WWF report finds unregulated fishing escalating in Indian Ocean

A new report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Trygg Mat Tracking (TMT) indicates that gaps in regulations resulting in unregulated fishing is putting fisheries in the Indian Ocean at risk.

The new report, titled “Unregulated Fishing on the High Seas of the Indian Ocean,” delved into the unregulated aspect of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing by examining fisheries that have gaps in regulatory coverage. Released on 2 November, the report shows where unregulated fishing is happening, its impacts on species, and how it has expanded.

“The regulatory gaps in the high seas of the Indian Ocean have not gone unnoticed by international fishing fleets,” TMT Executive Director Duncan Copeland said. “As global demand for seafood continues to rise, it is imperative that these gaps are closed, or else we face destabilising both marine ecosystems and the marine resources that many people depend on for income and food security.”

Through examining the regulations and species currently covered throughout the Indian Ocean, the report identified gaps in terms of both geographic locations and species. Those gaps, according to the report, have been heavily targeted by fishing operations: Squid fishing in one unregulated area grew 830 percent in just five years, and shark species with no regulatory protections are regularly targeted.

“While international attention focuses heavily on illegal and unreported fishing in the Indian Ocean, the unregulated aspect of IUU fishing is often overlooked,” the report states. “This requires further scrutiny as its impacts to both marine ecosystems and economies is underestimated.”

That underestimation, the report said, is leading to instances of overfishing – putting the sustainability and longevity of the Indian Ocean’s fisheries at risk. That, in turn, puts the lives of millions who depend on the ocean for sustenance in jeopardy.

“If overfishing and IUU fishing are not addressed, the resulting loss of fish biomass will translate into a shortage of fatty acids and essential micronutrients for millions of people in the region, with a disproportionate risk of malnutrition in low- and middle-income countries,” the report said.

The high seas of the Indian Ocean, the report said, are often not fully covered by any regional regulatory frameworks for anything other than tuna-like species. While the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission establishes regulations promoting the sustainability of the region’s tuna catch, many other species don’t have such regulatory framework in place.

The report highlighted one species, squid, as a clear indicator of how gaps in regulations have allowed for a rapid increase in fishing effort. The 830 percent increase in fishing effort of the species with no oversight could pose threats to the ongoing viability of the species, which in turn threatens the species that rely on the squid for food, such as tuna. With the Indian Ocean supplying 20 percent of the global demand for tuna, letting the squid fishery go unchecked could have drastic economic impacts given tuna’s value – estimated to be over USD 6.5 billion (EUR 5.55 billion).

“Unregulated fishing is not reported and not bound by any regional monitoring and surveillance system, making it difficult for coastal state authorities to identify vessels operating in or near their waters. The consequences of being unable to sustainably manage fisheries and catch methods can have dire consequences for wider marine ecosystems,” the report states.

The lack of regulation has, by nature of the problem, an obvious solution: increased efforts by nations to form regulations. The report suggests countries and stakeholders should adopt joint conservation and management members through regional fishery management organizations (RFMO). Those RFMOs could in turn begin collecting data on fisheries activities, monitor biological indicators of stocks, improve traceability, and adopt ecosystem management approaches to ensure the wider ocean is kept healthy.

Both the WWF and TMT are urging the adoption of such an ecosystem-based approach, and are also urging main market-states – such as the European Union – to do more to encourage such an approach in the Indian Ocean.

“The E.U. must lead by example and push for fisheries management organisations to put tougher, stronger laws in place,” a WWF press release states.

Moving toward regulating the Indian Ocean, Copeland said, makes sense from a sustainability perspective, and from the perspective of reaching the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“Target 14.4 of the Sustainable Development Goals includes an end to unregulated fishing,” he said. “That significant areas and species of the high seas – our global commons – remain unregulated is simply crazy.”  

The current lack of regulation must be corrected and the E.U. must do its part to encourage action, according to WWF European Policy Office Head of Ocean Policy Antonia Leroy.

"Failing to sustainably manage fisheries furthers overfishing, an already rampant problem around the world. The current regulatory vacuum in the Indian Ocean cannot continue," Leroy said. "As the world's top seafood market, the E.U. must adopt and enforce ambitious traceability measures to prevent unsustainable products from entering the market. These actions will secure the livelihoods of honest fishers, bring credibility to seafood products consumed in the E.U. and secure the health of our ocean.”

Photo courtesy of Antonio Busiello/WWF-US


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