LCT member backs Section 44 for fishing

LCT member backs Section 44 for fishing

PM 'can't guarantee clean-up in 6 months'

A human rights advocate with the Lawyers Council of Thailand (LCT) has welcomed the government's planned use of Section 44 of the interim charter to tackle illegal fishing.

Surapong Kongchantuk, chairman of the council's human rights subcommittee on ethnic minorities, migrant workers and stateless and displaced people, said he agreed with the use of the section to monitor fishing vessels and punish boat operators to comply with a new fisheries bill designed to deal firmly with the problem. The bill is awaiting enactment in the National Legislative Assembly.

The section would be a tool to deal with the wrongdoers, he said, adding that efforts must be made to ensure fishing vessels are registered, fishing gear meets standards and labourers are permitted to work with adequate legal protection.

"This is the final lap leading up to the announcement of the human trafficking assessment tiers in June. The government must not drop its guard," said Mr Surapong, referring to the US's annual Trafficking In Persons report.

Mr Surapong's support for the move came after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha insisted on Thursday to use Section 44 to authorise the military to take part in operations to thwart illegal fishing and speed up the registration of trawlers.

His move followed the European Union's (EU) issuance of a final warning, a so-called "yellow card" to Thailand, giving the country six months to drastically improve its measures to combat illegal fishing or face an import ban on its fishery products.

Speaking in a weekly televised programme on Friday, Gen Prayut said the government cannot say for certain if it can meet the deadline although it is doing the best it can to address the problem.

"I cannot guarantee if we will be able to solve the problem in six months. It depends on everybody whether or not we can meet this time frame."

Sompong Sakaeo, director of the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation, said frequent checks on trawlers were needed and boat operators must cooperate in registering their vessels.

Vessel monitoring system (VMS) devices to track fishing boats must mainly be fitted to medium- or large-sized trawlers which catch fish outside the country's maritime territory, he added.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia director Tara Buakamsri said the EU's yellow card is a call for all parties to work for sustainable fishing, adding that the government could turn the crisis into an opportunity by solving the problem.

He also said authorities must prevent boats equipped with fishing nets that fail to meet legal requirements from destroying marine resources.

Speaking about measures to curtail illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Pitipong Phuengboon Na Ayudhaya said port-in/port-out surveillance has been introduced in Chumphon, Ranong, Songkhla and Phuket since the beginning of this month.

Vessels weighing over than 30 gross tonnes are urged to report to officials at any of 26 port-in/port-out control centres before leaving or after coming to ports, said Mr Pitipong, who also chairs a subcommittee on tackling IUU fishing.

Information about boat registration, fishing gear, fishing licences and catches recorded in logbooks as well as crews, boat captains and owners will be documented. This will allow officers to review the information later and check if the practices conform to international standards, Mr Pitipong said.

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