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The Andaman's fishing industry is fighting for survival, like the fish

'The Ocean is Broken': Grim Phuket Warning

Tuesday, October 22, 2013
PHUKET: A grim portent for Phuket and the world's oceans is contained in a powerful article headlined 'The Ocean is Broken,' published today.

Being read across Australia and beyond, the piece by Greg Ray is an unsettling account of a sailor's voyage across the Pacific.

Yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen had done it before, 10 years ago, but this time it was different.

''The birds were missing because the fish were missing. No fish. No birds. Hardly a sign of life at all.''

His boat, the Funnel Web, ''sped across the surface of a haunted ocean'' where a decade earlier, fish and birds had been plentiful.

The next leg of the long voyage was from Osaka to San Francisco and for most of that trip the desolation was tinged with nauseous horror and a degree of fear.

''After we left Japan, it felt as if the ocean itself was dead,'' Macfadyen told Ray.

"We hardly saw any living things. We saw one whale, sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumor on its head. It was pretty sickening.

''I've done a lot of miles on the ocean in my life and I'm used to seeing turtles, dolphins, sharks and big flurries of feeding birds. But this time, for 3000 nautical miles there was nothing alive to be seen.''

In place of the missing life was garbage in astounding volumes, Ray writes.

Ivan's brother, Glenn, who boarded at Hawaii for the run into the United States, marvelled at the ''thousands on thousands'' of yellow plastic buoys.

The huge tangles of synthetic rope, fishing lines and nets. Pieces of polystyrene foam by the million. And slicks of oil and petrol, everywhere.

''We were weaving around these pieces of debris. It was like sailing through a garbage tip.''

Back in Newcastle, Ivan Macfadyen is still coming to terms with the shock and horror of the voyage. ''The ocean is broken,'' he said, shaking his head in stunned disbelief.

When associated with an article printed in this week's South China Morning Post magazine, the message of ''a broken ocean'' comes frighteningly close to Phuket.

Kit Gillet writes that Thailand is the world's third-largest exporter of fish and fishery products, with exports valued at about US$7 billion in 2010.
Between 2002 and 2011 exports almost doubled.

But he writes ''it appears the nation's waters are reaching a critical time, with some species nearing the point of no return.''

Across the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, Boris Worm, a marine research ecologist and associate professor at Canada's Dalhousie University says: ''There has been enormous decline in the area since the 1960s, with entire species wiped out.''

In the port of Nivat, outside Phuket, several dozen commercial fishing trawlers are moored up tightly along the docks.

Sirasa Kantaratanakul, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace in Thailand, tells Gillet: ''You get fined 5000 baht for fishing within three kilometres of the coast, but this is like a grain of sand for the larger fishers.

''They might as well just pay up before they head out for the night.''

In 1979, Thailand said it would allow no new trawlers, Khun Sirasa tells Gillet, but boat owners simply put many boats under one registration or switch the registration to newer, bigger boats and the government does nothing.

''And then, every 10 years or so, the government has a general amnesty - it's the fourth already; 2107 vessels have been given amnesty this time.

''Last time it was about 4000 vessels. Would you obey a law if, one day, you knew you would be pardoned anyway?''

A few hundred kilometres up the coast from Phuket, the people in Pahklongkleaw village live basic lives and have few material possessions beyond their small family boats.

But the fish are not there to catch any more.

One fisherman says: ''Look at the mesh of our nets and theirs and you can see how we are different to these fishers.

''Nothing can get through their net; they take everything out of the water,'' he says, holding a piece of net that, when pulled tight, is almost a solid sheet of material.

Back in Phuket, after another luckless night at sea, a trawler with a crew of 20 returns with just 500 kilos of anchovies.

''I've been fishing since I was 10, first on my father's boat and then my own - but I might be the last generation if the catches keep going like this,'' says the captain.

Comments

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"and the government does nothing."

Says it all....

Posted by nicky on October 22, 2013 16:19

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So just because he didn't see any birds or fish along the narrow course followed by his boat, compared to 10 years earlier, which may have been at a different time of year (it doesn't say), he concludes with idiotic sweeping statements like "the ocean is broken"? This type of sensationalizing environmental yellow journalism with their cheap headlines and soundbites always does their cause much more harm than good.

Posted by Henry on October 22, 2013 17:47

Editor Comment:

It seems to me, henry, that your opinion needs to be supported by your experiences, just as the yachtsman's quotations were supported by his experiences. Otherwise, readers might think you're just a jerk looking for 40 seconds of fame. Make that 39, 38, 37, 36, 35 . . .

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It may the time for all Thai Marine Biologists to ring the bell about overfishing in Thailand and to request the arrest of all poachers fishing illegally within Marine National Parks boundaries or nearby coral reefs.

It may be time to all civil servants working at Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation), to protect natural assets such as Marine National parks in Thailand by talking less during endless meetings and acting seriously to arrest all poachers fishing illegally within Marine National Parks boundaries or fishing with destructive fishing nets.

