A major factor limiting the promotion of aquaculture practices in Thailand is the poor economic return from investments rather than the lack of production technology. Advanced aquaculture techniques, including intensive pond and cage farming, have been developed and are available, particularly for freshwater aquaculture, but the profit margin is very small and is not attractive to expanded investment.
Since the yield from capture fisheries is not expected to increase greatly, emphasis is being placed on the ability of the sector to provide increasing quantities of fish to satisfy increasing demand. It has long term potential for increasing fisheries production for both local consumption and export, and for achieving earnings from high-value shrimp and fish species.
Freshwater aquaculture, mainly pond and rice-field culture, has been practiced in Thailand for more than 80 years. The development of freshwater aquaculture started in 1922 after the import of Chinese carp for culture around Bangkok. In 1951 the Department of Fisheries set up an aquaculture promotion programme. At present, more than 50 freshwater aquatic species have been cultured. The five most important species, in term of annual production, are Nile tilapia, hybrid catfish, silver barb, giant river prawn, snakeskin gourami.
Brackish waters along the coast were traditionally used for subsistence fisheries, using bamboo traps, cast-nets, gillnets. Shellfish were also collected by hand from their natural beds. Recently, coastal aquaculture started with the introduction of intensive culture technologies and has today become the most successful in terms of income. It is also encouraged by the depletion of coastal resources due to overfishing and the deterioration of environmental conditions. The most important species cultivated are fish such as barramundi and grouper, shrimps, shellfish, and crustaceans such as mud crab. This includes both the systematic rearing of the species from the fry stage onwards and fattening of wild juveniles in captivity as in the case of mud crab. Shellfish and shrimp culture give the most important yields.
Both upstream and downstream activities, i.e. fish feed, retailing, processing, etc., require a wide range of skills, expertise, and educational backgrounds. Not only men are involved in aquaculture and related activities. Women also participate, particularly in activities related to feed preparation, feeding, harvesting, processing, accounting, marketing, etc.
Freshwater aquaculture includes culture in ponds, paddy fields, cages and ditches. Most farms are densely located in areas which have abundant water resources or which are irrigated. The central plain and coastal zone, including the vicinity of Bangkok Metropolitan, Samutprakarn, Suphanburi, Nakorn Pathom, Surat Thani, Chachoengsao, Chanthaburi, are particular areas of production. In 2002 the number of fish farms countrywide was 390 853 which covered approximately 131 500 ha. However, only 281 199 farms covering approximately 102 000 ha. were in production. Most of these were pond farms. The number of registered farms in 2004 was over 440 000.
Brackish water aquaculture
The major finfish species are groupers and barramundi. They are usually reared in cages and ponds. In 2002 the total number of farms in production was 6 482 covering approximately 720 ha. The top three provinces in terms of number of brackish water finfish farms were Songkhla, Pattani and Phangnga. In terms of area, the top three were Samutprakarn, Prachuab Kiri Khan and Samut Sakhon. In 2002 there were 31 179 shrimp farms covering 74 391 ha. Total production was 264 923 tonnes.
More than 50 freshwater fish species have been cultured throughout the country. Among these 50 percent are indigenous and the rest have been imported and domesticated for a long time. The main cultured species are as follows:
- Catfish (Clarias sp.)
The main culture species is the catfish (Clarias sp.) with a production of 86 475 tonnes or 30 percent of total production. The hybrid catfish (Clarias macrocephalus X C. gariepinus ) is the most preferred species because it grows faster than the native ones. It has recently been reported that the production per unit area of the hybrid catfish is decreasing and it is suggested that this may be due to the quality of the male African catfish which was introduced into Thailand a long time ago.
- Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus )
The production of tilapia contributes around 29 percent (83 780 tonnes) of total freshwater aquaculture production, second to the walking catfish. There is a trend towards standardization of size, feeds and production systems, some quality control, avoidance of off-flavours, and marketing in supermarket chains. The main cultured types are hormonal sex reversed tilapia, the GIFT strain, Chitralada strain and Tabtim strain. This exotic species is now becoming very popular for freshwater aquaculture in Thailand, especially for cage culture.
