IUU Fishing along East African Coast : Threats to Human Security

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is being treated as regulatory infringement by the governments worldwide. It is often considered a regulatory issue and dismissed as trivial matter when looked through the prism of national security. However, owing to the long term and consistent neglect by the global community, IUU fishing is now a widespread phenomenon with broad socio-economic and environmental impacts. Significantly, it hasnow acquired transnational criminal dimensions.

On 23 June 2020, eight Member States of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) i.e. Indonesia, Bangladesh, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Oman, Tanzania, and Thailand established a regional working group on fisheries management in the Indian Ocean. The initiative aims to strengthen effort in preventing IUU fishing, as well as improving fishermen’s welfare.

Fisheries sectors account for a sizeable portion of the GDP of the developing countries of the western Indian Ocean region and IUU fishing impacts adversely. Besides, economic losses, IUU fishing also impact on development, and human security. As per FAO estimates, fisheries account for 2.7% of GDP in Madagascar; 3.7% in Mozambique; and as much as 6.6% in Zanzibar (semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 20-25 Km off the coast of Tanzania).

Almost all of the east African coastal state suffer from rampant IUU fishing activity in their waters. IUU fishing in the East African coast accounts for an annual loss in landings of nearly US $ 400 million or nearly US $ 1 billion in processed products.In Somali waters, foreign fishers, especially, Europeans, harvested fish with impunity since last few decades. With the collapse of the Somali government in 1991 and absence of political and law enforcement authority, IUU fishing increased many folds in the Gulf of Aden particularly in Somali waters. Foreign fishers moved in and took away millions of tonnes of fish. A study by Secure Fisheries notes that rampant harvest by illegal foreign fleets’ caused widespread damage to Somali civil, political, and economic life and caused instability.Since the formation of the Federal Government of Somalia in 2012, steps are being taken towards sustainable exploitation of marine resources in its EEZ. In February 2018, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR), issued offshore fishing licenses (beyond 24 nautical miles from the coast), with a view to raise revenues from offshore fisheries resources in its EEZ, particularly Tuna and Tuna-like resources.

Kenya, coastal East Africa’s largest economy, is losing an estimated US $118 million annually due to IUU fishing in its waters. Kenya represents an important transhipment point for ‘shark fins within the western Indian Ocean region, thus demand for Kenya’s shark fin, particularly from Asia, is a major driver of overfishing.

In Tanzania, nearly 20% of the country’s fishing is through IUU means and is carried out by artisans, commercial and deep-sea fishers, It is estimated to cost the Tanzanian economy US$400 million a year. The combination of booming demand and high prices has encouraged rampant illegal fishing, says a Botswana-based NGO, ‘Stop Illegal Fishing’, which is funded by European and US donors. In January 2018, the Tanzanian law enforcement agency joined a California-based conservation group ‘Sea Shepherd Global’ and have been carrying out joint patrol on board the ‘Ocean Warrior’ against IUU fishing and other crimes within Tanzanian waters.

Mozambique loses US $ 56 million in tax revenue annually from illegal fishing. The 2,500 kilometres long Mozambican coastline, the second longest in East Africa after Somalia, presents an enormous challenge for enforcement. The problem of illegal marine fishing in Mozambique by outsiders is well recognised, though not reflected in official figures. The lack of institutional infrastructure to patrol Mozambican waters, investigate reported cases, and poor legal framework to prosecute the offenders, has left the country vulnerable to IUU fishing.

Similar is the case with Madagascar; their fisheries are getting ravaged through foreign plunder. The bulk of industrial fishing takes place far from shore and is conducted by international agreements that critics say lack transparency and are stacked against Madagascar’s interest. Long liners from Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the Chinese vessels are highly active in Madagascar’s waters. In particular, IUU fishing by Chinese distant-water fishing fleet is a common sight along the east African coast.

The east African coastal states lack effective Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) capability, and IUU fishing has become a ‘low-risk and high-gain activity’. Little or ineffective deterrence coupled with poor fisheries management system has exacerbated the situation and the IUU fishing has acquired the characteristics of trans-national crime, which includes human trafficking for forced labour, money laundering, terrorist funding, weapon smuggling etc. These impact negatively on the coastal communities by way of loss of livelihoods and source of food which affects their very survival, and threatens the overall national Human Security Index.

Finally, IUU fishing transcends national boundaries and requires multi-lateral approaches to combat the menace. It is important for the east African states todevelop a seamless Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) through inter-agency and multi-state cooperation and coordination.It will be useful for partner states to cooperate for training, operations, and equipment development for achieving holistic maritime safety and security of the region. Effective licensing and legal regimes will ensure sustainable fishing practices by the licensed fishing vessels. Further, east African coastal states could seek assistance formaterial, training and finances for enhancing MDA.

India can provide requisite training and capacity building of the east African states by offering MDA related materials and services for augmenting surveillance of their maritime zones. India should also consider joining the regional working group on fisheries management in the Indian Ocean mentioned earlier.

Dr Kumar A is a maritime analyst.

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