Make fishing sustainable

The lifting this week of the yellow-card sanction imposed by the European Union (EU) shows that efforts to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) in Thailand have really paid off.

However, much work is still needed to assist affected fishermen, especially the small-scale ones, while also taking steps to win back the confidence of consumers abroad.

The de-listing of the yellow-card status which was announced this week was made in recognition of the Thai government's serious efforts to tackle IUU over the past three years, following the EU sanction that was the first step toward the EU banning imports from a country in April 2015. The EU sanction followed the US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report in the previous year which downgraded Thailand to a Tier 3 country. The country managed to climb up the TIP ranks to Tier 2 last year.

Over the past years, the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration, with its drastic powers, has amended 138 fishery regulations to align them with international laws and standards, a move that many believed would not be possible with a civilian government. Since 2015, Thai authorities recorded 4,427 incidents related to illegal fishing activity, 3,883 of which were prosecuted in court.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Gen Chatchai Sarikulya, the government will work with the EU on an IUU-free certification system for responsible fishery operators to present their trade partners with. It also plans to establish an Asean IUU Task Force to monitor sustainable fishing in the region, while the country is to play host to the first-ever Asean IUU workshop using funding offered by the EU.

While exploring further cooperation with the EU and its Asean friends, it's necessary that those concerned examine ways to alleviate the plight of people in the fishing sector with regard to complaints that some regulations are "overly stringent" and not practical.

The Pattani Fishery Association is one of the agencies which raised concerns with the media in response to the lifting of the yellow card. Fishermen have also lodged complaints with major political parties that have pledged to address the issue if they win the election.

"The removal of the yellow-card status does not improve things for fishermen," said Phubet Chantanimi, chairman of the association.

The chairman has a critical view of some of the 400 anti-IUU laws and regulations, saying they have had an adverse impact on the livelihoods of fishermen and caused damages worth hundreds of billions of baht in the sector.

The government must look into the complaints, and right away do its best to streamline all the laws, fix loopholes and amend those that are impractical, while not compromising the goal to eradicate IUU. In addition, it must do more to improve the welfare of fishing crews in accordance with international standards. In particular, it must clear legal hurdles that hinder its efforts to stay committed to two International Labour Organisation-sponsored conventions -- the Forced Labour Convention, known as C29, which aims to take a stronger stance against all kinds of labour abuses, as well as the Work in Fishing Convention, or C188 that aims to ensure better working conditions for fishermen.

The government must carry out all the procedures in a bottom-up format, with transparency and the participation of stakeholders.

Gen Chatchai is right to say that the ultimate goal of tackling IUU was not to satisfy the EU and convince it to withdraw the yellow card, but to make the Thai fishery sector sustainable.

RELATED STORIES

Back to top