- Java barb (local name=Thai silver barb) (Barbodes gonionotus )
Java barb or Thai silver carp, which is indigenous to Thailand, ranks third in total production and contributes around 15 percent of total freshwater aquaculture production. The Neo-male broodstock has been produced in order to develop all female aquaculture which yields a higher population than mix-sex culture. However, the all female culture is not very well accepted by farmers.
- Snake skin gourami (Trichogaster pectoralis )
Snake skin gourami is another indigenous species and contributes around 8 percent of the total freshwater aquaculture production. Its production remains high, although the culture technique is limited to the extensive system.
- Giant river prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii )
The giant river prawn contributes around 5 percent of total freshwater aquaculture production. Production is increasing gradually, following the introduction of a growth improved strain, the CP strain.
- Sutchi catfish (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus )
The sutchi catfish also contributes around 5 percent of total freshwater aquaculture production. It is still very common in integrated animal-fish systems in the central part of the country.
Other important freshwater species are snakehead murrel (Channa striata ), common carp (Cyprinus carpio ) and soft-shell turtle (Trionyx sinensis ). They make up less than 5 percent of total production.
Brackish water species
Only a few number of brackish water or marine species are cultured in coastal aquaculture compared to the freshwater system. The major cultured species are green mussel, prawns, blood cockle, barramundi, and groupers.
- Green mussel (Perna viridis )
The green mussel is the most important species cultured along the coast of Thailand. It contributes around 44 percent of total production of coastal aquaculture. At present, all seed used in aquaculture is naturally obtained.
- Giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon )
The giant tiger prawn contributes around 98 percent of shrimp production and around 40 percent of total brackish water aquaculture production. Thailand has experienced fluctuations in production, due primarily to the impact of disease. At present, batches free from specific pathogens are being produced. Technology for producing domesticated broodstock is being developed with promising results. Generally high international market demand has maintained interest in the culture of shrimp for export.
- Blood cockle (Anadara nodifera )
Blood cockle contributes around 12 percent of total production from coastal aquaculture. For extensive culture, seeds are collected from the wild, but recently seeds of Anadara granosa have been imported from Malaysia for intensive culture.
Other important species are malabar grouper (Epinephelus malabaricus ), Sydney rock oyster (Crassostrea commercialis ), barramundi (Lates calcarifer ) and banana prawn (Penaeus merguiensis ). The culture of whiteleg shrimp (Penaeus vannamei ) has recently increased rapidly due to its fast growth rate and high market demand.
Inland aquaculture has been practiced in Thailand for over five decades with various degrees of success. About 27 species of fish are cultured under various types of systems ranging from super-intensive farming for commercial production to extensive farming, mainly for home consumption. There are 281 199 inland farms with a total cultivated area of 101 952 ha. Over 97 percent of the total area consists of pond and paddy-field type culture systems. The remainder comprises dammed-up ditches, swampy areas and cage culture systems. In 2003 total Thai freshwater aquaculture production was estimated at 320 402 tonnes, the top five species being Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus ), hybrid catfish (Clarias macrocephalus X C. gariepinus ), Java barb (Barbodes gonionotus ), giant river prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii ) and snakeskin gourami (Trichogaster pectoralis ). The production of tilapia in Thailand is moving away from green-water fertilized systems towards pellet-fed intensified systems. This may reflect the areas available for aquaculture, increasing restrictions on water availability and, to some extent, environmental requirements.
Brackish water aquaculture
Barramundi (Lates calcarifer ) has been the most popular brackish water fish cultivated in Thailand since 1973. It can be cultured both in earthen ponds, cages and pens. The fish are fed with trash fish or pellets. Thailand's production has increased, but now appears relatively stable, probably due to limited site availability and the market saturation.
Grouper (Epinephalus sp.) can only be cultivated in cages. At present, seeds are mainly collected from the wild, although artificial spawning and larva rearing techniques have been developed since 1993.
Green mussels are cultivated by extending the wing of the traditional bamboo stake trap, or staking bamboo poles, or coconut palm fronds into the muddy bottom at a depth of 4-8 metres to allow the mussel spats to settle on them. Several new techniques for culture mussel have recently been introduced. These are polyethylene rafts, longlines and racks.
