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
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
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
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.