The EU’s fight against pirate fishing

The European Commission has today waved a yellow card at Thailand for not taking sufficient measures to fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU). The card follows an initial denouncement from the European Commission in 2011 and now marks the opening of a formal dialogue with the Thai authorities to ensure corrective measures are taken.

Should the situation not improve in Thailand within six months, the EU could resort to banning fisheries imports from Thailand. Such measures have been taken in the past with Belize, Guinea, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.  Last year, over 3% of Europe’s overall fish imports came from Thailand and according to Eurostat, the UK has the largest appetite for Thai fish, consuming over €153.4m worth each year. This goes to say, given the scale of imports of Thai fish to the EU, a ban could have serious consequences and will certainly pressure Thailand’s government to clamp down on IUU fishing.

IUU fishing causes considerable environmental and economic loss and has a wider impact on the livelihoods and food security of coastal populations in Thailand. It is difficult to determine the cost of IUU fishing, but it is estimated that it costs the global economy 22 billion euros per year. Such pirate fishing also causes significant environmental damage, with fishers usually identifying commercially valuable species that have been caught, and discarding the remainder – often as much as 75% of the total catch. This bycatch often includes sharks, marine turtles and juveniles of commercial species – which endangers the future of the stocks.

The Environmental Justice Foundation recently reported that in Thailand, forced labour, child labour, human trafficking and various other human rights abuses are also widespread in IUU fishing fleets. These fleets operate under the radar and the only control mechanisms they are likely to encounter are spot checks from seafood processors on land.

There is brighter news though, as today the European Commission also acknowledged that South Korea and the Philippines have carried out appropriate reforms of their legal systems to better tackle illegal fishing. This recognition from the European Commission halts the “identification” procedure that started with a yellow card for Korea (2013) and the Philippines (2014) and recognises that their legal systems are now aligned to international law.

This is great news and once again shows that in the field of fisheries, the EU is now an important player in promoting fair fishing practices around the world and in building valuable global allies on sustainable management.

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