Thailand taken off European Commission’s illegal fishing watch list

BRUSSELS, Belgium — A strict warning issued against Thailand for its alleged illegal fishing practices was rescinded on Jan. 9, allowing the Southeast Asian nation to continue exporting its large marine hauls to the European Union.

            The European Commission – the EU’s executive branch – officially removed its “Yellow Card” against Thailand, with officials stating the world’s third-largest fishing exporter has addressed several administrative and legal shortcomings associated with its fisheries. Thailand was issued a “Yellow Card” in April 2015 for not properly addressing or regulating illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing activities within its jurisdiction. Failure to address IUU fishing activities would have eventually barred Thailand from exporting its marine fisheries products to the EU.

            “Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing damages global fish stocks but it also hurts the people living from the sea, especially those already vulnerable to poverty. Fighting illegal fishing is therefore a priority for the EU. I am excited that today we have a new committed partner in this fight,” Karmenu Vella, the European Commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, said.

            The European Commission spent the last three-plus years engaging in talks with the Thai government, hoping to establish a framework for fisheries governance.

            An official statement released by the commission stated Thailand committed to update its fisheries management to be more consistent with international laws and standards.

            “Thailand has amended its fisheries legal framework in line with international law of the sea instruments. It has reinforced compliance with its obligations as a flag, port, coastal and market state, included clear definitions in its legislation and set up a deterrent regime of sanctions,” a European Commission statement on the “Yellow Card” rescission stated. “Moreover, it has reinforced the mechanisms of control of the national fishing fleet and enhanced its monitoring, control and surveillance systems. This includes remote monitoring of fishing activities and a robust scheme of inspections at port.

            “With these measures, Thai authorities now have all the necessary policies in place to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” the statement continued.

            Thailand is one of the biggest players on the international supply chain of fisheries products, according to the European Commission, partially due to its proximity to the Indian and Pacific oceans.

            “Thailand has reinforced controls over landings of foreign fishing vessels in Thai ports and strengthened cooperation with flag states in the Indian and Pacific oceans,” European Commission staff stated in a press release. “The reinforcement of the fisheries legal and administrative systems in Thailand could therefore trigger a multiplier effect in the global sustainability of fisheries resources.”

            Also on the commission’s radar, albeit not directly a part of the IUU fishing dialog: how the Southeast Asian country addresses human trafficking and labor conditions.

            “While not part of the bilateral dialogue on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, the [European] Commission and the European External Action Service have addressed with Thai authorities the serious human rights abuses and forced [labor] in the fishing industry,” a European Commission press release stated on the matter. “The commission will continue to work closely with Thailand to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to promote decent work conditions in the fishing industry.”

            The European Commission stated somewhere between 11 million and 26 million tonnes of fish are caught illegally each year – roughly 15 percent of all fish caught worldwide. The world’s biggest importer of fisheries products, according to the commission, is the EU.

            “Fighting illegal fishing is part of the EU’s commitment to ensure sustainable use of the sea and its resources, under the common fisheries policy,” European Commission staff said in a released statement. “It is also an important pillar of the EU’s ocean governance strategy, aiming to improve the international governance of the oceans.”

            The commission has entered into formal dialog – referred to as a “Yellow Card” – with 25 countries on IUU fishing activities since November 2012. The “Yellow Card” is lifted only when significant progress is observed.

            “Only a few countries have not shown the necessary commitment to reforms until now. As a result fisheries products caught by vessels from these countries cannot be imported into the EU (identification and listing or “Red Card”),” the European Commission’s staff stated.

            Illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing occurs whenever a flagged boat engages in the catching of fish without a valid license, dropping lines in closed areas or depths, fails to fulfill reporting obligations, falsifies identity, obstructs the work of inspectors and/or uses prohibited gear.

            Additional information about the European Commission’s efforts to fight IUU fishing can be found here.