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.

New system to help EEZ surveillance: Fiji fisheries minister

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SUVA, 28 APRIL 2017 (FBC NEWS) — The Fisheries Ministry has recently introduced a vessel monitoring system to help in the surveillance of Fiji Exclusive Economic Zone.

This was highlighted by Fisheries Minister Semi Koroilavesau in parliament this week.

“Each vessel that is fishing within the Exclusive Economic Zone has beacons that are monitored by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) in Honiara. So vessel movements within its territory either it be Fiji or any other Pacific Islands is basically monitored and these reports are also given by the fishing vessels that are legally fishing to report any legal activity within their area of responsibilities.”

Screen shot from video footage recording fishing activities onboard fishing vessel Photo Credit: Satlink.

Koroilavesau says they also have observers in all licensed fishing vessels that carry out inspections while the boat is out at sea.

The Ministry also has an electronic system where units are installed on ships which make videos of activities on board.

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

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

 

‘Blue Boats’ might be roaming and poaching illegally through the Pacific

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THERE are possibilities that the controversial ‘Blue boats’ owned by Vietnam might be presently poaching in Pacific Seas unnoticed or untraced.

The ‘Blue Boats’ are the Vietnamese vessels that were caught fishing illegally in the Pacific Ocean, mostly in Palau, in the western Pacific Ocean.

Director General of the FFA James Movick also highlighted in a media briefing this week that there are sightings of the ‘Blue Boats’ in Vanuatu, and as far as New Caledonia.

Fiji fleet hopes to fish in Tuvalu, Kiribati

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By NETANI RIKA – Islands Business magazine

FIJI has started negotiations with Tuvalu and Kiribati for access to valuable fishing grounds in the Northern Pacific.

It is the first part of a three-phase plan which includes a Fiji-based and owned long line fleet to boost supply to Fijian canneries and create employment.

Fisheries Minister, Commander Semi Koroilavesau, confirmed he had held discussions with senior officials in Kiribati, Tuvalu and Wallis and Futuna.

“We want to follow the tuna on its migratory route for six months of the year,” Koroilavesau told Islands Business at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s 13th Regular Session.

“To do that Fiji will need access to the north – through Wallis, up to Tuvalu and Kiribati and we’ll also need access to the west near the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.”

It is understood that the Solomon Islands has been reluctant to allow access to Fiji-flagged longliners as it wants to protect supply to its cannery at Noro on New Georgia.

But Fiji’s discussions with Vanuatu have had better results.

Koroilavesau said a vibrant Fijian longline fisheries sector would benefit Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Melanesian Spearhead Group members.

“There is no reason our longline vessels cannot supply neighbouring countries and help create employment on shore as well as on the boats,” he said.

“Hopefully we can bring in investment – even from locals – to create a Fiji fleet.”

Fiji had a successful pole and line industry in the 1970s and early 1980s but this was put out of business by South Korean and later Chinese-flagged longline fleets based in Suva.

Today Chinese companies operate longline vessels out of Suva and into the Pacific.

Koroilavesau said local fleet ownership was an important step towards sustainability of the industry and growth of Pacific economies.

These sentiments were echoed by Morris Brownjohn, Commercial Manager of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement – an alliance of eight Pacific countries plus Tokelau which as PNA control around 50 per cent of the global supply of skipjack tuna.

Brownjohn suggested that Pacific nations must look at ownership or renting of fishing boats as an option to the current system of selling licences.

 

 

Can deep sea mining and lucrative tuna fisheries co-exist?

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By Rosalyn Albaniel-Evara, Pacific Media@WCPFC13
THE Pacific’s two largest fisheries blocs-the Pacific Islands Fisheries Forum Agency (FFA) and Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) are treating the issue of deep sea mine cautiously.

Pacific waters are home to the world’s largest fishery currently accounting for around 56 per percent of the global supply of tuna.

The dilemma the region faces is that those same waters will also be hosting the world’s first ever copper-gold project.

