live)

40 - 70

(Ophicephalus striatus)


Catfish (Live)

30 - 35

(Clarias spp.)


Striped Catfish (Live)

8 - 18

(Pangasius sutchi)


Eels (Live)

60 - 80

(Fluta alba)



7 - 38

(Oreochromis spp.)


Giant Freshwater Prawn (Live)

Small: 90 - 110

(Macrobrachium rosenbergii)

Medium: 220 - 245

Large: 505 - 540

Black Tiger Shrimp

Small: 125 - 190

(Penaeus monodon)

Medium: 250 - 300

Large: 400 - 450

Banana Shrimp

Small: 120 - 190

(Penaeus merguiensis)

Medium: 240 - 270

Large: 380 - 430

Source: Fish Marketing Organization (FMO), Thailand

Table 35 shows the distribution pattern for fresh fish from the Bangkok wholesale market, with a significant proportion of supplies distributed to the city’s retail markets.

Table 35: Distribution of Fresh Fish from Bangkok Wholesale Market

Period: January - December1998


Percentage (%)



Bangkok retail markets


Provincial retail markets


Cold storage


Processing plants & exporters:










Source: Fish Marketing Organization (FMO) of Thailand

There is a significant domestic live fish trade, which is handled by private wholesalers. Most traders operate live fish carriers (trucks with tanks and aeration systems), collecting fresh-water fish such as snakehead (Ophicephalus striatus), tilapia, carps, catfish, climbing perch, swamp eels and sand goby, as well as seabass (Lates calcarifer) produced by aquaculture farms and floating cages. The domestic live shellfish trade comprises molluscs such as cultivated green mussel (Perna viridis), cockles (Arca granulosa), hard clam (Meretrix meretrix) and oysters (Crassostrea spp.). Crustaceans include mangrove crabs (Scylla spp.), swimming crabs and giant freshwater prawn (Macrobrachium spp). Most of the production of giant freshwater prawn, oysters, cockles and mussels are sold in live form while a relatively limited proportion of bivalves is sold as shucked flesh, either fresh or dried.

There is also an important processed seafood market in Bangkok for products such as fish sauce, fermented fish and fermented shrimp paste; steamed, dried-salted fish, shrimp and squid; fish balls, fish fingers, fish noodles, imitation crab meat, value-added shrimp products and surimi-based traditional products.

Thailand has become highly reliant on imports of frozen fish (mainly tuna, which account for over 80 percent of the tuna used for canning) to satisfy the local fish canning industry demand. Canned fish, in particular tuna, mackerel and sardine products, are offered in most super- market chains, public markets and small grocery retail outlets. The overall demand for canned fishery products in Thailand is relatively small, but in Bangkok there is a relatively higher consumption level. Most high-value canned products are packed in two-piece cans with easy-open tops and attractive labels.

The major available canned seafood packs include the following:

Table 36 shows the average retail prices of selected canned fish packs offered in Bangkok.

The consumption habits in Bangkok vary according to the socio-economic level of the population, with upper and middle class homes showing strong preference for high value tuna, crab, squid, baby clams and shrimp packs. Lower income consumers prefer cheaper sardine and tuna products. Canned tuna, shrimp, baby clams, and squid/cuttlefish products are usually consumed with cooked rice, as a salad or sautéed with vegetables. Canned sardines are frequently served with cooked rice or bread as a snack, as well as sautéed with vegetables.

Table 36: Average Retail Prices of Canned Seafood Products in Bangkok

Period: May - June 2000

Product Form

Retail Price
(155 g. net contents)

Retail Price
(185 g. net contents)

Sardines in tomato sauce



Tuna in mayonnaise



Tuna in curry sauce



Tuna in oil, solid pack


Tuna in oil, chunks



Source: field surveys carried by counterparts

Seafood reaches consumers in Bangkok through a multi-level system, which may involve at least three to four transactions before a fish or fishery product is purchased by consumers in a public fish market or supermarket, or eaten at a restaurant/food stall. The channels of distribution incorporate locally caught and processed seafood, as well as live and chilled cultured species.

5.3 Bangkok’s Retail Fish Market

The Bangkok urban area is home to a variety of retail establishments offering live, fresh, frozen, cured and canned seafood to consumers. The range of shopping options includes public retail markets, supermarkets and street hawkers that offer a wide selection of fish and fishery products. Public markets and street vending currently hold a significant share of the retail market of chilled and live fish, fresh, fermented and cured fishery products. Large supermarket chains and medium-sized independent supermarkets offer mainly chilled, frozen, cured, fermented, processed (surimi-based fishery products, dried seafood snacks, and roasted squid/cuttlefish) and canned seafood. Supermarkets currently hold a fairly low portion of the retail market share of chilled fish and fishery products, but sales of surimi-based products, snacks and canned seafood are significant. Most supermarkets have well-defined seafood product sales strategies, including adequate product mix and variety of frozen and fermented fish products, fish sauce, surimi-based products, roasted squid/cuttlefish, dried snacks and canned seafood products.

