Paisarn Sukpunwan, the administration chief at the Phuket Provincial Fisheries Office, led a team of officers to inspect fishing boats at Rassada Pier for any illegal irregularities of fishery activities and human trafficking on Tuesday (Jan 8).
Joining Mr Paisarn were officials from the Phuket Labour Protection and Welfare Office, the Phuket Social Development and Human Security Office, Phuket Immigration, the Phuket Marine Office, the Phuket Public Health Office, Region 8 Police and the Phuket Provincial Administrative Organisation (PPAO or OrBorJor).
“These inspections are carried out randomly each month, as part of the integrated effort to prevent illegal employment and working conditions, and human trafficking,” Mr Paisarn said.
The campaign against illegal fishing practices has seen the introduction of many new regulations, including that all boats over 30 gross tons must have a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) installed and operating; all boats must use only licensed fishing equipment; and all crew must keep an up-to-date log of their working hours, pay and conditions.
“All of these regulations must be adhered to in order to reduce irregularities on fishing boats,’’ Mr Paisarn explained.
Inspections were carried out on three boats, with no irregularities found on any of them.
The first boat inspected, the Sor Pornchainavee, captained by Sawat Saela, was found to have 36 workers on board: five Thais and 31 Myanmar nationals.
The second vessel inspected, the Pronprasert 111, captained by Mokrala Sailaiet, was found to have 36 workers on board; three Thais and 33 Cambodians.
The third boat inspected, the Chokkanjana 29, captained by Prayot Buttarat, was found to have 29 workers on board; four This and 25 Myanmar nationals.
“Every vessel had all the required licences and accurately kept log books showing every time they departed and arrived back at port,” Mr Paisarn noted.
“Every foreign worker was healthy, had social insurance cards and had correctly updated sea logs,” he said.
“We conducted random questioning of the workers and all of them said that they were not forced labour and none them had been brought here by traffickers,” Mr Paisarn added.
Somsrit Jaidee, a representative of one of the key local fishery organisations, praised the lifting of the “yellow card” by the EU.
‘‘This is an important opportunity for fishermen to work on the sea without any concerns,’’ he said.
“Our fishery organisations are willing to conduct fishing lawfully and follow fishing regulations in order to develop the fishery industries of Thaialnd,” he added.
Mr Paisarn of the Phuket Provincial Fisheries Office noted, “I am very glad that the ‘yellow card’ has been removed. As government officials, we have been working to eliminate IUU [illegal, unreported and unregulated] fishing issues for three years [since the yellow card was instituted].
“What to do next is ensure that fishermen continue to conduct their fishing lawfully and be able to control fishing at standards that will bring great reform to Thailand's fishery industry,’’ he added.
Korakot Paereepart, head of Phuket Fishing Pier Office, the main port for fishing boats in and out of Phuket, also praised the removal of the “yellow card”.
“This is very good news. Today, many of local fishery organizations are very happy. The seafood industry in Phuket is very busy,” he said.
“Every local fisheries organisation is ready to cooperate with the government in order to keep the local fisheries in order.” he assured.
Mr Korakot’s full espoused acceptance the new regulations imposed on the Thai fishing industry in order to comply with EU requirements has not been echoed by other fishing operators elsewhere in Thailand
Even though the European Union has delisted Thailand from its yellow-card status on Tuesday (see story here), much needs to be done to reverse the plight of the fishing sector affected by “overly stringent'” regulations issued to fight illegal fishing, says the president of the Pattani Fishery Association.
Phubet Chantanimi said fishing operators are still affected by about 400 laws and regulations related to the tackling of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU), the Bangkok Post reported. (See story here.)
They have had an adverse impact on the livelihood of fishermen and caused damages worth hundreds of billions of baht in the sector, Mr Phubet said.
“In fact, the removal of the yellow-card status does not improve things for fishermen,” he said.
Mr Phubet called on the government to amend or relax some of the more stringent rules that adversely affect fishermen.
For example, trawlers in some provinces are required by law not to put to sea until 9am. Any that have opted to leave just 10 minutes early have been fined B100,000 per trawler, he said.
“This was too heavy-handed as they didn't cause any damage,” he said.
He said operators and fishermen should get a say in amending the rules and regulations, particularly two royal decrees issued in 2015 and 2017 to stamp out IUU activities and improve regulation of the Thai fisheries industry.
Lae Dilokvidhyarat, an economics lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, said the country has much to work to do before it can win back the confidence of consumers abroad, particularly in the EU.
After the yellow card was issued three years ago, Thai seafood exports were cast in a bad light and exporters suffered huge losses, Mr Lae said.
Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong said the de-listing would also be a boon for spin-off industries like seafood processing.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
The EU de-listed Thailand from yellow-card status on Tuesday in recognition of its progress in tackling IUU activities.
Thailand is the world’s third-largest exporter of fish products – a status that rights groups say is achieved through illegal overfishing and reliance on low-paid trafficked workers from neighbouring countries.
The EU imposed the yellow card in April 2015 as a warning that Thailand at the time was not sufficiently tackling IUU fishing.
The decision on Tuesday reversed the first step of a process that could have led to a complete import ban of marine fisheries products into the EU.
Failure to resolve the IUU problem, and an ensuing trade ban, could have led to losses of US$300 million a year, the Bangkok Post reported. (See story here.)
Since the warning was issued, the EU and Thailand have engaged in a constructive process of cooperation and dialogue.
The Thai government has amended 138 of its fisheries regulations to align with international laws and standards, the Bangkok Post noted.