Politics taint fisheries win
The nation was removed from the EU illegal fishing warning list, but there is a long way to go
BRUSSELS: The European Commission's decision to free Thailand from countries it has formally warned over illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has underlined the military-led government's achievement in tackling the EU's concern on illegal fishing.
However, the country is still being questioned over its ability to maintain fisheries sustainability.
To get the EU's approval for delisting the so-called yellow card, the government issued 138 laws and regulations to control IUU fishing.
It allowed 10,565 trawlers to go to sea based on the balance of marine resources and a budget of 95 million baht with 4,000 staff to complete the mission.
Department of Fisheries chief Adisron Promthep said those efforts will mean nothing if the incoming government fails to adopt the strong political will needed to preserve the country's sustainable fishery.
He said he has learnt that some parties are saying they would introduce legal amendments to pacify the industry to gain more political support. That might make the country's aim of sustainable marine practices more difficult.
"We might be warned again if there is no further development. And it will get worse if such law changes are made unreasonably. Any government has a right to do so, but it must be done based on sustainable fishery principles with better results," he said.
Last week, the EU declared Thailand was free of concerns over IUU fishing activities, which follows the Philippines in shedding its yellow card warning status in 2015, the same year that Thailand was given the yellow card.
Meanwhile, marine shipment imports to the EU have are still banned from Cambodia, and Vietnam is also conducting strong efforts to get free from the yellow card status.
Mr Adisorn further explained that Thailand has strong experience to share with Asean members in terms of tackling illegal fishing activities and wants to share it to create marine resource sustainability in regional waters.
He also said that in the next few months, the department will give permits to Thai national trawlers going to overseas waters.
There are about 15 trawlers expressing a wish to conduct fishing overseas under controlling regulations, including putting in CCTV, onboard observers, transmitting catch reports to the authority, worker rotation and human rights principles.
All shipments from overseas catches will be free from illegal fishing, which this monitoring system will help guarantee.
He added that the department welcomes any law or regulation amendment that will lead to better management.
Speaking to guests at an event held to celebrate the yellow card delisting in Brussels, Deputy Prime Minister Chatchai Sarikulya said the country has fully embarked on fisheries reform for marine resources sustainability with strong support domestically and overseas.
"We have met the initial challenges and we will keep working for sustainability. All marine shipments are now legal," he said.
Director of CP Foods UK Bob Miller is also the founder of the Seafood Task Force, a non-governmental organisation to support legal fishing activities worldwide, including Thailand.
It was established in July 2015 with 35 company members. Mr Miller said the country has regained its positive image on marine food products, making its products more acceptable in international markets, which will help increase sales volume to meet demand.
It would also help increase the country's competency and open more opportunity in new markets.
Ricardo Serrao Santos, a member of the European Parliament, said the EU is satisfied with the government's strong determination in dealing with illegal fishing, but the decision to lift the warning has taken a long time because it is involved with law amendments and technology changes to ensure everything is running on the right track.
He also expressed his appreciation to the Thai navy team for maintaining a key role in combatting IUU in Thai territorial waters and the government's desire to recognise the issue's importance and make all seafood product shipments legal.
The EU is the third largest seafood market for the country, after the United States and Japan.
Parallel to the concerns over illegal fishing, the proportion of seafood exported to the EU market has fallen from 15.3% in 2011 to 8.1% in 2017 due to a result of the GSP (generalised scheme of preferences) amendment.
As a result, some countries no longer give low import tax rates to Thai marine shipments after the country was categorised as an upper middle-income country by the World Bank for three consecutive years (2011-2013).
Later, the EU issued its warning on IUU fishing, resulting in negative impacts on marine product exports from Thailand.
The volume of marine products exported to the EU has steadily fallen from 157,00 tonnes with a value of €732.7 million (27 billion baht) in 2013 to 60,000 tonnes with a value of €292 million as of October last year.
Another challenge that may occur in the Thai seafood business is that the EU might issue stronger food safety, labour and environment standards associated with climate change issues.