Illegal fishing and laws of Bangladesh

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Fishing is one of the major livelihoods of the coastal populace of Bangladesh. To garner potentials of blue economy prospects, it is critical for Bangladesh to spearhead the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The incidents of IUU fishing activities are of significant concern to the littoral states of the Bay of Bengal. Among coastal states of the Bay of Bengal, no countries are better poised to address challenges of IUU fishing than Bangladesh. Unfortunately, IUU fishing activities in the maritime zones of Bangladesh have been persisted due to lack of legal and administrative monitoring, and surveillance mechanisms.

As of now, there is no reliable estimated record of IUU fishing activities in the Bay of Bengal ocean realm. However, the news outlets’ frequent citations of incidents about IUU fishing activities in the Bay of Bengal are particularly alarming.  Apart from that, the problem of the IUU fishing activities is also veering into bulwark towards achieving Goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

All these concerns are menacingly interweaved together, when we look into the existing legal regime of Bangladesh regarding protection of living marine resources. The ‘Protection and Conservation of Fish Act, 1950’ as well as the ‘Marine Fisheries Ordinance of 1983’ address the necessity of conservation of inland and marine fish. However, both laws lack comprehensive mechanisms to prevent and deter unauthorised fishing activity. These laws also do not contain any provision that would either define or recognise IUU fishing activity as an offence.

Although section 10 of the Coast Guard Act of 2016 mentions about the constabulary function of law enforcement agencies to tackle IUU fishing, several issues have remained unaddressed, such as: inspection of alleged foreign flagged IUU vessel and the prevention of IUU-catch product to enter into the port. All of these have made it harder to effectively pin down the challenge of illegal and unreported fishing activities.

However, recently drafted Maritime Zones Act of 2019 has provided acquiesce to the significance of regulatory mechanism to tackle IUU fishing activities.

Nevertheless, what perhaps most conspicuously is absent in the draft Maritime Zones Act of 2019 is a specific definition regarding IUU fishing. This has thrown an unexpected spanner into the regulation of illegal fishing activities. At first cut, it is very likely to presume that only foreign fishing vessels are involved in the IUU fishing activities. In reality, along the way of IUU fishing activities, the involvement of domestic licensed fishing vessels cannot be discounted. Due to this omission, the evasive violations of the provisions relating to IUU fishing would obviously loom large.

Sections 47 and 48 of the draft Maritime Zones Act of 2019 specify enforcement measures to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing activities. Section 47 authorises the port authority to carry out inspections of equipment, paperwork, catches, and records of alleged fishing vessels that authority believes to be engaged in IUU fishing. As authorised by provisions of section 47, the port authority would take requisite measures to ensure that ‘IUU-catch products’ are not entering national and international market and to do so, port authority may act in accordance with the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Internationally, the PSMA is the first binding international treaty that specifically aims to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing. It is pertinent to mention here that, on December of 2019, Bangladesh ratified the PSMA. However, there is no relevant provision in the draft Act of 2019 that would enumerate coordination mechanisms among the law enforcement agencies, maritime administrations, and port authorities. This would evidently create enforcement and administrate stalemate in implementing sections 47 and 48 of the draft Act of 2019.

Section 48 metes out provisions to punish individuals associated with IUU fishing. Any person involved in or involved in helping anyone  in either illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, or destructive fishing practices, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may, in currency of Bangladesh, extend up to Taka Eight Million (US $100,000), or with both.

To garner the benefits of blue economy, ensuring ocean governance is prerequisite for Bangladesh. However, IUU fishing is veering into an obstacle to garner such goal. To sum up the existing legal regime of Bangladesh against IUU fishing, it stands at odds with the existing international law, principles, and obligations. The situation is unlikely to change quickly due to ineffective fisheries management policies and inadequate reflection of precautionary principle.

The writer is Assistant Professor of Law at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science &Technology University, Gopalganj.

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