Australia to step up fishing patrols near Taiwan

A patrol being conducted by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority
A patrol being conducted by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority | Photo courtesy of Australian Fisheries Management Authority
4 Min

Australia has said it will conduct fishing patrols near Taiwan.

In an 8 May letter to the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization, Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry Fisheries Branch Director Mat Kertesz said it planned to “carry out boarding and inspection activities in the SPRFMO Convention Area” pursuant to the RFMO’s high seas boarding and inspection procedures.

“Australia recognizes that these boarding and inspection procedures apply in their entirety between Australia and Chinese Taipei,” the letter said. The letter's existence was first reported on X by Joshua Goodman of the Associated Press.

The Australian vessel designated to conduct the inspections is the OPV Nemesis, a 32-meter aluminum offshore patrol boat. Australia’s territorial waters have been beset by illegal fishing operations in recent years but mostly by smaller vessels from Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia and the Philippines.

Australia has been working to expand its security partnerships in the region, in large part as a response to China’s more aggressive maneuvering in the South China Sea and the Western Pacific Ocean, according to the Associated Press. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and Taiwanese officials have expressed concern China may imminently launch an invasion of the island nation. China recently warned Australia against provoking it after an Australian warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait in November 2023.

“Australia and Taiwan share an interest in a rules-based, open, inclusive, and stable Indo-Pacific region,” the Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement on its website.

Australia’s notification comes two weeks after China delivered a similar letter to the SPRFMO, which manages fishing in the high seas stretching from south of Australia to west of Chile, notifying the organization it planned to conduct boarding and inspection on 26 vessels, all between 99 and 166 meters in length. Its notification was given in a letter dated 26 April.

China’s move comes after the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter James was deployed to patrol the Southern Atlantic Ocean, joining an operation led by the Argentine Naval Prefecture to combat IUU fishing by Chinese squid-jiggers along Argentina’s exclusive economic zone. The 127-meter-long James arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 29 April. The U.S. Embassy in Argentina said the vessel’s presence in the region is “aimed at enhancing maritime security and combating illicit activities at sea.”

“During this visit, the crew will also conduct joint drills on the high seas with their Argentine counterparts, emphasizing the collaborative spirit of this mission,” it said in a press release.

China’s distant-water fleet has a long record of labor abuse, illegal fishing, and violations of maritime law.

In August 2023, a standoff near the Galapagos Islands between Chinese distant-water squid-jiggers and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter seeking to board them to conduct inspections for signs of IUU fishing resulted in a diplomatic dustup, with China accusing the Americans of acting improperly.

“The behavior of the United States is unsafe, opaque, and unprofessional,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement at the time. “We demand that the U.S. side stop its dangerous and erroneous inspection activities.”

The three Chinese vessels involved in the incident avoided the boardings, which are legal and allowed under SPRFMO rules. The U.S. Coast Guard reported violations discovered on two other Chinese boats to the RFMO.

China has repeatedly blocked efforts made via proposals at SPRFMO meetings that would strengthen inspection procedures in the region. In 2022, China opposed a proposal that would have allowed patrollers to carry firearms.

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