An ethical fisheries law

An ethical fisheries law

This week, the Lower House MPs are beginning their second reading of a new Thai fisheries law that, if passed, would replace the Royal Ordinance on Fisheries (2015) -- a heavy-handed law prescribed by the junta government in 2015.

But this is not your run-of-the-mill legal amendment. Lawmakers such as those from the ruling Pheu Thai or Move Forward Party are making it a political crusade to undo the "bad legacy" left by the former government of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The junta promptly imposed the Royal Ordinance on Fisheries (2015) to deal with destructive fishing as well as human trafficking following the EU's threat to ban Thai seafood in 2015 and the US Department of State's downgrading of Thailand one year earlier to Tier 3 -- the worst ranking -- in its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

The junta prescribed a raft of measures, including outlawing thousands of illegal vessels, digitalising crew databases, establishing vessel monitoring and surveillance technologies, and enhancing transparency and accountability across the fishing industry.

That work bore fruit.

In 2019, the EU removed the "yellow card" threat of a trade ban, and Thailand's human trafficking ranking moved up to Tier 2. The Thai seas, once swept clean by trawlers and over-fishing, are recovering. Pro-sustainability fishing has also sparked a boom in organic fish and green products.

Needless to say, the commercial fishing industry was greatly upset. Hundreds of their illegal trawlers were outlawed, and once laissez-faire trawlers have had to comply with rigid and costly rules.

For example, they must inform the authorities of their departures, arrivals, catch volume, and document their lists of workers and limit the time they spend at sea. This aims to prevent overfishing and labour abuses.

Since then, they have lobbied hard with anti-junta political parties to change the law in their favour, which has already proven a success.

During the general election in May, the MFP, Pheu Thai and even the Democrats made it a flagship policy to reset the junta's fisheries law.

The newly proposed law moves in a different direction.

Lawmakers have removed the strict rules on monitoring fisheries and the treatment of labour while also reducing penalties.

In short, the new law will take us back to before 2015 -- a quasi-laissez-faire era.

Trawlers will have to revert to applying local labour laws rather than the EU's standard. In addition, the new bill permits the use of destructive fishing gear near coastal areas, which are breeding grounds for marine life.

The big question is whether Thai fisheries should return to old practices. Will the new law cause Thai products to fail to meet the green or ethical standards meted out by importers? Don't our lawmakers fret about the risk of depleted fish stocks in Thai seas?

Make no mistake, the Royal Ordinance on Fisheries (2015) is not a democratic law because the junta did not bother to conduct any hearings on it. Some of its content, such as the hefty penalties, unrealistic fish-catching quota and overly strict monitoring system, needs to be revised. Yet its philosophy on sustainability and ethical standards must stay. Hopefully our lawmakers will get over their reactionary views and make the new law sustainable and ethical.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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