Conflicts - TensionsOceania

Indo-Pacific partners lead global fight against IUU fishing


The global costs of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing ripple far beyond the annual loss of up to 26 million metric tons of fish valued at $23 billion. From the depletion of critical fisheries to the abuse of crews by criminal syndicates and the destruction of the maritime ecosystem by rapacious trawler fleets, IUU fishing endangers the sustenance and livelihoods of hundreds of million people worldwide every day.

In proclaiming June 5 as the International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, the United Nations General Assembly in late 2017 emphasized that the illicit practice has “major implications for the conservation and management of ocean resources, as well as the food security and the economies of many States, particularly developing States.”

The U.N. urged nations to implement an international plan to deter and eliminate IUU fishing, which accounts for 20% of global catch. More than one-third of vessels engaged in IUU fishing between 2010 and 2022 were Chinese-flagged, and eight of the top 10 companies involved were from the People’s Republic of China, which has the world’s largest distant-water fishing fleet, according to an October 2022 report by the Financial Transparency Coalition.

Across the Indo-Pacific, where fish is a major source of protein and many waters already are at risk of overfishing, like-minded nations are collaborating to counter such activities. For example, the United States Coast Guard conducts joint patrols with partner agencies as part of Operation Blue Pacific, a multimission endeavor to promote safety, security, sovereignty and economic prosperity in Oceania.

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry recently completed a 9,700-kilometer patrol of the Pacific Ocean, during which Coast Guardsmen and a local maritime law enforcement officer boarded five foreign-flagged fishing boats inside Palau’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to ensure regulatory compliance.

Weeks earlier, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Juniper returned to Hawaii after a monthlong mission to deter IUU fishing. Under a bilateral agreement, four ship-riders representing Fiji’s Navy, Police Force, Ministry of Fisheries, and Revenue and Customs Service were embarked on the Juniper.

“It was an honor for the Juniper crew to have the opportunity to work with our Fijian partners in assisting them in patrolling their exclusive economic zone,” Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Bonner, the cutter’s commanding officer, said in a February 2023 news release.

Ship-rider pacts are a valuable tool for smaller Pacific Island Countries, which may lack the resources to protect their expansive and resource-rich EEZs. In late 2022, teams from the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Frederick Hatch, including ship-riders from maritime enforcement agencies in the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Nauru, boarded 16 fishing vessels and issued five warnings. (Pictured: The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Frederick Hatch prepares to conduct a boarding in Micronesia’s EEZ in December 2022.)

Micronesia and the U.S. recently expanded their maritime law enforcement agreement to authorize U.S. personnel to conduct boardings without a Micronesian law enforcement officer present.

“It provides the U.S. Coast Guard with another avenue to support our regional partners and continues to lay the groundwork for increasing illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing enforcement in the region,” Lt. Patrick Dreiss, the Frederick Hatch’s commanding officer, said in a statement.

Catch is readied for inspection during a boarding by Frederick Hatch crew members and a local maritime officer in Micronesia’s EEZ. IMAGE CREDIT: PETTY OFFICER 2ND CLASS BRANDON CHAPLEA/U.S. COAST GUARD

In late May 2023, Papua New Guinea and the U.S. finalized an agreement on countering IUU fishing and other maritime threats that will enable PNG’s participation in the U.S. Coast Guard’s ship-rider program.

“The signing of this agreement demonstrates a commitment to work together to promote good maritime governance in the region,” the U.S. State Department said.


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