IUU and slave labor: the twin challenges for the Thai seafood sector

The issue of forced labor is complex, and cannot be fixed with traditional thinking.

Two ground-shaking issues have put Thailand at the center of controversy in recent times, and although they might seem different, they are simply two sides of the same coin.

The issue of forced labor, one of the most pressing, is complex, and cannot be fixed with traditional thinking, some executives contend.

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It took Panisuan Jamnarnwej, director of the board of the Thai chamber of commerce, many years of experience to understand the different layers that build up to the surface, and these need to be broken down in order to be tackled.

Jamnarnwej told IntraFish the concerns right now surround illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, while a few years ago everyone was concerned with the status of Thailand in the US Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report.

“Labor onboard a vessel is hard to monitor. Fishing is hard work, it is risky and dangerous, and pay should be four times the minimum wage to pay for that risk,  but there’s not enough fish in the sea to give this kind of money,” Jamnarnwej said.

Fishing takes place at two different extremes, he noted. On one side are big, industrial fishing vessels with the resources for monitoring, with high costs and low margins that are only profitable due to the large volumes they catch.

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And then you have the small vessels where it's not possible to make enough money to pay the crew what they deserve.

For a boat to make money for its crew, Jamnarnwej said, it needs to catch what three vessels catch, and have the costs of just one, or just have the skipper as its only crew.

“It is very simple, the small vessel owner has to be the only crew on the vessel -- often there's no catch, and you can’t guarantee that your fishermen will get paid, so you simply cannot have fishermen," he said.

Though it's important to do something, Jamnarnwej agrees, the problem will be difficult to solve. Aquaculture, in his opinion, is a safe bet to help with the transition.

"You need volume to get margins, and wild catch won’t give this to you, it’s only aquaculture that gives you volumes, and gives businesses stability and guarantees output," he said.

To turn fishing into a volume-driven industry “the sea needs to give more, the fish needs to be more abundant, and we should get to a point where there aren't that many boats out there.”

In addition, with the lack of reporting in the Thai sector, the lack of data and information about landings, it is impossible to know what's in the water, what species are caught, and from which part of the sea.

The issue at the moment is hard to solve, but he said it is "good that they are doing something."

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This story originally appeared in our Thaifex blog. Catch up on the full coverage here.

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