Thais need ‘more time’ to fend off EU fishing ban: official

17 June 2016
Thais need ‘more time’ to fend off EU fishing ban: official
Migrant fishermen from Myanmar on a Thai fishing boat arriving at a jetty in Samut Sakhon province, Thailand, 11 March 2016. Photo: Diego Azubel/EPA

Thailand's fisheries director said Thursday his department needs more time to clean up the kingdom's scandal-mired seafood sector and avoid a looming European threat to ban its fish products. 
The kingdom is the world's third largest seafood exporter, a status that rights groups say is achieved through illegal overfishing and a reliance on low-paid trafficked workers from neighbouring countries.
But the sector has fallen under intense pressure to overhaul the lucrative and largely unregulated industry.
Last year the European Union threatened to ban all Thai seafood products unless the military government tackled rampant illegal fishing among its fleets.
EU officials affirmed last week that the boycott is still on the table and called on Thailand to present "robust measures" of improvement in Bangkok talks next month. 
But the director of the kingdom's fishing department, AdisornPromthep, told AFP Thursday more time is needed to restructure a sector that has long operated as a free-for-all.
"Right now what I need is more time," he said, stressing that key legislation has been passed but efficient law enforcement remains a challenge. 
"Not everything is functioning at 100 percent yet," he said.
A ban on seafood exports could cost Thailand up to $1 billion a year at a time when the current junta is struggling to revive the economy. 
Thanks to a new vessel monitoring system, fisheries staff are now able to track the movements of some 7,000 vessels from their Bangkok control room equipped with wall-to-wall screens.
"When they cross into neighbouring countries' (territory) we get an alert," said PholphisinSuvanachai, the director of the department's technology centre. 
His staff then notify any stray ships -- around three or four per day -- by phone or text message. 
But more stringent regulations that would set quotas for the catch of specific species remain a long way off, said Adisorn.
"We need more scientific data. We don't know what we're going to do next," he told AFP. 
He said previous efforts to address the industry's ills were stymied by frequent changes in Thailand's government, which led to a backlog in the bills put before successive parliaments. 
The politically tumultuous country has seen democratically elected governments toppled by two military coups in the past 10 years, a period analysts refer to as the "lost decade". 
But the threat of a costly EU ban has spurred the military government into action, with the ruling junta desperate to avoid any further hits to the kingdom's slumping economy.
"The yellow card was like an alarm bell ringing," said Adisorn. 
The kingdom's fishing industry has also been battered in recent years by allegations of fleets staffed by trafficked slave and child labour from neighbouring countries.