Table 37 shows the estimated distribution of retail outlets in Bangkok, according to data provided by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA).

Table 37: Estimated Number of Retail Outlets in Bangkok

Type of Retail Outlet


Wet (public/municipal) markets






Minimarkets (within petrol stations)


General grocery stores




Source: BMA, March 2000

The most popular product form is whole fresh fish; the species most in demand are: catfish, snakehead, gourami, Spanish mackerel, Indian mackerel, tuna, squid, cuttlefish, red snapper, groupers, cockles, arc shells, topshells, mussels, shrimps and giant freshwater prawn.

Live giant freshwater prawn is a well-established product in the domestic market and retail selling of the species in aerated tanks/aquariums is a traditional and attractive marketing approach. Sales through the catering sector are also an important outlet for giant freshwater prawn. Some of the restaurateurs interviewed indicated strong consumer preference for prawn served grilled/roasted, or fried with vegetables (with curry and/or coconut milk).

Squid and cuttlefish are usually offered in public and street markets as whole and skinless tubes/fillets; some retailers indicated that skinless tubes/fillets have a good demand among working housewives and young couples. In restaurants, squid/cuttlefish dishes are either grilled/roasted, fried with vegetables (with spicy sauces) or served as spicy salad.

Table 38 shows the comparative retail prices for fresh fish at selected street fish markets and public markets in Bangkok. In general, retail prices at street fish markets were slightly lower than public markets with a price difference range of 2.5 to 9.5 percent; however some products like eels, giant freshwater prawn and seabass were at the same price level. Taking into consideration that most supermarkets have similar or slightly higher prices than public markets, we can conclude from this relatively limited data that street seafood markets are currently offering the lowest retail prices for fresh fish in Bangkok.

Table 38: Comparative Retail Prices of Fresh Fish at Selected Street Fish Markets and Public Markets in Bangkok

Period: March 2000


Street Seafood Market
Price (Baht/kg)

Public Market
Price (Baht/kg)

Live Seafood


75 - 85
Average: 80

80 - 85
Average: 82

Catfish (Clarias spp)

38 - 44
Average: 40

38 - 48
Average: 44

Swamp Eel

110 - 120
Average: 115

110 - 120
Average 115

Giant freshwater prawn


Small: 170
Medium: 250-360

Climbing perch

100 - 110
Average: 105

100 - 120
Average: 115

Fresh/chilled Seafood


140 - 145

140 - 145

Black Pomfret

70 - 80

78 - 80

White Pomfret


295 - 300

Black tiger shrim

Small: 175 - 200

Large: n/a
Medium: 290 - 325

Giant Freshwater Prawn

Small: 110 - 120
Medium: n/a

Small: 110 - 120
Medium: 190 - 260



95 - 100



170 - 180




100 - 110

H&G Snakehead



Snakehead (with roe)


150 - 170

Source: field market surveys carried out by the author and counterparts in March 2000.

Table 39 shows a comparison of average wholesale and retail prices for selected fish species in Bangkok. From the data, the estimated marketing margins for chilled fish ranged from 8.3 to 66.6 percent, with an average margin of 37.9 percent. Although based on the relatively limited data obtained from the field surveys carried out for this study, in general the results obtained were in line with the marketing margins from retailers in public markets.

In most public markets, there are full-service seafood stalls which prepare orders from consumers. This may include weighing a specific quantity of fish or shellfish, gutting, cleaning or cutting a whole fish to the desired size or product form. Orders are then wrapped in plastic bags.

Table 39: Average Gross Marketing Margins for Selected Chilled and Live Fish Species in Bangkok

Period: January - March 2000


Average Wholesale Price

Average Retail Price

Marketing Margin (%)

Chilled Seafood

Indian Mackerel (Rastrelliger kanagurta)




Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus spp.)




Threadfin (Nemipterus spp.)




Seabass (Lates calcarifer)




Black Pomfret (Formio niger)




White Pomfret (Pampus argenteus)




Squid (Loligo spp.)




Black Tiger Shrimp (Penaeus monodon)

Small: 180
Medium: 300
Large: 425

Small: 200
Medium: 325
Large: n/a

Small: 11.50
Medium: 8.30
Large: n/a

Live Seafood

Giant Freshwater Prawn

(Macrobrachium rosenbergii)

Small: 110
Medium: 240
Large: 520

Small: 170
Medium: 358
Large: n/a

Small: 63.60
Medium: 49.20
Large: n/a

Catfish (Clarias spp.)




