Thai Government Pledges to Protect Fisheries Reforms
Deputy Prime Minister, General Prawit Wongsuwan, has committed Thailand to protect and build on recent fisheries reforms during a meeting with the Environmental Justice Foundation’s Executive Director, Steve Trent.
For the past five years, EJF has worked closely with the Royal Thai Government to eradicate the illegal fishing and human rights abuse that has plagued its fishing industry. Over that time, Thailand has implemented substantial reforms. However, in recent months the National Fishing Association of Thailand has been lobbying the government to roll-back many of the measures.
In 2018, Thailand became the first country in Asia to ratify the International Labour Organization’s convention, which promises protection to the victims of forced labor and sanctions for the perpetrators. This year, it ratified the ILO’s Work in Fishing Convention C188, which sets basic standards of work in the fishing industry, again the first country in Asia to do so. This progress has been recognized by the E.U., and the country’s “yellow card” trade warning over illegal fishing was lifted earlier this year.
Thailand’s monitoring, surveillance and enforcement capabilities have also shown good progress, and a move towards transparency, including making license lists public, have been important steps.
In recent months, however, concerns have been raised over lobbying by the National Fisheries Association of Thailand (NFAT). In a closed-door meeting, NFAT demanded that all restrictions on crew and catch transfers at sea be lifted. This would allow abusive vessel owners to swap enslaved migrants between vessels so that they almost never made landfall, with virtually no chance of escape or detection by the authorities. Numerous such cases were documented in Thai fisheries before the current reforms were implemented.
It would also allow operators to launder illegally caught fish between boats so it was no longer traceable, allowing it to make its way into international supply chains undetected.
The message from the meeting with EJF, however, show that the government continues to take a firm stance on driving the reforms forward. The Deputy Prime Minister said at the meeting: “Thailand acknowledges the importance of continuing with the reforms, and the government will persevere with that to secure marine sustainability and lead the country to become an IUU free nation.”
There are an estimated 4.5 million migrant workers in Thailand with 222,000 workers in the seafood processing sector and approximately 129,000 workers onboard fishing vessels.
Thailand’s seafood exports totaled 1.56 million tonnes worth over $6.8 billion in 2018. The main export markets include Japan (20 percent), U.S. (20 percent), other ASEAN countries (nine percent), and the E.U. (eight percent).