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By Mr T. Sincock


The great African migrations, driven by the seasons, see animals make a perilous journey in search of food and water to sustain themselves and those of their future generations. Likewise, with human inhabitation and industrialisation the earth’s environment and natural resources have become vulnerable to humans in their search for wealth and sustainability. 

New Zealand (NZ) has long felt safe with its geographical isolation and the preliminary line of defence of the Tasman Sea, Pacific and Southern oceans – the ‘moat’, but is this a false sense of security? Moreover, NZ’s ‘moat’ contains riches in natural resources that must be protected to ensure economic prosperity and sustainability for future generations.   

Aim and scope

This essay will illustrate that global population growth and the increased consumption of seafood in the next decade will challenge fishery stock sustainability and food security, with NZ’s maritime domain becoming more attractive for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. It will also argue that the NZ Defence Force (NZDF) will not be resourced to effectively deter this trans-national criminal activity. The essay will begin with the projected global population growth over the next ten years and the effect this will have on the demands for fish, followed by IUU fishing and its threat to NZ’s economic prosperity and to that of its Pacific neighbours. The essay will conclude by characterising NZ’s Maritime Domain, and provide the view that the NZDF may be postured capability wise but will grapple to effectively deter IUU. 

Global fish supply and demand

Food security, as defined by the United Nations’ (UN) Committee on World Food Security as meaning: “that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.”[1] Population growth and increased incomes will see the balance between food supply and demand challenged. The UN projects that the world’s population is expected to reach 8.5 billion in 2030 – up from 7.7 billion in mid-2019, with China being the most populous country with 1.43 billion.[2] Because of the health benefits of fish (protein), it is recommended people consume 227 grams of seafood per week.[3] The total global fish production is expected to expand from 179 million tonnes in 2018 to 204 million tonnes in 2030.[4] Therefore per capita, annual global fish consumption is projected to reach 21.5 kg in 2030, up from 20.5 kg in 2018.[5] To meet the global human consumption projections the fishing industry has a vital role in delivering local supply and in supporting trade-reliant economies. Notably, 600,000 tonnes of seafood is harvested from NZ’s waters each year; 267,901 tonnes is exported with a total earning of $1.8 billion in 2018, and the industry employs over 13,000 full-time workers.[6] Moreover, our Pacific neighbours’ sea cucumber fisheries are estimated to be the second most valuable export fishery after tuna, and more live tonnage in sea cucumbers is extracted and traded annually than all other reef fisheries combined, fetching between AUD150 – 300 per kilogram in Hong Kong and Chinese markets.[7]

Even so, climate change, habitat destruction, overfishing, water acidification, pollution and sub-standard fishing practices – all impact the future of fisheries sustainability. On the basis of the UN analysis of assessed commercial marine fish stocks, the share of fish stocks estimated as being fished at biologically unsustainable levels has been increasing in recent decades, from 10 percent in 1974 to 34.2 percent in 2017.[8] To mitigate this, the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF) sets out globally agreed principles and standards for the use of fisheries and aquaculture resources, including through regional mechanisms and cooperation, to ensure sustainable use of aquatic living resources in harmony with the environment.[9] Not all countries have committed to the CCRF. Similarly, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources provides a regulatory management body for the Southern Ocean. Trans-national theft of fish products, corrupt administrations and PIC regional fisheries who lack the ability and resources to effectively control and monitor fisheries, all have an effect on ecosystem fragility, food security and sustainability of the world’s aquatic living resources.

The impacts of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing 

Worldwide, 200 million people are directly and indirectly employed in fisheries and aquaculture, from harvesting, processing to distribution.[10] IUU fishing jeopardises livelihoods, contributes to poverty, and threatens economic stability and food security. “The trans-national dimensions of IUU include vessels illegally fishing outside their home country, affected fish stocks crossing national Economic Exclusion Zones (EEZ), globalised seafood supply chains processing and retailing illegally harvested fish, and IUU vessel involvement in other trans-national crimes.”[11] IUU fishing accounted for nearly a quarter of the USD120 billion global landed value of fisheries in 2016.[12] Aquaculture resources available to local fisheries can be destabilised by IUU fishing, leading to the collapse of small-scale fishers in developing countries, with illicit fish products ending up in overseas trade markets threatening local supply.

