Maritime concerns with the “big fish”


Chinese trawlers in Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal endanger India’s maritime security by fishing in India’s EEZ

China happens to be the largest fishing country producing about a fifth of the world’s catch. Besides freshwater fish, a vital part of Chinese exports also comes from oceanic fish found in deep waters. Interestingly, according to available reports, no fish are left in the South China Sea due to overconsumption. On the other hand, India occupies second place (6.3%) for fish production, which supports 14,500,000 fishermen. China considers these fish not only for its domestic consumption, but also for export to support its fishing industry. Beijing’s illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of other countries has so far been ignored.

According to FAO’s 2020 report, “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture,” in 2018, China declared about 2.26 million tonnes of its “distant water fishery”, but did not provide details about species and fishing area only for 40% of its water intake. “So it did not disclose 60 percent of its catch from” distant water “data. A significant portion of those 60 percent likely comes from its illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific region, the eastern Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea in particular, and comes at the economic expense of other nations.Geneva-based organization ranked China first rank of its 2019 index.

China heavily subsidizes 94 percent of its fishing trawlers to encourage shipping in international waters. Further subsidies and tax breaks on the sale of “far-water” catches to foreign markets, in addition to various medical benefits in case of injury, while the fishery provides sufficient incentive for its inhabitants to engage in fishing activities. It’s no surprise that China has the world’s largest fishing fleet.

Beijing’s illegal “fishing vessels” are equipped with state-of-the-art catching and packing facilities and are commonly sighted in the eastern and western Indian Ocean near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, with the exception of the Indian Sea. Oman. The 572 islands of Andaman and Nicobar are witnesses of Chinese trawlers practicing illegal fishing as most of the islands are uninhabited. Chinese trawlers pass through the Coco and Greater Coco Islands and fish during the dark hours, assuming the Indian Coast Guard and Navy would not be vigilant.

The presence of Chinese trawlers in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal is a violation of Indian sovereignty, as the fishing areas of these seas and oceans fall under Indian EEZ, a rule well defined by UNCLOS in Section 56. Problem is relevant to national security narratives because of the following factors. First, it endangers India’s maritime security by fishing in India’s EEZ. Second, overfishing, especially during the regulated months when breeding takes place, affects the marine environment. Additionally, India’s economy and cybersecurity can be vulnerable to sabotage.

From a geopolitical point of view, these “civilian” trawlers violate the Indian EEZ while the maritime militia of the popular armed forces (paramilitary forces) accompany them under the guise of civilian fishermen. These fishing vessels do not keep their automatic transmitter / responder identification systems activated, which is a mandatory requirement by international fishing agencies. Reports from 2020 suggest that around 450 of these research vessels and fishing trawlers entered various areas of the Indian Ocean region.

The role of the Chinese maritime militias’ fishing camouflage is well established. He was recognized by the PLA Daily in 2014 when he quoted that “By camouflaging themselves, they call themselves soldiers; by removing the camouflage, they become law-abiding fishermen ”. The PLA controls these “fishermen,” and their goals overlap with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) agenda of “ocean grabbing,” a method of fishing in which small-scale fishermen in victimized countries are denied access. marine resources from their own EEZ.

As these trawlers have space to store live ammunition, a condition made compulsory to call themselves “Chinese fishing trawlers” and are equipped with sophisticated intelligence and surveillance systems, they constitute incremental strategies of asymmetric advantage in order to ‘have a progressive maritime footing in the bodies of water surrounding India. It blurs the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, a necessary condition for hot pursuits in UNCLOS and international humanitarian law (IHL). As a rule, civilian trawlers cannot carry elite irregular forces, live ammunition or surveillance mechanisms. Chinese trawlers have provisions for all three. In addition, fishing trawlers have the potential to be used to smuggle drugs and weapons from the Arabian Sea. The link between China, Pakistan and the Taliban poses serious drug trafficking problems for India. Maritime safety is therefore threatened because of IUU fishing.

The militarization of Chinese man-made islands either in the SCS or in Feydhoo Finolhu Island can provide its militia with possible support to fulfill the CCP’s agenda. In such a case, can Chinese trawlers or research vessels then speak of its “innocent right of passage”? One objective of the Chinese trawlers and militias is to regularize the Chinese presence in the “distant seas” to project a power that helps Beijing in both peacetime and wartime. Maritime security and freedom of the high seas are therefore strongly correlated with illegal and unregulated Chinese fishing.

China’s illegal and unregulated fishing amounts to economic plundering of a nation’s resources, as it depletes fishery resources and can lead to starvation of food and jobs for people in India’s coastal areas. The fishing industry provides jobs for three essential sectors – catching, processing and marketing and contributes 1.07 percent of the country’s GDP. Fish and shrimp are an essential source of protein in the coastal areas of India. The demand for “blue food” has increased due to the increase in population around the world and in India. Any depletion of food resources would increase prices and affect the fiscal budget. Negative effects on any of these sectors can hamper rural development and food security, potentially causing social unrest.

From an environmental safety perspective, the coral reefs near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are World Heritage and should be protected from the dangers of IUU fishing. In addition, the use of LED lights and squid fishing equipment can eventually lead to overfishing resulting in a shortage of fish. It has been reported that illegal fishing is also practiced by dynamite explosions as well as bottom trawling. The Indian government is also banning these materials and hence is demanding more stringent measures from the necessary agencies. With an active policy of merging military and civilian facilities, Beijing’s sea trawlers can also damage India’s submarine cables and cybersecurity.

The adoption of the 2019 sea fishing (regulation and management) bill and the 2020 national fisheries policy introduced new measures such as the obligation for trawlers to have transponders and communication systems. appropriate. Nevertheless, Chinese IUU fishing has not ceased and still poses a threat to the maritime safety of India and other coastal states. In the above context, Quad and the future Indo-Pacific policy of the European Union have included IUU fishing as a cooperation program. Its strategic frustration with Quad and AUKUS, outside of the EU’s Indo-Pacific policy, is also linked to its future control of its IUUs, apart from its expansionist policies.

(The author is an assistant professor at the Central University of the Punjab, Bathinda. The opinions expressed are personal.)

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