BANGKOK (AP) — Thai officials said they were rushing to crack down on illegal and unregulated fishing in a bid to avoid the European Union's threat to ban seafood import from the country.
The EU on Tuesday gave Thailand, the third-largest seafood exporter, six months to drastically combat illegal and unregulated fishing or face a seafood import ban.
Thailand is a major exporter of seafood, with yearly revenues of almost 5 billion euros ($5.4 billion), and an EU ban — a "red card" — would seriously affect the industry. Annual exports to the EU are estimated to be worth between 575 million and 730 million euros.
The EU lifted the threat of similar action against South Korea and the Philippines.
Thailand's Agriculture Minister Petipong Pungbun Na Ayudhya said the ministry was seeking a shortcut to speed up the enforcement of the recently passed law regulating the country's fishing. The law has been passed by the junta-appointed legislature but has not taken effect.
"We are considering either to issue a decree, or to exercise the power under Article 44 to speed up the enforcement of the (new) law because we only have 180 days to work on this," Petipong told reporters at a news conference.
Article 44 in the military-imposed interim constitution gives the junta sweeping powers to override any branch of government to promote public order and unity. The military took power from a civilian government in last May's coup and has invoked the controversial article a few times to bypass the normal law.
Apart from law enforcement, the Thai authorities will implement other measures such as a vessel monitoring system that can trace the fishing boats.
"The most important thing is to make the fishermen — our brothers and sisters — and the businesses understand," Petipong said. "Overall, I am quite confident that we can solve the problems."
Petipong said the "yellow card" warning will not have an immediate effect on the Thai fishing industry but said the country could lose at least 30 billion baht ($924 million) of revenues if the EU issues a ban.
According to Petipong, the European Union did not express concerns about slavery in the Thai fishing industry, which Thailand also says it is working to combat. A recent AP investigation found hundreds of slaves on Thai boats catching seafood sent to the United States and elsewhere.
The EU will send its first delegation to check on Thailand's progress on illegal fishing in May.