New laws crack down on illegal fishing

New laws crack down on illegal fishing

Exporters seek non-EU markets in case of ban

The cabinet on Tuesday approved a raft of measures to deal with illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing as the country struggles to meet a European Union (EU) deadline in December to clamp down on illegal fishing or risk being hit with damaging trade sanctions. 

The new policy measures include the Royal Ordinance 2015 -- a plan to regulate fisheries -- a fishery management plan, and a national plan of action, all of which will clean up the sector in line with EU standards, according to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Speaking after Tuesday's cabinet meeting, Gen Prayut said the cabinet had endorsed the Royal Ordinance 2015, the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and the National Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (NPAO-IUU) to combat human trafficking in the fishing industry.

Gen Prayut said regulating the fishery industry is a priority, and EU representatives who visited the country early last month recognised the progress that the government has made in tackling the IUU problem.

However, the prime minister said the government still did not know whether the EU will rescind the yellow card it gave to Thailand in April for failing to solve the IUU problem.

"Thailand will do its best to tackle the issue and it is up to the EU to decide whether to revoke the yellow card," he said.

The prime minister added the government is not only addressing the IUU problem, but it is also trying to help traditional and legal fishermen, and help fishermen who have been affected by the measures to deal with IUU.

"I tried to show the EU that Thailand does not sell them seafood linked with human trafficking. The government is solving the IUU problem for the sake of the Thai fishing industry," Gen Prayut said.

Next year, the EU will send a delegation to check on Thailand's progress again.

Meanwhile, Distat Hotrakitya, secretary-general of the Council of State, said the royal ordinance has the potential to solve problems that the 2015 Fishing Law, which was introduced early this year, could not address.

"The royal ordinance aims to prevent illegal fishing and offer a sustainable solution to the problem by boosting coastal and traditional fish stocks while protecting the export market," Mr Distat said.

The new laws also aim to ensure that the fishing industry is managed in a way that will protect vital natural resources, and ensure that fishing is not carried out unsustainably.

Navy officers prepare to board fishing boats and trawler lined up along the coast at Samut Sakhon, as the government prepares a final push to fight illegal fishing and satisfy European Union demands to end so-called IUU - Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing and save the Thai seafood export market. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

The royal ordinance sets out measures to deal with illegal fishing, including the establishment of fishing zones, issuance of licences based on vessel sizes, and prevention of transboundary illegal fishing and hazardous fishing methods -- all of which are in line with international standards.

A vessel monitoring system will also be put in place, with devices to track fishing boats, and a port-in/port-out surveillance system that logs data about boats' activities, including what equipment is used, the types of fish caught, and where the fish came from.

"We can then trace and verify where seafood products come from, and punish those who break the law," Mr Distat said.

The Council of State advised the government to issue the executive decree because it is a swift way to respond to the urgency of the IUU problem. Passing a law to deal with the matter through the normal legislative process would take too long, he said.

The royal ordinance will take effect immediately after it receives endorsement from His Majesty the King, Mr Distat said.

Rittirong Boonmechote, president of SET-listed Thai Union Frozen Products Plc, the world's largest exporter of canned and frozen tuna, said Thailand has tried as hard as it can to meet the high standards of the EU.

"It is clear that the Thai government as well as relevant private sectors have been working very hard to meet the EU standards and we hope that the EU will realise this," he said.

Thailand has been doing a lot of hard work, including overhauling its fishing sector, Mr Rittirong said.

"At least we have done what they want us to do. So, I don't think there would be any excuse to ban us. However, we still need to do more if they ask," he said.

However, Mr Rittirong said the private sector and exporters are preparing for the worst-case scenario -- an EU ban on Thai seafood exports because of IUU.

"We are looking at other markets we might have overlooked, such as Latin America, the Middle East and even other Asian countries. It would expand our sales to help offset a fall in the EU market if the EU decides on a ban or a red card," he said. 

Poj Aramwattannont, president of the Thai Frozen Foods Association, said the private sector is also working with the government to address the IUU problem to ensure the sustainability of the industry.

Mr Poj said the executive decree will support existing fishing laws, but private operators have still not been informed what the penalties will be for offenders.

"Private operators have now put in place measures to ensure the seafood bought for frozen products comes from legal fishing boats," he added.

Pornsil Patchrintanakul, adviser to the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said it is wrong to think the EU is exploiting the IUU issue merely to harass Thailand.

"The problem does exist and all Thailand has to do is to fix it," Mr Pornsil said, adding that the government is trying its best to tackle the issue. Long term, the country will have to come up with measures to ensure sustainable fishing, he added.

According to Mr Pornsil, international trade rules are constantly changing and Thailand must adapt and work with other countries to combat IUU.

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