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Illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific

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May 23, 2022

What is the issue?

The unregulated plunder of global fishing stock by China poses a grave threat to the livelihood and food security of millions of people.

What is IUU fishing?

  • Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a broad term that captures a wide variety of fishing activity.
  • Illegal fishing – It is conducted by foreign vessels in waters under the jurisdiction of a State, without the permission of that State, or in contravention of its laws and regulations.
  • Unreported fishing – Fishing which have not been reported, or have been misreported, to the relevant national authority, in contravention of national laws and regulations.
  • Unregulated fishing – It is conducted by relevant regional fisheries management organisation that is inconsistent with State responsibilities for the conservation of living marine resources under international law.
  • It is conducted by
    • By vessels without nationality
    • by those flying the flag of a State not party to that organization
    • by a fishing entity

Why is illegal fishing seen as such a big threat?

  • Globally, fish provide about 3.3 billion people with 20% of their average animal protein intake.
  • Around 60 million people are engaged in fishing activities globally.
  • The unregulated plunder of global fishing stock poses a grave threat to the livelihood and food security of millions of people.
  • It is difficult to precisely quantify economic loss from illegal fishing. Some estimates peg it around USD 20 billion annually.
  • Collapse of fisheries can destabilise coastal nations and pose a much bigger security risk. This can fuel human trafficking, drug crime and terror recruiting.
  • This will also result in serious ecological damage.

Why is China blamed for IUU fishing?

  • The 2021 IUU Fishing Index, which maps 152 coastal countries, ranked China as the worst offender.
  • China is considered responsible for 80% to 95% illegal fishing in the Indo pacific region after having overfished its own waters.
  • China is known to incentivise illegal fishing with generous subsidies to meet its growing domestic demand.
  • China’s distant-water fishing (CDWF) is the largest in the world (17000 vessels).
  • These vessels, which can scoop staggering amounts of catch on every single voyage. They also employ destructive practise of bottom trawling.
  • China also uses them to project strategic influence and to bully fishing vessels from weaker nations.

How Quad plans to deter China?

  • Quad nations are getting ready to unveil a maritime surveillance initiative to protect exclusive economic zones in the Indo-Pacific against environmental damage.
  • The aim is to push back massive and reckless deep water fishing by Chinese trawlers in the region.
  • The idea is to monitor illicit fishing vessels that have their AIS (automatic identification system) transponders turned off to evade tracking.
  • The initiative will use satellite technology to connect existing surveillance centres in India, Singapore and the Pacific.
  • This will help establish a tracking system to combat IUU fishing.
  • The satellite-enabled dragnet will track IUU fishing activities from the Indian Ocean and South-east Asia to the South Pacific.
  • The move by the Quad security group is also seen to be aimed at reducing the small Pacific island nations’ growing reliance on China.



  1. https://www.fao.org/iuu-fishing/background/what-is-iuu-fishing/en/
  2. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-what-is-the-quads-proposed-plan-to-rein-in-the-massive-illegal-fishing-by-china-in-the-indo-pacific-7930777/
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