In early January 2015, the Off-shore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington intercepted three foreign fishing vessels in the Southern Ocean; the Songhua, Kunlun and Youngding, with all three vessels flying the Equatorial Guinea flag. These three ships were illegally fishing for ‘Antarctic tooth-fish’ which is part of a fishery stock worth NZD600 million.[13] A four-month pursuit ensued that also involved Australian authorities. As a result, these ships were eventually seized; the Kunlun, when it arrived in Phuket was flying a false Indonesian flag and renamed the Taishan – the cargo was reported by the Captain as 182 tonnes of grouper, valued at NZD650,000. However, the Phuket Gazette reported that; “experts have confirmed that the ship had in fact offloaded 182 tonnes of Antarctic tooth-fish, valued at around NZD7.8 million.”[14] Technological advances have seen the development of the integrated satellite-based vessel monitoring systems (Automatic Identification System, Vessel Monitoring System and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) which have provided global fisheries with the tools to better regulate and manage aquaculture resources, and detect IUU fishing.

The very nature of IUU fishing makes it particularly difficult to estimate the level of activity. The NZ Ministry of Fisheries 2007/08 annual report estimated the value of illegal and unregulated fishing in the Pacific to be NZD500 million.[15] Fish processing and marketing creates employment, provides a nutritious food, and generates income and economic growth in NZ and PIC. However, financial incentives can lure criminal groups backed by external state actors who exploit fish catches, threatening fish stock sustainability and livelihoods. China has the growth and willingness to coerce regional administrations and to subsidise illegal fishers. NZ must patrol its maritime domain and take action against those who exploit NZ’s sovereignty and the sovereignty of our Pacific neighbours.  

New Zealand’s Maritime Domain and the challenges for the New Zealand Defence Force 

NZ has significant interests, economically and environmentally, over extensive oceans spanning some 30 million square kilometres – our maritime domain.[16] Maritime patrols are used to protect these interests, by detecting and deterring illegal activities, and by gathering information about activities that are occurring in the maritime domain. In 2009/10, the NZ Government budgeted NZD277 million for patrol activities.[17] The ability to monitor, deter, and protect maritime interests will become increasingly important in the context of resource competition and resource scarcity projected to intensify in the maritime domain.”[18] Notably, over the last decade China has sought to enhance their regional presence and influence in an attempt to coerce smaller Pacific Island states. 

The Strategic Defence Policy Statement 2018 highlights: “the ability to monitor, deter, and protect maritime interests will be challenged by a more complex and more competitive maritime domain, especially given the size of the NZ EEZ and scope of current resources. This includes illegal, unregulated and unreported fisheries activity and whaling in the Southern Ocean. Increasing resource competition and resource scarcity in the maritime domain will continue to challenge NZ and the Pacific.”[19] NZ Government agencies request maritime patrols for civilian purposes with a heavy reliance on the NZDF as the key enabler, to provide the aircraft and ships for the patrols. Meeting these requirements is challenging for the NZDF based on current resources, particularly in terms of endurance and sustainability. The NZDF currently has a fleet of six P-3K Orion aircraft, two Anzac Class Frigates, two Off-shore patrol vessels and two In-shore patrol vessels available to patrol NZ’s maritime domain. The issue is not the platforms but the human resources to crew and sustain the platforms. 

Collaboratively though, the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency coordinates a 10-day annual maritime surveillance sweep (Operation Rai Balang) joined by the nine Micronesian and Melanesian states as well as the aerial and maritime defence assets of the ‘QUADS’[20] (Australia, NZ, France and the US).[21] “Crew on a RNZAF P-3K2 Orion aircraft have been flying patrols in the Pacific, covering more than 735,000 square nautical miles recently.”[22] Although patrols are occurring, a Performance audit Report released by the Office of the Auditor General in 2010, reported that in 2008/09: “23 patrols were recorded as cancelled. The most common reasons for cancelled patrols were: other ‘tasking’, such as search and rescue (six cancellations); agency requests (five cancellations); and weather conditions (five cancellations). Other patrols were cancelled because of, for example, unavailable NZDF crews and unplanned maintenance.”[23] Furthermore, in 2008/2009, 39 of 45 unmet requests were the result of unavailable aircraft and ships.[24] Unavailability of platforms can be the result of staffing issues which challenges the NZDF’s ability to sustain patrols on a consistent basis. Flying hours and days at sea also become tempo issues for safety compliance and welfare (morale), moreover there has to be respite. Conversely, the platforms require regular maintenance which means they will be unavailable periodically. For instance, the two ANZAC Class Frigates have been in Canada since March 2018 for upgrade work and the first Frigate to be completed is not expected back in NZ until early 2021. When the Frigates do return to NZ there will be a ‘work-up period’ to get the ship’s crew back to an operational level. 

