Thailand: 12,000-plus Fishing Boats Still Unregistered

By Nasueroh
2015.07.29
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150729_TH_FISHING_620 Non-compliant vessels have remained docked at Pattani pier in southern Thailand since the government began regulating fishing boats on July 1.
BenarNews

With a Friday deadline looming, Thailand’s Department of Fisheries (DOF) is urging owners of more than 12,000 unlicensed fishing boats to register their vessels in time to comply with new national regulations and European Union (EU) seafood industry standards.

As of Wednesday, one fifth of the nation’s fishing fleet – which totals 57,141 boats – still had not registered with or obtained operating licenses from the department, a DOF official told BenarNews.

“There are 12,270 vessels that are not registered yet,” said Orathai Rojreungnond, a DOF spokeswoman.

In addition, 880 vessels that are already registered and licensed to fish have gear now considered illegal under Thailand’s new rules for the fishing industry, she said.

These boats will be required to switch out equipment in order to meet the regulations, but will have till Aug. 7 to change their gear.

On Monday, DOF Director-General Chumpol Sa-nguansin convened a tele-conference call with fishery officials in Thailand’s coastal provinces in an effort to speed up the registration process.

The department is aiming to build a database that would allow it to keep track of the number of fishing boats and monitor them so as to ensure they are using legal fishing techniques and meeting labor standards.

Stiff penalties

Under the new rules, it is illegal for fishing boats to sail out to sea and fish unless they have registered with the authorities and have reported their departures and arrivals in and out of port. Boat operators can face stiff penalties if their vessels are caught fishing illegally.

“The punishment, in general, will be given a maximum three-year imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 baht (U.S. $8,500),” Orathai said.

Thailand began regulating its fishing industry on July 1, following a “yellow card” warning issued by the European Union in late April. The EU has threatened to ban imports of seafood from Thailand – whose seafood industry represents a multi-billion dollar trade – unless the country demonstrates improvement on eliminating illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing practices (IUU) within six months.

All fishing boat operators must now fulfill several requirements: each boat must be licensed and registered with the authorities; be equipped with a vessel monitoring system; and carry safety equipment and copies of employment contracts.

Room to breathe

Thai fishermen say they are having difficulty adjusting to the new regulatory environment. It can cost as much as 3 million baht (U.S. $85,800) to replace illegal gear, such as environmentally destructive push-nets, with gear that meets European specifications, they say.

Among these fishermen is an owner of vessels in southern Pattani province, who asked not to be named.

“I have been out to the seas since my childhood, without documents, without regulations,” he told BenarNews.

He said he wasn’t aware whether his past fishing practices had broken the law, and he asked the government to help fishermen like him make the transition to compliance through a soft loan.

“It is alright to have a new fishing order but the government should give fishermen room to breathe,” he said.

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