EC lifts “yellow card” from Thailand for its actions against illegal fishing; Thailand plays a central role in the international supply chain for fisheries products

Below, unedited, is the European Commission (EC, DG Mare)’s January 8, 2019 press release:

Commission lifts “yellow card” from Thailand for its actions against illegal fishing

Brussels, 8 January 2019

The European Commission delists Thailand from the group of “warned countries” as recognition of its progress in tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Today the Commission acknowledges that Thailand has successfully addressed the shortcomings in its fisheries legal and administrative systems. For this reason it lifts the so-called “yellow card”, in place since April 2015, a warning from the EU that the country at the time was not sufficiently tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Today’s decision reverses the first step of a process that could have led to a complete import ban of marine fisheries products into the EU.

European Commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries Karmenu Vella said: “Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing damages global fish stocks but it also hurts the people living from the sea, especially those already vulnerable to poverty. Fighting illegal fishing is therefore a priority for the EU. I am excited that today we have a new committed partner in this fight.”

Since the yellow card was issued, the Commission and Thailand have engaged in a constructive process of cooperation and dialogue. This has resulted in a major upgrade of the Thai fisheries governance in accordance with the international commitments of the country.

Thailand has amended its fisheries legal framework in line with international law of the sea instruments. It has reinforced compliance with its obligations as a flag, port, coastal and market State, included clear definitions in its legislation and set up a deterrent regime of sanctions. Moreover, it has reinforced the mechanisms of control of the national fishing fleet and enhanced its monitoring, control and surveillance systems. This includes remote monitoring of fishing activities and a robust scheme of inspections at port.

With these measures, Thai authorities now have all the necessary policies in place to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Thailand plays a central role in the international supply chain for fisheries products. The highly developed Thai processing industry relies on raw materials from the Indian and Pacific Oceans. As party to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization Port States Measures Agreement, Thailand has reinforced controls over landings of foreign fishing vessels in Thai ports and strengthened cooperation with flag States in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The reinforcement of the fisheries legal and administrative systems in Thailand could therefore trigger a multiplier effect in the global sustainability of fisheries resources.

The Commission also recognises the efforts demonstrated by Thailand to tackle human trafficking and to improve labour conditions in the fishing sector. While not part of the bilateral dialogue on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, the Commission and the European External Action Service have addressed with Thai authorities the serious human rights abuses and forced labour in the fishing industry. Thailand has recently announced the ratification of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention No. 188 on Work in Fishing (C188), the first country in Asia to do so.

The Commission congratulates the Thai Government on this commitment and stands ready to further support Thailand in its declared ambition to set an example for the region, not least through the EU-Thailand Labour Dialogue.

The Commission will continue to work closely with Thailand to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to promote decent work conditions in the fishing industry.


The global value of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is estimated at 10-20 billion euros per year. Between 11 and 26 million tonnes of fish are caught illegally a year, corresponding to at least 15% of world catches. The EU is the world’s biggest importer of fisheries products.

Fighting illegal fishing is part of the EU’s commitment to ensure sustainable use of the sea and its resources, under the common fisheries policy. It is also an important pillar of the EU’s ocean governance strategy, aiming to improve the international governance of the oceans.

The Commission’s Decision is based on the EU’s ‘Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Regulation’, which entered into force in 2010[1]. This instrument ensures that only fisheries products that have been certified as legal can access the EU market. The prime objective of the EU’s IUU process is to enter into dialogue and offer support to third countries. These dialogues often lead to new, committed partners in the fight against IUU fishing.

Since November 2012 the Commission has been in formal dialogues with 25 third countries (pre-identification or “yellow card”), which have been warned of the need to take effective action to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. When significant progress is observed, the Commission can end the dialogue (lifting the pre-identification status or “green card”). Only a few countries have not shown the necessary commitment to reforms until now. As a result fisheries products caught by vessels from these countries cannot be imported into the EU (identification and listing or “red card”).

For more information

MEMO on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing in general and in Thailand

Overview of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing procedures with third countries


[1] Council Regulation (EC) No 1005/2008 establishing a Community system to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing


Q&A / Questions and Answers – Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in general and in Thailand

Brussels, 8 January 2019

Questions and Answers.

On IUU fishing in general

What is IUU fishing?

IUU fishing stands for illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing.

The European IUU legislation applies to all fishing vessels, under any flag, in all maritime waters.

A fishing vessel is notably presumed to be engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities if it is shown to carry out activities in contravention with the conservation and management measures applicable in the area concerned. This includes, inter alia, fishing without a valid licence, in a closed area, beyond a closed depth or during a closed season, or by using prohibited gear, as well as the failure to fulfil reporting obligations, falsifying its identity, or obstructing the work of inspectors.