New capability is being procured by the NZ Government for the NZDF. The replacement for the P-3K Orion is the P-8A Poseidon with the first of four aircraft arriving in early to mid- 2023. This will necessitate the withdrawal from service of the P-3K and the introduction into service of the P-8A, which will be extremely challenging to maintain military air outputs and meet any civilian maritime patrol requests. The NZDF is significantly challenged to conduct simultaneous operations i.e. contributing to international rules based order in the Persian Gulf versus patrols in NZ’s maritime domain (international credibility versus domestic and Pacific credibility). To meet increasing demands on limited resources the NZ government must re-examine the factors that impact the availability of maritime security assets. Specifically, investigating a ‘Coast Guard’ similar to Australia’s Border Force, to patrol the immediate maritime interests, enabling the RNZN to assume a supporting role and to focus on their military function(s), and the high seas.    


This essay has illustrated that the demand for fish is expected to increase by 25 million tonnes in 2030 with the global population growth of 1 billion people. NZ and PIC aquaculture harvesting and marketing creates employment, generates income and provides prosperity. However, financial motivations drive criminal groups with backing by corrupt and influential actors, which significantly erodes the security and sustainability of the world’s aquatic living resources. IUU fishing in NZ’s maritime domain is real, especially when 182 tonnes of Antarctic tooth-fish valued at around NZD7.8 million was offloaded from the vessel Kunlun (under the name, Taishan), intercepted by the HMNZS Wellington in the Southern Ocean. NZ’s maritime domain remains vulnerable and if not regularly patrolled, would-be trans-national criminals will continue to take full advantage with the value of IUU fishing in the Pacific estimated to be NZD500 million in 2007/08.  

NZ is the guardian of an extensive maritime domain spanning 30 million square kilometres and includes our Pacific neighbours and the Southern Ocean. To maintain a presence in this domain, to deter IUU fishing, requires constant surveillance and patrolling by the NZDF. Any gaps created by a lack of surveillance and fisheries patrols will provide opportunities for IUU fishers to exploit NZ’s and PIC’s aquaculture resources. 

NZDF aircraft and ship availability for maritime patrols is sporadic and does not allow for effective deterrence of IUU in the NZ maritime domain, nor does the NZDF have the people to crew all its air and sea assets. Security of NZ’s maritime domain remains a serious business. Fishery stocks need to be protected to sustain food security and the prosperity of NZ and its Pacific neighbours, for the next decade and beyond.     


1.  International Food Policy Research Institute.
2. UN, World Population Prospect 2019: Highlights, pp 5 – 12.
3. USDA and HHS, 2010.
4. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations’: The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2020, p 164.
5. Ibid, p 170.
6. Seafood NZ – (accessed 02 August 2020)
7. Carleton et al., 2013; Purcell et al., 2018.  
8. Op cit, FAO, p 47.
9. Op cit, FAO, pp 92 – 95.    
10. FAO Fisheries and Agriculture Technical Paper 627, 2018, p 42.
11. Chapsos and Hamilton, 2019.
12. Pauly and Zeller, 2016; Phan Huy Hoang, 2017.
13. Christopher Pala, 2015.
14. Christopher Pala, 2015.
15. Performance audit Report: ISBN 978-0-478-32652-9, 2010, p 9.
16. Maritime Security Strategy, 2019, pp 7 – 9.
17. Op cit, ISBN 978-0-478-32652-9, p 10.
18. Advancing Pacific Partnerships 2019, p 7.
19. Strategic Defence Policy Statement, 2018, p 24.
20. Pacific Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group.
21. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, Volume 60, Number 3, 2019, p 316.
22. Tauranga Newspaper SunLive: Illegal fishing in Pacific waters prompts NZDF to resume air patrols, 29 July      2020.
23. Op cit, ISBN 978-0-478-32652-9, p 42.
24. Ibid p 44.



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Chapsos, I., and Hamilton, S.: Illegal fishing and fisheries crime as a transnational organized crime in Indonesia, Trends in Organised Crime 22 (2019), pp 255–273. 

Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations: Fisheries and Agriculture Technical Paper 627: Impacts of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture, FAO 2018.  

Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations: The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, FAO 2020.

Gillett, Robert and Ian Cartwright: The future of Pacific Island Fisheries, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, 2010.

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Purcell, S.W., D.H. Williamson and P. Ngaluafe: Chineses market prices of beche-de-mer – Implications for fisheries and aquaculture, Marine Policy 91 (2018), pp 58 – 65.

Song, Andrew M., Viet Thang Hoang, Philippa J. Cohen, Transform Aqorau and Tiffany H. Morrison: ‘Blue boats’ and ‘reef robbers’ – A new maritime security threat for the Asia Pacific, 2019.

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Wiley, John and Sons: Asia Pacific Viewpoint, Volume 60, Number 3, Victoria University of Wellington, 2019, pp 310 – 324.