THE FISHING industry has largely welcomed new government measures to assist struggling fishermen, including a plan to buy unused fishing vessels, set up a relief fund and provide low-interest loans.
Defence Ministry spokesman Lt-General Kongcheep Tantrawanich yesterday disclosed conclusions from a meeting of the fifth administration reform steering committee, headed by Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, approving measures to help fishermen who have been affected by efforts to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Kongcheep said Prawit had ordered relief measures to be implemented as soon as possible as a “New Year’s present” for fishermen, with the measures to begin on December 27.
The first measure is to buy 1,900 unused fishing vessels in line with a suggestion from the Thai Fisheries Association, Kongcheep said, adding that the issue would be passed on to the Cabinet, which would have to allocate a budget.
He said the policy would decrease the number of fishing vessels, which combined with licence restrictions would help to protect marine natural resources.
The development fund for affected fishermen would come from Bt130 million in fishing vessel registration fees over the past two years and Bt650 million in low-interest loans that would be provided by the Government Savings Bank.
“General Prawit emphasised that every agency must work together to solve IUU fishing problems to enable the European Union to improve our country’s ranking … otherwise our fishing industry, which is worth more than Bt100 billion, will suffer severe damage,” Kongcheep said.
Thai Fisheries Association chairman Mongkol Sukcharoenkana said he was delighted that the government had listened to the industry’s pleas.
Mongkol said the measures could relieve the burden imposed on fishermen under the tight new regulations to tackle IUU fishing.
“This is a very good sign that the government is listening to us and is sincere in wanting to solve the problems within the fisheries sector,” he said.
“The plan to buy unused fishing vessels will not only relieve the financial burden on fishermen, but it will also lower the size of the Thai fishing fleet to meet with the capacity of the sea and help us to achieve sustainable fishing.
“Meanwhile, the fisheries development fund will help our fishing industry adapt to the new standards and improve our technology so we can abandon the use of destructive fishing techniques.”
However, Mongkol said there were still some issues that the fisheries sector would like the government to consider – including revising penalties prescribed under the new legislation.
“We would like to ask the government to consider the amendment of related laws, especially the new Fisheries Act, which contains many strict regulations. Many fishermen do not understand or acknowledge the new, tougher laws, so they unintentionally violate the law and are subject to heavy penalties,” he said.
“It would be great if the government talks with the fisheries sector about the problems with the law and uses its special powers under Article 44 of the interim charter to avert the enforcement of some regulations.”