This is good news for concerned consumers and those who appreciate good quality fresh seafood. Unfortunately in Thailand, according to interviews of actors throughout the supply chain conducted by Dr. Supaporn Anuchiracheeva, project coordinator, most of the seafood that reaches the market in Bangkok or other more distant locations is treated with formalin (also known as formaldehyde solution). This is done because it is an easy and inexpensive way to keep fish and seafood looking fresh in hot tropical conditions. It is however not something desirable for consumers concerned about their health nor is it good for the taste. This may be the conscious consumer’s first concern. Secondly there are vast differences in the methods used for fishing. There are small-scale fisherfolk who go out for the day and fish in local areas using selective fishing gear. There are also larger operations that go out for many days at a time using trawling nets that effectively scrape the seafloor taking all sorts of fish and seafood, both capturing many animals that have little or no commercial value but have an important role in the ecosystem, and damaging habitat areas directly. On the darkest level, as was written up in the media, there are cases of slavery in the fishing industry, with people being enslaved to work for years on a boat with no access to come to shore and harsh inhumane treatment. Regarding the use of formalin, for larger operations that remain at sea for longer periods, except for the rare case of operations directly chilling the catch, it is much more common and intensive. This is easily explained in that fish and seafood cannot remain fresh in tropical heat over even a few days on a boat.
The current fishery supply chain provides little option for a consumer to know where his or her fish are coming from, how they were caught, if they have been treated with formalin, and thus to choose wisely. There are many legs in this chain and fish are co-mingled. 2 fish in the same basket may have very different origins. With no information and no choice, there is also no premium to those who practice sustainable fishing methods nor any premium for keeping the catch fresh by keeping it cold over use of harmful chemicals.
Dr. Supaporn of Earth Net Foundation, who earned her Phd in Integrated Tropical Coastal Zone Management, knew these problems well. Joining Earth Net Foundation, a leader in helping to drive positive change through linking sustainable organic and fair trade practices to consumers who want the best for their families and their planet, she proposed to develop a sustainable fisheries supply chain project. The concept was simple. People want good healthy food and want to support practices that are sustainable and healthful for the planet and those involved. By creating a chain that links consumers and small fisherfolk doing things the right way, and being guided by a set of standards that can earn the trust of all, both sides can win. At the same time, having an alternative and a group of aware and supportive consumers, should help pressure other operators to change their practices and give the government support to forbid and stop all of the most destructive and inhumane practices associated with the fishing industry. The Green Net team was very supportive and an opportunity for funding was found with the EU.
Approval for her 30 month project was signed by the EU on 27 December 2012 and began on the 1st of January 2013. Now less than 6 months later, the linkage is up and running and consumers in Bangkok have the chance to choose to buy and eat organic seafood, sourced from sustainable small-scale fisherfolk and kept fresh the good old way using ice and coolers until it reaches the consumers’ hands. We at the Green Net office had the chance to taste some of the first shrimp, and for me tasting the difference was rather shocking. I realize that I may have rarely tasted fresh sea caught prawns that were never chemically treated. It was so markedly better in quality, in my opinion, that it was like a completely different food than the normal market shrimp.
While the project is expected to grow and expand over time, currently the project is linking to fisherfolk in Prachuab, Songkla (lake), Petchaburi, Phangnga bay. All seafood is wild catch. Currently for fresh seafood, there are banana shrimp, giant freshwater prawns (from Songkla lake), Thai short mackerel (platoo), swimming crabs, roundbelly sandines (plasungkieow) , and sillago fish (plasai). There are also some artisanal processed fish. (sweet processed and salted fish). For more info and to order, you can contact, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com The project is also joining some different public fairs and events. The team will be at the Bangkok Farmers’ Market this Saturday, 27 July at K Village on Sukhumvit 26 from 8am to 4 pm.
This project is a partnership of Earth Net Foundation with the Healthy Public Policy Foundation and the Thai Sea Watch Association with funding from the EU. As is the focus with other Green Net projects, it is expected by the end of the 30 month funding support for this project, the supply chain will be sufficiently well-developed and operational that the market force of the Thai organic consumers will be enough to keep it running and growing into the future.
Michael B. Commons, Earth Net Foundation