To further strengthen the control of fishing activities outside the Thai waters, Thailand’s Department of Fisheries has recently issued a number of Notifications imposing measures regarding monitoring, control and surveillance of Thai overseas fishing and transshipment vessels as follows:
1. Notification on Criteria and Period for Overseas Fishing Vessels to Return to Port 2017 which came into effect on 2 February 2017, requires all Thai overseas fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean to immediately return to ports within 30 days. All fishing and transshipment activities are prohibited on the return trip. As a result, all 14 overseas fishing vessels and 2 transshipment vessels have already returned to ports in Thailand. During the return trip, the Command Center for Combating Illegal Fishing (CCCIF) had also carried out an inter-agency operation under supervision of the Thai Maritime Enforcement Coordinating Center (Thai-MECC) to inspect both catches and crews on board of those vessels upon entering Thailand’s EEZ. This Operation aimed to raise vessel operators’ awareness on strict law enforcement and the need to improve their Operation to be consistent with the laws and regulations.
2. Notification on Fishing Vessel Types, Areas, and Period of Transshipment Prohibition 2017 which came into effect on 10 February 2017, prohibits all transshipment activities outside the Thai waters for a period of 90 days, be they transshipment between fishing vessels or with transshipment vessels and storage vessels.
3. Notifications regarding requirements for the installation and operation of Electronic Reporting System (ERS) and Electronic Monitoring System (EM) for all Thai overseas fishing vessels, overseas transshipment vessels, and overseas storage vessels. ERS and EM would enable the Fisheries Monitoring Center (F MC) to better monitor and control overseas vessels through real time recording and reporting of fishing and transshipment activities including the movement of labours.
3.1 Electronic Reporting System (ERS) supports communications and transmissions of information regarding requests for permission for transshipment, transshipment declarations, and fishing logbook reports. All communications and information are electronically recorded and integrated with VMS in order to provide real-time data on date and time, navigation speed and direction, and location where fishing and transshipments activities take place.
3.2 Electronic Monitoring System (EM) is a satellite and information technology-based system for real time remote monitoring of fishing and transshipment activities outside the Thai waters. EM is equipped with electronic sensors capable of detecting the fishing gear usage, the time and type of activity carried out. The sensors are linked to the VMS and 4 CCTVs required by law to be installed on board in order to capture 360 degree images around the vessel. Once a usage of gear is detected, the sensor would then trigger the CCTV to take a real-time snapshot of the video frame. The snapshot and video record are marked with VMS information indicating date and time, location, and navigation speed and direction. The snapshot is immediately transmitted to the FMC via satellite communication and the CCTV record is kept for further inspection.
3.3 The notification requires that the setup of ERS and EM meet standard features to ensure its ability to maintain originality and integrity of the data throughout the process until received by the FMC. The equipment used must be “marine type” to ensure its durability in the marine environment. The system installation must be equipped with reserve batteries to ensure its continuous operation at all times and to prevent lost communication. The installation of ERS and EM would also help make the VMS system more stable and reliable.
3.4 The 90-day transshipment prohibition period would allow the time for all Thai overseas fishing vessels, transshipment vessels, and storage vessels to complete the requirement for installation of ERS and EM which must be tested both at port and at sea, and certified by FMC before resuming operation outside the Thai waters. This real-time system will help ensure that marine catch from overseas Thai-flagged vessels can be tracked and traced from fishing to fish landing.
It is important to note that before the launch of the fisheries reform, Thailand had a total of 76 overseas fishing vessels. Since the passage of the Royal Ordinance on Fisheries in 2015, Thailand has ordered all overseas fishing vessels to return to port, and 61 vessels have been prosecuted for IUU fishing and violation of employment and labour regulations. To prevent prosecuted vessels from resuming fishing activities under registrations of different owners, the Marine Department has also established measures prohibiting transfer of ownership of those vessels, which are now either locked at port or impounded, and whose location remains monitored by VMS.
Under the new licensing regime, the number of Thai-flagged overseas fishing vessels with valid fishing license has been reduced drastically from 76 to 20. All were granted permission to fish in the Indian Ocean but only 14 vessels had undertaken real fishing operation. As mentioned above, these vessels have all been forced to return to port as a result of this second round return order. Furthermore, the Department of Fisheries has imposed a temporary ban on the issuance of new overseas fishing license until effective monitoring and control measures, including the ERS and EM, are assured.
During the past two years, Thailand has doubled efforts to control its overseas fishing fleet through various measures. These include the deployment of observers-on-board on the vessels; strengthening at-port inspection by 32 PIPO Centers; intensifying at-sea inspection by the Thai-MECC; imposing a ban on at-sea transshipment; implementing Port State Measures; and most recently imposing obligation to install additional monitoring equipment on overseas fishing vessels. Immediate legal action would be taken against any fishing vessels found to be unregistered and unlicensed operating fishing activities. All of these stringent measures aim at rooting out illegal fishing and labour malpractices in overseas fishing fleet and industry of Thailand.