Global Fishing Index


There is no evidence that Malaysia has made progress towards restoring fish stocks to sustainable levels, with almost all of its catch coming from unassessed stocks, with unknown sustainability status. Additionally, major gaps in Malaysia’s fisheries governance system means there is limited capacity to ensure sustainable fishing into the future.

Malaysia is located in the coral triangle – a global hotspot of marine biodiversity – and is the ninth largest producer of wild-caught fisheries in the world.1 Malaysia has a diverse fishing sector that supports jobslivelihoods and food securitywith fisheries products a relatively cheap source of animal protein.2 Concerningly, previous research has identified Malaysia’s fisheries as vulnerable to unsustainable fishing practices, including labour exploitation and modern slavery.3

Malaysia has low governance capacity, and negligible progress has been made towards restoring fish stocks to sustainable levels, resulting in an ‘F’ rating. Nearly all (92 per cent) of the catch from Malaysia’s waters comes from stocks of unknown sustainability status – they are not assessed, and there is insufficient quantitative data to estimate stock health. While Malaysia has some elements of fisheries governance, critical gaps remain in terms of the lack of data collection and use of science-based management measures. With weak fisheries governance and a near complete lack of stock status data, Malaysia faces a critical challenge to ensure the sustainable management of fisheries in its waters.


To improve the sustainability of its fisheries, Malaysia should:

Strengthen fisheries monitoring programs to gather high-quality information, including catch, effort and fleet data.
Increase investment in fisheries management, including building capacity to undertake assessments of stock health.
Adopt conservative catch and effort limits across fisheries where information is lacking.
Ratify and implement the 2009 FAO Port State Measures Agreement and adopt a National Plan of Action to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Ratify and implement the 1957 ILO Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105) and the 2007 ILO Work in Fishing Convention (No. 188) to protect worker rights in fisheries.

Progress towards SDG target 14.4

Malaysia performs in the bottom quarter of assessed countries, both globally and within its region, and there is negligible progress towards SDG target 14.4.

Malaysia’s Progress score included 55 stock assessments. While this is a relatively high number, the national stocks included were assessed using data-limited methods rather than recent, published official assessments from national authorities. Further, Malaysia’s fisheries are highly diverse: these stocks only account for eight per cent of the total catch in its national waters since 1990, leaving the status of the majority of the catch unknown. The lack of stock assessments for this diverse catch composition highlights the considerable challenges that Malaysia faces in achieving SDG target 14.4.

Malaysia has a high proportion of assessed stocks at sustainable levels of abundance (80 per cent). However, the limited data availability means these stocks are not an accurate reflection of the overall state of Malaysia’s fisheries resources. These sustainable stocks account for only six per cent of the country’s total catch since 1990.

Most of Malaysia’s catch is from fish stocks that occur exclusively within national waters or are shared with neighbouring countries. While 24 of the 55 stocks assessed were published by regional fisheries organisations, these only account for one per cent of the country’s total catch.

Fisheries governance

Globally, Malaysia performs in the mid-range of countries for its governance capacity and in the bottom one-third of countries in Central, Southern, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia. Malaysia has some elements of a fisheries governance system that, where implemented, promotes sustainable fishing. However, major gaps remain in terms of a lack of fisheries data, limited use of science-based management measures and a lack of commitment to international fisheries agreements.

Malaysia has a national fisheries policy foundation with clearly stated environmental and livelihood objectives. However, it is yet to demonstrate a strong commitment to international standards for fisheries management or protecting worker rights and safety in fisheries. Most notably, Malaysia is yet to ratify the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreementthe 2009 FAO Port State Measures Agreement, the 1957 ILO Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105) and the 2007 ILO Work in Fishing Convention (No. 188).

