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In 2004, the capture fisheries sector contributed 69.3 percent of total fisheries production, whereas the aquaculture sector contributed 30.7 percent. Each sector, however, contributed about 50 percent of the total production value (Figure 1). Capture fisheries refers to all types of harvesting of naturally occurring living resources in both marine and freshwater environments. For Thailand, capture fisheries continuously plays a much more significant role quantitatively than the aquaculture sector (Figure 1).



In Thailand, the rate of utilization of freshwater fish is high as almost all kinds of fish are eaten. Inland capture fisheries in Thailand are considered to comprise mostly SSF. Inland capture fisheries are reported (DoF, 2007) to contribute approximately 200 000 tonnes per year and fishing is normally carried out in natural and human-made freshwater bodies of various types. Fish caught from inland habitats are multispecies and vary in abundance.

It has been estimated that an additional 300 000 tonnes should be attributed to inland fisheries in Thailand.28 Reports based on back calculating consumption figures estimate the inland production in one part of Thailand (the Mekong River Basin) to be as large as 945 782 tonnes.29 Furthermore, Hortle (2007) estimated an annual area-based yield, ranging from 162 626 to 602 505 tonnes, for the same area. This part of Thailand is probably relatively productive in terms of inland fisheries but doubling that amount for the whole of Thailand seems reasonable. So the estimated production for Thailand would then be 325 252 to 1 205 010 tonnes.

In addition, the reported production of about 200 000 tonnes does not seem likely when compared to the estimated production calculated by taking estimates of the production per unit area for different types of area and then multiplying each figure by the total area for each type (Table 16). Indeed, the potential output is higher than the reported production by as much as five times. In a relatively poor country such as Thailand where fish is a dietary staple, a resource like this is unlikely to be unexploited and unused. Therefore, a conservative estimate of Thailand's yearly production could be 75 percent of the estimated "high" biomass output (~1 100 000 tonnes), similar to the estimate figure in Table 5. Thus, using a combination of agricultural census data and provincial production estimates, it is estimated that inland fisheries produce 1 060 320 tonnes per year (Table 16 and 5).

Table 16 Sensitivity analysis of estimated inland capture figure using biomass estimates by habitat


Output/Area (kg/ha)

Total area (ha)

Potential Output (tonnes)





Rice paddy30



10 224 96931

255 624

1 022 497

Water area32

Rivers and floodplains33



4 100 000

143 000

410 000

Reservoirs, lakes and swamps



400 000

14 000

40 800


412 617

1 473 297

Estimated inland capture35

1 060 320

Silver barb, Nile tilapia, striped snake-head fish, Jullien's mud carp, walking catfish and common climbing perch are, generally, the dominant species in the production from freshwater bodies in Thailand. The production and value of inland capture fisheries, particularly obtained from natural reservoirs, have been increasing in recent years. Freshwater fish contributed more than 99 percent of total freshwater production with most of the remainder being accounted for by shrimps. As this figure is based on the reported data only, the "real" species composition of the production in Thailand could be very different.

The number of fishers and fisher households participating in inland capture fisheries is approximately 3.13 million and 2.72 million, respectively. The number of fishing boats used in inland capture fisheries is not systematically recorded and hence has to be estimated. The major constraints in collecting inland fisheries information are lack of basic up-to-date data, lack of accuracy of data collection, inadequate knowledge of scientific data collection methods, and the fact that information is found scattered throughout the country.


Marine capture fisheries in Thailand have developed significantly since 1945, mainly as a result of the introduction of modern fishing technologies and techniques. Marine capture fisheries in this context can be divided into two groups, LSF and SSF according to the definitions of the Thai Department of Fisheries (DoF).

Among all fishing gears, the otter board trawl contributed the highest production of about 1.4 million tonnes in 2004. For SSF, collecting shellfish contributed the highest production,36 followed by various types of gill nets. In LSF, pelagic fish is the dominant production category (34 percent) with anchovy and Indo-Pacific mackerel as dominant species, whereas shellfish (24 percent), particularly short necked clam, is the dominant production species of SSF. However, pelagic fish contributed the highest value in both LSF and SSF.

Much of the fish and shrimp produced is canned or frozen. Fish meal, however, accounts for the highest single amount from marine production. In 2004, approximately 424 000 tonnes of fish meal were produced by using 1 556 000 tonnes or 55 percent of the marine production.

Most of the fishing units employed in marine capture fisheries are small-scale fishing boats and 83 percent of these boats are outboard powered boats. The dominant large-scale fishing unit is the 20 to 50 gross tonnage (GT) boats, which make up 33 percent of the total large-scale fishing boats. The size of crew and the net profit per fishing unit is related to the size of the boat. The total number of households involved in marine fisheries is about 58 000 with approximately 168 000 fishers during the peak fishing seasons.

Capture fisheries outside the national EEZ

Approximately 1.2 million tonnes of the total marine production (2.6 million tonnes) is obtained from non-Thai fisheries, particularly from the EEZs of other coastal states in Southeast Asia, South Asia and East Africa, and also less than 1 000 tonnes of tuna production is obtained from the high seas.