Snakehead (Ophicephalus striatus)




Average margin: 37.90%

Source: FMO and market surveys carried out by the author and counterparts

Table 40 shows a comparison between average retail prices of fresh meat, poultry and fish offered in Bangkok’s retail food market. When compared with popular small pelagic species, beef was the most expensive animal protein source, with an average retail price of US$ 4.35/kg for beef tender chuck, followed by chicken breast and lean pork with average retail prices of US$ 3.04 and US$ 3.13/kg respectively. Dressed chicken with an average retail price of US$ 1.76/kg, and small pelagics such as Indian mackerel and hardtail scad, with an average retail price of US$ 0.79/kg and US$ 0.66/kg respectively, were the cheapest protein source. However, when compared with available fresh meat, poultry and seafood in general, the most expensive animal protein sources were black tiger shrimp and white pomfret with average retail prices of US$ 8.31 and US$ 7.28/kg respectively. It is important to note that the popular freshwater fish species such as catfish, snakehead and eel, are direct competitors in price with respect to chicken products (the main substitute for fish in Bangkok market), with average retail prices of US$1.08, US$ 2.13/kg and US$ 3.03 respectively. The highest retail prices for red meats and poultry were seen in supermarkets and the lowest in public/private markets and street vendors.

Table 40: Comparative Average Retail Prices of Meat, Poultry and Fish in Bangkok

Period: March - May 2,000


Average Retail Price (Baht/kg)

Red Meats:

Lean pork

80 - 138

Pork loin

79 - 80

Beef loin

90 - 120

Beef tender chuck

120 - 190


Dressed chicken (chilled)

45 - 79

Chicken breast/chilled)

68 - 139

Chicken, drumstick (chilled)

50 - 82

Small Pelagics (whole)

Indian mackerel


Round scad


Other Fish Species (whole)

Spanish mackerel


Catfish (Clarias spp) (live)


Eel (live)


Snakehead (live)


White pomfret


Black tiger shrimp (medium size)


Source: market surveys carried out by the author and counterparts

The retail market for surimi-based products includes fish balls, squid/cuttlefish balls, fish noodles, fish burgers, fish sausages, fish satay and surimi analogues. In addition, minced dried fish/shrimp crackers and seasoned dried fish mince (locally processed) are also offered in the market. Public retail markets and supermarkets currently offer a variety of traditional minced products and surimi-based products. Traditional fish and squid balls, fish cakes, and fish satay are consumed mainly deep fried, grilled/roasted, in soups or sautéed with mixed vegetables. Surimi-based dried snack foods with different seasonings, either shredded or as small portions (rectangular sheets) are increasingly gaining popularity among consumers, competing with roasted dried squid/cuttlefish products.

The shelf space devoted to chilled/frozen surimi products in two medium-sized Bangkok’s super-markets was considered adequate in comparison to the main seafood counter at the same supermarkets. The surimi-based product shelves area were located in the same section as fresh and frozen processed seafood items. Surimi-based snacks and traditional roasted dried squid/cuttlefish were located in the food snacks section.

Besides the above-mentioned minced fish products, value-added items such as fish portions, fish fingers, nuggets, tempura fillets, squid rings, cuttlefish/squid/fish/shrimp patties and value-added shrimp products were locally processed and marketed in several supermarket chains.

5.4 Live Fish Marketing and Basic Equipment

It is a well-known fact that live fish and shellfish commands a premium price because of its guaranteed quality, freshness and intrinsic flesh characteristics (better texture and delicate flavour) in comparison with fresh/chilled seafood. The tastes, traditions and cooking styles of the population determine Bangkok’s live fish and shellfish market requirements. In general, the live fish sold in Bangkok are mainly freshwater species such as catfish (Pangasius spp; Clarias spp.) carp (Puntius gonionotus; Cyprinus carpio; Probarbus jullieni; Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), gourami (Trichogaster pectoralis), snakehead (Ophicephalus striatus), swamp eel (Fluta alba) and giant freshwater prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii). Live high value marine finfish is a niche market for affluent tourists, the upper class population and businessmen. On the other hand, giant freshwater prawn has a wider market than high value finfish and is offered in most public markets. Live low-priced freshwater fish and giant freshwater prawn are well-established products in the catering business.

There is a significant live grouper export trade, with production coming both from capture fisheries and cage culture. About 85 percent of the total production of cage cultured grouper is exported, with the marketing channels involving brokers/collectors and exporters. Live groupers for the domestic and export markets are transported in plastic bags filled with water, ice and oxygen; the bags are packed into polystyrene foam boxes with an average gross weight of about 12 - 15 kg/box. Marketing margins[24] for live grouper represent about 44 - 45 percent of the export price, of which 7.5 percent represents the local wholesaler’s/collector’s margin and 37 percent the exporter’s margin.

Live aquatic food display systems have traditionally been an effective marketing device in public and street food markets and restaurants. Tourist seafood restaurants as well as traditional Thai and Chinese seafood restaurants offer a selection of live aquatic food, such as giant freshwater prawn, oyster, eel, snakehead, catfish, gourami and seabass.

