Protecting our marine life

Around 600 Indian vessels enter Pakistani waters for fishing illegally every month

Kamal Siddiqi March 27, 2016
The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

Some months back, the Jakarta Post reported that in her first year of leadership, Indonesia’s Marine Affairs and Fisheries Minister (KKP) Susi Pudjiastuti ordered the sinking of 106 foreign boats that were fishing illegally in Indonesian waters.

The minister said that the sinking of the illegal boats was proof that the government was serious about eradicating illegal fishing and boosting the country’s sea security. She also said that lack of law enforcement in fisheries was one of Indonesia’s problems for investors, adding that she was committed to cracking down on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF). Analysts say IUUF is a global crime, not merely illegal fishing and is similar to slavery, human trafficking, animal smuggling and drugs. Pakistan is also a victim.

While we have remained silent Indonesia also plans to tighten punishments for illegal fishing. Data show that the illegal fishing boats that were sunk in the first year of the operation were from the Philippines (34), Vietnam (33), Thailand (21), Malaysia (6), Papua New Guinea (2) and China (1). Recently, the US and Indonesia have signed a new Memorandum of Understanding on Maritime Cooperation. Under it, the US will provide substantial assistance and training to support conservation of marine biodiversity, procure technologies to ensure the shared maritime security interests of both countries, and help promote sustainable development in the marine sector.

President Barack Obama and President Joko Widodo affirmed the urgent need to combat, prevent, deter, and eliminate IUUF in Indonesia’s waters. This is aligned with Widodo’s policy of ordering the destruction of neighboring countries’ fishing boats operating illegally in Indonesia’s waters, including the sinking of 38 poachers’ vessels to commemorate Indonesia’s 70th Independence Day. Despite protests from the foreign ministry that the policy could hurt Indonesia’s relations with neighboring countries, Widodo was unmoved. This is a lesson for us to learn.

Indonesia has the world’s second-largest fishery industry, and the country’s coastal and marine ecosystem has been in decline for decades. For instance, 65% of Indonesian reefs are now considered threatened from overfishing. Climate change is exacerbating the situation, as warmer and more acidic seawater is expected to reduce Indonesian fish catches by an average of 20% and up to 50% in some fishing areas. We are in similar waters.

Now let us look at Pakistan. Aside from the Pakistan Navy, we have two independent entities that are supposed to guard our coasts. One is the Pakistan Coast Guard and the other is the Maritime Security Agency (MSA). With both agencies charged with almost the same thing, it is difficult to pin blame or responsibility. We are told that the country incurs revenue losses of billions of rupees every year due to the illegal fishing activities of Indians, who deliberately violate Pakistan’s sea limits.

An MSA official told a workshop held recently that illegal fishing activities of Indian vessels was a key threat to fisheries resources. The official observed that they are not inadvertent crossers as widely believed here. Most Indian boats are fitted with the global positioning system (GPS), which shows that fishermen are well aware of their locations. Second, they are often caught fishing 100 nautical miles inside our waters.

Around 600 Indian vessels enter Pakistani waters for fishing illegally every month while the revenue loss of four-month of illegal Indian fishing had been estimated to be around Rs8 billion. Recently, MSA had also confiscated an Iranian boat with illegal oil and fine quality drugs.

So far so good. But the problem is that it is not the Indians and the Iranians that are the real problem. Taiwan-registered fish factories are operating for several years in our waters and have not been apprehended. These factories, some of whom are also registered in the Philippines, come into our waters and use illegal nets to scrape away the rich sea life from our seas. Much of what is harvested is thrown away while a large portion is processed and packed on these factories to be transported to different markets. None of the money earned by these ships ends up in Pakistan. At least none of the legal earnings. When are we going to target them instead of focusing on the smaller fish?

Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th,  2016.

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Parvez | 5 years ago | Reply Nicely said and it should be the duty of the government to protect our natural habitat and wild life. Sadly the mindset that prevails in our government on this issue was illustrated in the case of the permission given for the hunting of the gentle Houbara bustard on grounds that if permission was withheld it would endanger our foreign police......I kid you not.
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