The warning came at the end of October last year, with the EU telling Thai representatives in Brussels that more needs to be done against unregulated and unrestricted fishing off Thailand.
“We know about the warning,” Narumol Eakpach, Fisheries Officer Specialist, told The Phuket News, “and we are trying to control boats based at all 14 fishing piers around Phuket.
“We have been talking with the boat operators since the end of last year to encourage them to register their crews and to remember to extend the licenses for their boats.
“We have also warned them that we will arrest them if illegal crew members are found on board.”
The EU’s “yellow card” was delivered by the EU Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, warning Thailand that it must take action to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
It was followed on October 28 by another message from the EU Office of International Agricultural Affairs to the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, warning that if measures to control IUU fishing are not improved within three months, Thailand’s seafood exports to the EU will be blocked.
The bar on imports of Thai seafood to the EU – the world’s bigets importer of such products – would result in loss of revenue to Thailand of about B21 billion a year from the 190,000 tonnes exported each year to Europe.
The EU regulations are by no means toothless; Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Guinea have already received red cards.
Ms Narumol admitted that there is a problem regulating the thousands of foreign workers working on fishing boats. Many are registered with the labour office and hold work permits, but not for crewing on the boats they are on.
“They keep switching from one boat to another. After they get paid they just jump to another boat. It is a problem identifying and keeping track of them all.”
However, she said, progress has been made in the past two weeks by a special team set up to check on illegal crew members.
“We understand the importance of measures to control illegality. The team, which includes Marine Department officers, Marine Police officers, Fisheries officers and Royal Thai Navy agents are carrying out monthly checks above and beyond the normal checks that we make.
“We have found that 90 per cent of crew are foreign workers, mostly Burmese, and some of these are still not registered to work on the boats but the situation is getting better now.
“More of the workers are registered and when we checked two weeks ago all of the boats are registered.”
For the boat registration, the officer express her confident that the cooperation of all sections can control the pirate fishing boat.
“Pirate [unregistered] boats will be detected at check points before they sell their catches. We will give [the owner] of any boat with an expired license a year to get licensed.
“But this will not protect them from legal action. If [unregistered boats] are arrested at a checkpoint somewhere, they will be punished. After one year, if they are still not registered, they will be barred permanently from fishing.
“We have also sent officers to all fishing piers to explain to boat operators that they must report details of the catches they sell. This is very important for quality control and will benefit the overall image of Thai fisheries,” she explained.