Thai fishery authority attempts to cover up illegal fishing

The fishery authority in the southern province of Songkhla concealed the existence of illegal fishing from European Union officials out of fear of that fishery exports would be cut.     

According to ASTV Manager Online, Songkhla Provincial Fishing Authority on 27 March issued an announcement, ordering illegal fishing operators to urgently distribute unregulated marine fishery products, conceal illegal fishing equipment, and not to dock unregistered fishing boats at Tha Sa-an fishery pier in the province.

The order was issued four days before the arrival of representatives from the European Union (EU), who came to inspect whether or not the fishery industry in the region meets the conditions for IUU Fishing, an EU framework which is aimed at preventing illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

The failure to meet EU conditions might result in a cut in Thailand’s fishery export quotas to EU countries, which are worth more than about 400 billion baht (12.3 billion USD) per year.

According to Banjong Nasae, leader of the Thai Sea Watch Association, the fishing authority’s order reflects the reality of widespread illegal fishing in Thailand and the lack of enforcement of fishing regulations in the country.

“If there is a serious inspection on every pier, we will find this kind of problem; there is no way that this can be hidden from the EU [officials]” said Banjong. “It’s shameful that the people who keep watch on behalf of the wrongdoers are government officials.”

In October 2014, the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) of the European Union issued a letter to the Thai government pointing out many serious problems related to the Thai fishery industry, such as human trafficking, overfishing, and unregistered fishing boats.

With the letter, the DG MARE issued a yellow card to the Thai government regarding its failure to tackle the tainted fishery industry, ASTV Manager reported.  

Last week, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, expressed anger and threatened to summon Thapanee Ietsrichaion, a TV journalist from Channel 3, whose report about the plight of Thai workers deceived into slave labour on Thai fishing boats in Indonesian waters stirred anxiety among the Thai authorities and the fishery business.

The Prime Minister said that the news could cause Thailand’s seafood industry to lose business, so "the people who published the news will have to be held responsible," Khaosod English quoted Gen Prayut as saying.