More than 200 Chinese fishing vessels have been monitored in the Indian Ocean in the first half of this year, according to the Indian Navy, even as illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing continues to rise beyond India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Most of the illegal activity is found in the Northern Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
IUU fishing depletes fish stocks, destroys marine habitats, puts fishermen at disadvantage and impacts coastal communities, especially in developing countries.
Chinese fishing vessels, fishing vessels from European Union countries and other countries from outside the region were observed to be fishing in the Indian Ocean, the Navy said, in its written reply to queries from The Hindu. “The presence of extra-regional distant water fishing fleets has been monitored by Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC). Around 200-250 Chinese fishing vessels have been monitored in the Indian Ocean, with a large concentration in the Northern Indian Ocean,” said the Navy, in its written response, without giving any details of specific occurrences. “A total of 392 reported incidents of IUU fishing were monitored in 2021 compared to 379 in 2020 in the Indian Ocean.”
As reported earlier, there has been a growing incidence of Chinese deep sea fishing trawlers in the Indian Ocean in addition to an overall rise of China’s maritime presence in the region. Incidently, two Chinese research vessels which can track missile tests are also currently in the Indian Ocean region.
Chinese deep sea trawlers have been a matter of concern for countries in the region, including India, as they are operating far from the Chinese coast and impacting local marine ecology. For instance, between 2015 and 2019, on an average at least 500 Chinese deep sea trawlers were present in the IOR.
Unregistered Chinese vessels
In a changing pattern, there is now a huge surge in unregistered Chinese fishing vessels among those operating in the IOR, it has been learnt. An official in the know said that in the last couple of months, close to 140 Chinese fishing vessels have been monitored carrying out fishing beyond India’s EEZ, in the North Western IOR. “However, only approximately one-third of these had licenses for such activities, which borders on the lines of being categorised as IUU,” the official stated.
As per United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), coastal nations are responsible for addressing IUU fishing issues within their respective EEZ. There are regional fisheries management organisations such as the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement operating under the mandate of UNCLOS as regulatory bodies to monitor IUU fishing on the high seas.
Joint Quad monitoring
Recognising the impact of IUU fishing which can lead to the depletion of fish stocks affecting marine ecology, the Quad, comprising India, Australia, Japan and U.S., in May 2022 announced a major regional regional effort under the ambit of Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA). It aims to provide a more accurate maritime picture of “near-real-time” activities in the region. “It (IPMDA) is expected to catalyse joint efforts of India and other Quad partners towards addressing IUU in Indo-Pacific region,” the Navy said.
All vessel movements on the high seas are monitored by the Indian Navy’s IMAC in Gurugram and the Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) which is co-located with it. IFC-IOR has been collaborating with other regional monitoring centres across the globe to enhance maritime safety and security, including efforts to monitor IUU, the Navy said, adding that it “undertakes satellite monitoring of vessels operating in the IOR to track such vessels.”
There are two main regulations globally on IUU fishing: the Cape Town Agreement and the Agreement on Ports State Measures. So far, India is not a signatory of either agreement.
Fishing vessels across the world are supposed to have vehicle management systems installed which not only identify their position, but also requires them to record the volume and location of their catch, helping to tackle the issue of IUU fishing. For instance, the European Union has made it mandatory to provide this information for all fish imports. In India, while larger vessels, over 20 metres in length, have such Automatic Identification Systems installed, similar efforts for sub-20 metre vessels have been delayed.