Study finds Thai vessels falsely report fish catches

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Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Fish catches by Thailand’s distant-water fleet fishing throughout the Indo-Pacific are almost seven times higher than the numbers reported to the United Nations, according to new research carried out by The University of Western Australia and The University of British Columbia.

The researchers with the Sea Around Us – Indian Ocean at UWA and the Sea Around Us at The University of British Columbia, have revealed that in 2014 alone, Thailand caught 3.7 million tonnes of fish outside its Exclusive Economic Zone but reported only 247,000 tonnes to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

This figure represents a decline from peak numbers reached in the mid-1990s when the more relaxed rules of Thailand’s neighbours allowed for massive catches of more than 7 million tonnes per year by Thai fishers.

The study published in Frontiers of Marine Science also found that as much as 80 per cent of the catch was unreported and much of it was likely to have been obtained illegally.

Thailand, which is he fourth-largest seafood exporter in the world, has taken measures to improve its fishing operations, such as temporarily banning trans-shipments within and outside its Exclusive Economic Zone, and requiring all vessels to return to port within 30 days at sea.   It has also implemented an electronic fishing licensing system, a logbook reporting system and a Vessel Monitoring System.

Co-author Professor Dirk Zeller from UWA’s School of Biological Sciences and the Sea Around Us – Indian Ocean, said that despite these measures reports suggested that significant levels of unmonitored and illegal activity continued.

“Vessels are travelling further distances to fish rather than complying with the new laws,” Professor Zeller said.

“Enforcing Thai laws in the waters and ports of a distant country is difficult or even impossible, despite Thailand’s official obligations under international law as the flag-state of these vessels.”

This kind of manoeuvre has also created a situation where domestic catches are not properly reported and reconstructed domestic catches taken within Thai waters over the last 60 years were estimated to be nearly one-and-a-half times larger than catches formally reported.

“In total, Thailand’s domestic industrial, artisanal, subsistence and recreational sectors caught more than 109 million tonnes of fish between 1950 and 2014 and failed to report much of that.”

The report also found that the lack of reliable data hindered the country’s efforts to address the overexploitation of its marine resources, which have showed a downward trend since the mid-1990s.

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