Live seafood is displayed in tanks, plastic containers and aquariums for customers to appreciate the variety of species available and facilitate the selection. There is a premium on size, with larger fish often commanding higher prices than smaller fish; demand is significant for live fish within the range of 1 - 2 kg in the specialised seafood restaurant market sector.

5.4.1 Vivier Trucks

Currently, vivier trucks transport live freshwater fish from the fishponds. The main features of vivier trucks include portable tanks filled with water, mounted on flatbed trucks; the majority of tanks used in Bangkok are locally made from galvanised iron and externally lined with wooden planks. These portable tanks are of two sizes: the larger ones can hold about 60 kg of live catfish or 40 kg of snakehead; smaller tanks can hold about 40 kg of catfish or 30 kg of snakehead. A typical example of live freshwater transportation system is as follows:

Main equipment:

a) Truck: 2 tonne payload flatbed truck
b) Portable tanks (30 units)
c) Scoop nets (stainless steel frames and nylon netting)
d) Weighing baskets
e) Weighing scales

On arrival at the wholesale market, the live fish is sorted into species and size and distributed to wholesalers, retail markets and restaurants at mutually agreed prices. Fish which are not sold on the day are kept in portable tanks. The fish are normally not fed. During the entire collection, storage and distribution operations, the handling of the live fish is reduced to a minimum to avoid excessive injuries. At the retail or restaurant destination, the fish is transferred to aquariums or portable containers until sold or required for consumption.

Freshwater prawns (Macrobrachium rosenbergii) are often held in oxygenated water in portable tanks or in plastic bags and placed within polystyrene boxes. Wholesalers noted that they could obtain increased survival rates when live prawns were packed in oxygenated water, provided that ambient temperatures were not too high during transport. In general, packaging, road transport and distribution operations are relatively short (less than 8 hours) and involve short distances from farms to the market.

5.4.2 Retail Outlets for Live Fish and Shellfish

The main retail outlets for live freshwater fish in Bangkok are public food markets and some street markets. The equipment used for display and retail of these live freshwater fish and shellfish at public and street markets included mainly display tanks/plastic container units. The usual display tank unit (used mainly in public food markets) is equipped as follows:

A typical display tank unit had an estimated capacity of about 140 to 160 kg of giant freshwater prawn or 80 - 100 kg of freshwater fish. The display tanks units are an important promotional tool for the fish section and assure consumers of the good quality of live fish being offered. Simple portable tanks/containers filled with water are also used for displaying live catfish, snakehead and gourami in some street food markets.

Most retailers in public markets display portable galvanised iron or FRP tanks equipped with air pumps to maintain adequate oxygen levels. During retail operations, the main quality control measures for live giant freshwater prawns are to keep them below water level, regular addition of small quantities of crushed ice to lower the water temperature and the prevention of injuries caused by rough handling. On arrival at the public markets, freshwater fish and prawn are carefully examined; the weak or dead specimens are removed from the tanks and sold as chilled seafood.

Catfish and snakehead can survive for prolonged periods out of water, provided they are kept moist and relatively cool, as well as handled carefully. Wholesalers and retailers take advantage of the high survival rates of these fish.

Daily supplies of live freshwater fish are delivered to public markets to replenish stocks. On average, each retailer holds stocks of live seafood for at least two working days.

5.5 Street Food Hawkers in Bangkok

Street food hawkers in Bangkok, in particular those selling fresh fish and ready-to-eat seafood, are considered to be catering to the middle and low-income consumers. Current data on the total number of street food hawkers indicates about 26,000 operating in authorised areas. According to Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) officials, there are three different types of street food vending operations in the 50 Bangkok districts, namely:

a) Those in authorised areas (287 sites of street vending were identified)
b) Those in private areas (21 sites of street vending were identified)
c) Those in non-authorised areas (407 sites of street vending was identified)

The total number of street hawkers includes those vending ready-to-eat foods and beverages, raw food (fruits, vegetables, seafood, poultry), local sweets and delicacies, dry and processed food, manufactured goods (including clothes, toys, footwear, cosmetics) and providing services such as small repairs. Street seafood hawkers currently play a significant role as fresh/chilled seafood suppliers in Bangkok. However, there is no updated detailed data on the number of street fish hawkers operating in the city, besides the 1993[25] figure of 6,040 street hawkers selling raw foodstuff (vegetables, fruits, meat and seafood), which represented about 30 percent of total street hawkers at that time. The main characteristics of fresh/chilled fish street hawkers include the following:

Retail sales of raw food, in particular fresh fruits, vegetables and fresh fish at busy streets or around public markets by informal vendors in Bangkok are an integral part of the local market place. The “floating market” is a traditional way of street food vending using small boats (blunt-nosed sampans) gathering at various locations along the Chao Phraya River canals (klongs). These retailers sell mainly fresh fruits and vegetables.

