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10 May 2022

Econ Digest

Restoring marine resources, and moving towards sustainable development of fisheries


        Overfishing is undermining the sustainability of marine resources. Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) shows that the global marine catches were 92.5 million tons in 2019, an increase of 820% from 1950, of which 34.2% was overfished, partly due to the development of maritime technology and the expansion of fisheries with the needs of the growing population.  The FAO predicts that the demand for seafood will increase from 20 kg per capita per year to 25.5 kg per capita per year by 2050. Failure to manage marine resources sustainably and effectively can lead to damage to biodiversity and the sustainability of fisheries themselves.

        The European Union (EU), the world’s largest importer of fishery products, has enacted the Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU Fishing) rules, requiring all countries exporting fishery products to the EU to seriously address the IUU Fishing issues that cause overfishing. Thailand is the seventh largest exporter of fishery products in the world, with export fishery products in 2021 valued at THB195 billion, ranking 15th in the world in terms of marine catches. The EU has been concerned about IUU Fishing in Thailand and issued a yellow card warning to Thailand in 2015. If the Thai government continues to ignore this issue, fishery products imported from Thailand will be at risk of being sanctioned. Thailand has made legislative efforts as recommended by the EU, such as the implementation of the “Fisheries Act 2015” and the “Foreign Workers Work Management Act 2017”. The Thai government has also implemented the 2015-2019 Marine Fisheries Management Plan of Thailand (FMP), which uses scientific principles, based on Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) to determine the maximum number of aquatic animals to be caught in Thai waters and to make the fisheries work sustainably. As a result, the current catches in Thai waters are below the MSY, and the European Union withdrew its yellow card for Thai fisheries on January 8, 2019.

        The impact of overfishing in the past has led to a continued decline in Thailand’s natural fisheries, which fell to a minimum level of 1.49 million tons in 2017, halving the catch of 3 million tons in 2000. The government has worked to improve laws to address IUU Fishing and to implement the current Thailand Marine Fisheries Management Plan (FMP 2020-2022). The Plan emphasizes the development of a fisheries reform approach based on a successful solution of the IUU Fishing issues, and the enhancement of the sustainability of fishery resources based on the original Thailand Marine Fisheries Management Plan. Examples include expanding MSY’s sustainable fisheries into Thailand’s deep sea and offshore regions, adopting voluntary guidelines for the safety and sustainability of small-scale fisheries to improve the livelihoods of local fishers and coastal fishing communities, and, the COVID-19 pandemic has become an opportunity for faster recovery of natural resources and ecosystems. The above measures have led to an increase in fishery production to 1.63 million tons in 2021.

        Naturally caught fish production in Thailand is showing signs of recovery due to the regulations, reporting, and timely and quantitative control of fishery catches. However, fishery production is not yet able to return to levels seen in the past where natural resources were abundant in the short-term. Therefore, fisheries and related industries must continue to maintain legal standards of environmental conduct and non-violation of human rights, as more environmental and human rights protection measures will be implemented in the future. For example, in accordance with the Thai government’s 2023-2027 Fisheries Management Plan, measures will be implemented to ensure that Thailand’s fisheries are free of IUU Fishing issues, while sustainably protecting and restoring marine resources in specific ways. Commercial fishing in natural water sources will face more restrictions in the future as marine resources are dwindling. In addition, as efforts to conserve and sustain marine resources continue to be enhanced, the only solution to sustainable fisheries may be to only allow local, indigenous fishing, which has often been affected by large-scale commercial fishing in the past. Aquaculture under environmental impact control is easy to monitor and track. Marine resources are also affected by other factors from human behavior such as wastes, chemical issues, and indirect effects of global warming. Therefore, on this year’s Earth Day on April 22, stakeholders, associated parties and consumers should be encouraged to work together to find ways to protect the environment and create sustainability so that the world will have enough marine resources to meet future needs.

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