07/02/2015, 00.00
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Bangkok: thousands of workers on strike against illegal fishing regulations

Under new government rules adopted in response to EU demands, fishermen now need licences, registered fishing equipment and navigation systems. Poor fishermen cannot afford the new costs, ask for “more time”.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Thousands of fishermen went on strike in 22 of Thailand’s 76 provinces, following the government's decision to enforce new regulations against illegal fishing.

The European Union gave Thailand a “yellow card”, threatening to suspend its fish imports if the Asian country did not comply with certain standards within six months.

What is more, illegal fishing is a major problem in many Southeast Asian nations because of its negative impact on workers’ safety, tax revenues, the environment and fish habitat, especially due to the widespread use of explosives and cyanide.

New government regulations call for licences, registered fishing equipment and navigation systems.

However, some fishermen have been unable to take their boats out to sea because they did not meet the new regulations.

Others said they feared being caught. Those who do not comply with the regulations face up to three years in jail.

Some registered fishermen have refused to go out in solidarity with their colleagues.

Thailand's National Shippers' Council said around 40,000 vessels have been registered to date, with 3,000 still unregistered.

A high percentage of the Thai fishing fleet is outside of government control, making it difficult to track vessels. Some registered vessels sail without catch documentation and operation certificates.

Kamolsak Lertpaiboon, secretary-general of the Fishing Association of Thailand, and Aphisit Techanitisawad, president of the Thai Overseas Fisheries Association, agree that fishermen need more time to comply with the new laws, and that the government could have imposed a more lenient timeframe for changes.

Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha called for calm yesterday and urged fishermen whose boats met the required standards not to go on strike.

"We can't avoid this crackdown because if we don't pass international assessment, what will happen?" he said. "Those vessels that can go out to fish must go."

Thailand is the world's third-largest seafood exporter. Its overall fish exports were worth about US$ 3 billion last year, this according to the Thai Frozen Foods Association. Its estimated annual fish exports to the European Union is between US$ 640 and US$ 810 million.

Mr Wiriya Sirichaiekawat, vice-chairman of the National Fisheries Association of Thailand, fears that a prolonged strike could lead to layoffs.

Thailand's fishing industry employs more than 300,000 people, many of them illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries.

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