Currently Bangkok is confronted with the problem of street hawkers and the need to control street litter, effluent disposal, pollution and obstruction of pedestrian traffic. The municipal authorities authorise and regulate street vending through the city police and district Public Health Sections.

Significant improvements in the ready-to-eat food and beverages street vending operations have been achieved through a 1994 FAO-supported pilot project aimed at improving the quality and safety of street vended food in Bangkok. In addition, sanitary requirements for street food stalls were formulated and implemented by local authorities. Another FAO- supported project aimed at improving the quality and safety of street vending in Bangkok was implemented in October 1997.

The Public Health Act (B.E.2535) issued on 5th April 1992 regulates street food vending operations. Chapter 8 (Marketplace, Place where Meals are Sold and Place where Foodstuff is Stored) sections 34 to 37, indicated the need for an official license to establish a marketplace and to be subject to supervision by local government authorities. Chapter 8, sections 38 to 40, indicated the need to notify local authorities and obtain a certificate of notification in order to set up a place where meals are sold or where foodstuff is stored, if the said place has an area not exceeding 200 m2. This Act also describes the powers and duties of local officials and public health officials; the issue of licenses; fees and fines; procedures of appeal and penalties for violations of the Act. In addition, local officials have the authority to establish the basic requirements for street food vending practices, suitable locations of stalls and non-selling zones in the city.

With the implementation of this Act and FAO-assisted pilot projects, the National Department of Health (DOH) and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) launched specific activities to provide technical advice on improved street food vending infrastructure and handling practices, and to update general information about street food vendors, in particular socio-economic information and current food handling practices.

The main factors for the growth of street food vending in Bangkok can be explained as follows:

i) Local eating habits, cultural significance of street food hawkers, socio-economic conditions, high unemployment rates, rapid urbanisation and urban population growth

ii) Loyal patronage of a growing clientele; street food vending has emerged in response to a socio-cultural need for inexpensive nutritious foods and the convenience that street ready-to-eat foods offer. In addition, it is recognised that a large number of tourists are also regular consumers of ready-to eat foods offered by street vendors. In the particular case of fresh raw seafood, informal street markets operating in strategic locations (mostly around public food markets) at busy hours of the day serve customers, thereby saving them time and/or money in search of other markets or supermarkets

iii) The effects of the Asian financial crisis, which dragged Thailand’s economic growth down, had severely hit the urban poor population. Consequently, street food vending activities flourished

In general, it was observed during field surveys that fish and fishery products offered by street hawkers were of acceptable to good quality. Consumers appreciated the convenience of obtaining readily available seafood at street fish markets, which also provided personalised services with adequate seafood expertise. Some street fish retailers indicated that low-income families purchase their food (including fish) on a daily basis, since they don’t have enough money to purchase large amounts of food. Therefore, they usually purchase fish by the small dish in street markets, as it is more convenient for them. Apparently, the sale of fish by the small dish is a traditional service only offered by street seafood vendors. Our limited retailer’s survey also indicated that street vended fish is purchased by people from mostly all income levels and not exclusively by low-income families. Based upon a relatively limited knowledge, it cannot be assumed that customer satisfaction is necessary for loyalty and that loyalty is necessary for repeat purchases of street vended fish. This hierarchical assumption can be inaccurate because repeat purchasing is not necessarily contingent upon customer satisfaction and loyalty. Convenience, strategic location and affordable prices can also directly influence repeat purchase of street vended fish.

At most of the informal street seafood markets visited, adequate to fair conditions were observed regarding fish handling practices. Generally, seafood was displayed without ice; however shrimp and squid were usually displayed and kept in plastic tubs or trays in a slush of ice and water. However, most street fish vendors had at least one insulated box to keep chilled fish with crushed ice and one (1) 15 - 20 litres capacity plastic bucket for storage of potable water for fish cleaning. Some large stalls had at least one HDPE- lined insulated container to keep fish with ice. Regarding the variety of fish and fishery products at street markets, most stalls offering fish had less than ten (10) fresh/chilled fish species or 5 to 6 fishery products (mainly minced, cured and fermented) on display. Most fish hawkers indicated that they were handling inventories of fresh fish from one to two working days. All street fish hawkers were somehow specialised, selling either fish/chilled fish, live fish or cured fish; however live fish hawkers were also offering dead specimens in fresh/chilled form. On average, street seafood vendors operate about 6 - 8 hours daily; most indicated that the average number of working days is about 7 days per week. The average daily sales per stall are about 45 - 50 kg of fresh fish and shellfish, 6 - 8 kg of dried/cured fish and 6 - 9 kg of fermented fish/shrimp paste.

