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Wednesday, July 18, 2012
This very fishy business
What do you do when big trawlers violate the
law, annihilate the seabed with their destructive fishing gear, and wipe
out marine life from our coastal seas?
What do you do when they fake the licences of their trawlers to carry out illegal deep-sea fishing in other countries' waters?
What do you do when they collude with human traffickers to get workers who are treated like slaves on their fishing boats?
Arrest them? Fine them? Send them to jail?
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
No, the Fisheries Department does not think that the illegal and
environmentally destructive trawlers should be punished. Instead, the
state agency wants to give those trawlers a blanket amnesty for their
crimes that show no signs of abating.
According to the law, fishing with trawlers is prohibited within a
distance of 3,000 metres from the shoreline because coastal seabeds are
important spawning and breeding grounds for marine life. But the law is
Trawlers routinely violate protected seas. Complaints by fisherfolk
in coastal communities who have lost their livelihoods due to the
trawlers' devastating fishing methods have gone unheeded. This problem
has been going on for the past three decades, resulting in many violent
conflicts. When domestic seas are depleted, the trawlers venture into
international waters, often with fake boat licences and fishing permits.
Why such blatant negligence? Ask fishery officials, and they will
cite a lack of budget to monitor the seas. Ask them again, and they will
tell you their hands are tied because the US$4 billion (128 billion
baht) fishing industry is backed by powerful politicians. No one will
tell you, though, about the money paid under the table.
The blissful existence of the trawlers was broken up last year when
the European Union and United States jointly announced they would no
longer import seafood that comes from illegal fishing in order to
protect marine biodiversity and sustainable fishing.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, they said, is a serious
threat to the world's oceans and deprives legal fishermen and coastal
communities of up to $23 billion of seafood and seafood products
The boycott warning hit the Thai fishing industry hard because the EU and the US are Thailand's two top seafood importers.
Like a squalling baby, the trawler industry rushed to the Fisheries
Department for help. It got what it wanted _ a promise to get an amnesty
for all trawlers with fake documents, and to quickly receive new, legal
That's not all.
Our country's deep-sea fishing industry is notorious for using
victims of human trafficking on boats and treating them like slaves.
The country's fishing fleet needs more than 100,000 workers each
year. Due to a severe labour shortage, desperate trawler owners depend
on human trafficking rackets to supply them with crew, with no questions
Stories abound about young men from neighbouring countries and within
Thailand itself being drugged, abducted or lured into debt bondage
before being sold to fishing boats. Those who have escaped tell horror
stories of forced labour, beatings, enslavement _ even deaths _ at sea.
Such notoriety makes many countries think twice before importing
seafood from Thailand. To avoid a consumer boycott, the National
Fisheries Association wants to set up an independent, self-regulating
body to recruit workers for all fishing boats to ensure migrant workers
have legal status and receive fair treatment.
The proposal, backed by the Fisheries Department, will soon be forwarded to the cabinet for approval.
But wait a minute. Can we feel something fishy here?
It's been shown in the past that the Fisheries Department is totally
spineless when it comes up against widespread misconduct in the
industry. Will giving total power to the fishing operators ease or
worsen the problems?
The fishing industry also wants to issue special identification cards
to their workers to prevent them from changing employers. Isn't this
plan a violation of workers' rights?
The fisheries authorities' plan to whitewash illegal trawlers and
give the industry total control over its workforce shows where their
loyalty lies. This is why there is no chance of human trafficking and
labour exploitation in the fishing industry easing anytime soon.
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