Pacific officials agree to a ‘Collective Response’ to fight illegal Vietnamese Blue Boats robbing their reefs

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The threat to Pacific island countries posed by illegal Vietnamese Blue Boats is significantly more complex than first thought and would need a “collective action” to stamp it out.

That was the “clear agreement” reached at a special ‘blue boats’ meeting held in Brisbane last week between Pacific countries. Many of the countries, including Australia, have already suffered environmental and financial losses from the expanding illegal activities by Vietnamese boats and citizens.

According to the Brisbane meeting organiser, the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Pacific nations have shared what they know, but also realised there’s still a lot more they need to find out.

“We have to work through those questions before a more comprehensive solution is found,” FFA Director General, Mr James Movick said in a statement.

FFA Director General, Mr James Movick speaking at the Brisbane meeting in May 2017. Photo FFA Media, Ms Lisa Williams-Lahari.

The complexity of the threat means it will require more than a simple add-on to the current monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) system employed by the region to fight Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishers operating in its oceanic fisheries.

The MCS system which is coordinated and managed principally through the FFA and its regional sibling the Pacific Community (SPC) is making inroads into the US$152.67million that Pacific islands countries lose annually to IUU activities.

However, Mr Movick pointed out that in the case of the ‘blue boats’ threat, the FFA is only one part of a regional response.

The implications of this ‘blue boats’ threat are much broader. On top of the obvious risks to conservation and biosecurity are the serious costs to national development and security.

“Ultimately, the enforcement and prosecution authority lies at the national level; as well as dealing with Vietnam at the diplomatic level which opens up questions of just how seriously that nation takes its engagement with this part of the world.”

On the diplomatic front, there appears to be a slightly more favourable response from Vietnam when countries who they have trade relations with or want to have trade relations with, like Australia, France and Papua New Guinea, bring up the issue.

However, it is totally a different kettle of fish when small Pacific island countries come calling. “The Vietnamese government have virtually told them to get lost and told them to prove that they are Vietnamese boats,” one official at the Brisbane meeting told Radio Australia.

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) has been one of the most vocal against the ‘Blue Boats’ and their plight is a graphic example of the threat to Pacific countries.

At the Brisbane Blue Boats meeting, Mr Eugene Pangelinan, FSM’s Executive director of National Oceanic Resource Management Authority. Photo FFA Media, Ms Lisa Williams-Lahari.

A summary of their ‘blue boats’ experience starting from December 2014 was handed out during the Pacific Leaders Forum held in September 2016 in FSM. It details the early costs of the blue boats and the total lack of acknowledgement by the Vietnam Government.

Since December 2014, the FSM has arrested over 9 Vietnamese fishing vessels and approximately 169 Vietnamese.

To date, the Vietnam Government has never assisted the FSM Government financially in repatriating its citizens back to Vietnam or assisting financially to provide for the basic needs of the Vietnamese, while they are detained in the FSM.

It costs the FSM approximately $40,000 for a patrol boat to travel to Yap State and back to Pohnpei. This figure includes food and fuel costs.

It cost the FSM approximately $16,000 for a patrol boat to travel to Chuuk and back to Pohnpei. This figure includes food and fuel cost.

The exact costs to feed, provide basic needs and provide necessary security are unknown at this time, but are substantial relative to FSM’s budget.

The FSM has charged the aforementioned illegal fisherman with various violations of FSM law: illegal entry into the country, human smuggling, illegal fishing. At the time of some of the aforementioned arrests, the Vietnamese boats have attempted to escape. In situations like these, the Department of Justice will charge them with resisting arrest or obstruction.

It’s this broader context and lack of response from the Vietnam government that make the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of delivering the “collective action” that Pacific countries are calling for requiring more thought and discussions.

There is a need for smarter sharing of experiences and information across all the judicial, diplomatic and other areas of engagement on this threat.

For a strategic region-wide response to be effective, it needs to address the broader consequences of violating national borders and resources.

This is on top of collective diplomatic action toward getting the Vietnam government to take-up responsibility for dealing with the illegal activities perpetrated by its citizens. This should include covering the costs of detaining the boats and crew and reparation back to Vietnam.

Representatives attended the Brisbane meeting on 1&2 May from Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tokelau and Vanuatu. They were in Brisbane to develop a collective response, along with officials from Australia, New Zealand, France, the United States and the Forum Fisheries Agency.

Pacific countries workshop focus on illegal Vietnamese Blue Boat threat

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Two of the three ‘blue boats’ caught by the Solomon Islands Police in March 2017. Photo Pacific Guardians.

Illegal Vietnamese ‘blue boats’ are officially designated a significant and growing threat to Pacific island countries, their food security, economies and reef biodiversity.

