Thailand confident to ban illegal fishing, forced labour by end of year, says ambassador

In April 2015, the European Commission raised a so-called “yellow card” against Thailand for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, an EU regulation that came into force on 1 January 2010. [Daniel Murphy for Human Rights Watch]

Thailand aims to become free from illegal fishing and forced labour by the end of this year, Virachai Plasai, the Thai ambassador and head negotiator on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, told EURACTIV.com.

“MEPs will be able to tell their constituents that Thailand aims to become IUU free by the end of this year and that they will be able to eat fish and seafood products from Thailand that are free from illegal fishing and forced labour,” ambassador Virachai Plasai said.

The purpose of his trip to Brussels was to address the European Parliament’s Marine Committee on 11 July and detail what the Thai government has put in place to fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) and forced labour in the national fishing industry.

“We are here to explain the progress we have made to European Parliament Committee on fisheries,” the Thai ambassador added.

In April 2015, the European Commission raised a so-called “yellow card” against Thailand for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, an EU regulation that came into force on 1 January 2010.

The regulation is part of a broader EU effort to crack down on IUU by only allowing fisheries products that have been properly certified as legal to enter the EU, the world’s biggest fish importer.

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This week’s meetings of the European Parliament’s committee on fisheries (11-12 July) saw fish experts tackling the growing issues of overfishing, small-scale fisheries and fish dependence.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing depletes fish stocks, destroys marine habitats, distorts competition, puts honest fishers at an unfair disadvantage, and weakens coastal communities, particularly in developing countries, the European Commission said in an explanatory note.

Forced labour within the Thai fishing industry has also been a recurrent issue.

During a briefing at the European Parliament in January, the NGO Human Rights Watch released a report and a 15-minute film that showed forced labour and other rights abuses were widespread in Thailand’s fishing fleets despite government commitments to comprehensive reforms.

New technology, new legislation

“We are applying effective and modern technology to monitor fishing activities. Our import controls have also been strengthened to ensure that no IUU fish enter Thailand or infiltrate into our production chain,” the Thai Ambassador insisted.

Virachai Plasai said that a government-assigned inter-agency task force has conducted four rounds of inspection for all sizes and types of fishing vessels, in order to gather accurate and precise data, while a fifth round is being undertaken.

Fishing gear is being compared to licenses and the installation of vessel monitoring systems is being verified. Starting April 1, 2018, anyone caught with an invalid fishing license will be prosecuted, he added.

So far, Thailand has marked and locked up some 1,098 commercial-sized vessels without fishing licenses, and 13 police officers have been deployed to work full-time at the Fisheries Monitoring Center to detect illegal fishing, he said.

Currently, the Thai fleet comprises 10,612 commercial-sized fishing vessels, including nearly 3,000  vessels that are between 30 and 60 gross tons (GT) and approximately 2,500 vessels above 60 GT, according to the government.

Ships above 30 GT are required to have a vessel monitoring system (VMS) device. There are also about 27,930 artisanal fishing vessels.

“Thailand has a fishing industry and fish processing food industry, in fact, our country has one of the largest fish processing food industries in the world,” Virachai Plasai explained while describing his country’s fishing sector as characterised by a large fleet of fishing vessels of smaller size.

The ambassador pointed to the new legal framework Thailand put in place in 2015.

“There is now a large number of regulations, which makes our fisheries law one of the most advanced in the world in terms of fighting illegal fishing and forced labour. And this is according to American and European sources,” Virachai Plasai insisted.

“We got pieces of training with the help of the European Union among other partners. This means a good enforcement of the law. First, you have to detect, then catch and finally prosecute them. It is a very difficult thing to do because many of (the offences) happen at sea,” he added.

The new regulations includes limiting the fishing license issuance in compliance with the quantity of aquatic animals, the fleet management putting control over commercial-sized fishing vessels (10 gross tons and above), the monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing activities through port-in and port-out control, the installation of vessel monitoring system on vessels, daily inspections at seas, fish landing control, as well as the development of traceability system for catches from Thai-flagged vessels and foreign vessels.

New thinking 

The ambassador pointed out a change in the mindset which he said was taking place in Thailand.

“There is a new thinking within the administration, the police forces and the navy towards sustainability. We all realise that we have to preserve our fisheries and marine resources,” he said.

“Since 2015, we have reformed and overhauled our fisheries sector and we continue to make this a priority of the Thai government. We believe we have successfully reformed our fisheries management and governance system to fulfill and comply with international laws and standards.”

Thailand will host the next SeaWeb Seafood Summit, an annual event on sustainability in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors. From June 11-13, 2019, the summit will take place in Bangkok.

Thai officials described in a statement that the event will be a platform for sharing experiences in the sustainable seafood industry among relevant agencies, including representatives from the public sector, private sector, academia, civil society, and media from around the world, to promote best practices for a sustainable fishery.

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