Thai Squid Fishing
Late at night, when the sun has long since slid down to lick the other side of the world, strange green craft dot the black water and suck up all the squid. They hover like an alien armada along the horizon until the sun comes round again. I've seen it plenty of times. I know plenty of other people who have seen it too. We are not wackos! This is not X-Files and this is not a National Enquirer alien abduction account. In reality, these are but a few of the Thai squid fishing fleet.
They, like so many of their trawling counterparts around the world, do not work without their fair share of controversy. Advancements in technology and technique have greatly improved their efficiency. Most experts agree they are seriously over-fishing the Gulf of Thailand. The government agrees and has set limitations. The fishermen and boat owners have cried foul, showcasing their own experts, saying there are far more squid than nets. Whatever the case may be, seeing these boats in action is an impressive sight. The entire briny night horizon is strung with lights like an eerie Christmas tree. It is a dragnet that appears unavoidable. The squid, whatever their numbers, don't stand much of a chance.
If the action below the wavy surface isn't exciting enough, above deck exists a life astonishing in and of itself. The boats at night are surely peculiar with their otherworldly glow. By day, their astonishing apparatuses are fully visible. They are equally bizarre in the light of day but for different reasons.
These boats are marvels in their design. It is difficult to fathom how they stay afloat. Even in the most idyllic waters these boats ride so low in the water they appear to be half sunk already. Then considering the high rising booms and masts, the nets and ropes, flotation is nothing less than miraculous. Every square foot of space is filled with a necessary part of the system, living or inanimate. Large booms jet over the sides like the wings of a 747. Attached to those booms are light bulbs bigger than the head of even the stoutest crewman. They are brighter than any athletic stadium and their purpose is to draw the schools of squid to the surface. The entire boat almost resembles a large floating pile of collapsed scaffolding. However, there is a subtle orderliness to it all giving it a frightfully inherent sense of the practical and efficient, like canned chaos. Besides the outer rigging of the trawling squid traps, the life aboard is just as remarkable. From afar this aspect is only visible when the sun is bright.
The boats are moored in a bay during the day. Preparations are always being made for the forthcoming night's hunt. Yet, these are the homes of families and work alone cannot sustain a family. The everyday faculties of life are all played out there on the decks and in the waters surrounding the floating home fleets. This gives new meaning to the idea of working from the home. It is said that it is not wise to bring work home but can the same be said of floating the home out to sea in order to work? Laundry is washed. Meals are prepared and eaten. Showers are taken. Naps are slept. Swims are swum. And laughter seems to abound especially from the children as is usually the case, is it not?
Ashore, entire communities crop up solely supply these boats. Water barrels are filled. Bait, food, gas weigh the boat down even further in the water. Fried chicken snacks are paddled out to the crews. They buy it almost as eagerly as they eat it. Women and children come to greet their husbands, fathers, brothers, sons and uncles. Most of the young boys are put to work cleaning or moving something much larger than themselves. It is a reunion of sorts. It's a daily homecoming. When the sun drops low, the boats will set out. The men will set off to work. If all goes well the boats will return much deeper in the water, heavy with a huge catch. We, left behind, waiting on shore will not know the results until they return, when the sun comes round again.
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Published on 6/4/02