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  • Anand Kumar

IUU Fishing in Western Indian Ocean

High Seas Robbery in the Western Indian Ocean Region

The Western Indian Ocean is blessed with abundant fish stock which provides livelihood to the coastal communities and sustains a thriving fishing industry.[1] Fishery has been one of the most important sources of food and economic security since time immemorial. However, owing to the poor developmental index, weak governance (which is endemic among a few of the East African Countries), lack of proper Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (MCS), the region has become the hot spot of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. The prevalence of IUU fishing in the region has resulted in incessant exploitation of the fishery resources-damaging the ecological balance, destroying the marine flora and fauna, and robbing the regional economy. This in turn has affected the food and economic security, and the artisan fishing of the region. 

The Geography

The Western Indian Ocean presents a unique socio-political and climatic region of the western part of the Indian Ocean. The area extends from eastern South Africa in the south to India in the east and the Arabian Gulf in the North (see the shaded area in Figure 1)[2]. The region is blessed with tropical weather, high biodiversity, extensive coral reefs which is home to a vast fishery resource.  The region consists of 10 countries- Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Seychelles, Comoros, Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius, France (reunion), and South Africa. Majority of the countries of the region are categorized as Least Developed Countries and some belong to the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) category.  The coastal population of the region, living within 100 km of the coast is about 60 million and the region is characterised by high population growth.[3]

Fishery is the Main component of Coastal Economy

Coastal population relies heavily on fishery as a source of food security and economic wellbeing since time immemorial. However, rapid population growth and urbanization has put unprecedented pressure on the marine resources resulting in overfishing, which is the main source of food and protein, which in turn affects the sustainability of marine resources of the region.  The weak governance coupled with corruption and poor law enforcement capacity has resulted in the growth of IUU fishing of endemic proportion. IUU fishing has been identified as one of the major challenges affecting the ‘right to life’ and ‘right to livelihood’ of people living within 100 km of the coast in the region.[4]

The fisheries sector accounts for a significant portion of the GDP of the western Indian Ocean region States. As per FAO estimates, fisheries account for 2.7% of GDP in Madagascar, 3.7% in Mozambique and 6.6% in Zanzibar (semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 20-25 km off the coast of Tanzania).[5] The economic impact of IUU fishing is significant, damaging the economic well-being, governance capacity, societal development, and human security index.[6]

Analysis of the Respective States in the Western Indian Ocean Region

Somalia– Somalia has the longest coastline of 3,000 km, and its artisan fishing population is one of the smallest among the western Indian Ocean littorals.  As a result, their near shore fish stock is underexploited, and on the contrary their deeper waters i.e. far shore up to the EEZ is heavily overexploited by the foreign fishing fleets, often engaged in illegal, and unregulated fishing.  At any point there are about 700 foreign fishing vessels in Somali waters.[7]  There is no system of licensing, and the State lacks sufficient monitoring, control, and surveillance capability.  These ocean-going trawlers damage the fishing gears used by the local fishers, thereby severely affecting their livelihood.  Many attribute the rampant IUU fishing with the rise of piracy in Somalia (though this may not be the sole reason for the rise of piracy in the area).[8]

Kenya– Kenya is coastal Africa’s largest economy that loses approximately 118 million USD annually to IUU fishing.[9]Kenya is an important transshipment point for ‘shark fins’ in the western Indian Ocean. Artisan fishing in Kenya is afflicted with low output, poor infrastructure facilities and poor credit facilities forcing the coastal community to abandon fishery and seek other employment opportunities.  Kenyan fishing industry is dominated by foreign fishing trawlers which are reported to engage in IUU fishing. In 2018, Kenya has launched the Coast Guard Service (CGS) to fight the menace of IUU fishing within its territorial waters.[10]

Tanzania– IUU fishing by artisans, commercial and deep-sea fishing is thought to be taking as much as 20% of the country’s fish costing the economy about 400 million USD a year.  The combination of booming demand and high prices has encouraged rampant illegal fishing, says a Botswana-based NGO, ‘Stop Illegal Fishing’, which is funded by European and US donors.[11] In January 2018, the Tanzanian law enforcement agency joined a California-based conservation group ‘Sea Shepherd Global’ and has been carrying out joint patrol on board the ‘Ocean Warrior’ against IUU fishing and other crimes within Tanzanian waters.[12]

Mozambique– Mozambique loses almost 56 million USD in tax revenue annually from illegal fishing, along its more than 2,500 km of the coastline. The Mozambican coastline, the second largest in East Africa after Somalia presents an enormous challenge for law enforcement.[13] The problem of illegal marine fishing in Mozambique by outsiders is well recognised, though not reflected in official figures. The lack of institutional infrastructure to patrol the coast, investigate reported cases and poor legal framework to prosecute the offenders, has left the country vulnerable to IUU fishing.[14][15]

