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Ministers at odds on Section 44 for fishing

Cabinet ministers yesterday (April 22) expressed mixed opinions about a proposal that Section 44 of the interim charter should be used to address problems that spurred the European Union (EU) to threaten an import ban if Thailand fails to clean up the illegal fishing industry in six months.

By Bangkok Post

Thursday 23 April 2015, 09:02AM

A fisherman untangles crabs from his net in tambon Ban Phe of Rayong’s Muang district in August 2013. (Bangkok Post file photo)

A fisherman untangles crabs from his net in tambon Ban Phe of Rayong’s Muang district in August 2013. (Bangkok Post file photo)

However, the government is confident that a substantial improvement will be seen before the EU delegation arrives in Thailand next month.

The EU has given Thailand six months to take drastic action against illegal fishing and strengthen related laws.

Prime Minister's Office Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana yesterday said the government will need to use all the firepower it has to solve the problems of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing when asked about the proposed use of Section 44.

The section gives Prime Minister and National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) chief Prayut Chan-o-cha special powers to intervene in all national administration, judicial and legal areas.

Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda also supported the use of Section 44 to facilitate efforts to tackle IUU fishing.

According to Gen Anupong, special powers may be needed in managing migrant workers in border provinces.

Finance Minister Sommai Phasee voiced support for the proposed use of Section 44, saying it was already being used to tackle safety concerns over Thai aviation regulations.

A cabinet source said, however, some ministers are worried the use of Section 44 to resolve the issue could make the problem more complicated since the EU disagreed with these special powers from the outset.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said yesterday there is no need for the prime minister to use Section 44.

Gen Prawit said he will ask Gen Prayut to set up a special committee to explain what the Thai government has done to stop IUU fishing. The committee can be established without having to use Section 44.

Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Pitipong Phuengboon Na Ayudhaya said even though the government has a limited time in office, he disagreed with using Section 44 to deal with the fishing problems, and they should be resolved under normal legal procedures.

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"The current law does not cover environmental issues and there is no punishment for those who commit illegal actions outside the country's territorial waters. This shows Thailand's irresponsibility to the international community," the minister said.

However, the minister expressed confidence Thailand will be removed from the EU's fishing yellow-card list.

"A clear improvement is expected to be seen before the EU delegation comes to monitor the situation in the country next month," he said.

"If we do not start fighting illegal fishing seriously, it could cause significant damage to the fishing industry of our country. We will definitely lose about B30 billion," he said.

Three major tasks the EU told Thailand to work on during the next six months are enforcement and punishment, a national action plan on IUU fishing and port-in/port-out surveillance, Mr Pitipong said.

"Under current laws, fishermen who possess illegal fishery equipment will not be punished if they have not used it yet. But the new law will give the officials the right to punish those who have illegal fishing tools, whether they have used them or not," he said.

Port-in/port-out surveillance has also been introduced in Chumphon, Ranong, Songkhla and Phuket, but the power of officials to conduct inspections mentioned in the law is not clear, Mr Pitipong said.

Pornsil Patcharintankul, an adviser at the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said the case showed the need for Thai authorities to get their act together, noting the EU had sent signals for some time about a yellow card but the government failed to pick up on them.

He said if the ban was eventually imposed, the Thai fishing industry would be in trouble due to fierce competition from other countries. He said while some countries may not entirely ban fishery products, importers will play a larger role in setting product standards which could further hit Thai operators.

Read original story here.



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