Australia, Asian Nations to Crack Down on Illegal Fishing

DENPASAR ~ Ten Asian and Pacific nations have pledged to work closer to tackle rampant illegal fishing in the region in the wake of rapidly dwindling fish stocks.

Fishing ministers from the 10 countries signed an agreement to share information on illegal fishing and step up surveillance in their waters in an increased effort to reduce poaching and overfishing.

They also pledged data-sharing on the levels of fish stocks in their waters and the catches of their fishing fleets so they could work together to determine what amount of future fishing was sustainable.

The agreement was forged in a one-day meeting of the ministers in Bali last Friday co-hosted by the Indonesian and Australian governments.

Australian Fisheries Minister Eric Abetz hailed the agreement as crucial to increasing regional cooperation and combating unsustainable fishing.

“Today’s meeting sends a clear message to the fish poachers that governments regionally are determined to cooperate and tackle the problem head on,” he said after the signing.

“Illegal fishing is not just a problem which threatens Australian fish stocks; it affects many countries in the Southeast Asian region.”

Other countries that signed the pact included East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Brunei.

The regional plan of action covers fishing in the South China Sea, the Sulu Sulawesi Sea, Arafura Sea north of Australia and the Timor Sea.

The agreement also paves the way for Australia and Indonesia to stage joint patrols to help stamp out illegal fishing in the waters between the two countries, Indonesian Maritime Minister Freddy Numberi said.

Australia has long been concerned about poaching by Indonesian fishermen in its northern waters, leading to a depletion of shark numbers amid a growing demand in Asia for their fins for traditional soup.

However the agreement does not include any proposals for sanctions if poachers are caught in neighboring waters.

Boediono, Indonesia’s coordinating minister of economic affairs, said achieving sustainable fishing was difficult as Asian countries balanced feeding their growing populations with preserving marine resources.

“On the one hand we have to prevent further decline in fishstocks; on the other hand we need to positively respond to the increasing demand of fish for human consumption,” Boediono said.

“Illegal unreported and unregulated fishing distorts competition by jeopardizing the economic survival of those who fish in accordance with the law and in compliance with the relevant conservation and management standards,” he added.

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