Weekly Local Biography

  Khunying Dr. Gomut Unsrisong

Khunying Dr. Gomut Unsrisong is a very modest woman who has accomplished amazing things. When she was a little girl growing up in Isaan, she never saw the sea. But her father, conscious of health and nutrition, always told her that ten servings of meat could not compare with one serving of fish. She knew that fish was healthy food, and she knew that she would spend her life working with these amazing creatures.

She was the middle child in a family of nine children. Her father was the governor of their province. Her mother never missed going to the temple on Buddha days. She learned early that she had a special responsibility to help her country. She was concerned about the poor. She must have been a delightful little girl with her enthusiasm, positive attitude and warm smile.

She grew up and graduated from Kasetsart University. She married and had children. And then her life took a turn that has shaped her career and enabled her to give a wonderful gift to her country. Her husband, an agronomist, received a government scholarship to study abroad. So the family moved to the United States in the 1980s, to the little college town of Starkville, Mississippi, and he began working on his Ph.D.

Youíve probably never been to Starkville, Mississippi or heard of Mississippi State University. Set deep in farming country, the university was originally an agricultural and mechanical college. So I asked about life for her and her family in rural Mississippi somewhat hesitantly. They loved it. They made many friends; their children attended public schools and became fluent in English. She entered a masterís, then a doctoral program herself, but had to pay her way. She worked in the university cafeteria and learned to cook American food. They delighted in all-you-can-eat catfish restaurants at USD 3 per person. Once a month they made the long drive to New Orleans to the Asian market to buy fish sauce. It snowed and that was exciting, but spring, with its beautiful flowers, was her favorite time of the year. It was a good time for the family.

They came home to Thailand with two new doctoral degrees, and with job and financial obligations. Her husband went to Mae Jo University to teach, but her job took her first to the Department of Fisheries in Chainat before she could relocate to Mae Jo. Then she began her work with the Royal Projects through her research at the Department of Fisheries. Khunying Dr. Gomut Unsrisong, Director, Chiang Mai Inland Fisheries Research and Development Center, is the woman who successfully brought rainbow trout to your table. She is the woman who looks out her office window each day and knows exactly which fish will thrive on which surrounding mountain. She is the woman who is breeding and saving the giant river catfish that are being endangered by the development and changes in the Mekong River.

We sat in her office for a long time and talked about raising fish. Photographs of the Royal Family visiting her projects surrounded us. The rainbow trout has by far been her greatest challenge. In the wild, itís native to cool regions. Rainbow trout fishing is big business in Alaska. Trout farming has gone on for over 400 years in Europe. But how do you take a cool water fish and successfully raise it in tropical Thailand? Very, very carefully, because you are representing the Royal Projects. The fish must be of excellent quality, and the ponds must not pollute the surrounding areas. People must be employed and well trained, and the market developed. All of that done, today some 20 tons of delicious rainbow trout are produced by the Royal Projects every year.

Dr. Gomut does not rest on her laurels. She is raising and researching no fewer than seven species of fish and shellfish. And her projects are replenishing the dwindling supplies of frogs and fish in the mountains. She knows that the people of the mountains do not always understand conservation, the need to allow fish and frogs to mature and breed before they are taken for food. Empathetic education is part of her mission.

We moved from her office to the experimental station and ponds. A young German doctoral student was working in one of the ponds with a Thai staff member. He and Dr. Gomut exchanged a few words, and made further plans for his work. Then we began to walk around the ponds, observing the staff feeding several species of catfish. Every fish, frog and shellfish is fed nutritional pellets using her own formulas. The catfish are eager and noisy feeders, splashing water with great energy as they devour the pellets. Then we moved to the frog and shellfish research areas, and visited the tanks full of newly hatched catfish fry. 500,000 tiny channel catfish are produced in these tanks every year. They grow quickly and produce low fat, high protein meat.

We moved inside and saw the smaller tanks. Bright blue carp swam in several tanks, progeny from the cold cave waters of Mae Hong Son. Despite the speculation by tour guides, Dr. Gomut knows exactly why they are blue. The water is cold. No pun intended. As we laughed, she told me that she will begin research next year on Siberian sturgeon. Caviar is expensive, ridiculously so, and having even a small part of that market could be good for Thailand internationally.

I looked around. For eighteen years, Khunying Dr. Gomut Unsrisong has walked around these ponds and among these tanks, observing, instructing, learning and planning. It is her pleasure to serve. Eighteen years ago there was almost no traffic near Mae Jo University, and her work was in a rural, peaceful setting. Today it is busier, but you still feel the rural spirit. When she goes home, she tends to her rose gardens. She insists on flowers with good perfume as well as beauty. Her favorite is named Queen Sirikit. I smiled.