Additionally, Malaysia provides a diverse range of potentially harmful fishing subsidies, such as reduced fuel prices and tax exemptions. Almost 90 per cent of its fisheries subsidy budget – estimated at US$468 million in 2018 – is spent on these types of harmful subsidies, in comparison to spending on fisheries management and conservation. While these subsidies encourage industry development, they are also linked to overcapacity and overfishing, particularly in the industrial sector.4

There is evidence that Malaysia has financial and professional capacity manage its fisheries. For example, Malaysia has capacity to undertake stock assessments, although these may not be made publicly available. It also uses science-based catch and/or effort limits to manage fishing pressure, in some fisheries. However, Malaysia is yet to apply the same standards across all fisheries. Additionally, harvest control rules – pre-determined rules that guide management action, based on the state of fisheries resources – are not used, even the most valuable fishery.

Malaysia leads its region in terms of controlling access to its fisheries resources. In addition to prohibiting foreign fishing, all commercial and non-commercial fishing activity in Malaysia’s waters must be conducted under a valid fishing licence. Malaysia also uses spatial restrictions, such as a coastal management zone and marine protected areas, as tools for ensuring equitable access to fisheries resources and protecting key habitats and ecosystems. However, while fishing without a licence in Malaysia’s waters is strictly prohibited, Malaysia does not use vessel registrations as a tool for monitoring and regulating fishing access.

Malaysia has key components of a compliance management system, including on-water and in-port fisheries inspections, graduated sanctions for fisheries violations and a National Plan of Action to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. However, stakeholder participation is limited, which could undermine voluntary compliance with regulations. Malaysia’s centralised management structure, combined with limited formal opportunities for key stakeholders, such as fishers, to participate in decision-making, hinders stakeholders’ ability to effectively engage in management processes. There may also be limited stakeholder capacity to engage due to a lack of transparency around decision making, for example through not publishing management meeting minutes.

Key metrics

Metric Value
Progress score 5.8 out of 100
Total reconstructed catch in 2018 2.9 million tonnes
Total reconstructed catch (1990 to 2018) 94.8 million tonnes
Sustainable stocks 80%
Overfished stocks 20%
Catch from sustainable stocks (1990 to 2018) 6%
Catch from overfished stocks (1990 to 2018) 2%
Catch from unassessed stocks (1990 to 2018) 92%
Governance capacity Medium: Level 5 of 12

Methods and data sources

We consider Peninsula East, Peninsula West, Sabah, and Sarawak as part of Malaysia for the Global Fishing Index assessment. Malaysia is also considered part of the Central, Southern, Eastern and South-East Asian region for comparative purposes. Refer to the Technical Methods for a detailed explanation of the methods used by the Minderoo Foundation to produce the 2021 Global Fishing Index. The Technical Methods should be read in conjunction with the Global Fishing Index Key Insights report, Governance Conceptual Framework and Indicator Codebook.

Malaysia’s Progress score was informed by 55 assessed fish stocks. Twenty-one stocks had recent published official stock assessments, all from regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs). The remaining 34 stocks were assessed using publicly available data and established data limited methods (CMSY++ or the Bayesian Schaefer Model).56 Catch and stock sustainability estimates were reviewed by one local fisheries expert, prior to finalisation.

Malaysia’s Governance assessment was informed by one questionnaire respondent, interviews with three local fisheries experts and the publicly available literature. Consulted references are listed in the bibliography below. Our governance assessment measures country-level fisheries governance, with eight indicators referring specifically to a country’s most valuable fishery, as identified by respondents. The most valuable fishery identified for Malaysia was the multi-species marine fishery.

Governance bibliography

The following sources informed Malaysia’s governance assessment:

Commissioner of Law Revision, State of Fisheries Ordinance 2003 (2003). [24 January 2020]

Daily Express Online – Independent National Newspaper of East Malaysia (2014). Tagal system for 600 more river zones in Sabah. [24 January 2020] (2016). Fishing Information. [24 January 2020]

Department of Fisheries Malaysia (2013). Malaysia’s National Plan of action to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (Malaysia’s NPOA-IUU), Department of Fisheries Malaysia, Putrajaya, pp. 1-56. [24 January 2020]

Department of Fisheries Malaysia (2014). The Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management Stakeholder's Consultation Programme, Department of Fisheries Malaysia, Putrajaya., pp. 1-100. [24 January 2020]