Papua New Guinea heavily relies on its extraction industry and the progress of the Solwara 1 project, now under development in its territorial waters, will mean added revenue to its national coffers while also much needed foreign exchange.

Nautilus has already been granted the Environment Permit and Mining Lease required for resource development at this site. It has indicated plans to grow its tenement holdings in the exclusive economic zones and territorial waters also in Solomon Islands, Tonga as well as other locations in the Western Pacific.

PNA chief executive officer (CEO) Ludwig Kumoru said he considered deep-sea mining to be a lot
more than the one or the deep sea mining,” said Mr Kumoru.

This is because the proposed seafloor mining operations would be done at 1,600 meters beneath the surface, well away from the 200 meter level, which is where the tuna live and breed.

However, he said the eight-member group recognised that being the first of its kind there are questions and different circumstances in different locations. However, land mines still pose more risk. “Worse is the tailings that come through the rivers from land-based mines and into the sea, that to me will affect the fish to head the PNA.

“But it depends on the sites, in other places it may be different, there may be a lot of strong under current which could move the cloud (plumes) up (to the 200m mark) or the way they move the minerals up, then there is going to be problem,” Mr Kumoru said.

Forum Fisheries Agency director general James Movick said the FFA has urged those countries participating or engaging in deep sea mineral mining exploration and mining take into account the local conditions and act on a strong precautionary principle.

“That really has to be the fundamental principle in which they operate,” the DG said.

PNA’s commercial advisor Maurice Brownjohn in an earlier interview stressed the importance of countries getting together and setting region-wide minimum terms and conditions for mining.

It is this mechanism that has allowed the PNA countries to boost their returns from fishing by more than 400 per cent in five years.

Mr Brownjohn said all mining should meet environmental standards and mining products must come into port and be landed and cleared with 3rd party verification of the quantity and quality.

These conditions reduce the opportunity for cheating and provide jobs.

If companies are not prepared to meet the conditions Mr Brownjohn said they should be given their marching orders.

“If you (the companies) are not prepared to do so, go to the Atlantic. Then we can have some tangible benefits, otherwise there will be lots of promises but very little delivery,” he said.

Ends/……

 

Fiji’s fisheries action commended by FFA

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By Aliki Bia, Pacificmedia@WCPFC13

Fisheries Forum Agencies Director General James Movick commended Fiji’s effort of being a member of FFA.
Movick says Fiji has been a very effective and good member of FFA and has taken a lead role in compliance and support.
“They have been very responsible and in fact one of the leading countries in ensuring that your compliance with international exports standards and they have taken a lead in a number of areas associated with that”
Movick says FFA is pleased that one of the top priorities of the Fisheries Ministry is to ensure the sustainable operation of one of our canneries.


Movick has also highlighted Fiji’s partnership with other Pacific Island Countries in terms of surveillance.

Understanding the Pacific fisheries roadmap

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Pacific leaders endorsed a new 10 year roadmap for sustainable fisheries at their annual meeting in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in 2015.

What does the roadmap mean to Pacific islanders?

There are four ambitious targets within the 10 year time frame set out by the Leaders of the 16 members of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Leaders want sustainability and they have set reference target of three years for the major stock.

They want to double the value of the catch to the Pacific Islands within the ten year period.

They want to see the doubling of number of people employed in the fisheries sector.

The fourth target is to increase the supply of tuna for domestic consumption in the region by 40,000 tonnes per year by 2024.

overfishing-tuna

Overfishing affecting marine ecosystems

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Pacific Bluefin has been fished down to just 2.6% of its unfished population and Bigeye tuna to 16%.

North Pacific striped marlin has been in a poor state for over 30 years.

South Pacific Albacore continues to decline and the persistently low and declining average catch rates are likely to continue. This undermines vessel profitability and may force some operators out of the fishery

Tuna being prepared for export from Palau to Japan
Tuna being prepared for export from Palau to Japan