Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing threatens the sustainability of fish stocks and costs the global economy up to US$23 billion a year. In the Indian Ocean, a significant amount of catch qualifies as IUU – 18% in the Western Indian Ocean and 32% in the Eastern Indian Ocean – and the impacts are extensive.
IUU fishing poses risks for the sustainability of fish stocks and the well-being of artisanal fishers. When large amounts of catch go uncounted and unreported, it opens the door for fishing to exceed sustainable levels, leading to overfishing. Additionally, the fishing methods used by IUU vessels like bottom trawls and gillnets damage ocean habitats. They are also associated with large amounts of bycatch, including sensitive species like sea turtles and marine mammals. Further, industrial IUU vessels compete with artisanal fishers for access to fishing grounds and fisheries resources, undermining the livelihoods of small-scale fishers and, in the most extreme cases, leading to violent interactions. Local revenue can be lost when IUU fishers land their catch outside the country where they are fishing.
Combating “Dark” Fishing Vessels
Illegal fishing vessels are difficult to track. Many fishing vessels are required to carry a transponder that tracks their movements and allows authorities to monitor their behavior. But illegal fishers can simply switch off the signal, disappearing from the system, thus rendering them “dark” fishing vessels. Many vessels, especially small fishing vessels, have no tracking devices at all. Dark fishing vessels pose a threat to sustainable fishing and safety and security at sea, but with the help of regional collaboration and the support of naval vessels, the international community can work to locate and ensure the prosecution of dark fishing vessels.
Information sharing is crucial to the elimination of IUU fishing, and is especially important in combating dark fishing vessels. However, many States still lack standard operating procedures (SOP) for collecting fishing vessel information. Common SOPs include protocols for activities such as data collection and licensing, and standardizing this information will give law enforcement useful tools.
A collaborative, regional approach is necessary to successfully combat IUU fishing. Secure Fisheries works with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), EU Naval Force (EUNAVFOR), U.S. Coast Guard, Interpol, and Fish-i Africa to help Indian Ocean states coordinate responses to maritime crime at the strategic and operational levels. We convene expert working groups to collaborate and formulate SOPs based on best practices established by international organizations. The aim is for this information to be transferred to a central electronic database, accessible to regional maritime law enforcement and intergovernmental organizations.