Panel hears bribery rife in fish industry

Panel hears bribery rife in fish industry

Trawlers claim they're forced to pay officials

Trawler owners claim that if they refuse to pay monthly bribes, tough inspections of their fishing boats follow. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Trawler owners claim that if they refuse to pay monthly bribes, tough inspections of their fishing boats follow. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The Command Centre for Combating Illegal Fishing (CCCIF) has set up a panel to look into complaints accusing some officials of demanding bribes from trawler operators.

Centre deputy head Vice Admiral Wannapol Glormgeao said Tuesday the centre recently received a number of complaints from anchovy trawler operators.

The operators say they had to pay around 5,000 to 300,000 baht per month per trawler to some officials at the centre to allow them to send vessels of less than 30 tons on a fishing voyage.

According to the law, V Adm Wannapol said trawlers that weigh less than 30 gross tons are not required to conduct Port In-Port Out reports to authorities but should be inspected for any illegal fishing gear.

Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, V Adm Wannapol said the trawler operators also claimed that they were asked by officials to pay bribes in exchange for being allowed to fish at night, which is banned by the Department of Fisheries.

He said the bribery took place in Rayong, Trat, Samut Sakhon, Phetchaburi, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani provinces.

"The centre is deeply concerned about the complaints because they have tarnished the reputation of the centre and its officials," said V Adm Wannapol, who is also deputy head of the panel.

He said the complaints have officially been reported to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who ordered the centre to collect as much information on alleged bribery as possible in order to bring officials involved to justice.

"The prime minister ... has ordered us to take quick and serious action in dealing with all reported cases.

"We expect there to be progress in the investigation within the next week," he said.

Adisorn Promthep, chief of the Department of Fisheries, who also attended the press conference, said the department is to dispatch inspectors to gather more information on the bribery allegations, insisting that the department has put its best efforts into dealing with the alleged problem with full cooperation from concerned state agencies.

He also said that he would discuss with the fishery associations about implementing tougher regulations to control anchovy trawlers that conduct illegal fishing.

In Samut Songkhram, the Department of Fisheries is in a hurry to register all 10,900 commercial trawlers there by next month, under the latest National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) relating to Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing controls.

The department on Monday launched the scheme with 28 commercial trawlers that came to receive registration codes in Samut Songkhram.

Forty teams have joined the Department of Fisheries and the Marine Department to check trawler documents are accurate before stamping them with a registration code.

Theerapat Prayurasiddhi, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, who monitored the event, said the ministry wanted to make sure that all commercial trawlers operate under the law and according to proper regulations.

"We want cooperation from all trawler owners in following the regulations.

"If you don't come, you will face having your licence withdrawn, he said.

"We need to implement tighter regulations on fishing to ensure the sustainability of marine resources," Mr Theerapat added.

Authorities will check whether trawlers have registration books and a Vessel Monitoring System. If everything is in order, they will stamp a nine-digit code onto each trawler allowing them to fish legally.

Without the code, a vessel will be banned from fishing for 10 years, according to the NCPO's order.

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