AMID THE approaching deadline for Thailand to meet the European Union’s requirement on solving the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing issue, the director-general of the Department of Fisheries has been abruptly transferred to an inactive post after a key indicator showed the agency’s work was behind schedule.
An order issued yesterday by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha under Article 44 of the interim charter transferred director-general Wimol Jantrarotai to the PM’s Office with immediate effect. Deputy premier Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters the agency chief was removed because he could not finish the work as per schedule.
Adisorn Promthep, the deputy director-general, was appointed the agency’s new chief even as the Department of Fisheries and other concerned agencies speeded up their work to comply with the EU’s internationally accepted fishing practices to avoid negative impacts on Thailand’s multi-billion-dollar seafood exports to the EU.
The EU’s yellow-card warning was issued on April 21 last year. A Thai delegation is expected to report Thailand’s progress in solving the IUU problem to the EU in Brussels next month.
In an interview on Monday before he was removed from the post of director-general, Wimol said there had been some progress in tackling the IUU problem, but he declined to say if deputy PM Prawit, who oversees the overall effort to remedy the situation, was satisfied with the work.
An EU team met with Prawit in January this year to follow up on the progress of Thai measures and told Thai authorities they would continue to monitor the development closely over the next six months. A decision is expected to be announced around July this year.
According to Wimol, Thai authorities have enacted a new legislation on fisheries and fishing control as well as traceability measures. An emergency decree on fisheries has been effective since November 14, 2015 with organic laws being enacted to enforce the new regulations.
“Now, there are 11,237 registered commercial fishing vessels [out of a total of 40,000 vessels],” said Wiwol, adding the number of vessels registered separately with the Marine Department was around 13,000.
According to the new law, vessels with more than 30 gross tonnage are required to install a Vessel Monitoring System device. Some fishing types such as trawlers and seines are not allowed, while licensed ships are given a maximum of 220 days per year for commercial fishing to prevent over-fishing.
As for non-commercial villagers’ fishing, Wimol said the authority has not yet issued any fishing licences to them and still lets them fish as usual although some of their fishing tools are banned.
“All relevant agencies, not only the Fisheries Department, have helped to tackle the IUU problem because it’s a complicated issue,” said Wimol when asked whether he was satisfied with the progress.
Meanwhile, Vice Admiral Jumpol Lumpikanon, spokesman for the Command Centre for Combating Illegal Fishing (CCCIF), said the transfer order would allow a new director-general with more experience in international affairs to do this job, as the deadline for reporting the progress to the EU is near.
Jumpol said the change would not affect the overall effort to solve the IUU fishing problem, adding that 49 fishing regulations out of overall 91 have already been issued and enforced, while the rest of them are minor regulations about fishing equipment.
Regarding traceability and inspection of Port In-Port Out (PIPO) fishing vessels, he said there were still problems about manpower and equipment to conduct comprehensive inspection on the fishing vessels.
“As we are short of officers and equipment, PIPO stations have limited ability to inspect the fishing vessels before and after going out to sea. Therefore, we are considering setting up more PIPO stations and deploying more staff and equipment to fill this gap,” he said, adding that traceability takes time to implement, as it is new to Thailand.
Regarding traditional non-commercial fisheries, Thai Sea Watch Association president Banjong Nasae stated that the new director-general used to work closely with traditional fishermen, so he has a good understanding of the issues.
“However, if the government policy does not strictly prohibit destructive fishing equipment, this problem will never be solved,” Banjong warned.
“If we still concentrate only on less important issues like registration of fishing vessels and monitoring but do not take seriously the need to ban destructive fishing equipment, we will not pass the EU standard easily,” he said.