Thailand’s proposed rollback of fisheries reforms worries NGOs

A fishing port in Thailand.

Thailand has proposed a reversal of a series of fisheries reforms it implemented over the past eight years.

The move has ignited concern among NGOs and international representatives who fear the lawlessness and lack of oversight that once defined the country’s fishing sector may return. In a letter issued in October 2023, a coalition of 84 civil society organizations, including the Environmental Justice Foundation, Greenpeace, Conservation International, Oxfam, and Oceana collectively urged Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin to oppose any rollback.

The organizations warned Thavisin the issue will likely be raised in forthcoming discussions between the E.U. and Thailand regarding a potential free trade agreement (FTA). The NGOs recommend the Thai government reject any rollbacks of laws and policies preventing at-sea transshipment, at-sea crew transfers, child labor, unscrupulous payments, and other behavior related to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

“Thailand can’t afford for its fisheries to return to the state they were in before the reforms. Following decades of unscrupulous operators fishing unsustainably and abusing their workers, hard-won reforms have meant that marine ecosystems in Thailand have started to recover and human rights abuses are decreasing,” Environmental Justice Foundation CEO Steve Trent said. “However, it will take very little to reverse this good work, and the deregulations now being proposed will ensure that Thailand’s fish populations are decimated and the safety of its fisheries workforce jeopardized once again.”

Fishers in the country, meanwhile, have argued the stringent regulations incorporated into the country’s fisheries law of 2015, which aims to combat IUU fishing within Thailand, are negatively affecting their livelihoods. The National Fishing Association of Thailand has pushed for a bevy of reforms, including a return to day-rate fisher salaries, permitting child labor, and weakening punitive measures designed to deter IUU fishing, among other measures.

In the lead-up to Thailand’s May 2023 election, several major political parties in the country, including the victorious Move Forward party and Thavisin’s Pheu Thai party pledged to

Photo courtesy of Phollapat.cheechang/Shutterstock

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