Already affected are Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Australia and New Caledonia. And late last month, the Solomon Islands captured three of them in its waters for the first time. All have first-hand experiences suffering financial, environmental and social loss from the experience. Multi-agency government officials need to develop a response, one of those is policy as this is a new issue Pacific countries had not envisaged.

It is no surprise that fisheries officials from Pacific countries further south are raising concerns that it is only a matter of time before the threat reaches their reefs.

Tokelau’s fisheries officer, Mr Feleti Tulafono told Pacific Guardians, “Tokelau need to be made aware of this incoming threat to our inshore fisheries resources. And the only way is through raising awareness in our communities so that they have a fair understanding of what these Blue Boats are, and the risks and implications they bring with them.


Mr Feleti Tulafono (R) with Samoa’s Mr Yohni Fepulea’i share the same concern about the threat to their countries posed by the Vietnamese blue boats. Photo FFA Media, Lisa Williamas-Lahari.

“Whilst their transgressions may be occurring half a world away from Tokelau, our immediate neighbours Samoa, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Cook Islands are now concerned that with this new threat that a strong and vigorous public awareness campaign should be developed.”

The rising concern among Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) members triggered the agency to organise a special meeting for countries already affected by ‘Blue Boats’ to work on a way forward.

The meeting, which took place in Brisbane, Australia earlier this month, focused on two key areas that will, in the long-term determine how effective the Pacific-wide response could be.

The meeting explored a ‘draft Blue Boat Strategy’ and the need to expand FFA’s mandate.

The second point of discussion is critical if the Pacific’s proposed blue boat strategy is to be effective. The reason for that is because ‘Blue Boats’ target coastal/inshore areas, which are under national sovereignty, which means that they are, technically, outside FFA’s mandate which is to manage ‘offshore fisheries resources’.

Extending FFA’s mandate would enable the agency to bring the full might of tools and weapons it’s using to fight illegal fishing in the offshore fishery, to fight the Blue Boats in coastal fisheries.

FFA’s initial involvement according to Director General, Mr James Movick is: “because every time there are illegal boats in the region everybody says, what is FFA doing about it. So we have the responsibility but also the opportunity of using the regional MCS framework [tool to fight illegal fishers],” he told Pacific Guardians earlier this month at FFA Headquarters.

He also confirmed that at the Brisbane meeting, “we are looking for a full mandate from member countries.”

He is hopeful that “Attorney Generals and senior officials” of countries affected by the Blue Boats will be attending so they can give a “direction on a mandate that FFA will take to the Fisheries officials and Ministerial meetings for some form of formalisation in July 2017.”

“We do have a very effective tool in place and we do need to use it as these are problems that are affecting the sovereignty of our countries, the livelihoods and opportunities that exist for our own people to harvest these resources,” he said.

The Blue Boats are extremely bad for the places they plunder.

“When they go to a reef, they don’t catch a few [sea cucumbers], they catch them all. Sea cucumbers need a certain amount of number to reproduce. Blue Boats will obliterate them from the reefs. They will never grow there again,” said one FFA official.


The ‘Blue Boats’ up close in the Solomon Islands. Photo Pacific Guardians.

Coastal fisheries are considered the breadbasket for island communities. They support food security, livelihood and small-time business of island communities.

The actions by countries involving arrests, apprehensions, destroying of boats are not successful because there are more than 100,000 blue boats; and the Vietnam government does not recognise or assume responsibility for them and their actions

FFA Pacific nations at forefront of fisheries management: maximize returns and food security

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Managing the Pacific’s tuna stock is important in terms of the global marine ecosystem and for Pacific people and their economies. It points to Pacific solidarity as the guide for technological methodology and innovations to maximize commerce while protecting the cultural integrity and health of its vast 19.3million square kilometers of ocean real estate.

A view from Malololelei of Samoa’s bustling capital Apia facing the Pacific Ocean and its riches. Photo Pacific Guardians.

The Pacific is blessed with the largest and most valuable oceanic fishery on the planet. Alone, it yields close to 60 per cent (3.5m metric tons) of the globe’s entire annual tuna harvest (4.99m metric tons) in 2014. According to the latest FFA Economic indicators report, the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) share of the global catch of albacore, bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tunas increased from 50% in 2006 to 58% in 2014. In 2015 the total WCPO catch of these species was 2.7 million tonnes, 57% of global production of 4.7 million tonnes. The total WCPO catch in 2015 was down 7% on the 2014 record catch of 2.9 million tonnes driven by a decline in the catch from the purse seine fishery as intense El Nino conditions prevailed over most of the year.

But with the resource blessing comes two great responsibilities for the 17 Pacific countries and one territory that together own 19.3million square kilometers of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the Western Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).

