Fishers turn to technology to make ends meet
Database pairs traditional fishing methods with high-tech marketing to sell fresh seafood online
Unlike the thousands made jobless and hungry by the Covid-19 crisis, many families who rely on traditional fishing methods for a living in coastal provinces still manage to put some food on their tables.
However, the pandemic has hit their pockets hard. They can no longer sell their seafood after local fish markets closed and they suddenly found their incomes — money they need to buy essential items they cannot catch in the sea, such as rice — dry up.
The surplus fish and sea creatures they caught was given away to neighbours and other people in their communities when the Covid-19 crisis erupted.
The Thai Sea Watch Association has stepped in to help set up the Ran Khon Chap Pla (fishermen’s shop), an online database centre which lets customers contact fishermen directly to buy seafood which is then delivered via courier services.
As the pandemic has disrupted the chain of distribution, the online shop cuts out the middleman which helps bring down prices while the seafood is dropped right at the customers’ doorstep.
The association has been compiling information and contact numbers of local fishermen and has established a database.
The shop is a resource centre catering to buyers looking up the internet for quality and chemical-free seafood, said Wichoksak Ronnarongphairi, president of the association based in Songkhla.
Without the middleman, consumers can find traditional fishermen with whom they place orders at reasonable prices.
The fishermen, in turn, can sell seafood at prices higher than retailing them locally, but which “are not too high”, he said.
“We believe the seas can be a gigantic source of clean and healthy food for everyone as long as we take good care of this vast fishing ground and sustain traditional fishing practices,” he said.
The fishermen are not technology-literate and struggle to learn the ropes of online trading.
They are assisted by the association which guides them on how to shift from the traditional way of selling their seafood at local markets to marketing and trading them online, he said.
Although in some areas the transport of goods is limited, online seafood sales pay dividends in the long term.
Fishermen who acquire skills in online trading will be able to expand their customer bases, which motivates them to improve their products and services.
They will never want to go back to doing business the same way again.
Traditional fishermen are asked to form a group in their communities so the association can set up training forums on how to conduct an efficient online seafood selling business, he said.
Aside from the online seafood sale project, the association has launched a programme called “Thut A-han Thale” (seafood ambassador), in which the association offers to buy seafood from traditional fishing groups using cash donations and sends the products to healthcare workers battling the Covid-19 outbreak, as well as needy people.
The food is supplied to medical and health care personnel who are too busy at work to cook for themselves, while the urban poor, homeless and people with disabilities often go without food during the current hard times, he said.
Under this project, the association is soliciting cash donations of 150 baht from each donor to save “two hearts”, referring to the heart of the traditional fishing people and that of the people who need nutritious food, Mr Wichoksak said.
Meanwhile, the association has received funding from the European Union and Oxfam, intended to support civic groups improve the management of Thai marine fisheries resources, he said.
“I believe these socially-beneficial projects will continue even after the Covid-19 crisis ends. By that time, traditional fishermen will become empowered and stand on their own feet in selling products directly to consumers,” he said.
Charoen To-intae, a fisherman in Tha Sala district of Nakhon Si Thammarat who has practised traditional fishing for more than four decades, said although the project may not be able to help him and other fishermen as much as they wanted, due partly to a shortage of resources, it has galvanised them to work as a team to solve the crisis.
“We may have enough food but many others have nothing at all. So we want to help them, too,” he said.
In the beginning, the fishermen who joined the food distribution project caught a tonne of fish and had it delivered to blind people, health care workers and other groups, he said.
“We’re happy to help … we know that there are many more people in other areas who are left without access to fresh and clean food,” Mr Charoen said.