THAI SEAS

Thailand 2017 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Adisorn Promthep, Director General of Department of Fisheries, on challenges facing the industry, tackling illegal fishing, and expectations for the future.

Dr. Adisorn Promthep
BIOGRAPHY
Adisorn Promthep was appointed Director General of the Department of Fisheries in April 2016. Earlier, he served as Deputy Director of the Coastal Habitats and Resources Management (CHARM) project. Promthep worked as a fisheries biologist in the Department of Fisheries for six years before pursuing post-graduate degrees in planning and development. He earned a bachelor’s degree in fisheries science, with a major in aquaculture, from Kasetsart University in 1981. He earned a master’s in rural planning and development from the School of Rural Planning and Development, University of Guelph (1991), and a doctoral degree in planning from the School of Planning, University of Waterloo, Canada (1996).

What are some of the biggest challenges facing Thailand's fishing industry?

We are reforming the entire fisheries industry, and not just traditional fishing, but aquaculture, inland fishing, and fisheries outside of Thai waters. We oversee and reform the entire industry, including imports and exports, which are crucial to Thailand's output. For example, although Thailand is the biggest exporter of canned tuna, we in fact import most of our tuna and there is a whole process there to manage, which eventually has a great impact on global seafood stockpiles. Lately our industry has been under fire from some key markets, such as the EU, which threatens to ban fish imports from us if we do not properly regulate the industry and stamp out illegal fishing practices. For us the reforms are not purely about regulating the market; it is about the concept behind the regulation and our philosophy. This is important because it is not just the structure that needs to be changed, but also the way we approach our work and support our people. For example, one issue that has been frequently raised is licensing and ensuring that all fishing activities are approved with the necessary licenses. While this is a crucial aspect of regulating the industry, it is very important to remember that across Thailand we have millions of subsistence farmers who go out fishing simply to feed their families or their immediate communities. It is impossible to force these people to abide by the same, strict regulatory process that was designed for big businesses. We therefore need to change the way we understand and better utilize our fisheries' potential rather than just throwing regulations at the problem.

Has illegal fishing become an issue of national importance?

Yes, it has. We have two problems—the illegal unreported unregulated (IUU) issue and the labor issue—that everyone keeps conflating. These are in fact two different issues with different regulations, but most often people assume that anyone doing IUU fishing also does human trafficking or forced labor. We know we have problems in the fishery sector so we try to solve both problems together although they require different kinds of regulations, enforcements, and so on. As mentioned, the aim is not to throw red tape and regulations at the industry until businesses cannot survive anymore. We regulate to support our businesses and make sure they are doing a better job, which will help them reach new heights in the world. There are many key players who in fact do things by the book and this is all about eliminating the ones who cheat the system, undercut their workers, and bring down the reputation of our country.

What is your expectation for the fishing industry and do you think Thailand will overcome these challenges?

The quicker we move on enacting and implementing these reforms, the better it will be. Looking at history, many countries, including Japan and various countries in Europe, struggled to reform their fisheries industries and went through a gradual process. We do not have that luxury; we do not have time to do it and we also do not have much money to do it. Thailand is a diverse economy so we simultaneously need to invest and develop many sectors, and not just fisheries. However, the government sees the significance of the fishery sector so it gives us attention and as many resources as it can allocate, so we try to move as fast as we can and in the most efficient way. We have outlined our strategy and plans to restructure the way things are done, both here in the department, and out at sea. If we succeed in doing this in an effective timeframe, I am more than confident that Thailand will continue to boast one of the biggest fishing industries in the world.