It may be time for government agencies such as "Fishery Department" to try their best to educate Thai fishermen to fit their fishing boats with holding wasted water tank, toilet and bin to bring back to shore their garbage especially old fishing nets which kill turtle, dolphin and dugong when they are discarded by the sea on daily basis even into the sea at fishing ports.

Posted by Whistle-Blower on October 22, 2013 18:28

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I read this article this morning. Painful reading, if you care about this sort of thing. The writer wondered if all garbage was the consequence of the Japanese tsunami. No matter what it was that caused it, this needs to be investigated, by everyone, because it affects everyone. It is puzzling that no one thought to ask where all the rubbish that was swept out to sea in that tsunami went. It is equally troubling that not too many are voicing concern about the radioactive leakage still flowing into the sea. Again, this is a global worry.
@Henry I just hope the world leaders are not taking the same stance as you on this disaster.

Posted by Sudo Nim on October 22, 2013 20:13

Editor Comment:

You'll find there was large mass of garbage in the Pacific before the tsunami in Japan. The huge floating morass was reported several years back.

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Only when the last tree has died/cut, the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught, we will realize that we can't eat money (Cree Indian wisdom)

Posted by rudolf on October 22, 2013 21:58

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so- the fishing runs out the idiots that caugt them starve, their kids too i don't see a prob

Posted by ayjay on October 23, 2013 05:16

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There are people in Govt who basically own the fishing fleet. That is why ...

Posted by geoff on October 23, 2013 05:26

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The other part of Gregs story is neglected in this article, but is just as pertinent. I have visited Thailand as a tourist 3 times in the past 10 years. Each visit the amount of rubbish spoiling once-pristine areas has increased.

On my last visit I went to Koh Nang Yuan. On arrival a group of Thai men are sitting there, happy to relieve me of a hundred baht towards the preservation of the island. Yet there was a huge pile of rubbish bags thrown in the rocks behind the bar, and in the mornings I was the only one out cleaning bags and blown light bulbs off the sand.

I will never be back to Thailand, there are other destinations where the locals take more care of their environment. Enjoy what fish and tourists you have now, they will both soon be gone.

Posted by Dave on October 23, 2013 10:27

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I think the Thai Government first of all should concentrate about the air pollution and diesel fumes. If not even the tourists from Beijing will soon put on their respirator masks.

Posted by Harald on October 23, 2013 14:46

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Sadly I wrote a similar article to The (Glasgow) Herald in April 1994. It was along the following lines:

I was deep sea with BP Tanker Co Ltd from 1972-83 as cadet to 2nd Mate. Many of my trips were from the Persian Gulf to Europe via the Cape (Cape of Good Hope). In those days the seas boiled with every type of marine creature & day time watches were filled with observations of whales, sharks, manta rays, dolphins, porpoises, flying fish, etc, almost too numerous to count.

I then worked offshore in the North Sea from 1983-93, until the marginal oil field I was located on dried up. The production semi-submersible I worked on was sold to BHP Australia & I was part of a small recommissioning crew retained for the tow from Scotland to Singapore.

Not all of the crew were former deep sea mariners & they were a bit concerned how they would handle a 76 day tow around the Cape & across the Indian Ocean. I told them they had nothing to worry about as they would quickly become engrossed in observing marine life.

Sadly & to my complete shock at that time (Jan-Apr 1994), the ocean was almost devoid of marine life which had been so abundant only a decade earlier. We saw virtually nothing all the way down west Africa to just short of Cape Town, where we saw some small pods of whales & dolphins for a couple of days.

Heading up the east coast through the once prolific Madagascar Strait, we saw nothing at all & this trend was repeated for virtually the entire crossing of the Indian Ocean, where we saw only a very few flying fish.

What we did see though were freighter size fishing vessels streaming drift nets for distances measured at 10+ miles, presumably scooping everything they could net from the ocean. These all had Chinese, Japanese or Korean writing on them (I could not differentiate which at that time).

They were especially prevalent in the south Atlantic. I would suggest they have denuded their home waters & are now working their way round the world simply stripping the oceans of everything they can catch, whether useful or not.

There does not seem to be any control on such practice & someday there will be nothing left. We have 'Save the Whales' & 'Save the Sharks' campaigns, but nothing on systematic stripping of the seas fishing stocks. The rest of the world will feel the impact & suffer the consequence.

Posted by Logic on October 23, 2013 21:52

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@Logic

I have sailed for 30 years and spoken with many blue-water yachtsman who all echo your own experience.

I only wish people would take heed of your warning but unless they have been at sea they simply can't fathom what you describe.

There is this wrong belief that some agency or organization must be protecting the oceans.

Posted by C@C on October 25, 2013 13:55

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Mans greed.

Posted by Robert on October 28, 2013 00:53


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