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Fishermen Blast Government Plan to Register Unlicensed Trawlers

06 August 2012

THAILAND - A network of small-scale fishermen has blasted the Fisheries Department's plan to register unlicensed trawlers, saying the move would harm marine life.

The department recently announced a plan to register 2,107 illegal trawlers to help Thai exporters meet the European Union's (EU) fisheries business practice guidelines. This requires all exporters to acquire marine produce from legal fishing vessels, reports BangkokPost.

But Banjong Nasae, chairman of the Thai Sea Watch Association, said the trawlers are destructive to the marine environment and the move to register them was tantamount to granting an amnesty to illegal fishing operators.

He said the department had conducted five rounds of registrations of unlicensed trawlers over the past 30 years and the number of fishing trawlers kept on increasing.

"I understand that the department is under pressure from exporters and industrial fishing operators, but the authorities should focus more on the protection of marine resources and food security," the activist said.

Mr Banjong was speaking at a forum held by the National Human Rights Commission to seek opinions from all stakeholders about the department's move to register illegal trawlers.

He said several trawlers, including licensed ones, operate in no-fishing zones which are protected for the purposes of marine animal conservation.

Between the shoreline and 3km out to sea is a designated breeding and nursing ground for marine animals under fishing law.

No fishing is allowed in this area, but Mr Banjong says the law is often flouted.

"These trawlers are operating in a prohibited area and no officials are taking legal action against them," he said.

"The authorities always claim that they have no budget, and lack manpower to enforce the law."

The activist said small-scale fishermen affected by fishing trawlers would step up efforts to stop the department from registering these illegal trawlers.

Sakanand Plathong, a marine biologist from the Prince of Songkla University, said the department should work harder to crack down on unregistered trawlers instead of finding means to legalise them.

Trawlers are also harmful to coral reefs, which provide a habitat for many marine species.

Creating artificial reefs is not the right answer to marine conservation, the academic said.

Officials must deal with the problem at its root cause, which is destructive fishing practices.

Surajit Intarachit, Department of Fisheries deputy director-general, defended the trawler registration plan, saying the move would help operators who failed to register their vessels in the previous round of registration to legitimise their businesses.

"With this fresh round of registrations, we will be able to regulate the trawlers," the official said.

This will also help operators to export their produce to EU countries.

A study by the Department of Fisheries in 2003 concluded the number of trawlers in Thai waters should be capped at a maximum of 5,730 vessels to minimise impacts on marine ecology.

However, the survey found that there were more than 6,700 trawlers in the Gulf and another 1,145 trawlers in the Andaman Sea.

TheFishSite News Desk



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