EU slams govt's fishing 'propaganda campaign'
Threat of red card still looms over industry
The European Union (EU) has slammed Thailand's "propaganda campaign" to publicise the "positive side" of its efforts to clamp down on illegal fishing and criticised the country for not doing enough to address the problem.
The EU is also considering if it will postpone its next meeting with Thai delegates scheduled for May.
The criticism appeared in a document obtained by the Bangkok Post related to talks on Tuesday between Atinant Intarapim, deputy director of the Office of Agricultural Affairs based in the EU, and Adela Rey and Olalla Perez, representatives of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE).
According to the document, DG MARE thinks that while the Thai government has shown determination to solve illegal fishing, in practice it falls short.
As a result, DG MARE has lost confidence in the Thai government's operational units, law enforcement, and its implementation of the Fishery Management Plan to deal with illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
DG MARE believes several measures can be implemented straight away such as revoking licences of illegal fishing vessels and seafood processing plants.
Moreover, the government declared that it resolved 99% of the problem, which contradicted information received by DG MARE.
DG MARE representatives also told their Thai counterpart that the Thai government's campaign to publicise its efforts to address IUU issues had an adverse impact on their views.
Thailand only presented positive information through the media and this could lead to other EU member countries believing that the agency's assessment of Thailand was unreliable.
It cited an article in The Economist which reported Thailand's progress in solving illegal fishing as a form of "propaganda" pushed by the Thai government.
DG MARE representatives also said Thailand lacks accurate information related to fishing vessels, and there was no information regarding fishing vessels equipped with Vessel Monitoring Systems and ones without the systems.
This showed anti-illegal fishing operations do not comply with the Fishery Act or the Fishery Master Plan. DG MARE also noted that the government has bowed to private sector pressure.
DG MARE hopes to get a better picture of which legal measures will be enforced to support the Fishery Act, measures already in force and measures that do not require urgent enforcement. The agency said that it has not received such information.
Government announcements that contradict or duplicate the main laws should be scrapped to avoid confusion, the agency said.
DG MARE said that it does not want to give Thailand a red card but the Thai government needs to display concrete problem-solving steps.
In another document obtained by the Bangkok Post, Virachai Plasai, Thailand's permanent representative to the United Nations, wrote to tell the Foreign Ministry about his telephone conversation with Cesar Deben, DG MARE's principal IUU adviser.
Mr Deben expressed concern about Thailand's problems and thought the country had been plagued with operational issues in its implementation of the action plans issued to combat IUU.
A lack of information from Thailand also demonstrated that the country had no "political will" to act on agreements, Mr Virachai quoted Mr Deben as saying.
Mr Deben also said that even though Thailand has shown it is trying as hard as it can to address IUU issues, the country still has some problems that require in-depth solutions. Mr Deben went on to say that "the country's political problem and the issues related to the country's new constitution could complicate efforts to address the IUU problems".
DG MARE is asking Thailand for its opinion on the possibility of postponing a meeting scheduled for May as the postponement would give Thailand more time to comply with previous agreements.
Responding to the criticism over the "propaganda campaign", Vice Admiral Jumpol Lumpikanon, spokesman of the Command Centre for Combating Illegal Fishing, said the Foreign Ministry had already explained the matter, and the ministry admitted that the information in foreign media had been used for public relations.
"Once foreign media incorrectly accused us, we had to clarify. It is normal practice. If the EU disagrees with the information, it can alert us so the government can make improvements," he said.
Vice Adm Jumpol admitted that there could be some lack of clarity in the implementation of policies to deal with IUU fishing as the country's fishing industry is in a process of transition.
Of the 91 laws related to the fishing industry, 49 have been enacted. Each legislative bill requires scrutiny by the Council of State, which is the government's legal advisory body, and then deliberation by the National Legislative Assembly, Vice Adm Jumpol said.
The Thai government on Wednesday removed Fisheries Department chief Wimol Jantrarotai and accused him of slow progress in addressing illegal fishing amid concerns Thailand is still at risk of being slapped with a red card by the EU.