The use of simple dial metallic thermometers is suggested to regularly measure temperature of seafood on display at street fish markets. These thermometers can easily be calibrated to a known temperature by adjusting a hex nut located under the dial. They were locally available at some supermarkets and specialised shops. This basic tool could be included as part of the training kit for street fish vendors. In addition, adequate supplies of potable water (tap water), as well as adequate wastewater drainage systems should be made available to each street fish stall. Our limited street seafood/freshwater fish wholesalers and retailers survey indicated that women are actively involved in the operations of street seafood stalls in Bangkok. Their involvement in the street seafood wholesale and retail trade reflects the need of most poor women to balance the earning of income with household responsibilities. A limited gender analysis showed that women and men run street seafood vending as a family business. Few women indicated the difficulty in balancing the demands of business and family. Most said that street fish vending gave them greater time flexibility than other types of jobs/businesses, with the advantage that it does not need as much capital or as many skills.

To be effective, statutory requirements for street food vending (including licensing), should be properly linked to training, monitoring, supervision and equipment/infrastructure development programmes. In particular, street fish vending should have adequate provision of basic facilities for handling, chilled storage, preparation and wastewater disposal, which can be provided by targeting busy street areas where seafood vendors regularly operate.

Regular training courses on fresh/chilled seafood handling and hygiene should be part of any development programme for street seafood vendors organised by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) in co-ordination with the relevant specialised government agencies. This training should be aimed at providing adequate guidance and technical assistance to seafood hawkers on proper seafood handling and personal hygiene practices. All stall holders and their assistants who are involved in the preparation and sale of seafood should be required to attend and pass this training course.

Basic technical fields, which may be relevant for training courses intended for street fresh seafood vendors, are as follows:

i) Introduction to the concepts of freshness, quality, wholesomeness and nutritive value

ii) The care of live and fresh fish, handling methods, use of ice, receiving deliveries, quality inspection, storage of live and chilled fish, hygiene and sanitation for fish retailers, selection and application of detergents and disinfectants

iii) Quality and quality aspects at retail level, display of fish, and promotion of fish sales techniques. Avoiding bad marketing practices

iv) National and municipal regulations and codes of practice for seafood vending

v) Introduction to business planning; simple economics for fish retailing

vi) Equipment and facilities development programmes for street seafood vending

5.5.1 Examples of Street Food Market Outlets in Bangkok Phrannok Street Seafood Market

Phrannok street seafood market operates in one of the streets beside the Phrannok private food market located within the Bangkok Noi district area. The latter sells meat, poultry, seafood, fruits and vegetables, as well as dry groceries and cured and fermented products. During the survey period, a total of 300 fixed stalls were operating inside this retail market, of which about 10 stalls offered live and fresh/chilled seafood. The seafood section consists of typical concrete fish stalls, equipped with washing basins, potable water supplies, concrete display platforms for chilled fish, insulated boxes, concrete cutting area lined with tiles, display lighting adequately mounted on the wall and galvanised iron holding tanks or portable containers for live fish storage.

In this street seafood market outlet the following food items were offered:

i) Fresh seafood
ii) Cured fish (traditional dried fish and smoked fish)
iii) Fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste
iv) Squid/fish balls
v) Fresh fruits and vegetables

Bangkok’s typical street seafood outlets are usually located near public and private markets. They operate during the same working hours of the markets, including special days such as religious holidays and other days when the markets are closed. According to vendors interviewed in Phrannok street market, all stall displays are ready in the designated locations between 07:00 hours to 09:00 hours. At the end of the working day (14:00 hours to 15:00 hours) street vendors should remove all their equipment away from the streets. The solid and liquid wastes are collected by the market cleaning staff and placed in offal bins for further disposal. Daily stall rental fees are 16 Baht/day for fixed stalls located inside the covered market and street seafood vendors are charged 10 Baht/day.

The basic equipment of street seafood vendors consisted of folding umbrellas, cutting boards, HDPE round containers, trash bins, water containers for washing fish and maintaining the cleanliness of the stall area, insulated boxes, weighing scales, small stainless steel display dishes and round display trays (made of stainless steel, aluminium or plastic). Some large stalls were equipped with stainless steel slabs for fish display. The typical sales or table area per seafood retailer would be in the range of 1.5 to 3 m2. In addition, they use up some space to keep some insulated boxes that cannot fit below the round display trays and the chopping board. A typical area for a seafood stall would be in the range of 3 to 6 m2. The most commonly available live and fresh fish species/presentations were as follows:

The most common materials used for manufacturing the round display trays are aluminium and plastic. In most locations visited, retailers displayed their fish in standard aluminium round display trays; in some stalls, whole shrimp was displayed in small stainless steel dishes (on top of a round display tray) and sold by volume. The round display trays were placed on top of a framework made of galvanised steel pipe (threaded) of about 63.5 mm in diameter. After market hours, all equipment was washed with clean water; wastes were collected in plastic bags and placed in offal bins and the stall area was rinsed with clean water. The services of cleaning personnel are included in the daily stall rental fees.

