No less than 25 million tons of fish are believed to be lost each year due to Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing activity (IUU fishing) over the world. For some enforcement officials, IUU fishing has even become “the world’s top maritime security threat”. The Pacific Ocean, extending from India to the west coast of the American continent, is in its main area concerned by the fishery ressource pillage, as are African waters.
Chinese Fishing Fleet
Asian countries are the main actors involved in such plundering of the fisheries, for both economic and food reasons. Like the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), the Chinese fishing fleet is experiencing an unprecedented expansion. Although it seems impossible today to determine the precise number of vessels it includes, many experts do not hesitate to describe them as an “armada”. The main consequences of this detrimental situation are the depletion of local fish stocks and major economic losses for regional systems. In addition to these environmental and economic dangers, the plundering of fisheries resources can occasionally contribute to creating food tensions, as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has already pointed out on several occasions.
A Hybrid Fleet
The Chinese fishing fleet also appears as an efficient tool of geopolitical influence. Indeed, deep-sea fisheries obviously have another purpose: the tensions that arise from them reveal their highly strategic dimension. The Chinese fishing armada that is sailing all over the planet represents a civil-military force. As real paramilitary actors in the pay of the Chinese government– which finances them very largely –, they contribute to the territorial expansion of China.
Fighting against IUU fishing on a global scale seems to be impossible. As far as the Pacific Ocean is concerned, the challenge is obvious because of its vastness and the lack of appropriate assets to control fisheries. Nevertheless, the fight against the plundering of fish resources must not be seen as a losing battle.
Initiatives to limt IUU
Facing this issue, some countries of the Pacific have already begun to conduct joint operations in order to oppose them. For example, France, Australia, New Zealand and other smaller countries in the area have organized themselves through occasional exercises and joint missions. This cooperation, which entails deployments of military vessels, has proved its worth and effectiveness, and must be maintained and even reinforced.
Indeed, it appears that even though “blue boats” and other rogue vessels are respecting the exclusive economic zones, they are voluntarily stationed at their rightful limit. On the “eastern” part of the Pacific, Chile, Argentina, Peru and France are uniting efforts to respond to this same threat.
In that respect, smaller patrol boat type units are real assets and allow for a timely response to Asian fishing vessels’ looting activities. In addition, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and geostationary satellites are effective means of elongation and enhance the coverage of such a vast ocean as the Pacific.
From a regulatory point of view, the states did not wait to be confronted with the “fait accompli” of over-fishing to design effective tools. Firstly, the Montego Bay Convention, defines in a general way the maritime spaces and the conditions of their exploitation. Enclaves make it possible to envisage areas useful for the reproduction of species, as well as areas less exposed to all types of pollution. For instance, two maritime areas on either side of French Polynesia are subject to special regulations in order to limit the plundering of fish and to protect a certain number of threatened marine species.
Secondly, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has enacted a number of devices (AIS, VMS…) to identify fishing vessels that violate the rules in so-called protected waters.
While countries may rely on Information Fusion Centres (IFC) to fight IUU fishing, other initiatives, such as the “Global Fishing Watch” platform have been developed, in which even insurers have stakes. In the same way, NGOs or embarked government personnel can be relays to enforce directly or indirectly the Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).
Another means which has recently emerged and is not sufficiently considered yet is the use of civil actors. Indeed, companies can appear as influential as States nowadays. This is why large retailers, together with producer chains, are now trying to combat bad fishing practices through a body called the “Seafood Task Force”.
Finally, still in connection with the civilian world, partnerships are increasingly being developed with private airlines, which contribute to intelligence gathering during their flights, especially when aerial surveillance means are deployed in operations elsewhere or are under maintenance.