Fishing in Thailand. (Feb28-March19)


Catching a fish in Thailand, or at least on the Andaman Sea side of Thailand is problemmatic.  It’s not that there are no fish at all, it’s just that there are not too many left.  Everywhere one goes in Thai waters there is some sort of fishing effort.  Crab pots, prawn trawls, fish traps, bottom trawlers, squidders, long lines, you name it, the Thai fishermen are out there using it.  The problem is however, that they seem to be running out of fish. The problem is not entirely one restricted to Thailand as the fishing effort has been noticeably intense since before we even made landfall in West Timor, way back in August last year.  It just seems to have been even more full on north of Malaysia and while we did manage to catch some fish in Indonesia, it hasn’t happened in Thailand. It’s not that the locals aren’t catching fish, they are actually catching a lot, but they are putting in ever greater effort to get the same or fewer fish which is a bit of a problem as the numbers are, according to those more knowledgable in this area, therefore declining. This is definitely a bit of a problem for the locals as the industry fishermen are turning to escape a declining fishery and poverty is tourism and aside from wondering how much more development the tourism industry can manage, (and still provide places worth going to) there is the issues associated with coral reefs that have been all too noticeable all the way from the Surin’s to the Andaman Islands and back to Phuket!

Passage back to Phuket.

 Which gets us back to our four day cruise back to Phuket from Port Blair.  According to the guides and those who have been out there before us, there isn’t much wind at the end of February and that was the way it went.  Upon leaving Port Blair we sailed for 3 hours, reaching on port in 10-15 knots before the wind dropped out leaving us to motor-sail or motor for the next 85 hours; talk about local, land effects. The only changes to this rather quiet program were (of course) the obligatory 45 knot squall and slashing rain that caught us out on the third night at three in the morning and the wind going on the nose for the last 50 miles into Nai Harn. On the squall, while the rather sudden wind shift did lay us on our side we were at least already reefed down as the skipper had been squall suspicious for a few hours; interesting call as well from Amanda on Thyme a mile ahead, “hey guys, there is a bit of wind coming”!  Anyway we got into our old haunt of Nai Harn late morning on March the fourth and spent the next four days scratching around fixing broken boaty things and then with the possibility of SW weather moved the boat around to Ao Chalong and the Phuket Cruising Yacht Club.

Beach bar Koh Racha.

Greg and Koh Kraden.


Our next big shift was to be south toward Langkawi and then down into the Malacca Straits and ultimately Singapore (rather Johor Bahru and Danga Bay). Michele by this time had headed ashore for land type travel and the skipper and Gregory were joined by Sharon from Cairns and Ursula from Vancouver in Canada.  After getting our main and mizzen sails back from Tasker’s we pulled up our pick on the March 13 and headed for a revisit to Koh Racha Yai, ten odd miles south.  The next day we headed for Koh PhiPhi but decided to go back onto the Racha mooring as the 20-25 knots of breeze, bang on the beak was something of a deterrent.   That night we ran into the sailing American’s, Jim and Pat, brothers on Jim’s boat and a night of excess at the beach bar; free mystery shots! 

Rock landings on Koh Lanta.


Bright and early on the fifteenth we upped anchor and with sore heads (at least the skipper and Greg) we slipped out for a forty mile beat to PhiPhi with less wind and a more favourable angle of sail. The following morning we dropped our PhiPhi mooring and moved south 40 miles to our old anchorage inside Koh Lanta off ‘Old Town’. Obligatory here was a visit to Lawrie’s place also known as the ‘Atlanta Extreme Sports Club’.  Lawrie is an Australian who has done most things it seems including building his 50 foot Cutter Lugger on the beach at Eden then sailing it around the world with his teenage daughters, this was while working as an abalone diver on the southern NSW coast. While we there he was complaining about hurting his back while carrying his hang glider to the top of the nearby hill.  They also do interesting massages here it seems, at least that’s what the sign would imply!

Koh Lanta.

Interesting massage no doubt!


Conger lines with whistles, chanting the works.

The trip south now became something of a revisit of the journey north and after a night at Koh Lanta we headed for Koh Muk and the ‘Emerald Cave’.  Big difference this time was the hundreds of punters swimming in lines and life-jackets into the ‘hong’, with three very big tourist boats bringing around 200 students from  a Thai school for the obligatory tunnel swim through and hong experience.  Bit of fun though watching the masses get assembled in big conger lines (Muslim school so separate girls and boys lines here) and amidst much chanting and whistling they headed off for their cave swim through/departure.  We of course watched all this while lounging in the water drinking beers, it was after all March 17 and St Patricks day.. From Koh Muk we slipped over to Koh Kraden for lunch and a scrape of the boats bottom, then the twenty miles south to Koh Talibon and our night anchorage.  On the way the only thing we caught fishing was a crab pot that we redeposited off the beach.

So many tourist boats and so many people on them!

Mangroves on Tarutao.

Next port of call was Koh Tarutao some forty miles south with the prospect of a national park and the ‘Crocodile Cave’ hidden away up in the mangroves somewhere.  We pulled up the pick at midnight and with bright moonlight and in smooth, glassy seas made for our last island stop in Thailand. Koh Turatao was apparently a penal settlement pre world war two where the Thai Government consigned some of the more socially disreputable types to what was then considered a ‘crocodile infested, mangrove hell’.  Anyway by the late thirties the convicts were running their own show and had established some form of anarchic society with the standard pursuits of poaching, piracy, smuggling etc etc. The British army was ‘invited’ in (one might suspect that the promixity to then British controlled Malaya may have had some bearing on this) in 1947 and the pirates union was put in it’s place.  The place is of course now a National Park that charges locals 50 Bt entry and foreigners 200 Bt to come ashore; hmmmm!

