BANGKOK: Thailand’s fishing industry this week faces an assessment by the European Union (EU), which is evaluating the government’s progress in tackling illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.
The EU warned Thailand last April that if the country’s IUU fishing situation does not improve, Europe may ban Thai seafood products in its markets.
The EU technical team will conduct random inspections of the Thai fishing industry from Monday (Jan 18) to Wednesday, while official delegations will follow from Thursday to Friday.
The EU has accused Thailand’s fishing industry of flouting international regulations, which has led to problems such as overfishing and the abuse of workers in the industry.
The Thai government has introduced a new legal framework as a result, and introduced new laws and regulations in an attempt to prevent the EU ban.
“The most important thing is to create an understanding that will help the fishermen themselves do the right thing,” said Vice Admiral Jumpol Lumpiganon, spokesman for the Command Centre for Combating Illegal Fishing. “This also includes officials that were complicit in the problems; they must adapt and abandon their old ways and conduct themselves in the right way under the law and their duty.”
New monitoring systems for ships were introduced on 93 per cent of large commercial fishing vessels, as well as Port-In-Port-Out Controlling Centres created in coastal provinces to allow authorities to better track the movement of fishing ships and prevent illegal fishing.
More than 45,000 commercial fishing vessels have registered under the new rule, while more than 8,000 that failed to comply have had their licenses revoked.
Under the new regulations, law enforcement has improved, which resulted in the prosecution of more than 1,000 suspects. Authorities have shut a number of seafood factories found using illegal or forced labour.
Some local civil society groups agree that there have been huge improvements in the regulation and protection of workers' rights, but warn that there are still legal issues that concern migrant workers, who make up a bulk of the workforce in the fishery industry.
“All workers in the fishing boat have to come from a legal channel,” said Sompong Sakawe, director of the Labour Rights Promotion Network. “This may not be a problem for the Thai workers, but for the migrant workers, this is the most important issue. Will they be working under an MoU system between governments or will they be registered in a different way? I think these are the issues that will need further work.”
If the EU decides that Thailand has not done enough to tackle illegal fishing, it is likely to impose sanctions on seafood exports to its 28 member states. Thai seafood exports to the EU accounted for 10 per cent of total exports, estimated at almost US$7 billion a year.