Media statement by DAP Member of Parliament for Batu Kawan, International Secretary for DAP Women and Executive Committee Member of Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) Kasthuri Patto on Wednesday 20th October 2021 in Batu Kawan, Penang:
Time is ripe for Malaysia to ratify the International Labour Organization ‘Work in Fishing Convention’ and the Cape Town Agreement to fight illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, to safeguard and protect our fishermen and their vessels at sea, to sustain our fish livestock and to conserve our ocean ecosystem.
Yesterday I participated in a Regional Webinar on the Ratification and Implementation of the Provisions of the 2012 Cape Town Agreement for Asia organised by the International Maritime Organization and PEW Research as the Executive Committee Member of the Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) and as a Malaysian MP.
Malaysia has the 29th longest coastline in the world, with the Straits of Malacca as one of the busiest sea routes for vessel transport and East Malaysia having some of the best coral reefs in the world. A busy route also opens any nation to the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, illicit smuggling of drugs, small arms and light weapons as well as trafficking people.
In 2016, Malaysia lost RM6 billion to IUU fishing and in spite of increased enforcement and surveillance, in 2019, we reported losses of RM4.2 billion.
Years and years of overfishing, destructive fishing practices and poaching has led to the decline of fish stock in Malaysia.
Bahiyuddin, a local fisherman from Dungun, Terengganu is one of them who has been on the receiving end of this disaster at sea. Obscure border boundaries and maritime territorial disputes have been an ongoing problem for years and thus allowing IUU to flourish in the region as some Malaysian fishers were arrested by Indonesian authorities while still being in Malaysian waters.
Rosilawati, a fisher off Pahang, told ERC journalists that foreign vessels that enter Malaysian waters destroy coral reefs using illegal trawler nets, which the locals call pukat gading. “Without corals, the seabed becomes bare. It’s like a desert – who or what would want to live in a desert?”
At times these foreign vessels, often a part of a syndicate, pay up to RM30,000 a month to local fishermen so that they can disguise themselves as Malaysian boats and even paint their boats a bright red as how Kelantanese fisherfolk do.
There have also been alleged possible leaks of intelligence on patrolling and enforcement operations that allow these culprits at sea to flee. Informers lurk around and when they spot an enforcing ship, they alert their bosses.
Transshipment, which is the transfer of fish and sea produce from smaller boats when their storage is full on to larger ships, also known as ‘logistic ship’ or ‘mothership’ with a large refrigerator which will allow the smaller boats to fish boundlessly is another main enabler of IUU fishing.
While transshipment is illegal and banned in Malaysia, syndicates have found a way around the law and the watchful eyes of our marine patrol by ensuring the transfers take place away from port authorities and on blurred boundary lines.
Human rights violations have also happened on vessels where one transshipment in Thailand led to the deaths of its crew and others suffering from beriberi and malnutrition. As a deterrent in Malaysian waters the Malaysian Marine Enforcement Agency regularly sinks the boats of those found guilty of IUU fishing.
Like the act of money laundering on land, “fish laundering” happens at sea through the meticulous mixing of fish caught legally with IUU fishing.
The Malaysian Fishery Department told Environmental Reporting Collective (ERC) that 80% of the over 300 IUU fishers they arrested in 2019 and 2020 were from Vietnam.
While Malaysia continued the battle against COVID-19, fishers faced the negative impact on fisheries and aquaculture food systems as a result of IUU fishing. As front liners at sea, their rights, safety, wellbeing and sustainability must be the most important focus of the Government.
Why should Malaysia sign and ratify the Cape Town Agreement (CTA)
As a partner in the Protecting the Oceans Campaign, Parliamentarians for Global Action rightfully states that “The Cape Town Agreement (CTA) is fundamental for addressing fishing vessel safety and protecting the lives of fishers in one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. And its ratification and entry into force will help address IUU fishing, reduce marine litter from international fishing vessels, and limit the number of dangerous long-distance search and rescue callouts to fishing vessels in distress by States’ search and rescue personnel, merchant and naval fleets, and other fishing vessels. Until the CTA enters into force, there are no mandatory global safety regulations for fishing vessels”.
To date, the Cape Town Agreement has been signed by 14 countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, Cuba, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kiribati, Liberia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Spain and Sweden.
How will Malaysia benefit if it signs and ratifies the Cape Town Agreement (CTA)?
• Mandatory global safety regulations for fishers and vessel
• Vessel and crew included in international maritime regulations
• Provide level playing field for all participants in the industry
• Safety certifications
• Working condition inspections
However, as Malaysia has not signed and ratified the CTA, it falls into the red list amongst other countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Canada and others under the Global Tuna Alliance (GTA) and the Tuna Protection Alliance (TUPA) list.
Of course, all international treaties and conventions signed have no legal binding in our country where domestic laws take precedent but instead acts as an international instrument, a global standard of best practices to ensure there is also social justice for fishers.
If Malaysia does not ratify the ILO Work in Fishing Convention and the Cape Town Agreement (CTA) then it acts as a state party that will continue to allow the violations against our fishers.
Although the Malaysian Fisheries Department is currently reviewing the Fisheries Act 1985 to increase fines and jail terms as a deterrent, these fish thieves seem to not care or to be affected by it – paying a hefty fine and continuing their dreadful activity seems like a piece of cake.
IMO Secretary-General Mr. Kitack Lim underscored in an October 2020 statement, “The world has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this has shown that the ability of fishers to provide sustainably sourced seafood is more important than ever. The safety of fishers and fishing vessels is paramount”.
Malaysia is duty bound to sign and ratify the Working in Fishing Convention and the Cape Town Agreement to safeguard and protect our fishers as well as our ocean.
Member of Parliament for Batu Kawan
International Secretary for Women