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Investigation Finds Thai Fishing Fleet Moving to Indian Ocean to Avoid Regulation

BANGKOK - Today Greenpeace Southeast Asia released Turn the Tide, a report following a 12-month investigation which found that Thailand’s overseas fishing fleets are intentionally shifting to isolated waters to avoid fishing regulations. This comes seven months after a shocking human rights exposé by the Associated Press on Thailand’s notorious fishing industry, and demonstrates a clear case for banning transshipment at sea -- the process of moving fish from one vessel to another.

“The Thai government has tried to clamp down on human rights violations in the fishing industry but these Thai fleets remain as ruthless as ever,” said Greenpeace Southeast Asia Oceans Campaigner Anchalee Pipattanawattanakul. “Our investigation shows that rather than changing the way they fish to meet the regulations, they are just shifting to isolated and less regulated fishing grounds outside the region.”

Between 2014 and 2016, Greenpeace tracked Thailand’s rogue overseas fishing vessels and found that, after fishing restrictions were imposed by the governments of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea in August 2015, as many as 76 Thai flagged vessels shifted their operations to the environmentally-fragile Saya de Malha Bank in the Indian Ocean -- more than 7,000km away from Samut Sakhon, Thailand’s seafood epicentre.

Maintaining fishing fleets in the distant Saya de Malha Bank requires routine journeys by reefer vessels of over 7,000 km, making transshipment at sea central to the Thai business model. This model allows the fishing vessels to remain at sea and out of the reach of authorities, where they can operate outside the law. The reefers deliver supplies and sometimes trafficked workers, and pick up fish, with some shipments reportedly including up to 50% sharks [2]/[3].

The report also found that the negligent use of trafficked, abused and underpaid local and foreign workers can lead to horrific outcomes, including the outbreak of beriberi disease [4]. An official investigation into six beriberi fatalities concluded that the men had died of heart failure caused by poor nutrition, overwork, and long periods at sea without returning to port, situations that were enabled by transshipment at sea [5]/[6].

Among 15 survivors of human trafficking interviewed by Greenpeace, almost half experienced physical violence on vessels. One of the main reasons for beatings was illness, especially when there was insufficient food on-board and exhausted crew members would try to sneak off to rest.

“The powerful Thai Overseas Fishing Association, which controls much of the billion dollar fishing industry, have eroded trust in their willingness to operate modern, sustainable and ethical businesses. Greenpeace and human rights NGOs are asking them to change the way they operate to meet regulations for the sustainability and viability of the fishing and seafood sectors,” added Pipattanawattanakul.

Greenpeace’s supply chain investigations demonstrate the unacceptably high risk of tainted surimi [7] entering numerous seafood and non-seafood supply chains throughout 2016, including products destined for export which end up being raw ingredients for sushi and pet food products sold around the world.  

"As long as transshipment at sea continues, it will be nearly impossible for any seafood company to guarantee that the fish they are selling is both sustainable and ethically caught,” said Greenpeace New Zealand Sustainable Tuna Project Leader Oliver Knowles. “The case for banning transshipments at sea grows stronger by the day. The evidence in our report puts more pressure on the Thai and international fishing industry to phase out this deeply problematic practice that allows so many issues to flourish.” 

Greenpeace is calling for greater control, including prioritizing  efforts to eliminate risky practices like transshipment at sea, to be exerted over Thailand’s distant water fishing fleets. Greenpeace recommends stricter monitoring and enforcement measures from the Thai government to ensure that only sustainably and ethically-produced Thai seafood reaches the shelves, freezers, sushi bars, and cat bowls around the world.                           


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