Thai fishing group lobbies government to relax reforms, leaving NGOs, retailers, and suppliers troubled

Published on
September 19, 2019

A list of demands from the National Fishing Association of Thailand (NFAT) – shared with Thai government officials in a closed-door meeting – could “derail the reform of the country’s fisheries,” according to the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and its sources. 

NFAT’s demands include lifting all restrictions on crew and catch transfers at sea, as well as being allowed to fish for much longer without the obligation to record exact fishing locations, EJF said. Additionally, the group has called for vessels that lost their licenses in 2015 to be allowed to fish once more, and for the abolishment of annual inspections of vessels and crew. It has also requested that age restrictions on fishing be relaxed, and that operators be given the capability to revise crew lists for many hours after leaving port. 

EJF said if the demands were satisfied, it “would likely return the country’s fishing fleet to its abusive and illegal past, endangering the country’s economy, fish stocks and international reputation.” 

Regarding the first of NFAT’s demands relating to lifting restrictions on at-sea crew and catch transfers, EJF argued that such a measure would allow “abusive vessel owners to swap enslaved migrants between vessels so that they almost never made landfall, with virtually no chance of escape or detection by the authorities.” Before the current reforms were put in place, these practices were widespread and well-documented, EJF said. A reversal of this restriction could also allow “operators to launder illegally caught fish between boats so it was no longer traceable, allowing it to make its way into international supply chains undetected,” the organization added. 

If vessels that lost their licenses were allowed to fish again, per one of NFAT’s additional demands, it could promote illegal dealings once more, EJF noted. “Many of these were sanctioned for illegal fishing, others were ‘ghost vessels’ with the same registration documents as legitimate vessels, and almost certainly using this confusion of identity to cover illicit activities,” the organization said. 

There are 35 organizations – including EJF, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Lyons Seafoods, Greenpeace, and Oxfam – who are coming together to sign and present a letter to Thailand’s prime minister condemning the demands and urging the government to protect reforms.

“The reforms brought in by the Royal Thai Government have had a hugely positive impact on Thailand’s fisheries and the entire region of Southeast Asia. They have been crucial to the country’s economy, fish stocks and international reputation. They must not be lost to the self-serving, short-term interests of a few rogue companies in the form of NFAT. What possible reason is there for scrapping these safeguards other than to obscure the fact workers’ human rights and national laws are being disregarded?” said EJF’s Executive Director Steve Trent.

Many of the reforms have been recognized by key business networks, including the Thai Chamber of Commerce and Thai Fishery Producers Coalition, as signifying a turning point for Thailand’s fishery sector, helping to re-establish trust from many import countries. 

Trent said the nature of the meeting between NFAT and Thailand’s government was cause for concern as well.

“The underhand nature of the meeting is also a grave concern,” he noted. “Thai fisheries are crucial for an immense number of the country’s citizens. The government must ensure that the reform process is transparent and includes all stakeholders – from the commercial sector, seafood suppliers and processors, small-scale fishing communities, civil society NGOs and academia.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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