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Thailand’s Fisheries and Zero tolerance on IUU fishing and Force Labour


Under the global concerns on Ocean’s healthy, IUU fishing, that incorporates human trafficking, Thailand has made great advances in the fight against IUU fishing, labour issues, and the protection of its fishing industry. A decade ago, rampant illegal fishing and deeply troubling violent abuse of crew was the disturbing image for Thailand’s fleet. The situation of severe degradation of the fish resources through over capacity occurred without stringent fishing vessel control and monitoring particularly oversea or long distant fishing.  Prior to 2015 Thailand’s legal framework was not able to fulfill its obligations under the UNCLOS and other international agreements with respect to the conservation and management of marine resources.  

The reforms that were brought in 2015 to 2018 as this grim situation was exposed were specifically designed to transform Thailand’s fisheries into a sustainable, prosperous system, averting potential collapse and safeguarding fishers’ livelihoods for generations to come. These reforms had been long overdue and without them it is clear that Thailand’s fisheries would have continued their rapid decline and the country would have been subject to growing international condemnation.

Thailand is tasked to manage global challenges in combatting IUU fishing and force labour. The Thai government has taken actions to address IUU fishing in various dimensions which are establishing legal framework and strategies, managing national fishing fleet and fishery resources, enhancing its Monitoring, Control and Surveillance System (MCS), strengthening laws and penalty enforcement, upgrading the electronic traceability system, preventing labor manipulation and proactively collaborating in international level.

In 2019, resolving of important IUU fishing issues in all dimensions was well recognized resulting in the removing of the yellow card by the EU. The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and other international organizations appreciated Thailand for its commitment and efforts to successfully resolve the illegal fishing in the country. The agencies also praised Thailand as a model to other counties in the region for being a flag state, coastal state and port state to fight stringently the IUU fishing. 

Thailand has amended its fishery legal framework to meet international standard in order to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU. Thailand has ratified several international conventions relating to IUU fishing namely USCLOS, UNFSA, PSMA etc. and labour issues as the perceived latest ratification of the ILO C188. Under the new legal framework and law of the sea, Liberal fishing has been changed to controlled fishing under restricted issuance of fishing permit. The system is based on the adopted reference point or Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) and total catch allowance to prevent overfishing in cooperation with measures to reduce fishing efforts in Thai waters.

The Royal Thai Government has allocated an additional 110 mill USD specifically to combat IUU fishing on top of regular departmental budgets. The fund has enabled the Thai authorities to combat IUU fishing in a systematic way through the Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) and the National Plan of Action on IUU (NPOA-IUU) in place.

The Thai Government has developed and strengthened the Monitoring, Control and Surveillance System (MCS). The system involved port-in and port-out control, inspection at port, inspection at sea, air monitoring, inspection of labor on board and remote monitoring by the Fishery Monitoring Center (FMC) using modernized database and information technology system (IT), available 24/7 throughout all integrated inspection and control parties.

Regarding overseas fishing, Thailand uses compulsorily and effectively technology equipped with ERS (E-logbook) or reporting catch using logbook. CCTV is installed to record continuous fishing and transshipping activities. Drum-rotation sensors are used to monitor the application of fishing gear. VMS (Vessel Monitoring Systems) and AIS (Automatic Identification System) are tools used for tracking vessel locations while Hatch Sensors are used for monitoring the occupation of fish holds in the vessel. These devices effectively control and monitor the fishing activities of oversea fishing vessels and transshipping activities of carrier vessels at sea. Additionally, to prevent illegal fishing, transferring of catch and labour onboard, an observer on board the fishing vessel is required to monitor fishing behavior and crews working.

As one of the world’s largest seafood processors and exporters, Thailand has established a comprehensive traceability system covering whole supply chain as well as modes of transportation under the risk-based inspection and management, in align with international standard, to prevent the entry of IUU fish.  Thailand has built a new future for its fisheries and seafood industry through a national root and branch reform program. Thai fisheries products are now safer, more legal, sustainable, environmentally and socially friendly and IUU-Free. Our products can be traced through a new enhanced e-traceability system along supply chain – we trace from sea to plate. Apart of sanitation control from farms to processing plants and exports, all fishery products are proved and certified non-IUU products by the Department of Fisheries for exportation. The entry of IUU fish is stringent prevented under the governmental IUU - Free Policy.

