Fishing, the main income for most Moken people, is not a stable income and never has been in Thailand and Burma; due to the harsh and changing seasons of the Andaman there is a minimum of 6 months a year when it is not possible to fish and fishermen must find other odd jobs to sustain themselves and their families. Working for an established fishing or trawling company provides a more stable income.
Blast Fishing: the Blight of the Andaman
New problems are arising in this industry due to depleting numbers of fish in the seas; this is largely due to the fact that the north Andaman has become a honey pot for blast fishing for whole sale and exports. This method of fishing not only robs the ocean of its sealife, but also severely damages the environment.
That’s not to say that the Moken are innocent and unaware of these environmental changes that are bound to have great affect on their way of life, quite often they are involved with these practices too, often captaining bombing fleets. They have also been involved with the emptying of the Andaman of their noble sharks. Without the education to know that these creatures are at the heart of the ocean ecosystem, it is easy to catch and sell them for a good, if only fleeting, income.
The city of Ranong sits snuggly between Thailand and Burma on the Thai side of the land, it thrives with fishing industries and Thai and Burmese people trying to earn a living. Here many Moken people can be found exploiting the ocean or being exploited themselves for their fishing talents. Islands around here are inhabited by Burmese and Moken people trying to get by and earn a modest living.
The High Price of High-End Seafood
Seafood is the big business in Ranong, exporting to Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and all across Thailand. Shark Fins, fish, squid and many other types of seafood are shipped to fish markets and high end restaurants across Asia. It is hardly surprising then, that the sea life numbers are depleting in the Andaman Sea. Who better to help these large seafood corporations than the people who have an inherent skill at fishing, a group of people so connected to the ocean and all that lies within, that at one point in time their bodies adapted to life at sea?
Diving for sea cucumbers is another way in which the Moken can earn a living in these parts. This is a very risky business if not approached in the right way, and more often than not, it is not. Moken free dive down to the depths of the ocean floor to capture the sea cucumbers, a highly prized food in some parts of Asia. They take air via rubber tubes, but this is dangerous and many people drown or become permanently disabled from decompression sickness.
From Underwater Paradise to Barren Desert
Moken people’s involvement with these companies is clearly quite contradictory. While they earn a living for themselves, even though a very small living, at the same time they are emptying the sea – their sea – for the gain of capitalist corporations and wealthy restaurant goers. Not only are the seas being over fished in this region, but the methods that are being used are detrimental to the whole ecosystem of the area. Blast fishing knocks out ancient corals and all natural habitats for the sea life. The coral is at the very core of the underwater food chain, without it the whole system will eventually collapse.