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International NGOs and Advocacy Groups Raise Alarm Over Proposals to Deregulate Thai Fisheries
Leading international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs), including the Environmental Justice Foundation, Greenpeace, Conservation International, and Oceana, have issued a joint statement urging Thai Prime Minister, Mr. Srettha Thavisin, to reconsider proposed deregulations in the country’s fisheries industry. The call is a stark reminder of the dark history of Thai fisheries, where a 2009 report by the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking revealed that almost 60% of migrant fishing crews in Thailand had witnessed executions at sea.
The renewed scrutiny comes as Thailand wrapped up its general elections in May 2023. Several major political parties, including the election-winning Move Forward party and the Prime Minister’s Pheu Thai party, pledged to deregulate the fisheries sector as part of their policy platforms. These parties proposed to “unlock” fisheries by reducing existing regulations and increasing the opacity around vessels’ activities.
Steve Trent, CEO of the Environmental Justice Foundation, warned against such moves, stating, “It takes very little to reverse the good work Thailand has undertaken in recent years. The deregulations now being proposed will ensure that Thailand’s fish populations are decimated, and the safety of its fisheries workforce jeopardized once again.” The statement from the CSOs calls for immediate action to strengthen, rather than weaken, existing illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing directives and transparency mechanisms.
The joint statement also draws attention to troubling proposals from the National Fishing Association of Thailand. These include reintroducing day-rate fisher salaries, permitting child labor, and diluting punitive measures designed to deter IUU fishing. Such moves could seriously jeopardize Thailand’s standing in the global seafood market. After the US Department of State and the European Commission took actions against Thai vessel operators for IUU fishing and human rights abuses, Thailand’s rank for seafood exports fell from third in the world in 2012 to thirteenth in 2021.
While some advocates for deregulation downplay the European Union’s role, arguing that the EU accounts for just 5.6% of Thailand’s seafood exports, the CSOs counter that emerging seafood traceability requirements could jeopardize nearly two-thirds of Thailand’s seafood exports. These exports are worth an estimated US$3.2 billion (118.3 billion baht) per year. Moreover, the joint statement warns that deregulating the fisheries industry could have a broader impact on Thailand’s economy by affecting the tourism sector, which contributes nearly 18% to the country’s GDP. The proliferation of overfishing, unsustainable fishing practices, and IUU fishing could deter tourists and damage another vital revenue source for Thailand.
In conclusion, Trent emphasized, “Thailand can’t afford for its fisheries to return to the state they were in before the reforms — or worse. There is only one way for this crucial industry to survive, and that is through greater regulation and greater transparency.”