Move in response to EU letter saying govt is not doing enought, as threat of ban hangs overhead
FOR THE next two months, the Royal Thai Navy will work more closely with owners of fishing trawlers to help eradicate illegal fishing practices to avert an export ban from the European Union, Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said yesterday.
Prawit, who is also defence minister, called a top-level meeting at Government House yesterday to follow up on moves taken to address the serious problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, after the EU wrote to the government and said it was not doing enough to stamp out illegal practices.
About four months ago, the EU issued a yellow card to the government for failing to tackle the IUU issue, raising prospects of a trade ban if the problem was not solved within six months.
Prawit said the EU suggested that Thailand take more action in terms of administration and legislation to ensure that all fishing vessels and their equipment are registered and have a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS).
Of the total 7,000 fishing boats, some 3,000 are still not registered with authorities. Earlier, fishermen and vessel owners staged protests over the tightening of regulations.
In addition to closer cooperation between the Navy and fishing vessel owners, Prawit said the Council of State and the Fisheries Department would also work more closely to speed up efforts to amend related laws so they comply with the EU’s requirements. The government will also seek help from outside legal consultants to help speed up the process.
“We’re working hard to respond to the EU’s remarks on administration, legislation as well as public perception of this issue,” he said, adding that fishing boats which do not meet the new requirements will not be allowed to go out to sea.
New review scheduled for October
According to Prawit, EU officials will return to observe the situation in Thailand around October, so further action taken by Thai authorities will affect the EU’s decision on the potential trade ban.
If the EU is not satisfied with measures taken by Thai authorities, the grouping could downgrade the country’s status by issuing a red card banning Thai seafood exports.
On the other hand, the current yellow card could be lifted if the EU is satisfied with state remedies taken to solve the IUU problem.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Amnuay Patise said the government would prepare a series of reports on measures taken to ease the IUU problem for the EU’s consideration ahead of its review in October.
He said it would probably take a year or two to solve all the problems in the fishing industry. “But I’m quite confident that the prospects are good, but cannot say for sure whether our status will be upgraded.”
Thailand’s annual exports to the EU are estimated to be worth between 575 million to 730 million euros (Bt21.3 to Bt27 billion).
Overall fish exports were worth around Bt102 billion last year, according to the Thai Frozen Food Association. Currently, Thailand is the world’s third-largest seafood exporter.