Thai fishers, with the support of the Thai government, have sought new fishing grounds outside the waters of Thailand because the marine resources in Thai waters have been overexploited. Thailand's Department of Fisheries (DoF) has information on 759 Thai boats operating in the EEZs of seven other coastal states in 2006, but in fact there are about 3 000 to 4 000 Thai boats fishing in the EEZs of the other coastal states and two Thai boats fishing on the high seas. Most of these fishing boats are operating under contracts arranged by private sector actors who are not obliged to report their dealings to the DoF in Thailand. The most important fishing grounds for Thai fishing boats outside of Thailand are the EEZs of Indonesia and Myanmar. About 1 000 to 2 000 Thai boats are flying the Thai flag and the Indonesian flag and operate in the EEZ of Indonesia. As of October 2004, 323 Thai boats operated in the EEZ of Myanmar under the "Fishing Access programme" and most of these boats landed their catches in Ranong province. The catches landed, mostly of demersal fish, have been increasing rapidly providing a good monthly net profit for fishers.


The data presented in the summary table below (Table 17) are derived from official statistics along with the supporting documentation (see chapters inland capture fisheries and marine capture fisheries) and additional calculations as explained in the footnotes accompanying the table.

The capture fisheries of Thailand produced an estimated total of 3 910 865 tonnes of aquatic products in 2004 compared to the reported 2 991 368. Of this production 32 percent is produced by small-scale fisheries and the remaining 68 percent is produced by large-scale fisheries; however a large fraction of this produce is either turned into fish meal (29 percent) or exported (30 percent). Hence, for domestic consumption the small-scale fisheries contribute more than half (53 percent) of the production. The participation in these fisheries is high, with a total of 3 299 495 fishers. Of these, 98 percent are small-scale fishers. The higher fraction of fishers in small-scale fisheries is also reflected in the number of boats within each category. Out of a total of 74 606 boats, almost 85 percent is used in small-scale fisheries.

Table 17 Summary of Thailand's capture fisheries divided into large- and small-scale fisheries

Inland Small





Reported production (1 000 x tonnes)

203 700

2 635 969

151 699

of which caught outside EEZ (1 000 x tonnes)


1 146 811


Estimated production (1 000 x tonnes)

1 060 320

2 662 32938

188 21639

Trash/low produced (1 000 x tonnes)40


769 386

2 337


Reported value (1 000 US$)41

199 226

1 381 348

199 226

Estimated value (1 000 US$)

1 060 32042

1 381 348

235 74343


Number of boats

3 12244

11 343

60 141

Domestic human consumption (1 000 x tonnes)

1 060 320

1 070 239

185 879

Export (1 000 x tonnes)


796 34445


Fishermen (peak season)

3 131 355

73 911

94 229

  of which are Family members

3 107 696

4 211

76 646

Costs (capital, fuel and running)


425 362

13 299

Income per unit (household/boat)47


74 808

1 825

The major finding of this analysis is that the marine small-scale fishery production in Thailand is a relatively small percentage of the total production (~10 percent) although there are ~ 60 000 small-scale boats (80 percent). Hence, for any future efforts to improve the fisheries data/statistics of Thailand it would be valuable to do sample surveys of marine small-scale fishing production to get a better estimate of its contribution to the total production. Additionally, the official reported figure for inland production is probably underestimated even by our estimate of ~1 100 000 tonnes production.

The production from outside of Thailand by Thai fishing boats and landed in Thailand will be reported in the new Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) forms as production from the area where it is caught (i.e. production transshipped to Thailand from Indonesia will be reported as production from Indonesia. It is still, however, unclear if the production of Thai boats operating outside of Thailand and not reported to DoF is reported as catch in Thailand or where it is actually caught or if it is reported at all. This could have major implications for the reported catch as the number of vessels in question is roughly 3 500 large-scale fishing boats. Also, species reporting is weak and should be improved. From marine fisheries, almost 1 000 000 tonnes is reported either as other food fish or as trash fish.

Any census has weaknesses in capturing occasional or part time fishing and aquaculture activities. Definitions used or cut off points can also mean that households that are small-scale producers also may no be fully recorded (this is a common problem with small pond backyard aquaculture). Peri-urban or even urban activities may be ignored in rural censuses, just as landless households engaged in fisheries may not appear in agricultural censuses. A nice example of this are the owner/operators of the large fixed bag nets which can be found in urban areas (see picture below).

28 Coates, D. (2002).
29 Hortle, K.H. (2007).
30 An aquatic animal production of 25-100 kg/ha/year is estimated from a number of sources and can be considered as a relatively conservative estimate.
32 Royal Irrigation Department 2004
33 An aquatic animal production of 35-100 kg/ha/year for rivers and floodplains and also swamps lakes and reservoirs is also estimated from a number of sources. This is considered a relatively conservative estimate.
34 Range of production base don typical production levels of different aquatic habitats/environments, assuming high utilization by rural people.
35 Estimated mean production – See chapter "Inland capture fisheries" Table 5.
36 It should be noted that shell weight is included.
37 Including production outside Thailand's EEZ.
38 Including a 1 percent discard rate.
39 Including a 1 kg/day/fisher fishing for own consumption.
40 Based on percentage of fleet segment that falls into each category.
41 Converted to US$ using the conversion rate for 15 December 2004, which was 39.1 Baht/US$ 1.
42 Estimated as US$ 1 per kg of estimated production.
43 Reported value + 1 US$ * (reported production (kg) – estimated production (kg))
44 Estimated from 2.8 boats/km2 of water and than applying a 50 percent reduction because of the high amount of fixed gear and hand nets used.
45 All production for export estimated to come from large-scale fisheries.
46 The running costs, fuel cost and investments in the inland sector are considered as negligible and hence all profit is considered to be net profit.
47 The average income per year is calculated as net profit per boat divided by number of crew members or net profit per household multiplied by the ratio between households and the number of fishers.

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