Really fishy business
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Really fishy business

The latest report about local fishery officials and fishermen in Songkhla and Nakhon Si Thammarat trying to clear "Pla Mor Si Kang Dam" or blackchin tilapia from natural waterways to save native aquatic creatures is alarming.

It should not be forgotten that the issue of blackchin tilapia -- an alien species imported from Ghana into Thailand for breeding experiments -- was reported back in 2012.

Blackchin tilapia are classified as an invasive species and require a special permit to be imported into the country.

Thailand permits their import for research purposes only, and for good reason. When released into the aquatic environment, the fish devour small aquatic animals, small shrimp, and plankton. As a result, other local species are eaten and replaced by them.

In 2010, the Department of Fisheries permitted a major Thai agro company to import 2,000 fish from Ghana to be studied for breeding at the company's research centre in Amphawa district, Samut Songkhram.

Since then, local farmers have observed that the alien fish accounted for 10-20% of each production batch. They also found that the population of native fish species decreased while more blackchin tilapia have been caught in the river.

A farmers' network in Samut Songkhram and Phetchaburi submitted a series of complaints to state agencies. Much to their disappointment, no serious action was taken.

They had to turn to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2017, and the agency launched a probe that found that the department "was not deliberately negligent" in the tilapia disaster but merely "failed in its duty to ensure that the agro giant had abided by the rules".

The NHRC then recommended that the Fisheries Department set up a working group to collaborate with the provinces affected by the devastating effects of tilapia and to do more to prevent disasters like this.

The resurgence of blackchin tilapia in southern waters last week confirms that the Fisheries Department has been kicking the can down the road for the past few years.

The problem has intensified over the last three years. So far, it has been confirmed that this invasive species has been found in 16 provinces. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives made it a national agenda item to remove them from natural water resources.

Needless to say, the attempt is long overdue. What is more worrying is that we might not be able to get rid of this species, the invasion of which seems to be progressing.

Once again, the NHRC is examining the problem and seems satisfied with state measures, including the establishment of a joint working group in each affected province that includes representatives from the agro company in question. However, it would be wrong to think that this is enough.

To begin with, the Fisheries Department, the Agriculture Ministry, and the responsible company must communicate with the public rather than being evasive. They still owe the public an explanation regarding the decision to allow the import of the alien fish and a full report about the incident to determine if any regulations were breached and if those involved have been held accountable for such severe damage. If not, why?

Without accountability, all will be reduced to just fishy business -- and this is not acceptable.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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