Learning from Thai shores

Learning from Thai shores
My student journey into the world of dried fish

By Nova Almine

I am a graduate student at Memorial University, Canada, where I have been working under the supervision of Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee as part of the TBTI partner project Dried Fish Matters (DFM), led by Dr. Derek Johnson. I have recently completed my MSc thesis on ‘Understanding dried fish value chain and marketing strategy during COVID-19 pandemic: A case study from Thailand '.

My thesis explored the resilience and uniqueness of Thailand’s dried fish industry, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic, by looking into the dynamics of the dried fish value chain and reimagining marketing strategies. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fieldwork and primary data collection were limited. Instead, I relied on secondary sources, an initial scoping study which was conducted by the DFM Thailand team, netnography of Facebook dried fish vendors in Thailand, and virtual surveys delivered via Facebook. Through my research, I discovered a compelling story of the adaptation and innovation of dried fish vendors in the face of adversity. I delved into the historical roots, from the harvesting of fresh fish to the complexities of processing and marketing, distribution networks, and consumer preferences of this traditional and often overlooked dried fish value chain.

Intrigued by the impact of the digital age on the dried fish industry, I used netnography to analyze the marketing strategies of those selling dried fish on Facebook. This approach allowed me to witness the evolution of their marketing tactics through content, engagement, and interactions. By observing their virtual efforts, I came to understand how these vendors adapted to the online landscape as a way to maintain their presence in the marketplace and remain connected with customers. These strategies help maintain customer interest while also offering a unique blend of tradition and technology that reflects the nature of the physical market experience.

I turned to virtual surveys sent via the Facebook Messenger application to dig deeper into vendors’ perspectives in terms of marketing and trading of dried fish in Thailand. From the data gathered through the survey questionnaire, I learned that dried fish sellers face several challenges including reduced income, uncertain product supply, transportation, and competition from supermarkets. In addition, COVID-19 has, on one hand, disrupted the flow of fish and seafood products in Thailand. At the same time, it provided opportunities for those who sell and process dried fish through online marketing and trading on Facebook. However, there is still a need to raise awareness about the nutritional value of dried fish and promote its consumption, which can be done through e-commerce and social media platforms such as Facebook. This research not only enriched my understanding of the dried fish value chain and marketing strategies, but it also provides an insightful case study for the dried fish sector around the world that seeks to thrive in the face of unforeseen challenges.

Currently, I am embarking on a transformative journey to picturesque villages of Thailand, venturing into the heart of the small-scale fishing communities in order to learn first-hand about the lives of fishers and the complex dynamics of dried fish processing and marketing. It was something that I wanted to do for my thesis, but was not able to do due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

My journey is taking me to the coastal village of Prachuap Khiri Khan province, where generations of small-scale fishers have been maintaining their centuries-old livelihood. Listening to their experiences, I came to appreciate their traditions, culture, and deep connection to the sea that sustains their way of life. These fishers and processor shared their daily routine, detailing the intricacies of their trade, the challenges posed by changing environmental conditions, and the changing dynamics of their communities. Their unwavering commitment to preserving their heritage while adapting to modern challenges has left an indelible impression on me.

Wrapping up fruitful fieldwork with the DFM Thai Team led by Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee, with Dr. Kungwan Juntarashote, and Dr. Suvaluck Satumanatpan. I am excited to try the local Thai dishes!
Harbors of resilience: Thai small-scale fishing boats find sanctuary in this small village weathering the elements until the next fishing trip.
Under the morning sun these small-scale fishing boats rest upon the shore after returning with the night's bounty.
Serene beauty of Thai coastal villages.

My time in Thailand’s small-scale fishing communities has been a profound and rewarding experience. I will forever remember the personal encounters with fishers and processors who generously shared their stories of resilience, culture, and entrepreneurship. This trip not only provided me with valuable information for my research but it also gave me a new level of respect for the complex web of relationships that sustain these communities.

Looking back on my path as an international student, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunities, knowledge, and experiences that have enriched my life. Every moment was a unique experience. The knowledge went beyond books and included a deeper understanding of the world and the people within it. The academic challenges were daunting, but I saw every obstacle as an opportunity for growth. Finally, as the seasons change, so did I. The challenges I faced, the friendships I made, and the moments of personal growth made me a more resilient person – adapting and embracing the unknown and I continue to learn!