Department of Fisheries Malaysia (2015). National Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity in Malaysia (Plan 2), Department of Fisheries Malaysia, Putrajaya, pp. 1-54. [24 January 2020]

Department of Fisheries Malaysia (2015). National Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity in Malaysis (Part 2), Department of Fisheries Malaysia, Federal Government, Persiaran Perdana, Precinct 4, Federal Government, pp. 1-54. [22 March 2020]

Department of Fisheries Malaysia (2018). Licensing Procedures and Fishing Zones. [24 January 2020]

Department of Fisheries Malaysia (2018). Malaysian Fisheries by Month, 2018, Department of Fisheries Malaysia, pp. 1-50. [22 March 2020]

Department of Fisheries Malaysia (2018). Vessels and Fisher Statistics 2018, Department of Fisheries Malaysia, pp. 1-17. [24 January 2020]

Department of Fisheries Malaysia (2019). Portal Rasmi Jabatan Perikanan Malaysia. [24 January 2020]

Department of Fisheries Malaysia (2019). Portal Rasmi Jabatan Perikanan Malaysia – Organisational Chart. [24 January 2020]

Department of Fisheries Malaysia (2020). Acts and Regulations. [24 January 2020]

Department of Statistics Malaysia (2017). Value added of fisheries sub-sector recorded an annual growth rate of 10.2 per cent in five year period. [24 January 2020]

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2020). Fishery and Country Profiles- Malaysia. [24 January 2020]

Government of Malaysia, Laws of Malaysia, Fisheries Act 1985 (1985). [24 January 2020]

Government of Malaysia, Federal Constitution (2007). [22 March 2020]

Ministry of Agriculture & Agro-based Industries (2019). Priorities and Strategies 2019-2020. [24 January 2020]

Ministry of Agriculture and AgroFood (2020). Malaysian 2020 Budget, [24 January 2020]

Persatuan Nelayan Kebangsaan (Nekmat) (1971). Fishermen Association Act 44. [24 January 2020]

Saad, J. and OceanResearch (2013). Review of Malaysian Law and Policies in Relation to the Implementation of Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management in Malaysia, Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries of the Republic of Indonesia, Jakarta Pusat 10110, Indonesia, pp. 1-88. [24 January 2020]

The State Attorney-General of Sabah, State of Sabah (2003). [24 January 2020]

Wong, J.Z., Etoh, S. and Sujang, A.B. (2009). Towards Sustainable Community-based Fishery Resources Management: The Tagal System of Sabah, Malaysia, Fish for the People, Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center, pp. 1-6. [22 March 2020]


1Based on estimated reconstructed catch within each country’s national waters between 2014 – 2018. Pauly, D., Zeller, D. and Palomares, M.L.D. (2021). Sea Around Us Concepts, Design and Data. [30 June 2021]
2WorldFish Center (2006). WorldFish Center in Malaysia. [5 October 2021]
3Walk Free Foundation (2018). The Global Slavery Index 2018, Minderoo Foundation, Perth, Australia, pp. 1-292. [1 March 2019]
4Sumaila, U.R., Khan, A.S., Dyck, A.J., Watson, R., Munro, G., Tydemers, P. and Pauly, D. (2010). A Bottom-Up Re-estimation of Global Fisheries Subsidies, Journal of Bioeconomics 12, (3), pp. 201-225, [18 May 2020]
5Froese, R., Demirel, N., Coro, G., Kleisner, K.M. and Winker, H. (2017). Estimating Fisheries Reference Points from Catch and Resilience, Fish and Fisheries 18, (3), pp. 506-526, [03 June 2021]
6Froese, R., Winker, H., Coro, G., Palomares, M.L.D., Tsikliras, A.C., Dimarchopoulou, D., Touloumis, K., Demirel, N., Vianna, G.M.S., Scarcella, G., Schijns, R., Liang, C. and Pauly, D. (in review). Catch Time Series As the Basis For Fish Stock Assessments: The CMSY++ Method, Fish and Fisheries, [3 March 2021]