The issue of IUU fishing provides ample scope for Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean fishing management to collaborate and mitigate these challenges
The Bay of Bengal is a hot spot for illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing. Unauthorised tuna longlining and transhipment takes place on the high seas in contravention of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission’s conservation measures. There is underreported and/or non-reporting to the authorities, vessels operating under flags of convenience, stateless vessels using falsified registry documentation, vessels obscuring markings or failing to have vessel documentation. This is all part of the wider problem in the Indian Ocean of IUU fishing. At the other end of the spectrum is the western central Pacific Ocean, which, in many ways, represents the gold standard of combating the problem of IUU fishing. As in other oceans, IUU fishing comes in many shapes and forms in the Pacific islands but is especially concerning because the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) members cover 28 percent of the world’s Exclusive Economic zones (EEZs) and 55 percent of global tuna production valued at US$2.5 billion. Naturally, the Pacific offers many lessons for the Indian Ocean to curb this pressing problem and in effect bring the two oceans together for a stronger Indo-Pacific. But before the lessons are delineated, it is important to comprehend the problem in all its nuances.
Nature of IUU fishing
The term IUU fishing has those three components built into its name: Illegal, unregulated, unreported. Each of those three components are not necessarily mutually exclusive. If a rogue vessel is fishing illegally, it is very unlikely that that vessel will record its activities for accountability. Hence, it is unreported. Similarly, rogue vessels are usually either stateless or operating under flag states that have lax regulatory environments. Hence, they are unregulated activities as well. Thus, there is an enormous crossover between each of the three components. At the global level, it is the unreported aspect which is the most insidious and largest component of the IUU risk. Unreported also include underreporting, misreporting, and non-reporting. Unreported fishing, thus, crosses into unregulated fishing and illegal fishing.
There are a range of commercial incentives for misreporting or non-reporting or underreporting of activities and catch. It may be to avoid quota restrictions or to get around fees and charges and levies. It may be to hide interactions with protected species or mask activities in areas that they are not supposed to be taking place. So, if that underreporting and/or misreporting is taking place intentionally or even recklessly—simply by the industry not exercising the care and attention it should—then it falls squarely into IUU fishing. An additional issue is compromised data, which impacts the accuracy of the stock assessments and undermines the ability to monitor and implement management arrangements. Unreported fishing has the potential to rob communities of economic and social benefits that they should be gaining from the fisheries resources that they own. Unregulated fishing is the most frustrating part of the formula because it points to a failure of governments to get together and cooperate and develop management regimes and arrangements that will govern a fishery.
A few key messages from this before looking at the Pacific experience and its lessons for the Indian Ocean. First, IUU fishing is a global problem and hence needs a global solution. Second, one can’t afford to only focus on the illegal fishing component of IUU fishing. Third, unreported, including misreported fishing activities, are greater risks to fisheries management regimes than illegal fishing, through the compromise of data. Fourth, unregulated fishing must be dealt with at the government level. Fifth, each country needs to keep an eye on what IUU fishing risks they are facing. While it is not possible to respond to every single component of IUU, it is important that the most significant ones are addressed. Lastly, cooperation is key as each coastal state relies on support from one another to be able to adequately address IUU fishing risks.
The key lesson for the Indian Ocean from the Pacific in combatting IUU fishing is that a region can multiply monitoring control and surveillance (MCS) effectiveness through regional cooperation amongst coastal states. There is a significant opportunity for Pacific information exchange with organisations in the Indian Ocean region on vessel monitoring systems and data information sharing standards. The Pacific is now moving forward on electronic monitoring systems used to complement and enhance fisheries observers.
There is a real opportunity for the Indian Ocean to learn here from the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre in Honiara, Solomon Islands. The Indian Ocean could learn much from the Pacific about standardised observer training of independent observers at a national level; it is much less developed in the Indian Ocean than the Pacific. The Group of 16 Like-Minded Coastal States of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (G16), is the closest group in the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency. G-16 could take up the IUU issue as a major challenge and build capacity and trust amongst its members through engagement with the Pacific fishing bodies.
In the Indian Ocean, there is a lot of overlap in limited fisheries reporting. Some reporting species within various Indian Ocean fishing bodies go to three different entities. There are opportunities in the Indian Ocean to collaborate with the Pacific in this sphere, potentially assisting on options to establish one central management of reporting data.
The Indian Ocean could also benefit from greater interaction with the Pacific fisheries bodies on the development of harmonised minimum terms and conditions for fisheries access to coastal states EEZs. This helps to prevent one island country being played off against another by major fishing states. Managing transhipment is another big issue in the Indian Ocean; information exchange with the Pacific on transhipment observer programmes would be useful.
Much more of the fishery takes place in the high seas in the Indian Ocean, not in EEZs, unlike the Pacific; for that reason, it is much harder for Indian Ocean coastal states to take control of their fishery. But Indian Ocean coastal states have port state control, to influence and unite their positions over what happens beyond 200 miles. The role of port state control is an area for useful cross-ocean information exchange.
Unlike in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean does not have a single independent provider of fisheries science. The Pacific has been fortunate to have that independent science capability through the Pacific Community regional organisation in Noumea. There are opportunities in the Indian Ocean to look at the Pacific model of independent science input. The Pacific has the advantage of having completed a comprehensive quantification study of IUU. A quantification study would provide an incentive and data for Indian Ocean coastal states to work together on the IUU fishing problem.
There is a useful role for non-government organisations in the Indian Ocean, such as Global Fishing Watch. Fish-I Africa brings together national enforcement authorities, regional organisations, and international experts to combat illegal fishing in the western Indian Ocean. The Stop Illegal Fishing group is working with African countries. These NGOs would benefit from interacting with Pacific regional fisheries bodies on the IUU issue. The Indian Ocean and the Pacific would also benefit from closer cooperation in relation to global discussions on IUU in fora such as the FAO’s Committee on Fisheries.
However, these lessons cannot be implemented overnight and the best place to start in the Indian Ocean would be to build informal networks of trust amongst fisheries MCS officers across the region. It is probably easier for the Indian Ocean to cooperate on IUU than some of the thornier issues on fisheries management. That is true even if at a later point, the region ends up formalising its own fisheries coastal states group into a treaty arrangement.
This opinion was produced by Anthony Bergin, published at Observer Research Foundation (ORF) on 14 December 2021, reposted via PACNEWS.