Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Illegal fishing by China in the Indo-Pacific


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : QUAD

Mains level : IIU fishing and related issues

In order to check China’s illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific region, the Quadrilateral Security Alliance (Quad) has planned to launch a satellite-based surveillance initiative.

What is the news?

  • The leaders of Quad are reported to be getting ready to unveil a maritime surveillance initiative to protect exclusive economic zones in the Indo-Pacific against environmental damage.

How will the proposed maritime surveillance system work?

  • 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 illegal, unregulated and unprotected (IUU) fishing.
  • The satellite-enabled dragnet will track IUU fishing activities from the Indian Ocean and South-east Asia to the South Pacific.
  • The idea is to monitor illicit fishing vessels that have their AIS (automatic identification system) transponders turned off to evade tracking.
  • The move by the Quad security group is also seen to be aimed at reducing the small Pacific island nations’ growing reliance on China.

Why is illegal fishing seen as such a big threat?

  • The unregulated plunder of global fishing stock poses a grave threat to the livelihood and food security of millions of people.
  • Globally, fish provide about 3.3 billion people with 20% of their average animal protein intake.
  • According to an FAO report, around 60 million people are engaged in the sector of fisheries and aquaculture.
  • While the economic loss from illegal fishing has been difficult to precisely quantify, some estimates peg it around USD 20 billion annually.

Threats posed by IUU Fishing

  • Illegal fishing has now replaced piracy as a global maritime threat.
  • In the Indo-Pacific region, like elsewhere, the collapse of fisheries can destabilise coastal nations.
  • It poses a much bigger security risk, as it can fuel human trafficking, drug crime and terror recruiting.

Why is China in the dock?

  • 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 region after having overfished its own waters.
  • It, in fact, is known to incentivise illegal fishing with generous subsidies to meet its growing domestic demand.

China and distant-water fishing (DWF)

  • China’s DWF fleet has almost 17,000 vessels and is the largest in the world.
  • Vessel ownership is highly fragmented among many small companies and the fleet includes vessels registered in other jurisdictions.

Issues with Chinese IUU Fishing

  • Chinese are often accused of pillaging ocean wealth with great sophistication and with little regard for maritime boundaries.
  • China also uses them to project strategic influence and to bully fishing vessels from weaker nations.
  • China uses destructive practises such as bottom trawling and forced, bonded and slave labour and trafficked crew, alongside the widespread abuse of migrant crewmembers.


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