New skirmish in 'cockle wars'

New skirmish in 'cockle wars'

Operators deploy 100 boats to guard illegal farms in Surat Thani to keep fishermen out

Cockle farmers on board more than 100 longtailed boats guard their compounds in the sea off the coast of Phunphin district in Surat Thani to prevent intrusion by small-scale fishermen on Saturday. (Photo: Supapong Chaolan)
Cockle farmers on board more than 100 longtailed boats guard their compounds in the sea off the coast of Phunphin district in Surat Thani to prevent intrusion by small-scale fishermen on Saturday. (Photo: Supapong Chaolan)

SURAT THANI: Cockle farmers have headed out to sea to guard their territory following the death of a colleague from heart failure after a dispute with fishermen harvesting shellfish from an area to which he had laid claim.

Owners of the cockle farms on Saturday deployed about 100 longtailed boats to guard their farms in Bandon Bay, part of Phunphin district in the southern province.

Outside the bamboo fences surrounding the farms, a group of 300 fishermen in 200 boats were waiting to collect cockles, or hoi kraeng, also known as blood clams, in the sea.

The standoff prompted the navy, whose commander only a few days ago declared the “cockle wars” nearly over, to send patrol boats to the area to observe the situation.

On Friday, Surat Khotcharat, 61, was in his boat along with a group of other cockle farmers who were seeking to keep fishermen out of his 80-rai compound. He had invested more than 3 million baht in the operation and was breeding cockles for sale.

Surat and his colleagues got involved in a heated quarrel with the fishermen, and he suddenly collapsed and died of heart failure in his boat.

The loss of life should not have happened, said Sutthipong Khlai-udom, the deputy governor of Surat Thani. Small-scale fishermen and cockle farmers could co-exist, he noted.

The cockle farms are in fact illegal as the sea is in the public domain. But some of the lucrative operations are said to be backed by influential figures in the province, which could explain why they have been hard to dislodge.

Measures would be taken to prevent a loss of life in the future, said Mr Sutthipong. Officials need to create an understanding among those involved that the sea 5.4 kilometres off the coast is public domain and that everybody should have access to it, but they must not violate the rights of others, said the deputy governor.

Cockle farmers, who have invested millions of baht setting up their breeding facilities off the coast, have erected bamboo fences around the areas they illegally claim, with guard towers built on stilts. They keep watch from the towers against any approaches by small-scale inshore fishermen, who claim the public right to harvest the profitable shellfish.

The conflict reached a new high on June 10 when cockle farmer Santi Nuansaen fired a pistol into the air from his jet ski to drive fishermen away from his compound. He was later charged by police with discharging a firearm in public.


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