IUU Fishing will Spark Influx of Piracy

Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing being carried out by foreign fishing trawlers in the waters off Somalia will ultimately force local fishing communities into maritime crime.

The targeting of fish stocks off the Horn of Africa by foreign companies is further contributing to the economic struggle of the communities of the fishing towns that make up the Somali coastline, from which the threat of modern piracy as we know it first emerged.

There have been recent reports that members of the communities, which rely heavily on the income from fishing, are once again becoming frustrated and desperate as the fish stocks off their coastline are being depleted by foreign fishing vessels who do not fish the waters in a sustainable or responsible way.

Secure Fisheries released a report earlier this month, focusing on actions to be taken to secure Somali Fisheries. The report states that ‘IUU vessels catch three times as many fish as the Somali artisanal fishing sector,’ and that ‘a significant number of Somali fish stocks are overfished and, if these trends continue, Somali fishers will face declining catches and profits.’

The most recent scourge of piracy within the Indian Ocean which hit its’s peak in 2011, stemmed from Somali fishing communities targeting foreign fishing vessels operating in the waters off the coasts of their towns in a hope to deter the vessels from fishing in their waters. These initial acts of maritime crime against the IUU fishing vessels soon grew into more violent acts of robbery and hijack and ransom operations.

Therefore, it is once again feared that the overfishing taking place and the severe impact it is having on the Somali fishermen’s profits will result in resurgence of pirate activity in the region.

Already in 2015, two Iranian vessels illegally fishing only 5 miles off of the Somali coastline, were seized by pirates. The threat to vessels that transit the region, fishing or not, has been reduced through the use of armed security on board vessels and international naval efforts. These preventative measures had largely seen the pirate activities decline to a point where it was assumed the threat had diminished.

However, Somali fishing communities have voiced their preparedness to resort to piracy again if the state of IUU fishing in their waters is not improved. Secure Fisheries proposes several methods to reduce and manage the effects of foreign fishing activities in the region, including the implementation of regulation. The sustainable fishing project states that the international community ‘bears a responsibility to help support sustainable fisheries through investment, regulation of its vessels, and respect for Somali law.’

Yet considering IUU fishing has been taking place since the early 1990’s, the act of convincing the international community to now invest in Somalia’s efforts to curb IUU fishing and adhere to regulation will prove a challenging task that could take years to implement.