The blood cockle is usually reared closed to the shore in estuarine areas with fine mud at the depths of 0.5-1 m. The area should not be exposed above sea level for more than 2-3 hours during low tide. For extensive systems, cockle spats of 0.3-0.5 g are collected from the natural seabed. The culture period is about two years. Since 1973, spats have been imported from Malaysia to overcome the shortage of natural supply and to promote the intensive culture system.
Shrimp farming has been practiced in Thailand for more than 30 years, but developed and expanded very rapidly during the mid 1980s, supported by the technological breakthrough in shrimp feed development and successful production of larvae in 1986.
Three distinct types of shrimp farming can be distinguished in Thailand, namely extensive farming, semi-intensive farming and intensive farming. Extensive farming is the original shrimp culture system that cultures shrimp in large areas using the traditional methods of tidal exchange of water and natural seed supply. This extensive system yields mainly the banana shrimp (P. merguiensis ), but production is unreliable.
Semi-intensive shrimp farming became popular with the successful production of both banana and giant tiger prawn in 1972. Farms are usually 3-5 ha in size with a reservoir, from which the water is pumped into the main rearing ponds. Predators are removed before shrimp larvae are stocked. Artificial feed is supplied to increase production. The extensive and semi-intensive systems are currently not very practical and very few are operated today.
The semi-intensive system shifted to the Taiwanese-style intensive farming system after the successful development of commercial giant tiger prawn seed production in 1986. The ponds are stocked at densities of 50-100 larvae per m2 and fed with high quality artificial feed at least 4-5 times a day. Because of the heavy feed, the pond becomes very anaerobic within 100 days and has to be well aerated by means of paddlewheels and air/oxygen injectors to keep the oxygen levels above 5 ppm. Production can be as high as 15 tonnes/ha/crop.
The use of mangrove areas for shrimp farming is currently restricted to designated areas by permission of the Department of Forestry which controls the mangrove forest. As intensive shrimp farms discharge large quantities of effluents, farms larger than 8 ha must construct wastewater oxidation ponds the size of which must be 10 percent of the total surface area of the farm, and the biological oxygen demand of the effluents must not exceed 10 ppm.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Thailand according to FAO statistics:
Thailand also imports fisheries products mostly for use as raw materials for exported processed products. In 2004 the value of imported fisheries products was 51 320.81 million Baht (1 339.01 milion US$), a 7.10 percent increase compared to 2003.
Freshwater products are mainly for domestic consumption and marketed as fresh products, particularly tilapia, snakeheads, catfishes and giant river prawn. Brackish water products, in particular shrimps, are mainly for export. The major markets are the United States, the European Union and Japan. These products are diversified, for example frozen, semi- processed, cooked, etc.
The aquaculture industry generates many other related businesses. Among the important ones are fish feed, chemicals suppliers, storage, processing, marketing, etc. Logistics are also important to ensure product freshness and timely distribution. These generate a lot of indirect employment.
In Thailand, aquaculture makes an important contribution to GDP. In 2002 aquaculture accounted for 2.07 percent of total GDP (Sugiyama et al., 2004). Aquaculture also plays a substantial role in providing vital income generation opportunities to the people. In 2001 aquaculture provided full-time or part-time jobs to 80 704 households, whilst capture fisheries provided employment to around 50 198 households.
Generally informing the direction of the Department of Fisheries are the policy directives of National Economic and Social Development Plans. The 9th National Economic and Social Development Plan (2002-2006) affirms the need for sustainable development and encourages shrimp aquaculture practices to be in accordance with code of conduct standards. The overall strategy for the country's fisheries management is stipulated in the National Fisheries Development Policy. Among others, it aims at increasing aquaculture production by 5 percent annually. Strategies include the strengthening of aquaculture techniques and management, promoting cost-effective and environmentally-friendly aquaculture, upgrading production quality and hygiene, and expanding markets for aquaculture products.