According to the street seafood retailers interviewed, about 90 percent of the freshwater fish in the consignments arriving at the market are still alive and these fetch the highest prices, according to the size and condition upon arrival. The retailers do not usually buy the fish that have died, but often when supplies are limited they are forced to; these fish fetch about 50 - 60 percent of the price of live specimens. Based on their experience, street fish retailers were aware that storage in clean freshwater allows catfish and snakehead to survive from 3 to 4 days and eels from 4 to 5 days. Most street freshwater fish retailers said that the traditional galvanised iron containers (50 - kg capacity of live fish) used for transportation of live freshwater fish is also used for stowage of live fish at the stalls. Survival rates of giant freshwater prawns at retail level vary according to the available facilities. For example, retailers with fixed stalls in public/private covered food markets, equipped with galvanised iron tanks (1 m x 1.2m x 0.5 m) or large size aquariums, air pumps and air distribution piping at the bottom of the tanks, indicated that the average survival rate for healthy specimens of giant freshwater prawns held in tanks was about 7 -15 days, with regular feeding. Lowering the water temperature in the tanks to about 24 - 28°C with small amounts of crushed ice, is usually practised by these retailers, in order to make handling easier and less stressful for the prawns. However, they know by experience, that if the giant freshwater prawns are chilled too much, they will not survive. Adult freshwater prawns are tolerant to a wide temperature range from 18 to 34°C[26].

Figure 84 illustrates the general layout of a typical street fish retail market located in the Phrannok area, Bangkok. Table 41 shows the details of the estimated investment costs of basic equipment used by a typical street fish retail vendor in Bangkok.

Table 41: Estimated Investment Costs of Basic Equipment used by a Typical Street Fish Retail Vendor in Bangkok

Description of Item


Cost per Unit




Round display trays (aluminium)



Small display dishes



Plastic container (trash bin)



Plastic containers



Insulated box



Container for live fish (50 kg capacity of live fish)



Water bucket



Plastic bags

100 pieces


Weighing scale (20 kg capacity)



Chopping board



Filleting knives



Total Cost:


Source: field surveys conducted by the author and counterparts Street Wholesale Market for Live Freshwater Fish

An interesting variant of the street seafood market is the wholesale market for live freshwater fish, located in one of streets behind the wet vegetables and meat, poultry and seafood retail hall within the premises of the Fresh Food Market complex (also known as the “Thai Market”). This privately-owned wholesale outlet is specialised in sales of a variety of foodstuff, including agricultural and fishery produce at reasonable prices.

Figure 84: Layout of a Typical Street Food Market in Bangkok (Phrannok Market Area)

The main characteristics of this street wholesale market for live freshwater fish are as follows:

i) This marketing scheme usually operates seven days a week, from 13:00 hours to 22:00 hours. Wholesalers/retailers are charged a daily fee by the Fresh Food Market management for stall space allocation. Most wholesalers are trading live freshwater fish, but there are also some small-scale wholesalers/retailers who sell fresh/chilled whole freshwater fish and minced fish. The wholesalers transport the live freshwater fish from fish farms or rural areas to the market area, using pick-up vans/lorries for temporary live fish storage at the market place

ii) The Fresh Food Market complex provides the following services:

iii) All the live freshwater fish wholesalers operate from vans and small trucks; live fish is displayed in metal tanks with an umbrella to provide protection from the rain and sun. Whole chilled freshwater fish is usually kept with crushed ice in insulated boxes. The typical wholesale street stall for live fish consists of about 3 - 5 galvanised iron display tanks filled with water in which fish is kept, two umbrellas, weighing scales and scoop nets. This type of stall has the advantage that it can be easily assembled at site and after market hours can be loaded on the vans and moved to another market location. The typical sales or tank area per wholesaler would be in the range of 2 to 3.5 m2

iv) Live freshwater fish supplies were mostly from fish farms while fresh/chilled freshwater fish supplies were collected from small-scale fishermen. Most of the street fish vendors were wholesalers, but who also retailed to consumers. They indicated that the frequency of purchases of fresh seafood was 6 - 7 days/week. Average daily sales were about 400 - 600 kg of live fish. The unit of sales of live and fresh fish at the wholesale level was the plastic bag (±10 kg. net weight); at the retail level, the fish were sold by weight. Some retailers selling live fish at public markets usually purchase their supplies by the container (50 - 60 kg) based on the total weight of the lot

v) The most common live and fresh/chilled freshwater species identified at this street wholesale market were as follows:

Table 42 shows the average wholesale prices of selected freshwater fish traded at the street wholesale market located in the premises of the Fresh Food Market complex in Bangkok.

