Explained: What is the Quad’s proposed plan to curb China’s massive illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific?
Leaders of the Quad countries – Australia, India, Japan and the United States – are preparing to unveil a maritime surveillance initiative to protect Indo-Pacific exclusive economic zones from environmental damage.
The objective, according to analyzes published on Sunday, is to repel in particular the massive and reckless fishing in deep waters of Chinese trawlers in the region.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet President Joe Biden of the United States and Prime Ministers Fumio Kishida of Japan and Anthony Albanese of Australia at the Quad Leaders’ Summit in Tokyo on Tuesday, May 24. A series of other meetings are also planned.
How will the proposed maritime surveillance system work?
The initiative will use satellite technology to connect existing monitoring centers in India, Singapore and the Pacific. This will help establish a monitoring system to combat illegal, unregulated and unprotected (IUU) fishing.
The satellite-based fishing net will track IUU fishing activities from the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia to the South Pacific, according to a report by the ‘Financial Times‘. The idea is to monitor illegal fishing vessels whose AIS (automatic identification system) transponders are disabled to evade tracking.
The Quad security group’s move is also seen as aimed at reducing the growing dependence of small Pacific island nations on China.
Why is illegal fishing considered such a big threat?
The unregulated plunder of the world’s fish resources poses a serious threat to the livelihoods and food security of millions of people.
Globally, fish provides approximately 3.3 billion people with 20% of their average animal protein intake. According to an FAO report, approximately 60 million people work in the fisheries and aquaculture sector.
Although the economic loss from illegal fishing has been difficult to quantify precisely, some estimates place it at around $20 billion per year. In 2020, the US Coast Guard said illegal fishing had replaced piracy as the global maritime threat.
In the Indo-Pacific region, as elsewhere, the collapse of fisheries can destabilize coastal nations and pose a much greater security risk, as it can fuel human trafficking, drug-related crime and the recruitment of terrorists.
Why is China in the dock?
The 2021 IUU Fishing Index, which maps 152 coastal nations, ranked China as the worst offender.
China is believed to be responsible for 80-95% of illegal fishing in the region after overfishing its own waters. In fact, it is known to encourage illegal fishing with generous subsidies to meet its growing domestic demand.
According to ODI, a global affairs think tank, China’s deep-sea fishing fleet (DWF) numbers nearly 17,000 vessels. “China’s DWF fleet is the largest in the world…vessel ownership is highly fragmented among many small companies and the fleet includes vessels registered in other jurisdictions,” he said in a statement. report.
These vessels, which can scoop up staggering amounts of catch on each voyage, are often accused of plundering the riches of the oceans with great sophistication and without regard to maritime borders. China also uses them to project strategic influence and intimidate fishing vessels from weaker countries.
According to a recent report by the UK-based Environmental Justice Foundation on the scale and nature of China’s deep sea fishing: “The growing body of research that has explored the extent and behaviors of China’s deep sea (CDWF) the widespread and harmful economic, environmental and human consequences linked to overcapacity, the numerous cases of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, destructive practices such as bottom trawling and the use of forced labour, servile and slave and to trafficked crew, as well as the widespread abuse of migrant crew members.
“The Chinese fleet has become a substantial presence in several developing countries. More than a third of authorized CDWF operations in 2019 and 2020 covered 29 specific EEZs in Africa, Asia and South America – with fisheries in many regions characterized by limited MCS capacity and coastal regions heavily dependent on fishing for their nutritional and subsistence needs,” he added in his key findings.