EU supportive of govt's efforts to end illegal fishing

EU supportive of govt's efforts to end illegal fishing

Stefaan Depypere, left, the European Union's director for international ocean governance and sustainable fisheries, meets Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon at the Defence Ministry on Monday. (Photo by Wassana Nanuam)
Stefaan Depypere, left, the European Union's director for international ocean governance and sustainable fisheries, meets Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon at the Defence Ministry on Monday. (Photo by Wassana Nanuam)

The leader of the visiting EU inspection team was supportive of the government's efforts to end illegal fishing practices on Monday, as Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon brushed off disgruntled trawler owners' threats to go on strike against "overly strict" new regulations.

 After meeting Gen Prawit at the Defence Ministry, Stefaan Depypere, the EU's director for international ocean governance and sustainable fisheries, said Thailand had made much progress in attacking the problem of illegal fishing practices.

The government had shown its determination to continue trying to solve the problems. 

He gave his moral support to the government in keeping up its efforts and setting a good example for the international community.

Before the meeting on Monday morning, Gen Prawit told the media that talks had already been held with the disgruntled fishermen. 

"I believe they will not stop working," Gen Prawit said.

On Sunday, about 3,000 trawler owners in Phangnga vowed to stage a massive strike on Tuesday and send representatives to Government House, saying that local officials had failed to heed their complaints.

New rules have been imposed to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing following a warning by the European Union that imports of Thai fish products could be banned, but fishermen say many boats are ignoring them out of necessity.

Gen Prawit said on Monday officials from state agencies had already discussed the problem with fishermen's representatives, and that should stop it from escalating further.

Fisheries associations in Phangnga and Trat have made their complaints publicly, with EU officials here for a weeklong visit to inspect ports and the effectiveness of the country's legal measures against IUU fishing.

Published reports of chaos in the industry led to concerns over the use of forced labour, resulting in the European Commission issuing a yellow-card to Thailand in April 2015 as a final warning. Failure to enforce adequate solutions could lead to the EU banning imports of Thai fish products, with losses estimated at up to US$300 million.

Surapong Intaraprasert, adviser to the Fisheries Association of Trat, said last Wednesday one rule in particular which sets strict hours for working and rest was being largely ignored because fishing boats work around the clock.

Hiring assistant skippers so captains can take the mandated breaks was also not possible because the Marine Department allows each boat to have only one skipper.

Bunchu Phaeyai, chairman of Phangnga Fisheries Association, told Naewna Newspaper on Sunday, his group had informed local officials of the problems with such overly strict rules, but they had not come up with a solution.

A strike was their last resort, Mr Bunchu said.

Gen Prawit said he was not worried about the fishermen's protest coinciding with the EU inspectors' visit, which ends on Wednesday.

The deputy prime minister said before the meeting he would ask the EU delegation leader what additional measures the EU wanted Thailand to implement.


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