By THE NATION
FISHERMEN in 22 seaside provinces have threatened to stop catching fish, bringing the country’s fishing industry to a standstill, if the government fails to address their grievances within seven days.
They issued the ultimatum yesterday after hearing that the government is preparing to ratify the C188 Work in Fishing Convention, which they deem as too strict.
“The appendix of this convention requires that each fishing boat has one bathroom per four crewmen, a library, a fitness room and a recreational room. Compliance with such rules means that all fishing boats in Thailand would have to be reconfigured,” said Ranong Fishermen Association vice president Surasak Jimaphan.
He said even the United States and Australia had not yet ratified the C188.
He was speaking as representatives of local fishing operators in 22 provinces simultaneously submitted a similar petition to Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha via their provincial governors.
The petition listed seven demands and required the government to respond within seven days.
The key demands are that the government refrain from ratifying the C188 and the government solve the labour shortage in the fishing industry.
It is estimated that the industry is short by about 50,000 workers.
According to the petition, the government should allow illegal migrants to work in the sector for two years by registering themselves and acquiring fishing-related identification papers. Also, the government should urgently implement its stated plan to buy fishing boats from those fishermen who wish to sell in the face of the stricter new regulations.
The National Fisheries Association of Thailand has passed a resolution for its members to press for the demands.
The Pattani Fisheries Association’s president Phubes Jantanamit said his group also wanted the Fisheries Department to improve current regulations governing fishing boats.
“The current rules are too complicated to implement. And each governing centre has different standards,” he said.
He also complained that requiring fishermen to install vessel monitoring systems (VMS) on their boats meant they would have to shoulder the VMS cost even if the boats were moored.
Sittichai Pamornwisit, who represents Trang fishermen, said the number of fishing boats in his province had declined from more than 400 to just a little over 100 now.
“So, we ask for sympathy and help from the government,” he said.
Adviser to the Samut Songkhram Fisheries Association, Pongsathorn Chaiwat, said the authorities’ move to regulate the Thai fishing sector based on European practices had adversely affected local fishermen.
He said some fishing families had been prosecuted and driven into bankruptcy.
At present, the maximum fine against fishing operators is Bt30 million.
“If the government does not respond to our demands, we will submit our petition to the King,” Pongsathorn said.
The government has taken significant measures to reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in recent years, partly because the country’s ranking in the Trafficking in Persons report of the United States (US) dropped to Tier 3 - the worst - in 2014. The EC had also threatened to bar imports of Thai fishing products.
Between 2016 and 2017, Thailand was upgraded to Tier 2 – Watch List.
This year, Thailand’s ranking improved further at Tier 2.