Thailand: Fishing Boats Now Strictly Regulated, Conference Told

By Stephen Michael Fein
150522-TH-fisheries-620 Thai and migrant workers sort the morning catch at Songkhla Fishing Port 2, Songkhla, Thailand, May 22, 2015.

Updated at 6:55 p.m. ET on 2015-05-22

Allegations of human trafficking, illegal fishing practices and threats of trade sanctions by the European Union (EU) hung heavily in the air during a two-day meeting of fisheries experts this week in the southern Thai town of Songkhla.

The Thai Department of Fisheries (DoF) organized the gathering of representatives from the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT), but the Malaysian government was unable to send a delegation.

The Thai and Indonesian sides agreed on a number of points to harmonize live aquatic animal certification procedures, Malinee Smithrithee, director of the department’s Foreign Affairs division, told BenarNews.

These points would be passed on to their Malaysian counterparts for review and discussion, she said.

Yellow card

The growth triangle is a self-described “sub-regional cooperation initiative” formed in 1993 to promote economic growth in 14 provinces in southern Thailand, 10 provinces of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and eight states of peninsular Malaysia.

The affected areas have a combined population of more than 70 million people, many of whom rely on fishing as a livelihood and source of food.

Thailand was strongly affected by the recent EU issuance of a so-called “yellow card” for failing to regulate its fishing industry in a sustainable way, said Songsang Patavanich, director of the Thai Overseas Fishing Association.

The warning gives Thailand just six months to show improvement on illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing practices – or face a crippling ban on exports to the huge European market.

The ban would have effects outside Thailand, because many Thai fishing vessels operated with Indonesian partners and foreign crew, especially from Myanmar.

“As a result of the EU action our government, which has absolute power, has imposed strict new policies and now all Thai fishing boats will have to follow our regulations; they have to report when they leave port and when they return. They have to report what they have caught, as well as labor information in order to avoid human trafficking,” he said.

In March, an Associated Press investigative report exposed slavery and forced labor in the Thai fishing industry. This month, a sudden influx of at least 3,000 illegal migrants into Malaysia and Indonesia laid bare the extent of maritime migrant smuggling in the region.

The strict new rules were presented by the Fisheries Department in one of the many booths at a nearby convention hall exhibit.

They include the ‘Port-in, Port-out’ system launched nationwide on May 6, GPS monitoring, and mandatory licensing and registration of all vessels over 30 meters.

Social responsibility

The conference concluded Friday afternoon with a panel discussion on “Potential IMT-GT Fisheries Cooperation Toward Sustainability in ASEAN” with input by representatives from all three sessions.

Heading the Indonesian delegation was Herwindo Suwondo, chairman of the Indonesian Fisheries Federation.

He said the growth triangle had to adopt key characteristics of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) – the terms of which go into effect at the end of this year – to create a single trading bloc and increase the region’s global competitiveness.

“Trading in goods and services has to be implemented by elimination of all tariffs, removal of all non-tariff barriers, including subsidies, restrictions and sensitive industry classification. We need to create simplified, harmonized trade and customs procedures and facilitate cross-border interactions, subject to domestic regulations,” he said.

But social responsibility is part of sustainability, he said.

“Our country and many others are aware of IUU fishing issues, sustainable fisheries, human slavery and human trafficking as well. As an industry, we must be mindful that we live in an increasingly transparent world, one in which information is shared globally at the high speed.

“So, whether we like or dislike this fact, we have to commit to the social responsibility among ASEAN countries and the sustainable fisheries globally,” Herwindo said.

He conceded that eliminating IUU fishing practices in the growth-triangle area would be no easy task.

“The most important first step is requiring traceability standards for the entire industry. The next step is to focus on really bad guys who are not playing by any rules, shutting them out of the marketplace if we can.”


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