Thailand delivered a progress report on Thursday on efforts to clamp down on illegal fishing in a last-ditch attempt to show progress made ahead of a visit by EU officials next week.
Thailand, the world’s third-largest seafood exporter, faces a ban after the EU issued the country a “yellow card” in April for failing to crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Slavery is rampant in the sector, where the captains of unregistered fishing boats keep migrant workers in abusive conditions. Many of these modern slaves are from Burma.
Last month, Thailand said its seafood exports to Europe, the United States and Australia had not been hit by reports of slavery by campaign groups and media.
At a news conference attended by the navy, labour and foreign affairs ministries, authorities said Thailand had registered most of its fishing vessels and caught groups suspected of human trafficking offences in the fishing sector.
“We have completed 70 percent of the task,” said Vice Admiral Jumpol Lumpiganon, deputy chief of staff for the Royal Thai Navy.
National police said 35 groups suspected of involvement in human trafficking in the fishing industry and 73 individuals had been apprehended since April.
Iris Petsa, Press Officer for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries at the European Commission, said the EU could not comment on what was said by the Thai authorities.
“Indeed the delegation is going to Thailand next week and the delegation will have to come back and make an assessment. I cannot give a time-frame on when that decision will be made,” Petsa told Reuters by telephone from Brussels.
Thailand’s annual exports to the EU are estimated to be worth between 575 million to 730 million euros ($641 million to $813 million). The government has said it is confident exports won’t be banned.
Sompong Srakaew, director of the Thailand-based Labour Rights Promotion Network which works with Thai and migrant workers in the fishing sector, said not all issues had been resolved and the government needs to take a long-term view.
“The government mustn’t take a short-term view just to meet the EU’s targets,” said Sompong. “Some progress has been made but the law will need to be enforced both in terms of monitoring vessels and also workers in the fishing sector.”