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Alarm Bells Ringing For Depleted Tuna Stocks In Gulf Of Thailand

Using mainly small vessels, fishing in its own waters, Thailand is thought to be over exhausting its fish stocks and threatening its future tuna catch.

Greenpeace, international non-profit organization known for its action aimed at environmental issues, believes that overfishing has become a big problem in the Gulf of Thailand, which comes under the Western Central Pacific Ocean umbrella.

The main species of tuna fished from the shallow waters in the Gulf of Thailand is the tongol or longtail tuna, characterized by its tendency to swim close to the surface, and mainly caught using driftnets or the pole and line method.

While Thailand may only contribute a small percentage of global tuna catch, it comes in the top six countries for longtail, kawakawa and frigate and bullet tunas, giving it substantial importance in the trade of these species.

But, according to Greenpeace, current fishing levels in Thailand’s local fishing grounds are now at a point where populations of fish will not be able to recover if nothing is done to monitor the problem, which could have an effect on all the countries that fish in these areas.

Greenpeace’s largest ship, the ‘Esperanza’, recently embarked on a conservation crusade to assess the state of fish stocks in the Gulf of Thailand and the extent of overfishing in this area.

“Thailand’s seas are rapidly approaching the danger zone,” said Sirasa Kantaratanakul, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “Aside from the decline in marine resources, over-fishing, destructive and illegal fishing are plundering the life out of our oceans.”

“We saw first-hand how, in the Gulf of Thailand, hundreds of commercial fishing boats are operating 24/7 emptying everything in their path with fishing methods that destroy the marine environment. If this continues, our oceans will be baron and lifeless perhaps within a decade.”

According to statistics reported by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Thailand’s tuna catch from the Western Central Pacific, which includes the Gulf of Thailand, was 26,104 tons in 2012, only around a sixth of what it was in 1990; a significant decline.

Has Thailand over exploited its tuna stocks in recent years to the point of a massive reduction in the volume left in its waters?

According to Greenpeace, the Gulf of Thailand is rated one of the most overfished areas in Southeast Asia.

Thailand is also one of the leading exporters of processed seafood, and the world’s top canned tuna exporter, meaning the management of its fish stocks in surrounding seas is also important to the sustainability of tongol and kawakawa.

In 2012, Thailand exported 559,493 metric tons of canned and pre-cooked tuna loins, more than any other country according to the International Trade Center, part of the WTO; however most of this tuna is imported from catching grounds thousands of kilometers away in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. Only a small fraction of Thailand canned tuna production is reliant on local fishing efforts, most of it being tongol tuna.

The ‘Esperanza’ voyage to Thailand coincided with the launching of the “Oceans in the balance, Thailand in focus” study, examining overfishing in Thailand, prompting Greenpeace to urge the Thai government to stop the entry of new larger scale commercial boats to the area and ban the use of destructive fishing gear.