All of them form a collective under an agency they established in 1979, the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), to help members manage their fishery resources with the goals: sustainability, value, employment, and food security.


One of the key challenges FFA members face at the national and regional levels, is to maximize their share of economic benefits flowing from the exploitation of the tuna resource.

Plans and policies are constantly formulated to maximize commercial opportunities within the FFA members fishery with the latest figures showing a ‘dock value’ of US$3.1billion (2014 figures). These also include exploring the potential to take slices from different levels of the supply chain right down to the retail end – where tuna products from the Pacific fishery were valued at US$22.7billion in 2014 (more than 50 per cent of the global value US$44.2billion, 2014).

Pacific leaders have prioritized this area of focus since 2010 when they were presented the ‘Future of Fisheries’ study predicting the “region’s tuna catch in 2024 will be worth double what it is in 2014.”

However, the study pointed out that if nothing is done, Pacific countries will not gain much from that two-fold increase, “Although tuna fisheries are seen as an important opportunity for economic development, we are still in the situation of allowing two-thirds of our tuna to be harvested by foreign fishing boats; and nearly 90 per cent is taken out of the region for processing. Larger and more developed countries are taking our fish to create their profits, exports and jobs.”

The study detailed one of the ways to ensure Pacific countries get their fair share (of profits, exports, jobs) would be, “by increasing value rather than volume, by eliminating oversupply and targeting higher value products and markets. In line with increased value and profitability, there will be scope to increase access fees for countries that wish to continue licensing foreign vessels.”

In 2015, FFA members adopted the Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Pacific Fisheries to express their shared goals and strategies revolving around two broad goals:

  1. taking control of the fishery, and
  2. leveraging that control to maximize the economic benefits generated from the fishery to national economies.

At the same time, they also tasked regional agencies to extract further gains in revenue by reduce/eliminating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in the fishery.

In March 2016, a report, the first of its kind, to quantify IUU in the Pacific fishery was released.

It revealed that 306,440tonnes of tuna were lost annually to illegal fishing. A volume of tuna that equates to US$616million per annum.

However, the report explicitly pointed out the US$616million ‘Ex-vessel’ value is not a good indicator of actual loss to FFA members.

“This is because the full value of the catch is not returned to coastal states under normal circumstances (only a proportion of total revenue is, typically through access fees) and because of their nature, some risks may not necessarily result in direct losses,” it stated.

A better measure “is likely to be the economic rent lost as a result of IUU activity.”

Tokelauans, owners of 518,000 sq kms of ocean do not see the US$152.67m robbery taking place in their waters. Photo: Pacific Guardians (Nukunonu Atoll, March 2017).

Therefore, it estimated the rent loss to FFA members, and a more accurate cost of IUU activity in the region “is around US$152.67million”.

For the 15 FFA Pacific small island countries and territory, that sum of money would make a significant difference to the lives and well-being of their people.

It would increase investments in human capital, along with small but strategic infrastructure projects, which would yield substantial economic returns by enhancing productivity. At the same, would help its fisheries agency better manage and control their fisheries.

But while the fight against IUU is ongoing, many Pacific countries are already reaping increased fisheries revenues.

In the Federated States of Micronesia, fiscal year 2015, fishing license fees contributed to 65 per cent of government revenues excluding grants. This is seen to climb to 74 per cent in fiscal year 2016 highlighting the need for sustainable management of the FSM’s fisheries.

From 2008 to 2015, revenues from fishing license as a percentage of GDP has increased in a number of countries: FSM (from 6.3 to 13.6); Kiribati (19.6 to 61.4); and Tuvalu (from 20.9 to 35.9)

This increased revenue has enabled them to: (i) improve fiscal positions, (ii) increase savings in public trust funds, (iii) increase government expenditure—particularly investments in human capital, (iv) for a normal size cannery in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, over a thousand workers when properly trained, can fill all of the positions including managers, engineers, accountants, cleaners, mechanics, and (v) jobs keep people at home which enables maintenance and continuation of their languages, traditional, and cultural ways of life.


According to the Pews Charitable Trust, “Ecologically, tuna are a vital part of marine systems. Their importance in food webs as predators and prey
is difficult to monetize; however, tuna are known to play a fundamental role in open ocean ecosystems. And that makes maintaining their health critically important to human communities, [in other parts of the globe,] that rely on them for food and economic well-being, particularly at a time of global ocean change.”

But there is also another, equally important dimension to the security issue where global fisheries and network extends beyond environmental and economic harm.

For not only are the oceans rife with illicit fishing practices that threaten the marine ecosystems, regional and global food security; human welfare concerns and labor rights abuses; the industry is also a conduit for human trafficking, drugs and other illicit activities.


