Even as seafood prices at fish markets in several coastal provinces rose yesterday (July 1) and fish markets began to close as supplies ran out, small-scale fishermen insisted consumers will notice little difference in many areas as small-scale fishermen, unlike trawlers, are still prepared to go to sea.
Fishing trawlers in the 22 coastal provinces say they are suspending fishing activity until they have time to comply with the new laws rather than face the stiff penalties they would suffer if caught breaching them.
Supaporn Anuchiracheeva, of the Earth Net Foundation, a non-government organisation working with small-scale fishermen, said consumers, especially those in the provinces, shouldn't be affected by the standstill as about 50,000 small-scale fishermen are still supplying seafood to the markets. Markets would recover quickly from any shortage.
"We believe illegal fishing vessels are exploiting this situation to pressure the government [to legalise the illegal trawlers]," said Ms Supaporn. Trawler operators also were exaggerating their contribution to supplying the market.
Sama-ae Jae Mudor, chairman of the Fisherfolk Assembly of Thailand, said some illegal trawler operators, who were losing benefits, were trying to distort the situation by threatening consumers with a seafood shortage and rising prices.
"Trawlers have damaged the seas for more than three decades. Fishermen are likely to lose their livelihoods if trawlers are allowed to continue overfishing," said Mr Sama-ae, saying the government should offer financial subsidies to illegal trawlers to encourage them to hand over their fishing equipment.
Asked to respond, Mongkol Sukcharoenkana, vice-president of the National Fisheries Association of Thailand, which includes trawler operators among its members, insisted the temporary shutdown of the fish markets wasn't a threat, but the result of more than 3,000 trawlers halting operations.
Mr Mongkol said seafood for local consumption was running low and prices will soar after Saturday (July 4) as seafood supplies will dry up. He asked the government to legalise the operators' fishing equipment and allow them to continue fishing, warning that the industry faces losses of up to B15 billion a month.
The EU shares the concerns of small-scale fishermen about so-called illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The Department of Fisheries has reportedly agreed to reduce the number of trawlers in the sea by about 3,000.
Chatchai Samutsopakul, president of the Fish Retailers' Club at the Mae Klong seafood market in Samut Songkhram, said the government should try to tackle overfishing without hurting the industry, to prevent about 100,000 people losing their jobs.
Meanwhile, navy commander Adm Kraisorn Chansuvanich, who chairs the Command Centre for Combatting Illegal Fishing (CCCIF), ruled out any easing of the strict regulations against unregistered, illegal vessels and fishing equipment which came into force Wednesday.
He said the problem of illegal, unlicensed fishing boats has remained unsolved since 1996 and needs to be addressed. Easing legal curbs on illegal, unregistered fishing boats would be unfair to more than 20,000 legal fishing vessels.
If the government fails to correct IUU fishing practices, it will face a ban on seafood exports to EU countries, which will affect other legal fishing vessel operators, he said.
However, Adm Kraisorn said the CCCIF will delay the introduction of the Vessel Monitoring System, part of the changes, for another six months.
Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha said the government was considering measures to help members of the industry affected by the crackdown.
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