The fish is then bustled to the ‘Ching Pla Market’ on the beachfront nearby, where people eager in anticipation are waiting to buy the fish from them.
The market is open every day, officially from 6am to 10am, but regulars – both Thais and foreigners – know that to get the fish they want, and sometimes any at all, they need to be quick. The name of the market itself is a giveaway, with “ching” being the Thai word for the verb to snatch or to grab at eagerly.
The ‘Ching Pla Market’ is a community effort started by the Phuket Fisheries Office late last year to help support local fisherfolk’s incomes – and that it does.
Sukij Plodbut, 34, comes from a long line of fishermen. A member of the Sirinat Fishing Community, he now owns five boats, all called ‘Roong Suriya’, that supply the Ching Pla Market every morning with his family and fellow local fishermen.
“I have been fishing for more than 20 years. My family lives in the Nai Yang area, and I was taken out to sea to fish when I was very young.” Sukij explains.
“One of my uncles is here,” he says, pointing to a man in a yellow shirt. “That is the uncle who took me out fishing when I was so young, and he still goes fishing with me today. I like fishing and it has always been what we love most,” he adds.
The flotilla of local fishing boats sets out from Nai Yang at about 3am to 4am each day, Sukij explains. “We head out about 20 kilometres offshore and come back to Nai Yang Beach at about 8am to 9am in the morning, depending on the day,” he says.
“There are about 30 fishing boats here at Nai Yang Beach, and I have five. For me, the boats I have are to support my family, my relatives and our friends. We switch who goes out fishing every day when we are free from our other main jobs,” he says.
“We usually get a lot of fish after the monsoon, around the beginning of October or November onwards. Some days we do not get any fish, and other days we might land 100 kilos.
“During the monsoon season, we wait for the weather to be mild. If the wind safely allows it, and if it is possible to leave the shore, we set out crab gillnets as the monsoon season is the best time to catch crabs.”
But a good day is landing a lot of fish, Sukij notes: “For me, it is simple. When I catch a lot of fish, it is an impressive day already,” he says.
“We mostly find Indian mackerel, yellowtail fusilier, hardtail scad and grouper. Today, we also found sea catfish and trevally, but the biggest I caught was a mulloway. It was 18-19 kilos. I got a few of them during the last monsoon season as the monsoon is the best time to catch them. Mulloway is rare to find [compared with other fishes at the market] and it is expensive,” Sukij explains.
As already mentioned, fishing is not enough to support a family. Sukij has a day job refuelling aircraft at Phuket International Airport to support himself and his family. When he gets the chance, or if his work hours allow it, he heads out on the fishing boats to join his friends and family doing what they love most.
However, Phuket’s growing tourism industry and rate of development are not making his job any easier.
“The wastewater released into the sea has been affecting our local fishing lifestyle… There is a lot of seaweed in the water these days at many locations on the sea and that makes it more difficult to fish,” Sukij says.
“On the days that we find a lot of contamination in the seawater, just like today, we find much less fish. The polluted water makes them disappear,” he adds.
Sukij says that he, as with every other member of the Sirinat Fishing Community, is very aware of the environmental impact of fishing. Together they incorporate that awareness into their practices while still preserving traditional fishing methods.
“The community regularly meets with the aim of protecting the authentic fishing culture that is friendly to the marine ecology,” he explains.
“The community is trying to preserve the local fishing methods, and recently we had a meeting to tell all the fishermen the list of protected fish that we must release if we find them in our catch.” he adds.
“We are trying to preserve the local fishing culture by having this fishing community. However, the number of fishermen is decreasing. Fewer and fewer young people want to become fishermen these days,” he notes.
The growing popularity and success of the Ching Pla Market at Nai Yang Beach is a welcome development, Sukij says appreciatively.
“The market has become a tourism attraction. It is very good for us that we do not have to go out and look for a place to sell our fish. For me, I only sell at the market. The fish is brought ashore and taken straight to the stalls, and the fish disappear very quickly,” he says with a smile.
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