It is at this illegal junction that an innovative multilateral approach by the FFA through the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA), is setting a new standard for combatting IUU fishing and its broader affiliated harmful activities.

It is a legal agreement that acts as a platform for cooperation between Parties on monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing; together with procedures for prosecuting and penalising illegal fishing vessels. Another component that targets ‘Persons of Interest’ is being developed.

Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen with the PNG participants at the recent NTSA workshop in Honiara, Solomon Islands, March 2017. Photo: FFA Media.

According to the head of the legal team behind the NTSA, “The way it’s set-up with its objective of combatting IUU fishing, enhancing active participation on surveillance and enforcement with the broader objective above that, that we can achieve our fisheries management objectives and maximize the social and economic benefits for our people.

“There is every possibility that this NTSA framework can be used in any scenario that we will be seeking to capture IUU offenders,” Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen told Pacific Guardians at FFA headquarters earlier this month.

But the potential of the NTSA extends beyond the boundaries of the fishing sector because of a unique legal capability that’s being built in.

A legal capability that allows fisheries data and intelligence to be shared for broader law enforcement purposes, and vice versa. “A legal capability consistent with our Leaders’ call in 2016 to end transnational crimes such as ‘human trafficking and illicit trade’,” said Dr Tupou-Roosen.

“The unique feature of the NTSA is that we are able to share with those broader law enforcement agencies any information that we think is critical to them like human trafficking through our own inspection of fishing vessels; Illicit trade, any of those transnational crimes.

“So there is a real ability through the NTSA to assist the region in broader law enforcement effort. And it is not just one way, that we share with them, but also the other way, in how they share back with us any information they find in their line of work that would be relevant for fisheries purposes.”

It is not hard to look past the NTSA’s unique foundational frame because it is based on the Pacific’s ‘communal’ cultural mores – identified as solidarity in the Western context. A characteristic reaping success for the eight Pacific member Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). Their innovative licensing regime, Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) which also includes Tokelau, has increased fishing license revenues by more than 400 per cent between 2011 and 2015.

Success that’s facilitated through two important facts: PNA members EEZs cover a substantial proportion of waters in which skipjack tuna are fished globally; and their ‘Pacific communal’ agreement to enforce the VDS as a regional regulatory arrangement.

It is this evidence, of Pacific communal actions to effect positive outcomes that provides confidence to extend the NTSA’s multinational framework beyond the fisheries industry. That the legal framework underpinning the NTSA is a viable tool for broader law enforcement efforts that would, with other monitoring, surveillance and control tools will be effective in fighting IUU in the Pacific’s oceanic fisheries, its coastal waters (as in the illegal Vietnamese Blue Boats), but also in combatting other transnational criminal and illicit activities.

With these innovative initiatives and more muscle being shown by Pacific leaders and FFA members, as in pushing the Observer Safety measure through at the 2016 Tuna Commission, there is hope that the Pacific’s tuna fishery is heading to a more sustainably managed future.

And at the same time, the collective strength of the Pacific’s 19.3million square kilometer of EEZs will also attract strong partnerships with other regional, national, and local governments, plus networks of fisheries sector stakeholders including non-governmental organizations, industry leaders, standards organizations, local universities, and fisherfolk that would lead to better protection of the world’s marine ecosystem, of vulnerable small island states in other oceans, and health of our planet’s ocean. –ENDS



Reef Robbers: Who’s paying? New pressures for Pacific surveillance from Vietnam’s Blue Boats

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Does the Pacific have a system capable of mounting effective surveillance, capture and arrest illegal vessels and operators in its 20million-plus square kilometer fishery? The answer to that, over more than a decade of Surveillance Operations in the region, is an emphatic ‘Yes.’

But the newer question the region is asking itself has a mixed response. Can the region deal to the ‘Vietnamese Blue Boats’ threat putting our Pacific reef systems on the line? The answer to that is Yes and No.


Yes because the 17 Pacific Forum countries have a special system specially set-up to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU) in its multi-billion dollar fishery.

The system called the Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) network run by FFA is enormously powerful. Its scope is oceanic, it has multiple international partners that contribute to it [the Australian, French, New Zealand and United States of America military collectively called the ‘Quad’], and all of the Pacific’s fisheries agencies’ IUU-related networks feeding into it.

Any lingering doubts about the power it wields were put to rest last week when the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) apprehended three illegal ‘Vietnamese Blue Boats’ at the Indispensable Reef 50 kilometers south of Rennell Island, Renbel Province after being directed there by an aircraft provided by France under the FFA’s regional MCS framework.

