SeaWeb Seafood Summit gives special recognition to Patima Tungpuchayakal in closing session

At the start of the final plenary at this year’s SeaWeb Seafood Summit in Barcelona, Spain, John N. Kittinger – senior director of the Global Fisheries and Aquaculture Program in Conservation International's Center for Oceans and a professor of practice in Arizona State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability – posed a question to the audience: “What does it take to make a tuna?” 

For millennia, it took just two things, according to Kittinger – engineering and ecosystems. However, as human beings have become reliant on seafood and integral in facilitating its sustainable growth for consumption, another requirement has emerged.  

“Now, it also requires empathy. It requires us. It requires us to have a healthy relationship with that species, and with the people and the ecosystems of which it is a part,” he said. 

“That brings us into the relationship between people and the environment,” Kittinger continued. “That relationship was shifted considerably in 2014 and 2015 when these articles came out, first in The Guardian, focused on the Thai seafood sector, followed by reporting from the Associated Press and others, shining a spotlight on incredibly egregious practices that permeated the fisheries and seafood sector in Southeast Asia. This was a sea change – it shifted a number of dialogues.”

While the industry and world were reeling from the news, certain individuals and organizations were taking action, with perhaps no one more committed to the cause than Patima Tungpuchayakal, co-founder of the Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN) in Thailand, Kittinger said.

“This is a human problem that relates to sustainability, and no one has been more of a hero than Patima in terms of bringing these issues to the fore,” he said. 

Tungpuchayakal was responsible for leading a series of rescues between 2014 and 2016, saving nearly 3,000 fishermen who had been trapped on islands in Indonesian waters, having been forced to work on fishing vessels as part of slave trading operations in the region. This week, Tungpuchayakal was recognized as the 2018 SeaWeb Seafood Champion for advocacy for her work, courage, and heroism in returning those workers to their homes.

As an additional show of gratitude and respect, Kittinger presented Tungpuchayakal with a traditional Polynesian dagger made from the bill of a marlin by fishermen using natural materials.

“Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to be here,” Tungpuchayakal said. “I would like to thank the governing board of Thailand and the Indonesian media for their support in order to fight against what is lacking in the fishing world.” 

“I would like to encourage that everyone can make it happen – just believe,” and keep moving to make seafood sustainability a priority, Tungpuchayakal added, thanking the many fishers who have come into her life.  

A documentary film produced by Vulcan Productions, Ghost Fleet, is expected to come out this fall, and focuses on the migrant workers rescued from forced labor, as well as Tungpuchayakal and the work of the Labour Rights Promotion Network. 


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