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Explained: Navy info hub could play key role in Quad push to check China overfishing

Chinese trawler fleets are seen as responsible for most of the IUUF in the Indo-Pacific region, and the initiative is likely to be viewed as a Quad pressure point against China.

Written by Nirupama Subramanian |
May 23, 2022 4:04:24 am
Express Explained, Indian Navy, Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, illegal unregulated and unreported fishing, Explained, Indian Express Explained, Opinion, Current AffairsPresident Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris meet virtually with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia at the White House in Washington. (Doug Mills/The New York Times/File)

The Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) may play a key role in a Quad initiative against illegal fishing.

Quoting a US official, the Financial Times reported that the initiative, to be announced by the four leaders of the Quad at the group’s Tokyo Summit, will bring together existing surveillance centres in Singapore, India, and the Pacific to create a tracking system for illegal unregulated and unreported fishing (IUUF) in the Indo-Pacific region.

Chinese trawler fleets are seen as responsible for most of the IUUF in the Indo-Pacific region, and the initiative is likely to be viewed as a Quad pressure point against China.

The US is also expected to launch a new economic and trade agreement called the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that is also aimed at containing China’s economic clout in the region.

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The IFC-IOR was established in 2018 for regional collaboration on maritime security issues including “maritime terrorism”, IUUF, 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, according to its website.

The IFC-IOR “aims at strengthening maritime security in the region and beyond, by building a common coherent maritime situation picture and acting as a maritime security information hub for the region”, according to the website.

The centre was established as part of the government’s SAGAR (Security and Growth For All in the Region) framework for maritime co-operation in the Indian Ocean region. It hosts international liaison officers from partner countries, which include both India’s immediate neighbours in the Indian Ocean region and from further afield, including Australia, France, Japan, Singapore, the UK and the US.

The two other data fusion centres likely to be involved in this initiative are the Singapore Navy’s Information Fusion Centre, and the Australia-sponsored Pacific Fusion Centre, set up in 2019 in Port Vila in Vanuatu.

“Illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing has been a growing problem for decades as new fishing technologies and subsidies by distant water fishing fleets have outstripped the capacity of international law to regulate and coastal states to enforce rules,” said Gergory Poling, head of Director, Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

In recent years, IUUF has been seen as growing into a bigger threat to maritime states than international piracy. Studies have said that unregulated and unreported fishing are bigger challenges than illegal fishing, as they deplete stocks and deprive vulnerable regional economies of an important food source.

“Chinese boats are by far the greatest offenders today—the Chinese distant water fleet is the world’s largest and Beijing heavily subsidizes it in ways that encourage unsustainable practices from the Pacific to the African coast. It is a far larger problem than piracy or other maritime crimes for most coastal and small island developing states. So by helping address the problem, the Quad hopes to prove that it is best able to help address the needs of smaller Indo-Pacific states,” said Poling.

In a January 2021 paper, the American think tank Brookings called IUUF “a national security concern” that “may indeed become an increasingly important mission for the United States and its security partners and allies around the world, and most certainly those in the Indo-Pacific.”

The paper (‘National Security Imperative to Tackle IUUF’, Michael Sinclair) argued that Chinese fishing practices presented “a truly unique and dire” threat.

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“First, China boasts the world’s largest fishing fleet. It uses this fleet to devastating effect to meet its population’s huge demand for protein. It also provides generous subsidies, which has incentivised the rapid proliferation of large, capable, “distant water” vessels that can harvest staggering amounts of catch in a single voyage, often by dragging the ocean bottom without regard to fish type, age, or quantity limits. When working together in fleets, these vessels are rapacious”.

Ahead of the 2020 presidential election in the US, an article in the journal The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs said “the flagrancy and scale of IUU fishing tramples sovereign rights, undermines the rule of law, and robs coastal states of a valuable economic resource.

“In this age of global great power competition, IUU fishing should be seen as an international security threat and should be given appropriate priority by the next administration, irrespective of whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden occupies the Oval Office.”

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