Source: The Maritime Executive
Thailand has become one of the first countries in Southeast Asia to publish a full list of all its registered and licensed fishing vessels, alongside a watchlist containing vessels prohibited from fishing. Making such information freely available is a crucial step in eradicating illegal fishing and human rights abuse in the industry, and marks Thailand out in the region for taking this progressive step, says the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).
Much of the fishing industry is at best opaque, and at worst operates under a veil of secrecy, says the EJF. Illegal operators aim to create as much confusion as possible around their identities, escaping detection by changing vessel names, concealing ownership, flying different flags or removing ships from registers entirely.
The lists have been published in an attempt to grapple with these problems. The Thai Marine Department website now lists 10,742 vessels eligible to fish in Thai waters. This list contains vital information such as each vessel’s registration number, owner’s name, and port of registration. Thailand’s fishing fleet has been an unknown quantity, with vessel figures varying hugely depending on the data source. For instance, while government statistics for 2015 put the number of registered vessels at 18,089, other government sources declared the figure closer to 57,000.
“Transparency is one of the best guards we have against illegal fishing and the associated human rights abuses,” says EJF’s Executive Director Steve Trent. “Thailand has shown leadership by making this vital data publicly available online, in a move that will not only help Thailand deal with illegal fishing and human rights abuse in its fishing industry but will also lead by example for other countries in the region. Transparency does not require new, sophisticated technology or unrealistic expense. These measures are simple, cheap and can be put in place today by all nations.”
The move comes at a time when Thailand is preparing to become chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2019, providing a unique opportunity to encourage other neighboring countries to follow suit, says Trent. As well as publishing vessel lists, EJF is calling on governments to publish a list of vessels sanctioned either for illegal fishing or human trafficking and information on “beneficial ownership” of fishing vessels, in other words who truly takes the profits.