Near midnight on Sunday, 26 March, RSIPF’s patrol boat Auki rammed and boarded the first of the four vessels, all of whom refused to stop when called. The crews of each vessel boarded were apprehended and detained aboard Auki. And even though sister patrol boat Lata later joined the fray, the logistics of managing arrested crew and corralling the three apprehended vessels gave the fourth ‘blue boat’ an opportunity to escape.

What the Solomon Islands operation demonstrated was the capability of the MCS system.

It could not have been better staged or timed as on Monday this week, the who’s who of Pacific Fisheries are in Honiara for the annual series of Monitoring, Control and Surveillance sessions to tackle IUU fishing in the Pacific tuna fishery.

FFA’s Director General alluded to the MCS network’s role in the Solomon Islands ‘blue boat’ operation, “It is important that we have this capability. That the fishing industry understand we have the capability to mount effective surveillance and to apprehend vessels if we need to,” Mr James Movick stated during his opening address to officials at the regions annual MCS working group meet. These sessions set the agenda for what MCS priorities are tabled to the regional Forum Fisheries Committee in May, with the outcomes set before Fisheries Ministers in July.

In essence, it is FFA within the regional MCS strategy that provides the centralized hub for the Pacific’s various fisheries networks such as the Regional Observer Program, Vessel Monitoring, Information and technology services. It then analyses the information from these sources along with other information layers at its Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC) to assess possible and potential illegal activities in the fishery. If aerial surveillance and other actions are needed to confirm suspected perpetrators, the RFSC then links with its Quad partners and assists Pacific nations in their comprehensive response if potential IUU is confirmed.

FFA’s Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre console

What’s more, another MCS tool the Niue Treaty Information System (NTIS) will go live in May 2017 giving the system a turbo boost of ‘power’. This will come through the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA) by allowing Parties to the agreement to cross vest other parties to help them enforce their own national laws. It also provides the opportunity in the future for partnerships with other border control networks besides the Fisheries network as they need to.

It means NTSA Parties would be able to also share their data and intelligence with regional law enforcement agencies and other related government line ministries like Immigration, Customs, Quarantine, Transnational Crime Units, and the like.

This extra capability will not only provide these new partners with information on vessels and people involved in illegal fishing activities but also a cross-sector platform to investigate those particular vessels and people. The new capability also lends itself to working together on how to enforce, how to follow-up action. It means that this new approach can be applied to any situation that involves IUU fishing and other transnational crimes usually linked with fishing vessels such as human trafficking and illicit trade.


There are two dimensions to the No- and they may set those who are so inclined to reach for their panic buttons, but they do demand an active regional response.

First, as the Pacific MCS system gets a super upgrade, its powerful applications now showing up the ‘reef robbers’ were created for one purpose only- ensuring sustainable management by deterring IUU activity in the region’s multi-billion dollar oceanic fishery.

“As we deal with the Vietnamese blue boat issue, technically this is not within the FFA’s mandate,” DG Movick reminded participants.

FFA’s core mandate is ‘to assist members to sustainably manage Forum countries’ offshore fisheries resources’. Which means that technically, FFA’s operations do not extend to illegal activities in coastal waters where the Vietnamese Blue Boats are illegally harvesting beche de mer or sea cucumber [worth between US$60 to US$300 per kilogram on the market].

According to Movick, “We got involved because every time there are illegal boats in the region everybody says, what is FFA doing about it. So we have the responsibility but also the opportunity of using the regional MCS framework.

“So we will be looking for a full mandate from member countries.”

There is urgency, and the process FFA is expected to take will be to raise the issue, firstly, at a meeting in early May in Australia for Pacific countries immediately affected by the ‘Vietnamese Blue Boats.

Two of the Vietnamese sailors processed before being taken off to the detention centre. Photo FFA Media

The ideal officials to attend would be Attorney Generals and other senior officials from countries targeted by the Vietnamese Blue Boats.

The aim of the meeting is to gain from these officials a direction on a mandate that FFA will take to the Fisheries officials and Ministerial meetings for some form of formalization.

“We do have a very effective tool in place and we do need to use it as these are problems that are affecting the sovereignty of our countries, the livelihoods and opportunities that exist for our own people to harvest these resources.

Vietnamese Blue Boats have ransacked beche de mer in other coastal nations in Asia, where strong action by Indonesia has made them move further afield into Palau, the first Pacific nation to raise the alarm. FSM began to report incidences and lately, PNG, Vanuatu, Australia and New Caledonia have had first-hand experience with these vessels. The latest arrests in the Solomon Islands have heaped more pressure on Vietnam to take responsibility for a problem which comes from their shores.

And another issue at play is the human rights context of this criminal activity.