Madagascar– Similar is the case with Madagascar. Their fisheries are getting ravaged by foreign plunder. The bulk of industrial fishing takes place far from shore. Though it is conducted through international agreements, the critics point to the lack of transparency and are stacked against Madagascar’s interest. Long liners from Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the Chinese vessels are highly active in Madagascar’s waters.[16]


The large-scale prevalence of IUU fishing in the western Indian Ocean negatively impacts the coastal population, by way of loss of employment, loss of staple food, thereby affecting their very survival, and threatening the overall Human security index of the area.[17] As the global fish stocks are on the decline, the IUU fishing is taking the form of high-volume fishing by deep sea and distant-water vessels, at times supported by the respective governments, for example, the Chinese distant-water fishing fleet and fishing-militia. Overfishing on the western Indian Ocean region is forcing the foreign trawlers engaged in IUU fishing further to the east and has the potential to affect the entire Indian Ocean region-reaching up to the fringes of the Indian EEZ as well. Since the Coastal states lack effective Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (MCS) capability, IUU fishing has become a low-risk and high-gain activity.  Little or ineffective deterrence coupled with a poor fisheries management system has exacerbated the situation and the IUU fishing has acquired the characteristics of trans-national crime, which includes human trafficking for forced labour, money laundering, terrorist funding, weapon smuggling, etc.[18]

Way Ahead

The menace of IUU fishing transcends national boundaries and therefore, it requires a multi-lateral approach. There is an emergent need to develop inter-agency, multi-state cooperation, and coordination in the field of Maritime safety and security.  Enhanced cooperation towards sharing of information as well as resources for developing seamless MDA, to develop unified Maritime domain umbrella of the western Indian Ocean region. The partner states must cooperate towards the establishment of Regional Centres of Excellence for training, operations, and equipment development for achieving holistic maritime safety and security of the region. States must develop effective licensing and legal regimes to ensure sustainable fishing practices by the licensed fishing vessels.[19]  Further, western Indian Ocean littorals need to be supported in enhancing their capacity to conduct MCS by providing material assistance, trained human resource, and adequate funding. IORA member countries like India can take a lead in providing requisite training and capacity building by providing Off-shore patrolling vessels, fast patrol crafts, Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), and helicopters for effective surveillance and deterrence, on lease or at subsidised cost.     


[1] R Shotton B8, ‘Western Indian Ocean’, available at, last accessed 03 September 21.

[3] Obura, D. et al., “Reviving the Western Indian Ocean Economy: Actions for a Sustainable Future”. WWF International, 2017, pp. 64.

[4] Ibid, pp. 7.

[5] FAO, “The Value of African Fisheries”, available at, pp. 29-30.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Eastern and Southern Africa (EAS) Fish Workshop, Chennai, May 2006

[8] “The Future of Indian Ocean and South China Sea Fisheries: Implications for the United States”, National Intelligence council report, 30 July 2013, pp. 20.

[9] WWF, “Kenya losing billions to illegal fishing by foreign vessels”, available at, accessed 10 Aug 21.

[10] Shem Oirere, Kenya strives to end illegal fishing, ramp up seafood production, 22 August 19.

[11] John Vidal, ‘Off Tanzania, in one of the world’s richest seas, why is the catch getting smaller’, The Guardian, available at, last accessed 03 September 2021.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Macauhub, ‘Illegal fishing in Mozambique generates tax loss of US $ 56 million per year’, Macauhub, available at, last accessed 22 June 2020.

[14] Dr. A Kumar, ‘IUU Fishing along East African Coast: Threats to Human Security’, Kalinga International, available at https://, last accessed 03 September 2021.

[15] WWF Report, “Reviving the Western Indian Economy: Actions for a Sustainable Future”, January 2017,, accessed 04 Sep 21

[16] Edward Craver, ‘Madagascar: Opaque foreign fisheries deals leaves empty nets at home’, Mongabay, available at, last accessed 03 September 2021.

[17] Graeme Macfadyen, Gills Hosch, Kaysser N. & Lyes Tagziria, ‘IUU Fishing Index’, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, available at, last accessed 03 September 2021.

[18] Dr A Kumar, ‘IUU Fishing along East African Coast: Threats to Human Security’, Kalinga International, available at https://, last accessed 03 September 2021.

[19] Dr. A. Kumar, ‘IUU Fishing along East African Coast: Threats to Human Security’, Kalinga International, available at, last accessed 03 September 2021.


This article has been authored by Commander Anand Kumar, Research Fellow and Deputy Director at the National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. This blog is a part of RSRR’s Excerpts from Experts Blog Series, initiated to bring forth discussion by experts on contemporary legal issues.


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