Why is the Commission committed to solve the problems of IUU fishing?

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is one of the most serious threats to the sustainable exploitation of living aquatic resources, jeopardising the very foundation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the EU’s international efforts to promote better ocean governance. IUU fishing also represents a major hazard to the marine environment, the sustainability of fish stocks and marine biodiversity. Fighting illegal fishing is also an important pillar in the EU’s ambition to install better international governance of our oceans. 

What is the policy of the EU to fight illegal fishing?

The EU is the world’s largest import market for fisheries products and bears a responsibility as market State to ensure that products stemming from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities do not access the EU single market.

The EU Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU Regulation) entered into force on 1 January 2010. It applies to all landings and transhipments of EU and third-country fishing vessels in European ports, and all trade of marine fishery products to and from the EU. It aims to make sure that no illegally caught fisheries products end up on the EU market.

To achieve this, the Regulation requires flag States to certify the origin and legality of the fish, thereby ensuring the full traceability of all marine fishery products traded from and into the EU. The system thus ensures countries comply with their own conservation and management rules as well as with internationally agreed rules.

How does the EU ensure that third countries exporting their fishery products to the EU comply with their international obligations?

So far, 92 third countries have notified the Commission that they have in place the necessary legal instruments, the dedicated procedures, and the appropriate administrative structures for the certification of the catches by vessels flying their flag.

The Commission cooperates with a number of third countries and carries out evaluation missions to assess their compliance with the international obligations in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The Commission puts emphasis on cooperation to solve problems. Nevertheless, there are third countries where the problematic situation still persists even after years of informal cooperation. In this case, the Commission can resort to the different actions established by the EU IUU Regulation vis-s-vis third countries non-cooperating in fighting IUU fishing.

Concretely, when the Commission has evidence that a third country does not cooperate fully in the fight against IUU fishing, it will issue a yellow card. With this first step of the process, called pre-identification, the European Commission warns the country of the risk of being identified as a non-cooperating country. The yellow card starts a formal dialogue in which the Commission and the third country work together to solve all issues of concern. In most of the cases, this dialogue works well and the pre-identification can be removed (green card).

If however, progress is not sufficient, the Commission will identify the third country as non-cooperating. This is called a “red card”. The Commission will then propose to the Council to add this country to the list of non-cooperating countries. All products for which the catch certificate is validated after that decision will be banned from the EU market.

At every step of the process (yellow/red card or listing), the third country can prove that the situation has been rectified. It will then be delisted (green card).

The infographic provides clear overview of the process. 

Which countries have so far received a yellow or a red card?

Out of the 25 procedures that have started since 2012, only three countries have failed to take sufficient measures to lift the yellow or red card until now. These countries are Cambodia, Comoros, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

A full overview of all past and ongoing procedures can be found here.

On IUU fishing and Thailand 

What are the concrete achievements that led the Commission to lift the yellow card of Thailand?

The decision to lift the IUU yellow card of Thailand follows the constructive cooperation of Thai authorities with the Commission resulting in a comprehensive and structural reform of their fisheries legal and policy systems in order to curb illegal fishing. Measures taken include:

  • Comprehensive review of the fisheries legal framework in line with the International Law of the Sea, including a deterrent sanctions schemes;
  • Full reform of the management of the fleet policy, with sound systems of registration and control of the fishing vessels;
  • Strengthening of the Monitoring, Control and Surveillance tools, including the full coverage with Vessels Monitoring System (VMS) of the industrial fleet and a robust system of inspections at port;
  • Full implementation of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Port States Measures agreement on foreign-flagged vessels that land their catches in Thai ports to supply the processing industry;
  • Comprehensive traceability system covering the whole supply chain and all modes of transportation, in line with international standards;
  • Improved administrative procedures as well as training and political support, leading to proper enforcement of legislation;
  • Significant reinforcement of the financial and human resources for the fight against IUU fishing.

What is the EU doing to address human trafficking and forced labour in the Thai fisheries sector?

The EU IUU Regulation does not specifically address working conditions on-board fishing vessels, neither human trafficking. Nonetheless, improvements in the fisheries control and enforcement system on IUU fishing may have a positive impact in the control of labour conditions in the fisheries sector.

Different European Commission services as well as the European External Action Service are working together to tackle the issue of human trafficking and forced labour and share best practices with the Thai authorities. As a result, Thailand was the first country in Asia that ratified the ILO Forced labour Protocol in June 2018.