NGO and major retailer praise Thai efforts on IUU fishing

2_IUU1Thailand is making a serious effort to clean up abuses in its seafood and fishing industries and so the business community and civil society groups should step up engagement and work with the Kingdom rather than resorting to boycotts, a major British retailer and nongovernmental organization (NGO) said last week.

“Don’t stop buying from Thailand,” said Steve Trent, the founding director of the Environmental Justice Foundation and WildAid, which have documented the transgressions in Thailand’s fishing and seafood industries. “Work together with the Thai government to get to the goal of achieving legal, ethical products. Walking away will likely achieve nothing.”

Trent made the comments at the Sea Web Seafood Summit, billed as the world’s premier conference on seafood sustainability, and held in Malta from February 1st through 3rd. The summit “brings together global representatives from the seafood industry with leaders from the conservation community, academia, government and the media,” according to its website. Sea Web is part of the Washington D.C.-based Ocean Foundation, which advocates for reversing destruction of the world’s oceans and their resources.

Thailand has been under fire on the issues of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing and human trafficking. The European Union warned Thailand last year that unless it took effective measures against IUU fishing, it would bar imports of the Kingdom’s seafood. Since then, Thailand has implemented a broad range of reforms to address the problems. The fishing and seafood industries are also where many cases of human trafficking, another serious problem afflicting the Kingdom, are found. Thailand has also launched a comprehensive set of measures to combat modern day slavery.

Despite the Kingdom’s efforts, some activists have called on businesses and consumers to boycott seafood and other products from Thailand. Thailand has the third largest seafood industry in the world, with exports valued at $7.3 billion.

But Ally Dingwall of Sainsbury’s Supermarkets, the second-largest retailer of shrimp in the United Kingdom, rejected the calls for boycotts. “Anyone trading with Thailand has an obligation to continue to provide for the workers in that area. Anybody who isn’t engaged should be,” he said. “This isn’t about business; it’s about people on the ground. We have to work and push for change and improvement.”

Kristian Teleki, of the Global Ocean Commission and the moderator of the event, said “very good progress is certainly being made by Thailand on this issue.”

Their comments came after a presentation by Minister of Labor Sirichai Distakul who detailed the measures being taken by Thailand.

“My team and I are not here to deny the existence of deep-seated problems. Rather we are here to reaffirm our commitment to rooting out these problems and to fulfill Thailand’s international obligations,’’ he said.

“Our focus in the same as yours: to find viable solutions that will transform the Thai fishing and seafood industry to environmental and social responsibility,’’ the minister said.