Thousands of Thai fishermen protest against tough industry regulations

Family members in the fishing industry sit at a protest outside Thailand's Agriculture Ministry in Bangkok on Dec 17, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thousands of Thai fishermen protested outside the Agriculture Ministry on Tuesday (Dec 17) over strict regulations aimed at combating illegal and unregulated fishing which they say are driving them out of business.

Thailand, the world's third-largest exporter of seafood, began cracking down on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing four years ago after the European Union threatened to ban its seafood exports.

The EU lifted its threat in January this year, citing a "major upgrade" in Thai governance, but the reforms enacted by Bangkok have hurt the country's fishing sector.

The protesters, drawn from 22 provinces around the country, turned the area in front of the ministry into a camp site with makeshift shelters under colourful umbrellas and took turns to air their grievances over a megaphone.

"We've lost everything in the past five years. If we don't get any answers today, we won't leave," said one fisherman from the southern province of Rayong.

Mongkol Sukcharoenkana, president of the National Fishing Association of Thailand, said the strict new rules and costly fines had caused many fishermen to lose their jobs.

"The fisheries law is deformed. The regulations based on it are then also deformed. We have to fix the root cause," Mongkol told Reuters.

"If the government won't fix the problems for us, we'll just oust them." Earlier this month, fishing associations drew up a list of demands that included a relaxation of the restrictions and the allocation of special funds to help the industry.

Alongkorn Ponlaboot, an adviser to the agriculture minister, told the gathering on Tuesday that a loan of 10.3 billion baht (S$462 million) for the fishermen and a scheme worth 7.1 billion baht to buy out 2,700 ships were awaiting Cabinet approval.

But he said amending the law was a complicated matter, and that consultations were ongoing.

International organisations have welcomed Thailand's reform of its fishing sector, saying it has bolstered traceability and oversight on transshipments at sea and curbing forced labour.

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