Thai authorities are preparing to clean up the image of the country's fishing industry ahead of the EU's decision on illegal, unregulated and unreported (UUI) fishing, due to be announced in the coming weeks.
"We look forward to rebuilding the Thai fishing industry's image and showing our efforts to address this problem while trying to meet world-class standards," said Capt Benjamaporn Wongnakornsawong, secretary for public affairs at the Command Center to Combat Illegal Fishing (CCCIF).
Since last April, the government has put great effort into battling illegal fishing after the EU gave Thailand formal notice with a "yellow card" for failing to meet its IUU fishing code of conduct.
A yellow card means Thailand has six months to improve conditions in the fishing industry or face sanctions.
Failure to do so leads to a red card and an EU ban on imports of seafood from Thailand.
The EU will soon conduct another assessment that will lead to a decision about whether to issue a red card, which would trigger the ban.
The CCCIF has worked closely with other government authorities as well as private firms and organisations to overhaul the country's fishing industry.
"Some 80% of the task will be completed by the Jan 31 deadline, after which the EU will send representatives to evaluate the situation," Capt Benjamaporn said.
He said with the immediate task almost done, the government would work to foster a new and better image for the Thai fishing industry, meeting not only EU standards but also global ones.
"We hope this will raise questions among the global community about why the EU still keeps Thailand on its list of poor standards" in the event of a red card, Capt Benjamaporn said.
He said the Thai government planned to highlight the issue of IUU fishing among the international community.
The government wants the world to see the sincere and hard work that Thailand has done and let opinion decide if Thailand deserves such a ban or whether the EU may be biased against Thailand.
"Measures implemented since last April have been aimed at halting all illegal fishing, installing monitoring systems on fishing boats and eliminating the use of child and slave labour," he said.
"The CCCIF has been working on this issue with the EU's cooperation for some time now. We're confident we're on the right track," Capt Benjamaporn said.
"But it's up to the EU anyway as to whether it will give us a red card or maintain the yellow card given to Thailand early last year."
He said the CCCIF was also working closely with private firms and organisations to lessen the impact elsewhere on the reputation of Thai fishing from the EU's actions in order to prevent losing export value in major import markets.
Thailand's seafood industry generates US$200 million a year, and any trade sanctions could prove harmful, particularly to the labourers, according to the Siam Commercial Bank Economic Intelligence Center.
Capt Benjamaporn said the government had ruled out strong regulations in favour of requesting that all fishing boats register with the authorities as well as ordering all fishing boats to install a vessel monitoring system (VSM).
The VSMs allow buyers and consumers to trace the origin of seafood products, all the way back to the boat that caught the fish, he said.
Capt Benjamaporn said the CCCIF would work more vigorously to show Thailand not only was trying to meet EU standards but also wanted to show the world it had the best standards after overhauling the industry.
"The CCCIF's work will be transferred to the Thailand Maritime Enforcement Coordinating Center and placed on the national agenda," he added.
Thiraphong Chansiri, president and chief executive of Thai Union Group Plc, the world's biggest tuna exporter, said all parties in the Thai seafood and fishing industries had used all means to tackle the problem of illegal and slave labour.
The CCCIF will hold a news conference Thursday to update the Thai and foreign media on the progress of its work in tackling IUU since being set up eight months ago.