December 8th 2021: TMT has been monitoring the high seas squid fishery taking place in the northwest Indian Ocean since 2017. The fishery is currently unregulated and has seen significant expansion year on year.
Earlier this year we were able for the first time to ground truth and document the activities of some of the vessels involved at sea - rather than relying on AIS and other satellite sources only - and have produced a brief: Squid Fishing in the North West Indian Ocean: Clear as Ink.
The brief provides extensive images of the fishing activities taking place. This has provided us with extensive new understanding of this operation, but also raises many new questions and concerns.
Key findings of our analysis include:
· There are very low levels of AIS transmission by some vessels – a significant number of vessels were identified which transmitted over AIS whilst en route to the region and then switched AIS off or transmitted only very intermittently whilst on the fishing ground. Further to this, the quality of identifying information transmitted over AIS was often poor, making it challenging to monitor the fishery.
· Transshipment at sea was documented from fishing vessels to reefers, confirming that this is an important component of the operation.
· There are indications of potential EEZ incursions into Oman and Yemen by vessels in the fleet, but no clarity if these are licensed or not.
· The vast majority of the vessels were identified as Chinese. Equally the majority of relevant port calls by both fishing vessels and reefers are in China. Chinese research vessels have also been active in the area.
· All vessels documented in the fishery are using a type of gear we have not previously observed, involving large ‘dip’ nets. Many of the vessels appear to be able to deploy multiple gear types. This is significant for several reasons, including that recent announcements by the Chinese Government to limit high seas squid fishing specified that this applies to squid jigging vessels only.
“Recently high seas squid fisheries in the Atlantic and Pacific have quite rightly received significant attention. Quietly however a major fishery in the northwest Indian Ocean has also been growing year on year, but was previously only visible using satellite data. Now we have a snapshot of the operations at sea for the first time - and while some of our questions about this operation have been answered, many more are raised. The vessels observed were not jiggers as expected, but are using a new type of net gear. As well as squid the vessels are taking on board bycatch, including tuna species, fish the vessels are not authorised to catch. We hope this new analysis will help to shape appropriate policies and inform further action that will have real and lasting impacts on the sustainability of the North West Indian Ocean squid fishery and all those that depend upon it” said Duncan Copeland, Executive Director Trygg Mat Tracking.
The fishery is now starting up again for the 2021-2022 fishing season. As they do so it is important to note that this northwest Indian Ocean squid fishery continues to be subject to very little management and limited regulatory oversight. This represents a threat, not only to the sustainability of squid stocks in the region but potentially also to other regional fisheries, given the key role that oceanic squid plays in the marine food chain.
There is a clear need to address the current management gap as this fishery falls outside the geographical scope of the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA) and outside the species mandate of Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). Positive engagement by China in this process is crucial, as flag state for the fleet and port state receiving the catches, and as the only party with relevant information on the species, catch levels and fishing operations.
This briefing has been produced by Trygg Mat Tracking (TMT), with data and analytical support from Global Fishing Watch. At-sea documentation of vessels and fishing operations conducted in cooperation with Greenpeace International.
Download the 2021 brief: Squid Fishing in the North West Indian Ocean: Clear as Ink.