It's crunchy. It's delicious. It's deep fried baby mackerel, a popular calcium-boosting snack that is quickly annihilating mackerel stocks in the Gulf of Thailand.
If you, too, cannot keep your hands off this crispy snack, then you will have yourself to blame when, in the very near future, you'll no longer be able to enjoy your favourite nam prik pla tu (fried mackerel with shrimp paste dipping sauce), tom yam pla tu (mackerel spicy soup), or the many other traditional dishes that use mackerel as an ingredient.
Millions of coastal fishing folk along the Gulf of Thailand will also blame you for destroying their livelihoods.
Since nam prik pla tu is my favourite dish, I will blame you, too. I'm sure I'm not the only one.
No, I'm not exaggerating the environmental and economic damage from supporting illegal mackerel fishing.
Let's do some maths. There are about 1,000 dried baby mackerel in a one-kilogramme package of the fried snack, which costs around 100 baht.
Meanwhile, it takes only 9-13 fully grown adult mackerel to account for a kilogramme, which also sells for about 100 baht.
Had those 1,000 baby mackerel in the one-kilogramme package been allowed to grow, their weight would have increased 77-fold, and would have fetched 7,700 baht instead of only 100 baht. Get the point?
Banjong Nasae, a coastal marine conservationist and chairman of the Raks Talay Thai Association, is furious with the authorities for not doing their jobs and stopping illegal fishing.
"Can't they see? This is not only an environmental suicide, but also an economic one."
The Gulf of Thailand is one of the major mackerel habitats in the region. The Department of Fisheries bans mackerel fishing in the Gulf for three months of the year, during the February to May spawning period.
The ban is lifted when baby mackerel reach about finger size. That is when fishing boats start using lights to attract schools of baby fish to catch them with illegal fine nets.
Apart from baby mackerel, other young marine life are also scooped up by this destructive, illegal fishing technique that is going on every day without state sanction.
This large-scale massacre of baby mackerel is one of the many problems causing the depletion of fishing stocks in the Gulf of Thailand.
On top of this list of problems is commercial trawlers. Although they are banned from dropping their nets within three kilometres of the coast, law enforcement remains largely impotent. The trawlers destroy seabeds, which are nurseries of all sorts of marine life. Their fine nets are also annihilative and cause drastic declines in fish stocks and other marine life in the Gulf.
According to a study by WorldFish Center, Thailand has seen a devastating decline in the total biomass of fishes and marine resources in the Gulf of Thailand since the introduction of commercial trawlers in 1960. The biomass of marine life was estimated at 680,000 tonnes in 1961. It was reduced to 56,000 tonnes in 1995, or only 8.2% of the 1961 estimate.
Here's the painful irony. Despite the fisherfolks' protests for a more effective legal ban against trawlers, fisheries authorities are planning to give the trawlers a blanket amnesty while their illegal fishing continues unabated.
Apart from trawlers, coastal fisherfolk also suffer from a growing number of cockle farms and the use of pong-pang fish bag nets that virtually block the use of traditional fishing methods.
Apart from their destructive fishing gear, the trawlers, cockle farms and the users of pong-pang nets have another thing in common _ they are similarly owned and backed by local business mafia and powerful politicians.
Last week, fisheries authorities tried to dismantle pong-pang fishing farms in Pak Panang Bay in Nakhon Si Thammarat. Hundreds of the pong-pang owners fought back by closing down the bay. The dismantling immediately stopped.
"The law cannot fight the power of money and dark influences," said Mr Banjong, heaving a deep sigh. "It won't be long before there are no fish left in the seas for our children."
Sanitsuda Ekachai is Editorial Pages Editor, Bangkok Post
About the author
- Writer: Sanitsuda Ekachai
Position: Assistant Editor