Table 42: Average Wholesale Prices of Selected Freshwater Fish at the Street Wholesale Market, Fresh Food Market in Bangkok

Period: March 2000

Species/Product Form

Wholesale Price


Catfish (Clarias spp.)


Swamp eel


Climbing perch

50 - 55

Pond snail




Giant freshwater prawn

Small size


Medium size



Catfish (Pangasius spp.)

15 - 23

Spotted featherback

40 - 45


Small size

12 - 13

Medium size

15 - 20

Large size

30 - 35

Silver common carp


Yellow Mystus


Great white sheatfish


Jullien’s golden-price carp

20 - 23

Giant freshwater prawn

Small size

100 - 110

Medium size


Shucked pond snail

30 - 35

Minced Jullien’s golden-price carp

35 - 38

Minced spotted featherback


H&G gourami


H&G climbing perch

35 - 36

Source: field surveys conducted by the author and counterparts

Table 43 shows the estimated costs of basic equipment used by a street wholesaler of freshwater fish (mainly catfish) operating in the “Thai Market”. This wholesaler makes daily trips to farms (about 50 km. from Bangkok) collecting about 600 kg of live catfish. The catfish are graded according to sizes, placed in galvanised iron containers filled with fresh water and transported. At the street wholesale fish market, the wholesaler parks his pick-up van parallel to the sidewalk of the main street and assembles the display facilities on the street. Average daily sales are about 500 to 600 kg of catfish.

Some large wholesalers are equipped with one lorry and two pick-up vans and reported daily sales of five tonnes of live fish. Some of the large wholesalers run their operations as a family business, with the father and elder sons working as drivers and the mother and daughters conducting the daily sales at the street market. One large wholesaler indicated that he paid daily rental fees for five stall space allocations (each stall space allocation is about 2m2). Figure 85 illustrates the general layout of the street wholesale market for live freshwater fish located in the “Thai Market”.

Table 43: Estimated Costs of Basic Equipment used by a Street Wholesale Vendor of Freshwater Fish in Bangkok

Description of Item


Unit Cost

Pick-up van (1 tonne) with wooden body (second-hand)



Galvanised iron container for live fish transport
(galvanised iron inner walls and external wooden planks frame; 50 - 60 kg capacity)



Stainless steel live fish display tanks
(0.9m x 0.57m x 0.2 m)



Weighing basket (iron frame with nylon netting)



Scoop net (steel frame and wooden handle)






Plastic bucket



Plastic tray (for removal of live fish from the display tanks)



Price board



Plastic bin (offal collection)



Weighing scale (20 kg capacity); platform type



Portable calculator



Total Cost of Basic Equipment


Source: field surveys conducted by the author and counterparts

Figure 85. Layout of a Street Wholesale Market for Live Freshwater Fish (Fresh Food Market, Bangkok)

Figure 86. Overall view of a street fish retail stall located outside a private food market, Bangkok

Figure 87. Side view of a live prawn retail stall, at the private food market, Bangkok.

Figure 88. Overall view of a street wholesale market for live freshwater fish. Fresh Food Market, Bangkok.

Figure 89. Side view of street live catfish wholesale stall. Fresh Food Market, Bangkok.

Figure 90. Side view of a typical live fish transport truck. Street wholesale market for live freshwater fish, Bangkok.

Figure 91. Unloading and weighing operations for live freshwater fish. Street wholesale market for live fish, Bangkok.

Figure 92. Low-cost live fish handling basket, made of iron bars and nylon mesh. Street wholesale market for live freshwater fish, Bangkok.

Figure 93. Typical handling and loading of live fish onto a client’s van, low-cost handling basket and a pushcart. Street wholesale market for live freshwater fish, Bangkok.

Figure 94. Typical low-cost live fish transport box, locally made using galvanised iron sheet and wooden planks.

Figure 95. Sorting and displaying operations for live fish using portable stainless steel display tanks. Street wholesale market for live freshwater fish, Bangkok.

Figure 96. Overall view of a typical motorised street chilled fish wholesale stall. Fresh Food Market, Bangkok.

[19] Population projections for Bangkok, from published data of 7,400,00 inhabitants for the year 1990, Encarta 2000 Encyclopedia.
[20] Based on the total midyear population data for the year 2000 (61,230,874 inhabitants); international database of the US Bureau of the Census, International Programs Center. (
[21] Based on FAO statistical database (
[22] Based on the 1999 APEC Economic Outlook
[23] In February 2000, the rate of exchange was US$ 1.00 equal to 37.9 Baht.
[24] Marketing and Exporting of Grouper in Thailand by A. Lawapong and P. Boonchowong.
[25] FAO, 1994, Street foods in Bangkok-the nutritional contribution and contaminant content of street foods, by L.S.R. Hutabarat. An Andre Mayer Research Fellowship Study. Rome.
[26] Freshwater Prawn Culture: a Review, by Michael B. New, Aquaculture, 88 (1990) 99-143.

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