A new satellite system is being deployed by a U.S.-led alliance to help Asian nations protect their seas from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Announced during a summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), comprised of the U.S., India, Japan, and Australia, the initiative will offer satellite-based intelligence to Pacific nations, focusing on smaller Pacific Island nations where China has been building a greater economic and political presence.
The Quad’s newly created Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) will engage a commercial satellite operator to track vessels suspected of illegal fishing. The satellites will track radar and radio frequencies when fishing vessels switch off their automatic identification systems. The IPMDA, which will also aid in response efforts to natural disasters, will operate through several “information diffusion centers,” including one in Singapore and one in the Solomon Islands. The identity of the commercial provider has not yet been disclosed.
Gathering reliable data on trawlers has become an increasing focus for law enforcement and NGOs in recent years. Global Fishing Watch and Norway-based nonprofit organization Trygg Mat Tracking, which tracks AIS signals, compiled a study of 2021 data revealing only two of 168 vessels on a list of IUU-connected fishing vessels operating globally were using their AIS signals.
A statement from Quad leaders announcing the initiative does not mention China, but state media in Beijing have sought to portray the group as a NATO-type alliance geared against China’s ambitions in the Asia-Pacific region.
Recent Chinese engagement with the Solomon Islands, including a local dispatch of Chinese military on a peacekeeping mission, raised the concern of the Australian and U.S. governments. The Financial Times recently reported Beijing is planning to enter a security cooperation agreement with Kiribati.
Negotiators from China and Quad member-countries will meet at the World Trade Organization’ June meeting to continue negotiations on a deal to curtail fishing subsidies. China is the world’s largest distant-water fishing nation in terms of the number of vessels, as well as the amount of subsidies paid each year to its fleet.
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