Already sparking strong social media conversations in online groups across the Pacific, there are questions where Vietnam itself is remaining silent on its responsibility. What is it about the economic situation confronting these young men, where they are heading out to sea on vessels which are illegal in design, intent and goal?

The crews work in illegal, inhumane and risky conditions for unseen masters reaping the high-value financial benefits of feeding the global beche-de-mer market. For them, there is an inevitable nature to their capture, apprehension and jail in foreign lands where the conditions of their captivity are like a holiday compared to their working conditions at sea.

It may be these and other peripheral issues which help the Pacific bring global pressure on Vietnam to take responsibility for its reef robbers.–First reported in Pacific Guardians

NGO support as Pacific fisheries tech platforms gain legal edge

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There have been impressive strides made by Pacific countries towards electronic platforms as a collective means to address regional issues faces challenges in succession planning in the legal-capacity of developing nations.  Addressing that potential  ‘succession weakness’, a number of international non-government organizations are offering assistance to strengthen the legal analyses and implementation behind the technologies.  Amongst them, an offer was formally tabled to 15 Pacific countries and territories at the March regional meet at FFA for the Niue Treaty Multilateral Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA) in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

“What we’ve seen is an evolution in the Pacific towards electronic platforms for data collection and data sharing arrangements and that is exactly what the NTSA depends on,” said Mr Bubba Cook, World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Tuna Programme Manager for Western and Central Pacific.

Electronic platforms, such as the NTSA’s Niue Treaty Information System (NTIS) make data sharing easier among Pacific member countries. The technologically-enabled platform allows Pacific members who are parties to the NTSA to use each others’ information to better combat the threat of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing more effectively.

“As NGOs, we’re interested to help support the policies underlying the technologies because in many cases the countries may have their legislation based back in the 1960s or 1970s as they probably never envisioned the computers we have available today to be able to capture and use that information,” said Mr Cook.

The offer resonated immediately with Tonga and the Federated States of Micronesia.

“We are in full support for sharing our data because we realize the importance of collaboration and sharing for the purpose of attaining common goals,” FSM’s Chief, Compliance and Technical Projects, Ms Suzanne Gallen told Pacific Guardians.

“But having said that, we do need to identify and probably put in place, policies for our data and information sharing – we don’t have that yet. We noted WWF’s offer at the end of the workshop and that is one area the FSM would like to tap into and maybe we could get a template in information security so we can further develop what we have now, which are very minor drafts we have just started putting together but needs further work to implement.”

She also added that “quite a bit of work needs to be done in terms of upgrading, amending, revising our domestic policies and legislation currently in place in order to effectively implement the NTSA.”

For the NGOs that is exactly the support they are offering to provide.

“What we would like to do is provide some resources and capacity building to help national authorities build their own internal capacities to be able to conduct the legal analyses and implementation as well as some of the technical capacities to help them fully implement things like the NTSA,” said Mr Cook.

“The NGO community can really help, we can come in, provide the resources and in some cases, provide the actual training to help build that national level capacity to support that succession planning.”

As an observation, Mr Cook said that in many Pacific cases, generally, there is a particular individual who is very well versed in their legal approach and legal context but who maybe moving to a different position or moving up the chain. And there is not enough training being put into someone who is going to fill that vacancy when the incumbent leaves.

“Most times they don’t have lawyers that are focused specifically on fisheries issues they’re responsible for everything from international agreements to domestic law and other issues so they have very little time they can dedicate specifically to fisheries issues. If they are well trained and well informed about those fisheries issues then it makes it much easier for them to be more effective.”

Behind the offer is also admiration for the work Pacific islanders are doing in areas such as fisheries management and the steps taken to face the nigh impossible IUU perpetrators with the meager resources and expertise at their disposal.

“There is such a tremendous amount of this really great work going on in the Pacific and sometimes, a lot of us in the room today are in the thick of it that we don’t take a moment to step out and realize just how far advanced the Pacific is in terms of a lot of these fisheries management issues.

“The fact there is a regional surveillance centre that is very sophisticated here [in Honiara] should be a point of pride for the Pacific.

“I think there is a very important role for the work we’re proposing because it would be coordinated specifically with the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the role they provide is creating that solidarity, that unity, that cohesiveness amongst Pacific island states.

“So when you’re working in partnership with a regional Pacific agency like FFA, you start to build that foundation so everyone is up to the same level in terms of their applications, their legal processes and legal standards,” concluded Mr Cook.–First published by Pacific Guardians


“As NGOs, we’re interested to help support the policies underlying the technologies because in many cases the countries may have their legislation based back in the 1960s or 1970s as they probably never envisioned the computers we have available today to be able to capture and use that information. ” — Mr Bubba Cook, WWF

WWF’s Bubba Cook with Tonga’s Losalini Loto’ahea discussing NGOs’ offer of support. Photo Pacific Guardians


Pacific’s NTSA- a weapon against illegal fishing

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Pacific Forum countries lose an estimated US$153million each year to Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing operators.

