Thailand and the UN – Port State Measures Agreement: Will Accession facilitate more inspections at Thai ports?

Thailand is a major player in global seafood trade and processing of fishery products. Among the major fish producer countries Thailand was ranked 14 in 2012 with capture fisheries landings of more than 1.6 million tonnes. However, Thailand exhibits its dominance as the third largest exporter of seafood in the world (8.1% of the global seafood exports valued at 8079 million US$ in 2012) after China and Norway.

With bulk of the production dependent on imported raw material from other countries ports play a major role in entry of products for both legal and illegal origin. Currently, very little is known about the extent of inspections in Thai fishing ports? With a sprawling network of fishing ports spread across Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea, more than 15 ports cater large fishing vessels while 12 smaller ports cater imports for smaller vessels from Malaysia, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Vessels wishing entry are required to inform authorities at least 48 hours in advance and both Thai port authorities and the Department of Fisheries have the authority to deny entry for foreign vessels. In most cases, fishing boats are allowed to land.

In order to strengthen catch inspections Thailand is also developing an electronic system for the traceability of fish and fishery products. Under the new Royal Ordinance on Fisheries B.E. 2558 (2015) that came into effect from November last year more intense inspections are required to deny entry to illegal vessels and strengthen inspections at ports.

Thailand became the 26th nation to ratify the Port State Measures Agreement. Recent ratifications include Guyana, Dominica, Sudan, Tonga and Vanuatu. As of 16 May 2016 thirty countries have ratified PSMA and the agreement would come into force on 5 June 2016.

On 6 May 2016, Thailand announced that it has acceded to the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. A press statement said:

“Today, Thailand formally accedes to the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, underlying Thailand’s strong commitment to work with the international community to address this common challenge. The Royal Thai Embassy in Rome deposited Thailand’s instrument of accession to the FAO today.” 

On 10 May 2016, H.E. Mr. Tana Weskosith, the Thai Ambassador to Italy, and Mr. Sompong Nimchuar, Minister (Agricultural Affairs) / Permanent Representative to FAO, met with H.E. Mr. José Graziano da Silva, the Director-General of the FAO, to present the Instrument of Accession of the Kingdom of Thailand to the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing (PSMA).

Challenges:

  1. Imports of huge volumes of frozen and processed seafood from foreign countries poses challenges for inspectors at ports. More than 50% of the imports comprised of tuna, followed by frozen fish (38%), cephalopods (6%) and shrimps, etc.
  2. Multiple agencies are involved in fisheries inspections at ports before cargo is cleared by customs.
  3. There is very little information on current state of inspections at Thai ports (EU – Yellow card has led to progress on several fronts in both administration and legal contexts).
  4. There are significant landings of fish and seafood products of Thai origin in fishing docks spread along both coasts. Domestic fishing fleet of more than 50,000 trawlers. VMS transponders have already been installed on 2100 trawlers above 60 gross tonnes.
  5. There is currently no data on number of foreign flagged reefers and fishing vessels visiting Thai ports and what percentage is inspected each year.

Other Resources:

FAO (2016) Ground-breaking illegal fishing accord soon to enter into force, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 16 May 2016.

MFA (2016) Thailand accedes to the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand, May 11, 2016.

IUU Risk Intelligence (2016) Port State Measures Agreement – 25 parties on the table, IUU Risk Intelligence, March 31, 2016.

IUU Risk Intelligence (2015) Why more incentives for fishing industry in Thailand won’t help in controlling IUU Fishing, IUU Risk Intelligence, December 31, 2015.

SOFIA (2014) The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2014, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.

Why more incentives for fishing industry in Thailand won’t help in controlling IUU Fishing

Thai Government intends to spend 215 million baht (approx. 5.9 million) in a new buyback scheme to buy fishing boats from vessel owners. In open access fisheries where there is hardly any credible policy on building of new boats and with more than 30,000 unregulated fishing boats operating from Thai shores the Government decision is truly a wastage of public funds.

Purchase value is pegged at half the median value for licensed fishing boats and 25% of market value for unlicensed fishing boats.

The purchased vessels would be sunk leading to wastage of tax payers money. Thailand could learn a lesson or two from Indonesian Government which has sunk unlicensed vessels to send a strong signal to vessel owners and fishing companies.

Thai Government has deliberately delayed implementation of several measures allowing vessels to register several months after promulgating laws banning their very activities. Recently CCCI (Command Center for Combating Illegal Fishing) delayed implementation of fishing net mesh sizes up to April 1, showing that it is not serous about implementing serious changes to its fishing policy. Thai fishing companies and vessel owners exercise political leverage and recent changes brought in by the Military Government do not suggest any serous change in the management of Thai fishing fleet perhaps the biggest in South Asia.

Problems plaguing Thai fishing fleet

  • Actual size of the fishing fleet remains unknown (estimated at more than 100,000 fishing vessels while official figures put them around 57,000).
  • Vessel registration procedures are lax.
  • Fishing industry is heavily subsidized leading to low operating costs and high profits for vessel owners who often build new boats with such profits.
  • Fishing crew are mostly of foreign origin and often trafficked without pay from Myanmar, Cambodia and other neighbouring countries (U.S. State Department downgraded Thailand to the lowest tier on its Trafficking in Persons Report 2014).
  • Lack of enforcement and credible penalties for apprehended Thai fishing vessels. Most of penalties for illegal fishing vessels are low and never made public. Vessel seizures are never reported for even the biggest offenders.