EU threatens Thailand with trade ban over illegal fishing

Date: April 21, 2015

Source: The Guardian
Author: Arthur Nelsen

World’s third-largest seafood exporter given six months to clean up its industry where ‘illegal fishing is almost totally allowed’

The EU has given Thailand, the world’s third-largest seafood exporter, six months to crack down on illegal fishing or face a trade ban on its fish imports.

South Korea and the Philippines though have escaped the commission’s net after bringing in legal reforms and improved control and inspection systems.

“The commission has put Thailand on formal notice, after identifying serious shortcoming in its fish monitoring, control and sanctioning systems,” the environment and fisheries commissioner, Karmenu Vella told a press conference in Brussels. “There are no controls whatsoever and no efforts being made whatsoever and illegal fishing is almost totally allowed.”

Unless Thailand now cleans up its fishing industry, it risks an embargo on its fish exports in October. EU vessels could also be prevented from fishing in Thai waters.

To avert sanctions, “as a minimum we would expect that control and monitoring measures and enforcements should come into place,” Vella told the Guardian.

Thailand’s agriculture ministry has announced a six-point plan for combatting illegal fishing. But meeting the EU benchmarks by October is considered unlikely, as Thailand’s legal and regulatory framework for fishing has not been changed since it was drawn up in 1947.

A high percentage of the Thai fishing fleet is unregistered and outside government control. Even registered vessels often sail without strong catch documentation and operation certificates.

“They have a long way to go,” an EU source told the Guardian. “But we are not looking for trade sanctions so it is really up to them to decide.”

The EU’s ‘yellow card’ to Thailand is the most high profile action taken against illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, under a 2010 regulation against such practises.

“Yellow-carding has been proved to be a strong incentive for states to combat illegal fishing,” said Tony Long, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Ending Illegal Fishing project. “Commissioner Vella has shown global leadership in implementing the EU’s tough illegal fishing regulation against such a significant fishing state.”

Thailand’s global fish exports were valued at €7bn (£5bn) in 2013. Last year, €642m of that catch – weighing 145,907 tonnes – was destined for European dishes, where it made up over 3% of the continent’s overall fish imports.

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