In a region where 60 per cent of the global tuna catch is harvested, valued at US$6billion, it is no surprise that tuna is the single most important economic resource to Pacific nations.

For some of them, tuna brings in more than 40 per cent of their national income. For others like Tokelau, it brings in 99 per cent, a source that for the past two years has been the sole contributor to its Trust Fund, a core element to realize aspirations to a self-determined nation and people.

The blatant illegal and criminal offenses together with the lack of international redress are key reasons why Pacific leaders are sick of the IUU effect. It not only robs them of revenue for current needs, it steals development opportunities from future generations. At the same time, domestic fishing operations are squeezed out of their own fishery as they succumb to the skewed competition from the heavily subsidized foreign fishing operators; while adding to the injustice are Foreign Flag states turning blind eyes to their management obligations so that Pacific nations have to redirect their revenues to manage the fishery on everyone else’s behalf.

At their most recent meeting in September 2016, Pacific leaders once again put out a strong call to international, regional and national agencies for “action to ending IUU fishing and associated activities” that would address the exploitation and injustice.

But at the end of the day, reality for the Pacific is it needs to find solutions because no one else will. And last week at a meeting in Honiara, Solomon Islands, that search looks like it has finally found an answer.

The Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) has been developing the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA) as the region’s weapon specifically designed and calibrated to fight IUU.

At Honiara, the NTSA entered another exciting phase and emerged from the FFA’s conference centre with a vote of confidence from Pacific members more familiar with the Niue Treaty’s operational heart, the Niue Treaty Information System (NTIS.

“Data is key to our Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) work. The collection of that data is also key. But data by itself is useless if we don’t do something with it. We must use it, analyze it, and share it” if the Pacific is to stop IUU, FFA’s Legal Counsel and legal brains behind the NTSA, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen told Pacific Guardians in an exclusive interview.

FFA’s Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen with IT Manager Kenneth Katafono putting the NTIS through its paces with Papua New Guinea delegates. Photo Pacific Guardians

“So as part of this work for implementing the NTSA, the intent is collection of data, and sharing it with parties so that something can be done with it.

“It will enable a country to take further action should it be required because its one of its vessels or one of its nationals that’s involved. And also that the administrator [FFA Director General] undertakes trend analyses of certain violations or certain operators that commit certain offences and making that widely known to our Parties.”

The globally unique NTSA’s strength lies in setting up its own information system, the NTIS, to gather up interagency information, pool it together and make it accessible by Party. And its ability to allow that information to be used not only for fisheries purposes but also for broader law enforcement purposes.

It points to the final test run at a training, targeted for end of this month, giving the system the ‘green light’. All going to plan, that makes May 2017, the ‘go live’ date for the system and another milestone to celebrate the occasion of the UN’s inaugural World Tuna Day on 3 May.

“I have been advised by our operations and IT team that after the meeting next month where we do the training on populating directly into the live system the information that’s required; after that, by May, it will be live for all of the Parties,” said Dr Manu.

She also expanded on the key details and outputs from last week’s meeting.

“We went into the meeting thinking that one of the key outputs to achieve is a great familiarization by several of the new faces in the room on the NTSA and especially the NTIS.

“And also the ability that the information is used not only for fisheries purposes but also for broader law enforcement purposes. That’s the objective we sought to achieve and feel we did achieve.”

She felt members understanding of how the system works was enhanced, as well as gaining greater appreciation of the benefits for their country and region as a bloc.

One of the key messages she said delegates will take home “are the ‘opportunities’ available under the NTSA. And how simple, efficient and effective it will be when they become a full party to the NTSA.

“And the message to countries already Party to the agreement, is the important that they fully commit to take it on. And implement.”


The NTIS is intended to be a secure searchable system accessible only by Parties to the NTSA. It houses critical information and also authority to allow any of the Parties to plan and conduct cooperative activity.

Although cooperative activities are already happening outside of the NTSA framework, there are gaps.

“What you find at the moment is that various members exchange data with some or all of the other members. But it is not done consistently and there are some gaps in the current frameworks.

“So what the NTSA seeks to do is to standardize that. Make it very clear and recognize that there are certain basic data that must be shared by anyone that’s participating in a cooperative activity.”

The NTSA provides a transparent, clear way in which everything is recorded so that every Party to an activity go into the activity knowing exactly what the rules of engagements are.

Said Dr Manu, “All of this is recorded in the system. And the system is set up so that they can look at previous activities and lessons learnt and on top of that, they can share that information with other Parties who are not part of that specific activity.

