TODAY'S deadline for the strict imposition of local fishery regulations under the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing protocol enforced by the European Union will not be extended despite threats from fishing operators to launch a mass protest, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday.
He said a system for mandatory registration had been made available for fishing operators for six months now, but more than 80 per cent of the vessels still remained unregistered. "If the government extends the deadline, will the EU extend its deadline [due in August] accordingly?" the premier asked.
"If the trawlers won't go offshore, so be it, and if they break the law, prosecute them. We have let this problem continue for far too long, because previously we could not act tough against people hit by poverty. But today we follow the law unconditionally," Prayut said in Chiang Mai where he has been presiding over a mobile Cabinet meeting.
The business sector has voiced support for the government's handling of the IUU issue to guard against EU's ban on seafood imports from Thailand, and is calling on the authorities to speed up measures to meet the IUU deadline for initial appraisal scheduled in August.
Tens of thousands of trawlers based in 22 coastal provinces have vowed to dock if the government refuses to extend the deadline by two months.
Sompol Jirojmontri, head of the Trang Fishery Association, said of the 300 large fishing boats (30-60 tonnes gross) in the province, more than 100 boats had docked at some piers because they did not have logbooks or licences for fishing equipment and feared arrest. He said this suspension of operation would affect the entire fishing industry.
Operators of fishing trawlers in Ranong are also calling on the government to relax the regulation, after 300 trawlers refused to go fishing yesterday.
Thawee Bunying, president of the Ranong Fishery Association, said more than 300 commercial fishing vessels that operate in the Andaman Sea had docked on the Ranong coast after the National Fisheries Association of Thailand decided that 22 provinces would stop operations today due to the IUU regulations.
Operators 'ready to comply'
There are 20,000 operators and 53,000 trawlers, of which 33,000 vessels have registered. On April 26, the Harbour Department also ordered trawlers of more than 60 tonnes gross to install a Vessel Monitoring System within three months. The installation of the device costs Bt40,000 (S$1,594), and those who fail to comply will face a maximum fine of Bt10,000.
Somyot Wongbunyakul, president of the Phuket Fishery Association, said operators in Phuket were willing to comply with the regulations, but the Command Centre for Combating Illegal Fishing (CCCIF) strictly requires operators to present all 15 important documents.
Trawler crew member Bunlert Pensuk said most operators would have key documents like logbooks and trawler registration licences, but it would take about two months for them to get the other documents ready due to lengthy state procedure and shortage of state officials.
Preecha Tantirak, chief of the Port in and Port Out controlling centre, declared that the centre had met 70-per-cent success since it opened on May 6, saying trawlers had been shown cooperation to report themselves. The centre will call a meeting today to discuss problems and solutions in implementation among concerned parties.
The Thai National Shippers' Council (TNSC) has called on the government to accelerate anti-illegal fishing processes in order to prevent a domino effect of a likely EU ban of fishing products from Thailand.
Paiboon Ponsuwanna, director and adviser to TNSC's board of directors, said the IUU fishing issue needs to be fixed and called on the government to speed up the systemisation of the fishing industry.
"As one of the leaders of the Asean Economic Community, we must care for the environment and share resources with other members," he said.
If the government failed to provide proof of tangible action to the EU by October, Thailand would possibly be given a red card, which can lead to Thai products being boycotted across the world, he added.
However, Vallop Vitanakorn, TNSC vice chairman, disagreed, saying he expected the EU to give Thailand another yellow card as it had done with South Korea previously.
"We will probably get another yellow card in October, because we will not be able to fix the IUU problem in time. South Korea had the same experience, as it took them two to three years before they could fix the problem. They managed to escape the red card and I expect the same for Thailand," he said.