THAI FISHERIES and relevant authorities are anxiously awaiting a European Union (EU) review of the country’s status on IUU – illegal, unregulated and unreported – fishing problems.
The report is due to be published this April in the wake of a recent negative report on human trafficking and related issues by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Thailand has attempted to resolve its IUU problems ever since the EU issued a yellow-card warning against the Thai fisheries sector more than two years ago. Various legal and other measures have been taken to tackle those issues in the hope that the EU would remove the yellow card in April.
Following meetings between Thai and EU officials held from January 9 to 12, it was agreed that the EU would send a delegation to Thailand later this year to check the progress achieved by Thai authorities in addressing IUU fishing problems.
Agriculture Minister Krisada Boonraj said officials had acted in accordance with the EU recommendations and harsh measures had resulted in complaints being filed by negatively affected fishermen.
On human trafficking and related issues, as raised by the latest HRW report, he said its timing was questionable since the EU was in the process of reviewing the country’s status on IUU issues. However, Thai authorities were not disheartened and would continue to implement the rest of the measures, he added.
Department of Fisheries chief Adisorn Promthep said the government had a zero-tolerance policy on human trafficking and related issues, as reflected in the recent reforms embraced by the new fisheries legislation enacted in 2015.
One of the measures is to have workers see labour officials more often to tell them their problems and prevent abuses by employers. Furthermore, all commercial fishing vessels are now permitted to go to sea for a maximum period of 30 days, after which workers must be returned to shore and allowed to rest.
By the end of this month, authorities will also revamp rules and regulations on the transportation of marine animals, the definition of fishing vessels and criteria on vessel inspections to tighten the management of fishing fleets. At this stage, there are 415 fishing vessels whose owners are unclear, including those in foreign countries, while new fishing vessel licences will soon be issued on an annual basis.
Authorities are also preparing special teams to monitor fishing vessels in Thai waters to support the enforcement of new rules and regulations on fishing, while vessels that have a record of violations will be placed under surveillance.
Regarding traceability, he said, all seafood cargo and imports would be subject to a standardised examination so that each licensed fishing vessel could be checked to make sure they had limited their catches according to their quotas.
A Government House source said the EU had so far expressed disagreement with the Thai proposal for fishing vessels to go to sea for no more than 30 days, arguing that the period was still too long and workers should be allowed to rest more frequently.
For commercial reasons, it would be difficult to enforce a shorter period since fishing vessels needed time to return to shore and it was not feasible for workers to take other ships to get back. The fishing vessels also needed to have replacement crews and workers.
Thai officials will consult with their counterparts at the International Labour Organisation to see if it is possible to arrange accommodation for workers at places near the fishing areas in foreign territorial waters.