Towards a common fisheries policy
MALAYSIA offers a rich assortment and plethora of seafood-based culinary delights. Minister of Agriculture and Food Industries, Datuk Seri Ronald Kiandee, said Malaysia’s per capita fish and seafood consumption was 46.9 kg per year and ranks second in Southeast Asia, behind Cambodia’s 63.2 kg.
Needless to say, Malaysians are highly dependent on seafood, i.e. mainly commercial catches and landings, i.e. our waters. However, it was reported a few months ago that fish sightings in Malaysia had declined, particularly in the northern peninsula, by up to 70%, as the president of the National Fishermen‘s Association pointed out. , Abdul Hamid Bahari.
According to an unnamed source from the Department of Fisheries, the problem of dwindling fish started in 2015 due to the huge number of catches every year, with illegal fishing being one of the main causes.
This is part of a larger global trend, as noted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which reported in 2018 that almost 90% of global fish stocks have been fully exploited, overexploited or depleted (“90% of fish stocks are depleted – fisheries subsidies must end”, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 13 July 2018).
Despite recent claims that fish stocks are recovering, scientists warn against overly optimistic assessments of global fisheries based on individual diagnoses that do not reflect the complexity and uncertainty of global fisheries datasets ( “Recovery of Global Assessed Fish Stocks Remains Uncertain”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 26, 2021).
It’s no surprise, then, that the South China Sea, home to “half” of Southeast Asia’s main fishing hotspot (the other being the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea), also faces the same difficult situation.
According to a report, “Sink or Swim: The future of Fisheries in the East and South China Seas” (2021), by researchers from the Institute of Oceans and Fisheries at the University of British Columbia, at the end of the century, the South China Sea’s major commercial species are believed to have experienced a critical 90% decline in biomass by weight due to overfishing and the consequences of severe climate change.
Overfishing due to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has occurred in this region. For example, total catch per unit in the Gulf of Thailand has declined by 86% since 1966 (“The Threat of Overfishing”, The Asean Post, September 17, 2018).
According to the FAO, the annual effect of IUU fishing in Indonesia is between $10 billion (RM44.69 billion) and $23 billion (“Model for Calculating Economic Losses from Illegal Fishing Activities in Indonesian Territorial Waters”, Conservation Strategy Fund, 2018).
In Malaysia, we lost RM6 billion to IUU fishing in 2016, and even though enforcement and monitoring have been strengthened, we still lost RM4.2 billion in 2019. overfishing and poaching, which includes harmful fishing techniques such as fish bombing or blast fishing. , the use of dragon traps and push nets, bottom trawling, etc. as well as the encroachments of foreign fishermen, have all contributed to the decline of our fish stocks.
World Wildlife Fund Malaysia reported that bottom trawling, which sweeps everything on the ocean floor, is one of the most destructive fishing methods and is responsible for destroying thriving marine ecosystems, including Coral reefs. Some of the species of fish that fishermen caught 30 or 40 years ago are no longer present in the oceans.
Last year, investigative journalism team R.age reported that declining fish stocks in our exclusive economic zone facing the South China Sea had been noticeable since the influx of foreign fishermen, especially Vietnamese trawlers.
Crime statistics provided by the Department of Statistics indicate that Vietnamese fishermen are the most frequent offenders. These Vietnamese trawlers have damaged the coral reefs in our waters.
Our fishers are also not spared from allegations of illegal fishing in our neighbours’ waters.
In 2012, Malaysia and Indonesia ratified a memorandum of understanding on common guidelines for the protection of fishers. The MoU was renewed in 2020 to establish a common fisheries development area.
However, in 2021, R.age reported that harassment of our fishermen by Indonesian authorities continues. There have been occasions when Indonesian Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries patrol vessels cornered Malaysian-flagged vessels in the Natuna Sea, only to find that the fishing crew were Laotians. Natuna Island is known to be endowed with an abundance of marine resources.
Since fisheries are a regional issue, stronger and more concerted regional cooperation is needed among ASEAN member states.
Bilaterally, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed this year to host joint patrols along the Strait of Malacca and the North Natuna Sea, with the aim of enhancing maritime security against illegal fishing.
Indonesian Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Sakti Wahyu Trenggono, said illegal vessels are usually those that harm the sustainability of fish stocks due to their overfishing and destructive fishing practices.
Joint patrols should also be carried out with other ASEAN member states to combat IUU fishing in the South China Sea.
Since February 2022, Thailand has imposed a temporary moratorium on commercial fishing in the Gulf of Thailand until mid-June this year to replenish marine resources in the meantime. This policy measure is also seen as part of an ASEAN action plan to promote the recovery of fish stocks in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca, etc.
Currently, ASEAN only has a Strategic Action Plan on ASEAN Fisheries Cooperation 2021-2025. Nevertheless, we should still strive to have a common fisheries policy (CFP), similar to the European Union (EU), where we can set quotas on total allowable catches (TACs) and the corollary of obligations landing (i.e. the number or quantity of fish caught or deducted from TAC quotas), enforce the ban on destructive fishing practices more effectively and sustainably, enable and empower systematic joint action on a regional basis, etc., with the exception of freedom of movement, ie of fishermen and fishing vessels.
After all, ASEAN has already requested technical assistance from the EU for its fisheries policy framework under the EU-ASEAN Enhanced Regional Dialogue Instrument.
As proposed in an EMIR Research paper titled “Regional and Bilateral Solidarity, Cooperation and Coordination in Food Security Policy” (April 22, 2021), we have suggested that the Asean version of a CFP be used to support massive aquaculture projects in border regions and redesignate the seamless cross-border movement of fish within zonal boundaries for commercial farming purposes. This will not only encourage joint/cross-border private sector investment, but will provide a more viable alternative to deep-sea fishing, which can often result in a level playing field, among other things.
Jason Loh Seong Wei and Anis Salwana Abdul Malik are part of the research team at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research. Comments: l[email protected]