Indonesian clampdown shows tackling illegal fishing could be best way to sustainable future

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

The reduction of IUU fishing may be enough to facilitate the recovery of fisheries without lowering the catch by the domestic fleet. ©GettyImages
The reduction of IUU fishing may be enough to facilitate the recovery of fisheries without lowering the catch by the domestic fleet. ©GettyImages
Tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing could be more effective at creating a more sustainable industry than curtailing overall catches, according to a recently-published research paper that highlighted advances made in Indonesia.

Presently, over-fishing remains a major problem in many fishing countries — threatening food security, livelihoods and conservation.

A related problem is that 20% (11 to 26 million metric tonnes) of global fish catch is caught illegally, resulting in an annual global fisheries loss of US$10-$23.5b.

A team of researchers from the Philippines and the US said that one of the biggest threats to fishery recovery is that it entails significant short-term reductions in fishing and profit — something many governments, especially in Asia, are unwilling to go through.

However, they said that the reduction of IUU fishing may be sufficient to facilitate recovery without lowering the catch by the legal domestic fleet and to minimise short-term losses.

While some countries have made effort to reduce IUU fishing in their waters — such as Indonesia, which has destroyed fishing boats, banned foreign vessels and restricted transfers between boats at sea — the impact of these on sustainability has until now not been investigated.

“Through our case study, we have found that Indonesia’s IUU policies have reduced fishing effort to a level where limited expansion in domestic (legal) fishing effort can occur without undermining fishery sustainability,”​ said the researchers.

The best approach

According to the researchers, as demand for seafood rises, many countries seek to increase fisheries’ production and profit. In the short term, this can be achieved by increasing fishing effort though it eventually leads to the crisis of over-fishing.

Another approach is to adjust the fishing effort to levels that maximise long-term sustainable or economic yields. This requires an initial reduction in fishing and therefore in harvest and profit as well — which is termed ‘the valley of death’ — in order to allow the recovery of fish stocks to an optimal, productive and profitable level.

With this approach, increased harvest and profit can only be achieved further in the future when the stocks have sufficiently recovered. This long-term process is also considered too harsh by many, for all parties involved.

The researchers showed that eliminating IUU fishing can be the fastest and potentially longest-lasting way to increase fisheries production and profit while avoiding ‘the valley of death’.

Indonesia’s results evident

Reniel Cabral and Christopher Costello, and others on the project, studied the efforts to halt the illegal fishing of a skipjack tuna fishery in Indonesia using satellite tracking, vessel monitoring system (VMS) data, and bio-economic modelling to evaluate changes in harvest and profit.

IUU fishing in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) has largely been carried out by foreign-flagged fishing vessels. Using new data from satellite technologies, the researchers found that the time foreign boats spent fishing in Indonesian waters declined by 90% with the restrictions, and the number of fishing boats overall decreased by 30%.

While this has led to increased domestic fishing, the researchers’ bio-economic model suggests that if domestic fishing is capped at its maximum sustainable yield (MSY) and illegal fishing is tackled, catch and profits could increase by 14% and 12%, respectively.

Applicable worldwide

Furthermore, the researchers state that they have found similar trends in The Gambia that support their finding that reducing IUU fishing could provide a simple and cost-effective route to sustainable fisheries globally.

They also highlight that satellite-based technologies and publicly-available government data can help to monitor distant water fishing globally as well as facilitate the evaluation of the impact of policies that affect fishing, and to help track and stop IUU fishing.

The researchers added that efforts to combat IUU fishing also help other causes such as improving working conditions for crew and eliminating human rights abuses, including in the use of slave labour, all of which are prevalent among IUU vessels.

“Most regions of the world currently experience fishing pressure above the sustainable,” ​they said.

“If IUU fishing were addressed in all regions, the gap to global fishery sustainability would narrow significantly, and fisheries reform would become much more feasible.”


Source: Nature Ecology & Evolution

DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0499-1

“Rapid and lasting gains from solving illegal fishing”

Authors: Reniel B Cabral, Christopher Costello, et al​.

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