ANALYSIS - The Thai fisheries and aquaculture sector is moving towards a sustainable future that will allow it to have an impact on global markets, writes Chris Harris.
Speaking at the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels, Dr Wimol Jantrarotai, the director general of the Department of Fisheries said the fisheries sector is working to beat the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices that have been damaging to the industry in South East Asia over the years.
By ensuring that IUU practices are cracked down upon and instituting sustainable accredited systems of fishing and aquaculture, the Thai fishery sector is looking to expand and develop its present lucrative export business.
Last year the total seafood production of Thailand reached 3 million tonnes with more than 1.9 million tonnes worth $8.8 billion exported. Of the 3 million tonnes produced two million tonnes comes from capture fishing and 1 million tonnes from aquaculture.
Part of the sustainability programme for the sector is a conservation zone running along the coastline of the 22 provinces ranging in width from just over 3 km to 5.4 km
Dr Jantrarotai said that the industry and government have introduced a closed system for small scale fisheries that allows the fish population to breed and spawn.
“Areas are closed for three months to ensure the fishery stocks are sustained,” said Dr Jantrarotai.
To en sure the conservation zones and the closed season regulations are observed, the Thai government has 200 patrol vessels combing the area and last year saw 200 cases brought to justice.
“The illegally caught fish is confiscated and sold with the money going back to the government,” he said.
The government also licenses the fishing gear to ensure that methods of fishing such as trawl fishing are restricted and by licensing the fishing vessels, the government can also restrict the numbers to help with stock conservation.
The restrictions to clamp down on IUU fishing practices apply right along the chain to forage fish and by-products for fish feed for shrimp in the aquaculture farms.
The government along with the industry is also applying strict standards and regulations to control the sustainability and safety of the seafood products produced and caught.
The government applies the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food standards and International standards to the methods of production
In aquaculture the shrimp and culture fish production is to GAP/TAS 7401 standards in order to meet the World Trade Organization principles on transparency. The aquaculture sector has been producing to the ISO IEC Guide 17065 standard since February 2010.
“A national food safety strategy has been developed by the government. And in line with Codex the inspection services are risk based,” Dr Jantrarotai said.
He added that the sector also has a drug residue control programme both on the farm and at the processing level, and pathogen controls, particularly for salmonella are carried out through the plan and through the HACCP systems that are in place.
He said there is full chain traceability through the feed, to the hatchery on the farm, through the distributor and to the processor, - a manual traceability system through documents from the farm to the processor.
Dr Jantrarotai said that in the past, the Thai fishery and aquaculture sector had been criticised for practices that had been destroying the mangroves, but now regulations and systems have been put in place to ensure the mangroves are conserved.
“Since 2000, the mangrove area has been increased and aquaculture production has also gone up,” he said.
The government has also institute other programme of conservation and sustainability together with the industry such as the crab bank and squid egg bank programmes and a programme to build artificial reefs. The reefs cover 20 provinces on 477 sites covering a total of 1982 square kilometres.
The squid and crab banks, run in cooperation with the fishermen, take the eggs from the females when they are caught and they are then grown on into larvae stages to be replaced in the fishing ground.
“Thailand has had a commitment to safe and sustainable seafood production since 1998,” said Dr Jantrarotai.
“There has been continual improvement in developing aquaculture systems and control systems from the farm to the processing plant.”