Environmental groups say that Thailand’s attempt to significantly overhaul its fisheries sector could roll back key protections for the environment and labour protections.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives is spearheading efforts to amend the Fisheries Act, with the goal of addressing illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, while also considering the economic implications for local fishermen.

Recently, Parliament approved 8 new drafts of the Thai Fisheries Act, proposed by both the government and individual political parties. These drafts collectively aim to dial back several regulatory and punitive measures introduced over the past 7 to 8 years to combat illegal fishing activities.

Dominic Thomson, the regional director for the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), expressed concern over these developments. “Just over a week ago, 8 new Thai Fisheries Act drafts were approved by Parliament…These drafts seek to repeal and roll back many of the regulatory and punitive measures…designed to combat illegal fishing.”

The EJF has conducted a comprehensive legal analysis of all 8 drafts, identifying 17 areas of concern, including the reintroduction of at-sea trans-shipments, at-sea crew transfers, allowances for the non-commercial hunting of protected marine species, and the removal of labor safeguards for fishing vessel crews.

The proposed legislative changes have sparked a debate on the balance between environmental sustainability and the livelihoods of those who depend on the fishing industry. While the government’s efforts aim to alleviate economic pressures on fishermen, environmental and human rights organizations like the EJF warn of the potentially profound implications these amendments could have on Thailand’s marine resources, international trade, and the human rights of fishers.

Complicating the attempts at reform is the European Union’s (EU) “yellow card” system, a warning mechanism used to indicate non-compliance with IUU fishing regulations. This system is part of the EU’s efforts to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU fishing, a critical issue that affects the sustainability of global fish stocks and marine biodiversity. Receiving a yellow card from the EU can lead to increased scrutiny and, if unresolved, may culminate in a red card, effectively banning a country’s seafood exports to the EU market. Thailand, as a major seafood exporter, faced the threat of such sanctions, which acted as a powerful incentive for the country to overhaul its fisheries management and labor laws to meet international standards. A previous yellow card warning by the EU prompted the current protections introduced by the junta government.

As these drafts move to a drafting committee before a final bill is voted into law, stakeholders from all sides are calling for careful consideration of the long-term impacts of these reforms. The success of Thailand’s fisheries sector reform will depend on the government’s ability to implement effective regulations that protect marine ecosystems and uphold labor rights, while also supporting the economic well-being of its fishing communities.

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Author: Wanchai Vatanakool