Cave landings.

The highlight of our visit to the Thai version of Tortuga was the mangrove dinghy trip up to the ‘Crocodile Cave’.  According to Simon and Amanda who had passed through here a few days earlier, keep to your right until you find a landing and then go looking for the cave entrance and the canoes.  That’s right, at the entrance to the cave there are canoes that you use to paddle down a long tunnel to a very muddy landing and then you can walk around up to the far end of the cave; just as well there were torches in the dinghy.  The signs there informed us that Crocodiles ‘used to make their home in the cave’, one wonders if they went the same way as the fish. 

Crocodile Cave, no crocs though!

Still no crocs!

Big cave, lots of water, no crocs.

Plenty of mud though.

After dropping our mooring we slipped fifteen miles down the west coast of Tarutao with plans to anchor right at the bottom before slipping across to Langkawi the following morning. Discretion got the better of us here though as the bottom of Tarutao looked like it was about to get nailed by the mother of all squalls and hiding in a little anchorage under a whopping great hill away from wind and lightning seemed a far better idea.  The squall was something of a let down here but the early stop did let us check out the fridge contents earlier than planned.  Next morning before dawn we pulled up our hard working anchor and sallied forth for Langkawi, Kuah and the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club. We slipped into our pen at mid-day and had cleared in by 3.30 in the afternoon and nobody looked at the boat, ah the memories of Port Blair. But, back to fishing!

Ugly looking weather Tarutao!

The fishing effort at the bottom of the Andaman Sea coast of Thailand has to be seen to be believed. Between Koh Talibon and the bottom of Koh Tarutao we counted no less than 50 pair trawlers engaged in fishing. What these guys do is have two trawlers moving along maybe 100-150 metres apart towing a net strung between them that hangs back a couple of hundred metres or more down and to the bottom.  They tow this along all day and night if necessary till they get the requisite numbers of fish and then drop off the catch and go and get more fish.  It is almost as if these boats are without a break ploughing a paddock, at least fifty pairs in an area of only about two hundred square miles.

Pair trawling.

 According to a report by the UN (Sustainable Fisheries in the Andaman Sea Coast of Thailand (Author: Sampan Panjarat)” produced by the ‘Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law Of The Sea Office For Legal Affairs’, United Nations, 2008), the pelagic fish in the Andaman Sea coast of Thailand have been overfished by 100% since 1987.  Pelagic fish are those fish that swim above the bottom and are effectively not tied to bottom features (i.e. tuna, mackerel, pilchards etc), and the sustainable catch in this part of Thailand is 50,000 metric tones.  In 1991 the catch was 155,000 tons, 333% higher than sustainable. Since 1987 there has been an annual catch of greater than 100,000 tons with a peak in 1994 of 0.31 million tons. Demersal or bottom dwelling fishing are not doing any better and overfishing is also the normal course of proceedings in the Gulf of Thailand.  The problem is of course increased demand due to population growth and tourism pressure alongside the ‘Open Access Nature’ of the fishery, where anybody is entitled to go fishing and regulations are limited or mostly ignored.  One does wonder however at the situation where (according to Atlanta Lawrie) the ‘Pair Trawlers’ are, apparently, owned by Chinese companies skippered by Thais and crewed by Burmese?

Easter Island is on the eastern fringe of the Polynesian triangle and when the first (Polynesian) settlers arrived there in the fifth century the island was heavily wooded. The society that developed on Easter Island relied on the woodlands and trees for their survival but by 1600 the island had been completely deforested.  Prior to this the people on Easter Island had developed, in the words of the anthropologists, a highly evolved and socially advanced society and for the resources available, a  high degree of technological innovation.  It seems that competition between clans and the requirement of tree-trunk rollers to move their giant stone statues about resulted in total removal of the very forests they needed to be able to survive on their island. The resultant environmental degradation and loss of resources for every day requirements including boat building, basket, rope and net making meant that by the time Europeans found Easter Island in 1722 the population had plummeted from estimates of 7000 to less than 3000 people engaged in ‘resource warfare’, slavery and cannabilism. The population, by now living in squalor, continued to decline until all were removed in the late 1800’s.

On Easter Island at some point, somebody made the decision to cut down the last tree!   One has to wonder who will catch the last fish in Thailand and if they will know when they do????


Small boat Langkawi.


Commercial Extinction:

The decline in the population of a wild species, used as a resource, to a level where it is no longer profitable to harvest the species.

4 Responses to “Fishing in Thailand. (Feb28-March19)”

  1. Simon & Amanda Says:

    Are you sure all your diatribe on fishing is not masking a deeper issue… perhaps your fishing skills?

  2. Joe Says:

    Trev- shoot me an e-mail when u can

  3. Website Designers Says:

    Dear Gadfly Ketch,

    How much it will cost for 15 days to be on the boat ?


    I like your blog

  4. Ralph Says:

    Good old Trev – how about the May and June reports.
    I did it! Now have a new boat.

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