3 new laws push belated fishery reform

3 new laws push belated fishery reform

Sustainability, better data key to changes

Fisheries Department head Wimol Jantrarothai says the country's fishing laws are fast coming up to international standards. (Main photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Fisheries Department head Wimol Jantrarothai says the country's fishing laws are fast coming up to international standards. (Main photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Tuesday's passage of three key laws related to fishing indicates the government's realisation that reform is long overdue.

The Royal Ordinance 2015 brings the Fisheries Act into compliance with international laws and regulations, especially with regards to illegal, unlawful and unregulated fishing.

The Fishery Management Plan (FMP), which is closely linked to the National Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (NPAO-IUU) aims to ensure sustainability.

Wimol Jantrarotai, director-general of the Fisheries Department, said the master plan and plan of action aims to address a number of challenges with Thai fishing.

"How do we make it -- the balance between fishing and natural resources -- sustainable," he said in an interview with the Bangkok Post.

Mr Wimol cites a number of challenges Thailand faces. Overfishing in Thai territorial waters and beyond tops the list.

"This results in illegal, unlawful and unregulated fishing because we have lacked strong laws and clear zoning between artisanal and commercial fishing. Insufficient academic data or information prevented authorities from devising proper laws," he said.

Another challenge is catching large quantities of juvenile fish, including those from larger commercial fish species. "There is a need to monitor and control this practice."

Conflicts between artisanal and commercial fisheries must be resolved while measures need to be imposed to control and rehabilitate fishery habitats that have been degraded because of overfishing.

Mr Wimol said inadequate information on fishery management and inadequate human capacity with fishery management were other challenges to be addressed.

In tackling overfishing, the government will abandon its former policy of "common access" to natural fishing resources, he said.

The management plan introduces a "limiting regime". In other words, the level of fishing will only be allowed depending on the state of the natural resources.

"This means we need to study and understand the capacity of the resources. We need to study this each year. If there are more resources one year then more fishing will be allowed. If not, fishing will be reduced. This is key in the reform," he said.

And to achieve a limiting regime, Thailand needs to manage its fishing vessels in line with international standards. He estimates there are 40,000 vessels in the whole fishery system.

"About 1,000 are illegal. They have no licence to fish and we need to take them out of the system," Mr Wimol said. Doing this involves three possible approaches -- buy their boats, change their equipment so they comply with the law, or change their profession.

Another 2,600 vessels have been issued licences but are using the wrong fishing gear. For this group, the same approach is to be taken as with those vessels without licences.

For the time being, registration and the number of fishing gear licences have been frozen for all vessels, both artisanal and commercial, under government orders.

The database on fishing vessel registration and licensing is also being upgraded to ensure the vessel registrations, the vessel licences and the fishing licences are up to date and correspond with one another.

This will involve a better information sharing mechanism to ensure appropriate access to all information required for issuing vessel registrations, vessel licences and fishing licences that is effective, clear and transparent. The remaining vessels will have to operate under the limiting regime, he said.

Under the action plan against IUU fishing, the monitoring of vessels fishing outside Thai waters will be done through a national plan for control and inspection.

Thai vessels will need to install a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS). But equally important is that state agencies charged with tracking vessels must have an up-to-date database.

"An integrated database is being set up," he said. State agencies will also be able to check on vessels from other countries on the IUU blacklist. Port In and Port Out Centres as well as at-sea inspections are planned, he added.

Mr Wimol added that under the IUU plan of action, the government will undertake improvements in traceability systems -- checking the origin of fish caught and processed by Thais and Thai firms.

This involves improved and increased cooperation and exchange of information on the traceability systems, in particular regarding information on fishing operations and fish and fish products with coastal states, flag states and importing countries. It also involves improving the inspection system for imported fish so as to trace back to the fishing vessels, catch areas, species and weight.

The action plan also aims to improve the reporting of species and quantities of fish and fish products caught by Thai-flagged fishing vessels in Thai waters, the high seas and third countries' exclusive economic zones, including carrier vessels.

Auditing of processing plants and their production processes and consumption of raw materials and establishing a database and crosschecking the information, in particular on fishery produce, their origin, export and import to support catch certification, is also part of the plan.

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