Thai junta chief vows illegal fishing crackdown

24 April 2015
Thai junta chief vows illegal fishing crackdown
Sorting the catch in Phuket, southern Thailand, 22 April 2015. A European Commission decision has slapped the kingdom with a ' yellow card ' for allegedly failing to step up its battle against illegal fishing. Photo: Yongyot Pruksarak/EPA

Thailand's junta chief said he would invoke controversial powers to clean up his country's fishing industry after the EU threatened to ban fish imports from the kingdom unless it does more to halt illegal practices.
The world's third largest seafood producer was left red-faced on April 21 when Brussels issued it with a 'yellow card' for failing to clamp down on illegal fishing, saying its fisheries monitoring, controls and punishments were inadequate.
A 'red card' and eventual import ban of fish would follow if the kingdom failed to clean up its fishing industry within six months, the EU Commission warned.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power in a coup last May, said on April 24 he would use Section 44 of the junta's interim constitution to speed up a clampdown on illegal practices.
"The government will swiftly solve problems by invoking Section 44 to authorize the military to assist officials," he told reporters after returning from a two-day visit to Indonesia.
Section 44 is a controversial provision handing Prayuth power to make any executive decision in the name of national security. 
Earlier this month he used it to replace martial law with a series of measures that were described by critics as even more draconian.
The moved sparked condemnation from Thailand's western allies at the time, including from the EU.
Prayuth has also previously mooted plans to use the power to crack down on forest encroachment and aid his corruption fight. 
Thailand's fishing industry accounts for 40 percent of the country's food exports and is a mainstay of the economy. Its prawn industry is the world's largest.
Bangkok has been rattled by the prospect of an EU ban which Thai officials have said could cost them $1 billion a year.
Thailand's rubber stamp parliament has passed a new fishing law but there is a two month delay before it hits the statute books and junta officials are concerned the changes might not come fast enough for the EU's deadline.
Indonesia and Thailand also agreed on April 23 to set up a joint taskforce on illegal fishing. 
Thai companies have been linked to shadowy fishing operations in Indonesia, an industry that costs Jakarta an estimated $20 billion in losses every year.
Many vessels are suspected of enslaving foreign fishermen, hundreds of whom were returned home earlier this month after being discovered by Indonesian authorities dumped on islands in the country's remote east.
Prayuth acknowledged Thailand had its own problems with illegal fishing and said previous administrations had not done enough to stop it.
"We cannot blame anyone except ourselves because we neglected this for a long time and did not correct it," he said.
Labour groups say a large majority of those working in the illegal fishing industry in Indonesia are victims of trafficking. Fishermen from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand are among those said to have been forced to trawl.
Thailand's military says it took power to end a decade of political instability and will hand control back to a civilian government once they have rooted out corruption, rebooted the economy and rewritten the country's constitution.
But rights groups say basic freedoms have fallen off a cliff since the military took control and opponents fear the constitutional changes are designed to freeze them out of politics for good.