The  2014  Global  Ocean  Commission  report  From  Decline  to  Recovery:  A  Rescue Package  for  the  Global  Ocean  has  likened  the  high  seas  to  a  ‘failed  State’  where ‘lawlessness  verging  on  anarchy’ prevails  and  it  is  free  for  ‘plunder  and  neglect’. Eighteen   months   after   the   report   was   released,   the   authors   have   concluded   that although  threats to  the  health  of  the  oceans  persist,  there  have been  tangible  changes and the global community is willing to work to reduce the vulnerability of the seas.

One of the important issues of concern for the Global Ocean Commission was Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, also referred as ‘pirate fishing’. The IUU fishing involves operations that do not adhere to national or international laws, unlicensed fishing operations, illegal transshipments or transfers at sea of fish catch to other vessels, catching protected species, and not adhering to the regulations in force announced by the local and relevant regional fishery management organization (RFMO).

IUU  fishing  affects  the  sustainability  of  fish  stocks.  According  to  the Food  and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, nearly 50 percent of marine fish stocks  is  fully  exploited,  15-18  per cent  is  over  exploited,  and  10  per  cent  are  already depleted.  Further,  the  annual  global  fish  catch  in  2010  was  about  109  million  metric tons, but official reports submitted by more than 200 countries and territories totaled 77 million which means that 32 million metric tons of fish goes unreported.

The Global Ocean Commission listed six steps to combat and end IUU fishing to promote transparency and institute accountability of the fishing industry. First, it called for mandatory requirements of IMO (International Maritime Organization) numbers and tracking arrangements similar to those on merchant ships for all vessels engaged in fishing in the high seas. It is mandatory for all merchant vessels above 300 tons to install the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which helps in tracking vessels at sea. There are reports of fishing vessels turning off the AIS devices to prevent detection and tracking and continue IUU fishing operations, which according to the Commission is a worrying trend.

Second, the Commission was concerned about ‘at-sea transshipment’ of fish catch. Fishing vessels are known to operate for long periods and transfer the catch to other vessels thereby successfully circumventing coastal and port State control regimes. These vessels are difficult to detect because they generally operate in disputed waters or where the law enforcement is weak. Further, the maritime enforcement agencies seldom patrol outside their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and IUU fishers pursue their business undetected with total impunity.

Third,  the  Commission  is  hoping  that  all  port  States  become  Party  to  the  FAO Agreement  on  Port  State  Measures  to  Prevent,  Deter  and  Eliminate  IUU  Fishing (PSMA).   By  January  2016,  19  States had  signed  the  PSMA  and  the  Commission  was hopeful that other States would support the effort to ensure its entry into force by July 2016.

Fourth, the Commission was of the view that real-time information sharing and global data on high seas fishing vessels and their activities is critical to deter IUU fishing as   also   to   help   trace   defaulting  vessels. This requires   robust   maritime   domain awareness,  which is technology intensive. In the Indian Ocean, the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) in India and the Singapore-based Information Fusion Centre (IFC) established at Changi Command and Control Centre (CC2C),  serve as effective MDA  hubs. Currently, these are meant for strengthening maritime and coastal security against unusual or suspicious movements and activities at sea and can be used for monitoring of IUU fishing activity.

Fifth, the consumers of seafood have an important role to play in preventing, deterring, and eliminating IUU fishing. At the State level, vessels suspected of IUU fishing operations can be prevented to land fish brought to port for trade. Further, fish traceability is an effective mechanism to curb IUU fishing. For instance, the US National Ocean Council Committee to Combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud has proposed a seafood traceability system that will collect data about harvest, landing, and chain of custody of fish and fish products brought into the United States and if the catch is found suspicious, list it as seafood fraud.

Sixth, the civil society organizations can play an important role as watchdogs and compliment international, regional and State efforts to curb IUU fishing. It is a well- known fact that laws and regulations are difficult to enforce in international waters. Also, labour onboard such vessels are largely undocumented who work in inhumane conditions. Some of these are refugees or migrants who take risks for livelihood and constantly fear for their safety and security. For instance, European Union Commissioner for fisheries, maritime affairs and environment has been asked to approach Thailand to institute reforms in its fishing industry to ensure that its exports are not from IUU fishing and human rights of the fishermen were upheld.

It is true that sea is an important source of protein for nearly 4.3 billion people but  IUU  fishing  adversely  affect  the  ecological,  economic  and  social  conditions  of countries. Further, IUU fishing is an important issue of concern under the ten targets contained in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14. It therefore becomes incumbent on the States to understand the impact of IUU fishing on the marine ecosystem and food supply  chain  both  for  life  at  sea  and  humanity  ashore.  This  can  be  achieved  by developing  effective  measures  to  enhance  transparency,  institute  accountability,  and develop technological capability to monitor IUU fishing in international waters.




About the Author:

Dr Vijay Sakhuja is Director National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. He can be reached at

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *