Report: The Quad Will Start Joint Tracking of Illegal Fishing Activity

maritime militia
Chinese maritime militia vessels lined up at Union Banks, March 7, 2021 (NTF-WPS)

Published May 22, 2022 10:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Quadrilateral Security Alliance (Quad), a loose defense cooperation group composed of the U.S., India, Australia and Japan, plans to introduce a joint satellite-based tracking system aimed squarely at Chinese illegal fishing. 

The Quad is widely seen as a response to shared concerns about Chinese expansionism in the Indo-Pacific, and Beijing has inveighed against it as a new "Asian NATO" and “a military alliance aimed against China’s resurgence.” The group is committed to the policy objective of a "rules-based maritime order" in the Indo-Pacific, with a focus on the flashpoint regions in the East China Sea and South China Sea. 

While the Quad member states (and a small constellation of "Quad-Plus" affiliate nations) have cooperated periodically on naval exercises and on COVID-19 relief, the grouping has few standing joint operations. The tracking initiative would be a significant development towards continuous cooperation, drawing on the work of surveillance centers in India and Singapore. According to the Financial Times, which broke the story, the initiative will allow Quad nations to monitor Chinese illegal fishing operations, even when the fishing vessels in question have disabled their AIS transponders.

China's fishing fleet is the worst-ranked in the world on the Global Illegal Fishing Index, and Chinese trawlers and squid-jiggers have a long history of poaching in far-flung waters. To date, fishing vessel tracking has focused primarily on AIS monitoring, like the large-scale effort conducted by Global Fishing Watch. The Quad's program, as described by the Financial Times, would also cover fishing vessels without AIS. 

This technical capability would be equally useful in monitoring the movements of China's maritime militia, a hundreds-strong "fishing fleet" operated by Chinese paramilitary units under provincial government sponsorship. The maritime militia deploys for "gray zone" influence, presence and coercion missions, like the buildup of 200-plus trawlers off Whitsun Reef in the Spratly Islands last year.