For more information on aquaculture legislation in Thailand please click on the following link:
National Aquaculture Legislation Overview – Thailand
There are at least 16 universities around the country that offer aquaculture and related courses from Diploma to Ph.D. These universities also carry out research on aquaculture and offer training courses on several aspects of aquaculture.
The continued growth and competitive position of the Thai aquaculture industry in a global marketplace will be directly related to the resources invested in research and technology development. The diversity of species cultured and of production systems employed presents added challenges for the future aquaculture research agenda.
An expanded research and technology development programme for aquaculture will offer significant benefits to both producers and consumers of aquatic products by enhancing the production efficiency and quality of aquatic organisms cultivated for both food and non-food purposes. It will also help assure environmental compatibility of aquaculture systems, enhance understanding of biological systems and processes, lead to the development of new or improved aquatic products and processes, and contribute to conservation, enhancement, or utilization of important genetic resources.
There are opportunities to substantially improve production efficiency through research in the areas of genetics, i.e. improving traditional animal breeding, broodstock development; aquatic animal health, i.e. population health management, pathogen-free and disease resistant brood stock; reproduction and early development, i.e. year-round maturation and production; and growth, development and nutrition, i.e. increased survival, faster growth rates, better feed conversion rates, improved environmental tolerances, etc.
There are also significant opportunities for research and technology development to improve the sustainability and environmental compatibility of aquaculture systems. Of primary concern is the protection and conservation of the nation's water resources. Benefits could include improved water utilization; reduced waste output from aquaculture systems; improved waste management; development of economically viable uses of waste by-products; and reduced costs of waste treatment. New markets for innovative water re-use systems and waste management technologies should also be developed.
The development of improved means to assure safety and quality of aquaculture products through innovative processing technologies and new product development are opportunities for aquaculture. Research can lead to new techniques to improve the freshness, colour, flavour, texture, taste, nutritional characteristics and shelf life of cultivated products. Practical technologies can be developed to detect, test and reduce toxins, contaminants, and residues in aquaculture products. Development and adoption of uniform quality standards throughout the aquaculture industry and assurance of product safety and high quality will improve consumer confidence in domestically cultivated faunas.
There is considerable pressure on aquaculture to reduce its reliance on feeds containing fishmeal, as well as to use this resource more efficiently. The high value sector of aquaculture is growing and it is this sector which is most reliant on feeds containing fish meal and fish oil. There are likely to be shifts in feeding and feed composition since the freshwater aquaculture sector has a greater opportunity to use non-marine sourced feed ingredients, particularly slaughterhouse wastes, brewery wastes and agricultural milling by-products.
There is a need to expand and improve extension educational programmes, to involve industry and researchers, to communicate promising research results which demonstrate profitable technologies, and to educate consumers and the public. There is also a need for other support services to the aquaculture industry including public information access and retrieval systems, aquatic plant and animal health services, marketing services, statistical and economic support services, etc.
The increasing importance of aquaculture argues in favour of the government giving priority to developing clear, well-formulated, and realistic policies for aquaculture development, based on financial, social and environmental sustainability. As the private sector is the key to successful land sustainable aquaculture development, the views of industry should be taken into account in policy formulation, research and development.
Aquaculture in Thailand will continue to be an increasingly vital function in maintaining low-input aquaculture as supplier of protein for domestic consumption. It will also develop a into a highly competitive, sustainable aquaculture industry to meet consumer demand for cultivated aquatic foods and products that are of high quality, safe, competitively priced, and nutritious and are produced in an environmentally responsible manner with maximum opportunity for profitability in all sectors of the export industry.
FAO . 2005 . Aquaculture production, 2003. Year book of Fishery Statistics - Vol.96/2. Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
Fishery Information Technology Center.2004 .Fisheries Statistics of Thailand 2002. Department of Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. 91 pp.
Fishery Information Technology Center.2004 .Freshwater Fishfarm 2002. Department of Fisheries Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. 65 pp.
Fishery Information Technology Center.2004 .Statistics of Marine Fish Farms Survey 2002. Department of Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. 26 pp.
Sugiyama, S. , Staples, D. & Funge-Smith, S.2004 .Status and potential of fisheries and aquaculture in Asia and the Pacific. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United. Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok. 53 pp.