The European Union has warned Thailand that the country risks sanctions, including an import ban, if it fails to put a halt to illegal fishing. The Thai government says it is "deeply disappointed" by the EU's warning.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has given the Southeast Asian nation six months to curb illegal and unregulated fishing or face an EU-wide seafood import ban.
The Commission said Tuesday that Thailand's fisheries monitoring as well as its control and sanctioning systems were inadequate and had to be brought up to international standards.
Urging Thailand to join the EU in the fight for sustainable fisheries, EU Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella said the country was given a warning - a "yellow card" - to improve its fisheries practices. "Failure to take strong action against illegal fishing will carry consequences," he added.
At the same time, the Commission lifted previous warnings issued against South Korea and the Philippines pointing out that both countries had implemented "appropriate reforms" and were now capable of tackling illegal fishing.
It is estimated that illegal fishing accounts for about 15 percent of the global fish catch.
Thailand is the world's third-largest exporter of seafood, with yearly revenues worth more than $5 billion (4.67 billion euros). The EU is a major market for the country's exports and a ban could severely dent its seafood industry.
Reacting to the Commission's warning, the Thai Foreign Ministry said it was "deeply disappointed by the EU's decision."
"Efforts to tackle illegal fishing and improve the sustainable management of the marine and aquaculture environment are a top political priority," the government said, and called on Brussels to take into account "Thailand's substantial and tangible progress" in combating illegal fishing.
Environmental groups, however, welcomed the EU's move. "Yellow-carding has been shown to be a strong incentive for states to combat illegal fishing. Commissioner Vella has shown global leadership in implementing the EU's tough illegal fishing regulation against such a significant fishing state," said Tony Long of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The EU currently has bans in place on fisheries products caught by vessels from Guinea, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, while the Commission is working with several others to eliminate the practice.
sri/uhe (dpa, AP, AFP)