Fishing industry in murky waters

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

High and dry: the Thai fishing industry must adapt or lose its most important export markets. [Todd Anderson/Flickr]

Today 85% of global fish stocks are over-exploited, depleted or fully exploited, to the extent that without urgent measures. We may be the last generation to catch food from the oceans, writes Linnéa Engström.

Linnéa Engström is a Swedish Green MEP and first vice-chair of the Fisheries committee.

The main leverage the EU has to promote sustainable fishing is to use market pressure: everyone wants to export to the EU with its huge market. In 2014, the EU imported fish and seafood worth some €21 billion. Thailand is an important fishing nation and exporter of fisheries products to the EU. In 2014, Thailand exported €4.8 billion of fisheries products.

The main products imported from Thailand are canned tuna, aquaculture products and tuna loins, and the most important EU markets for Thai fisheries products are, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain and The Netherlands.

Thailand, being the world’s third biggest exporter of fisheries products, holds a significant share of the EU market. But severe shortcomings in the Thai fisheries sector led to the pre-identification of Thailand as a potentially non-cooperating country under the IUU Regulation (yellow card) on 21 April 2015.

To mention just a few, these shortcomings include: an obsolete legal framework not in line with the national legislation or international obligations; incomplete legal provisions to follow up on infringements and a lack of control of the fleet concerning the registration, licensing and remote tracking of vessels (VMS) – the active fishing fleet was about 42,500 vessels, and 30% were not legally licensed –; poor monitoring control, surveillance and traceability systems to control products destined for EU markets; and serious forced labour and trafficking in persons (TIP) problems linked with IUU fishing activities (on board fishing vessels and in the seafood industry).

There are still numerous pending issues that Thailand must address before the situation  can be even close to acceptable. The key to the improvement of the Thai-fisheries will be the enforcement of the new policies put in place to meet the requirements that demonstrate concrete and reformist structural measures to improve fisheries management and control. These measures should ensure sustainability in the long term, in line with International standards.

There is a direct link between trafficking in persons, forced labour and IUU fishing activities. So the improvement of the working conditions in the seafood industry is a crucial element in the dialogue with the EU. There is a need for a complete change of logic in this area. A recent report from the ILO revealed the hazardous working conditions for children in the seafood industry, mainly in the shrimp chain trade. The current legal framework does not allow for foreign workers to be socially integrated, professionally trained or entitled to labour stability. This situation only highlights inconsistent labour and seafood industry policies. Labour and immigration laws currently in force lack flexibility and are an incentive for foreign workers to become illegal.

The yellow card warning remains in place and the next steps are dependent on the level of cooperation of the Thai authorities and implementation of the established measures. The red card is the last resort when cooperation fails to reach the goals set out in the dialogue. But trade-related sanctions linked to the red card can discourage the third country from continuing its improvements to its system.


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