Explained: Quad’s plan to check China’s illegal fishing and the role India will play

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Tokyo early Monday to attend the second in-person Quadrilateral Security Alliance (Quad) leaders’ su...

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Tokyo early Monday to attend the second in-person Quadrilateral Security Alliance (Quad) leaders’ summit. High on the agenda of Quad nations – Australia, India, Japan, and the United States – is China and the threat it poses because of illegal fishing.

The countries have planned to launch a satellite-based maritime security system at the Quad summit, starting 24 May, to check China’s illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific region.

China’s fishy business

Beijing is responsible for 95 per cent of illegal fishing activities in the Indo-Pacific.

Countries in the region are not pleased with China’s vast fishing fleet. The big grouse is that Beijing often violates economic zones, leading to not only economic losses but also damage to the environment. Overexploitation and illegal fishing are hurting the world’s marine resources and livelihood.

China is the worst offender in the 2021 IUU Fishing Index, which maps illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in 152 coastal countries. Chinese ships can be found everywhere in the world.

The problem of Chinese distant water overfishing has spread to the Pacific, South America, and Western Africa, reports International Forum For Right And Security (IFFRAS). An armada of Chinese fishing vessels is encroaching territorial waters far away from China to find seafood, which has raised alarm even in friendly countries like Argentina and Mexico.

The conflict is major in China’s backyard, South China Sea (SCS) and East China Sea (ECS), where small nations like the Philippines and Indonesia regularly blame China for violations, reported IFFRAS.

Fishermen in the western African Nation Sierra Leone have blamed China for overfishing, which they claimed affected their livelihood.

Stephen Akester, an adviser to Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, said, “The Chinese fleet has been taking the profits of the fisheries for 30 years and the impact on fish stocks has been terrible. The resources are disappearing, fishermen are suffering, and families are starving. Many have just one meal a day.”

According to a new report titled “Sink or Swim: The Future of Fisheries in the East and the South China Sea”, the overexploitation of marine resources will lead to irreparable economic and biological losses.

China’s big vessels not only catch illegally but also leave a little for local boats by scooping up a major haul of fish, reports ANI.

Ray Mabus, former US Secretary of the Navy, had said that Chinese activities were exacerbating the problem of illegal and unregulated fishing, which was posing threats to maritime boundaries, national waters, and global marine resources. “China’s distant-water fishing fleets are of particular concern because their predatory fishing activities are unmatched in their sophistication, scale, and harm,” he had added.

According to ODI, a global affairs think-tank, China’s distant-water fishing (DWF) fleet has almost 17,000 vessels. “China’s DWF fleet is the largest in the world….vessel ownership is highly fragmented among many small companies and the fleet includes vessels registered in other jurisdictions,” it said, reports The Indian Express.

A handout picture released by Argentina's Navy press office shows the ARA Bouchard Ocean Patrol escorting a Chinese flag fishing ship after it was caught illegally operating in Argentina's Exclusive Economic Zone, in May 2020. AFP

Keeping China in check

Quad’s maritime initiative will use satellite technology to create a tracking system for illegal fishing from the Indian Ocean to the South Pacific by connecting surveillance centres in Singapore and India, reports The Financial Times. This will enable the Quad group of nations to monitor illegal fishing even when boats have turned off the transponders which are typically used to track vessels.

The move aims to stop China from its alleged illegal fishing and reduce the dependence of small Pacific islands on Beijing.

The US Coast Guard has said illegal fishing has outpaced piracy as the top global maritime security threat, and risks heightening tensions among countries vying for overexploited fishing stocks. It has called on China to exercise more responsible control over its vessels, reports the Reuters.

China, however, says it is a responsible fishing country that has been cooperating internationally to clamp down on illegal fishing, and that it fishes in relevant exclusive economic zones according to bilateral agreements.

India’s role

According to The Indian Express, the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) may play a crucial role in the initiative against illegal fishing.

The IFC-IOR was established in 2018 for regional collaboration on maritime security issues including “maritime terrorism”, illegal unregulated and unreported fishing, piracy, armed robbery on the high seas, and human and contraband trafficking. The Gurgaon-based data fusion centre has information-sharing links with 50 nations and multinational/maritime centres, the newspaper reports.

India is all set to join the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Forum (IPEF), an economic arrangement, which aims to counter China’s rising clout in the region.

US President Joe Biden, who is visiting Japan to attend the meeting of the Quad group of countries, will launch the IPEF. The Forum will also have Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines as members.

With inputs from agencies

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