Australia Can Combat Illegal Fishing Through Indo-Pacific Partnerships – Analysis


By Melissa Conley Tyler, Allan Rahari, and Keith Symington

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing impacts ecosystems, economies, human security, international law, governance and human development. IUU fishing is a priority issue across the Indo-Pacific region, with ASEAN member states experiencing over US$6 billion in economic losses per year from IUU fishing.

Australia needs to reset how it looks at IUU fishing — this will require strong cooperation and engagement with regional partners. Australia can show global leadership in combatting IUU fishing through strengthened engagement in bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

IUU fishing is not a single-country issue and needs cooperative regional mechanisms. Even when there is no transboundary nature to IUU fishing, such as in coastal artisanal fleet fishing, there are lessons to be learnt between countries and information sharing is critical.

Australia has an important role to play in encouraging regional cooperation by using its experience with regional fisheries management organisations. Australia has worked to encourage cooperation between Pacific Islands countries by supporting the Pacific Regional Monitoring Control and Surveillance Strategy and has been an active participant in the Southeast Asian Regional Plan of Action to Promote Responsible Fishing Practices.

The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency’s Regional Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Strategy provides a good case study to understand Australia’s role in IUU fishing. Australia is actively engaging with the Forum Fisheries Agency Secretariat and its member countries to support the implementation of the Strategy. The Australian development program will provide AU$2 million (US$1.3 million) from 2022–2024, in addition to its AU$5 million (US$3.3 million) per year core funding, to combat unreported aspects of IUU fishing.

The additional funding has already seen results in supporting Forum Fisheries Agency members to accelerate the implementation of electronic reporting systems, development of regional electronic monitoring standards and completion of a cost-benefit analysis of e-monitoring. Australia is also supporting a review of the strategy and the development of a new strategy which will be in place by 2024. This program demonstrates Australia’s longstanding and ongoing commitment and the positive benefits of building collaborative partnerships.

Australia can build on this strong record by deepening and broadening partnerships to combat IUU fishing across the Pacific, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, along with its ongoing Southern Ocean responsibilities.

Governments will pay more attention to Southern Ocean fisheries in the future because of rising food security challenges and the threat of climate change. It is important that those fisheries are managed precisely and effectively. Australia must remain focussed on preventing their collapse by resisting internal and external pressures on increasing resource extraction and making sure that inspection regimes are global best practice.

Australia can continue to deepen its engagement in the Pacific. The implementation of the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement, which provides a framework for addressing IUU fishing, has been sporadic and it is unclear how much of the framework has been actioned. One area that could be strengthened is the information exchange between fisheries and law enforcement agencies. This could be expanded to ensure information is being shared between fisheries and other organisations.

Australia must also remain engaged in Southeast Asia. It needs to promote its interests as interests of the states in the region and help them to deal with overfishing, lack of capacity and lack of maritime law enforcement. Australia could create a track 1.5 dialogue — a discussion between government officials and non-government experts — involving ASEAN’s coastal states and Quad partners together with fisheries experts to facilitate cooperation and improve research and capability. This dialogue could also bring together senior officials and influential thinkers to build a shared understanding of the significant challenges IUU fishing presents for governments and peoples.

Australia can broaden its partnerships in the Indian Ocean, where it has had significantly less engagement. This region contains vital shipping routes and is strategically important to Australia and should be at the forefront of Australia’s IUU fishing engagement policy. Indian Ocean forums such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) are a good place to start, with Australia already having representation and leadership. Australia could build on efforts to transfer knowledge and expertise gained from working in the Pacific to the Indian Ocean and encourage more coordinated cooperation among Indian Ocean coastal states around the IORA agenda.

Australia can also build relationships with like-minded partners in the region to multiply benefits, including through existing mechanisms like the Partners in the Blue Pacific initiative. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation agreed to a roadmap to combat IUU fishing while the Quad recently launched a maritime initiative to curb illegal fishing.

Australia can connect with development partners such as Japan that have implemented programs to combat IUU fishing. Australia must remain engaged in multilateral initiatives to ensure initiatives on IUU fishing are fully implemented and produce results. This will require a concerted effort to ensure Australia’s delegations bring expertise from across government and develop projects that span across political cycles.

Combatting IUU fishing is a top priority for Indo-Pacific states and Australia should strive to be an active partner across the region. There is scope for Australia to use its unique position as a strong partner to share lessons from across regions to contribute to the health and sustainability of fish stocks in the wider region.

About the authors:

  • Melissa Conley Tyler is Executive Director of the Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy & Defence Dialogue (AP4D).
  • Allan Rahari is Director of Fisheries Operation at the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). 
  • Keith Symington is a Senior Advisor in Sustainable Fisheries.

Source: This article was published by East Asia Forum and draws upon Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy & Defence Dialogue’s report What does it look like for Australia to be an Effective Partner in Combatting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, funded by the Australian Civil-Military Centre.

East Asia Forum

East Asia Forum is a platform for analysis and research on politics, economics, business, law, security, international relations and society relevant to public policy, centred on the Asia Pacific region. It consists of an online publication and a quarterly magazine, East Asia Forum Quarterly, which aim to provide clear and original analysis from the leading minds in the region and beyond.

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