The Thai government realized the importance of international collaboration including flag state, port state, coastal state and relevant RFMOs on information exchanges with regards to fishing activities of suspicious fishing vessels or IUU vessels. Thailand has extended the collaboration on combating IUU fishing to ASEAN member countries by initiating the establishment of ASEAN Network for Combating IUU Fishing or AN-IUU. The AN-IUU aims to support the cooperation among ASEAN Member States in fighting against and prosecuting the IUU fishing vessels in the region. Cooperation with key organizations such as EJF, OceanMind, Seafood Task Force as well as related RFMOs such as IOTC and SIOFA has been continued to fight against IUU fishing and to ensure the oversea Thai flagged fishing vessels and carrier vessels operate in compliance with the international regulations and conservation and management measures.

Regarding the resolution concerning human trafficking and forced labor in fishery industry, combating human trafficking remains a national agenda of Thailandsince 2015. Thailand have upgraded its combating human trafficking from tier 3 in 2014 to tier 2 in 2018 gradually, and maintain in tier 2 for 3 years since then.The Thai Government continued its strong efforts in comprehensively addressing human trafficking by pursuing zero-tolerance policy in prosecuting the human trafficking offenders; ensuring the safety and protection of victims of trafficking, implementing preventive measures to protect various vulnerable groups from human trafficking. Thailand has been focusing on the prevention and eradication of illegal labor in seafood and fishery industries. All migrant workers in fisheries sector have been regularized. We have revised laws and policies related to the protection of labor rights and the immigration management, established the monitoring system to ensure the wellness and work performance of the workers in seafood and fishery industries, and adapted three Ps measures (Prosecution, Protection, and Prevention) for solving labor issues occurring within the country. Furthermore, Thailand has prosecuted a person, who committed forced labors, and monitored this crime in every segment of the fishery supply chain; from ports, rafts to sea. It forms Inter – Agency Taskforce among government agencies and private sectors to work effectively. Foreign labors in Thailand, approximately 110,000 people, have been registered and legally working in the country since August 2018. Todays, 100% of the migrant workers employed in the fishing and seafood sectors have entered Thailand through legal channels or were approved under the proof of nationality measures.

Thailand was the 14th of the member states of ILO and the first country in Asia which ratified ILO Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 No. 188 or C188 on January 2019. At present, C188 is already entered into forced in the country and the royal Thai government enacted the Labor Protection in Fisheries Act 2019 in consistency with C188 as well as increasing the efficiency of labor protection and forced labor prevention in fisheries. A significant progress on the fighting human trafficking and other forms of forced labor are included (1)increasing identification of victims of human trafficking, (2)having prosecuted and imposing severe punishment to a number of offenders and government officials involved in human trafficking (3)developing a manual with NGOs to create standards for training/policy of fighting human trafficking, and (4)inspecting labors in collaboration with multidisciplinary teams which helps to sort out more victims from labor trafficking.

For the child labor and the worst form of labor, in 2019 Thailand increased its budget allocation for labor inspection by 47% from of the 2017 with increased labor inspectors (394 persons) and interpreters (22 persons). The risked establishment inspection was also increased. Moreover, we have more improvement in the access to education / attendance for the children of migrant workers, as well as additional supporting training in the worst forms of child labor for labor volunteers.

There were results of continued downward trend of human trafficking cases in Thailand since 2017. Greater collaboration among government agencies, private sectors, and NGOs as well as enhanced capacity of law enforcement officers led to increased efficiency in the prosecution process of trafficking cases at all steps. In 2019severe sentences were handed down to the offenders with 36.6 percent of them punished to imprisonment of 10 years or more, generating greater deterrence effect. Under the Port in-Port out control centre (PIPO), crews on board are inspected through the capacity of the multidisciplinary teambefore and after fishing operation. The Department of Fisheries has established the Marine Fisheries Protection and Suppression Centre to coordinate inspection of vessels at sea with provincial officers of related agencies. At present Thailand has already archived the standard ration of one labour inspector per 15,000 workers according to ILO’ Guideline, there were 1,889 labour inspectors in total in 2019.

Until now, the Thai Government has concretely and constantly implemented the policy on combatting IUU fishing and human trafficking and aiming to be upgraded to a Tier 1 nation in anti-human trafficking efforts and to ensure that Thailand will be free of IUU fishing as well as fish and fishery products engaged in IUU fishing entering the fishery supply chain. Thailand is pleased to fully cooperate with fisheries private sector of states and international organizations for the better livelihood of those making a living on fishery career and for the international standard recognition and sustainability of fishery industry of Thailand.

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