10/27/2015, 00.00
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EU pressure on illegal fishing threatens more than 8,000 Thai fishing boats

New Thai government regulations imposed under EU pressure uncover thousands of illegal vessels. Thailand has a week left to get the boats to comply or risk an EU import ban. Fishing employs 300,000 people. Thousands now could lose their job.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 8,000 trawlers in 22 provinces are likely to lose their commercial fishing licences after checks revealed the registration numbers did not match the vessels, and many had failed to renew their permits for years.

If all the boats were banned, it would be a terrible blow to the Thai fishing industry, which employs about 300,000 people.

The discrepancies were uncovered when the government began regulating all fishing boats to comply with the European Union's demand last April that Thailand end illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, or lose its market for seafood products. Bangkok was given six months to fall into line.

EU requirements include boat registration, installation of satellite-based monitoring systems to track the position, time, course and speed of fishing boats, the establishment a Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) System and traceability in Thai ports.

The maximum penalty for owners of fishing vessels are three years in prison.

Many fishermen reacted angrily to EU restrictions, going on strike in 22 province last July, including many legal fishermen, causing havoc in the fishing industry. The new rules in fact kept fishermen in port, fearing police crackdown.

Kamolsak Lertpaiboon, secretary of the Thai Fisheries Association, made public today the results of compliance checks by three agencies – the Marine Department, the Fisheries Department and the Command Centre for Combating Illegal Fishing (CCCIF).

The licenses of 8,024 fishing vessels operating in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea will be revoked if the fishermen did not act soon.

Mr Kamolsak said that most of trawlers that might lose their licences did not operate in Thai waters. They fished in Indonesian and Myanmar waters.

The European Union will announce some time in December whether Thailand's seafood exports would be blacklisted or if Bangkok has cooperated enough to be allowed more time to fix its problems, an official said.

Thailand is the third largest fish exporter in the world. Its seafood exports are worth US$ 3 billion a year, shipping between US$ 630 and 775 million worth of fish products to the European Union in 2014.

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