“Moving forward, I expect Parties will go from strength to strength in terms of implementing and learning lessons and continue to implement this important instrument. That’s one of the opportunities.”

Another key opportunity she outlined is the NTSA’s ability to share fisheries ‘data and intelligence’.

“There’s specific minimum data to be shared by the Parties – which is the one substantive obligation upon becoming a Party.

“Specific minimum mandatory data which makes sense to everybody because it contains key information needed if you are going to assist another Party. Or if you are going to request assistance from another Party.”

There are eight “Fisheries data and intelligence to be shared” under Article 19(1) and Annex A of the NTSA.

Two of them are fishing vessel license lists (current and historic).

“If the Solomon Islands wishes for another Party to assist in its waters it makes sense the Solomon Islands must provide its license lists.

Another crucial data is the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data.

“Our EEZs are vast and so the ability to know where the vessels are from satellite tracking and being able to better target the compliance effort so when the assisting party comes to help you it makes complete sense they get access to this VMS data,” she explained.

The opportunity offered by the NTSA is this basic mandatory fisheries data and intelligence, license list, VMS data, violations and prosecutions, cases of public record, Persons of Interest (POI), Vessels of Interest (VOI), all sorts of reports; are available to allow each party to plan and conduct activities. And they are made available on an ongoing basis.

“The mandatory data is not intended to be provided by a Party with caveats,” she stated. “That it be provided by one Party to allow another Party to plan activities with each other.”

The other significant opportunity under the NTSA “is not just sharing this fisheries data and information intelligence amongst the Parties but also being able to share it for broader law enforcement purposes,” she explained.

“This is another unique feature of the NTSA: that we are able to share with those broader law enforcement agencies any information that we think is critical to them like human trafficking through our own inspection of fishing vessels; Illicit trade, any of those transnational crimes.

“So there is a real ability through the NTSA to assist the region in broader law enforcement effort. And it is not just one way, that we share with them, but also the other way, in how they share back with us any information they find in their line of work that would be relevant for fisheries purposes.”

The NTSA framework is a unique IUU weapon that can combat illegal fishing activities at inshore and offshore fisheries.

“The NTSA framework can be used in any scenario that we’ll be seeking to capture IUU offenders.”

Which means it can also be calibrated to fight the new threat posed by illegal Vietnamese fishing vessels, also known as ‘Blue Boats’. And extended to potential future threats.

“To put a halt to IUU fishing as determined by our leaders in the most recent communiqué. And in the specific situation of the Vietnamese ‘Blue Boats’, what the NTSA is seeking to do is making sure that we can share information.

“So those countries that have experiences with Blue Boats can share this through the system. Everything is recorded and if another party like the Solomon Islands, and this is the first time they have detected Blue Boats, the system will have those shared experiences to learn from. And others who will come across those experiences can also learn from those lessons because it is all documented in the one platform.

“Today we are talking about ‘data and information sharing’. But there’s also ways in which we can share how to investigate those particular vessels [Blue Boats]. Or identify the persons involved in those specific vessels.

“This is exactly what the NTSA is geared towards. That there also will be cooperation in how we investigate, how we enforce, how we do our follow-up action, all of that can help in any situation that involves IUU fishing.

“In the future there will be other types of vessels, but this history and the learning that we gain from sharing these Blue Boat experiences is something that we want those coming after us to benefit from.”

However, the system will only be as strong as its weakest link and that is the focus of Dr Manu and her team. To promote the case for members to sign up to the NTSA so the region is united and singing from the same hymn book.

So far nine Forum Fisheries members have ratified the Agreement. Australia has indicated it will ratify in July at the start of its new fiscal year. New Zealand likewise have made noises about ratifying at the end of the year. If such commitment by Australia and New Zealand comes to bear, FFA officials are quietly confident it will catalyze the remaining Pacific nations to ratify and become Party to the NTSA.

“At the national level, provided they coordinate successfully, they will able, in the first instance to populate the system because it requires even at that stage an inter-agency effort.

“For example, fisheries won’t know the baseline cost for operating a patrol boat but that’s one of the criteria to be filled out as part of the information to come into the system. It’s maritime that has that information, so unless maritime provides that then they have an incomplete notification. That is why it really requires that collaborative effort at national level.

“Equally important at the regional level, the Secretariat must also fulfill its commitments because all elements must be working and fully understood by our members,” said Dr Manu.

“That is why we are looking forward to the training next month to do more scenario runs with our Parties. Because the more we work with the system as a Secretariat in close consultation with our Parties, the more we can refine the system to make it user friendly and as effective as it is intended to be.”–Published first in: Pacific Guardians