Palau gets help from new technology to combat illegal fishing

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Microsoft’s Paul Allen, who on a number of occasions has visited Palau and lauded its marine conservation efforts, is pilot testing a new technology that will combat illegal fishing around the island-nation.

Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. recently announced that Allen will test the new technology in Palau starting in December, and that it will be up and running in 2018.

Allen made the announcement during Our Ocean conference in Malta on October 6.

According to a press statement from Allen’s company, Vulcan Inc. Allen is concerned about illegal fishing depleting global fish populations.

“Vulcan is developing a system that uses satellite imagery and data-analysis software to help countries spot and catch unlicensed fishing boats,” Allen said.

Called SkyLight, the new technology will also be tested in the African nation of Gabon.

Skylight uses technology to aid enforcement, particularly in countries with thousands of miles of coastline to patrol and few resources to do so.

Allen is reportedly spending $40 million to develop the SkyLight system.

SkyLight will input multiple data sources from satellite images, shipping records and information manually collected by officials standing on docks.

It will then use machine-learning software to track and predict which vessels might be operating illegally.

Skylight will contribute to implementing Palau’s monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) plan developed in 2016 with assistance from the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).

FFA also supports the Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (OFMP2), which funds a MCS coordinator to implement Palau’s MCS plan, and bring together the surveillance activities of the various Palau government agencies.

The MCS coordinator facilitates e-monitoring on fishing vessels operating in the Palau EEZ, which is where SkyLight will be important.

The machine learning capabilities of the SkyLight system is similar to what Vulcan has developed with its Domain Awareness System (DAS) that was developed to stop elephant poaching in Africa.

The solution is expected to be officially available for implementation during the first half of 2018.

“Our oceans produce half the oxygen we breath, 80 percent of life on earth, 16 percent of our planet’s animal protein, and $2.5 trillion in annual commerce.

But illegal fishing is robbing our seas and fueling a crisis of declining fish stocks around the world that not only threatens the global food supply and marine ecosystems, but also destabilizes global economic and national security,” said a statement on the Skylight global website stated.

Palau has declared 80% of its exclusive economic zone as a marine sanctuary and bans all foreign commercial fishing but needs assistance in policing its waters.

In 2016, Palau released a five-year monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS) plan to fight illegal activities and manage emergency responses in its waters.

The plan guides Palau’s efforts to build the capacity and expertise to deter, detect, and stop illegal activities in its waters. It aims to protect the nation’s natural resources from illicit fishing and thwart other activities detrimental to its environment and the surrounding international waters.

“If you come to Palau to steal our fish, we will find you and you will be punished,” President Remengesau has earlier said about illegal fishing in Palau.

“To back up these strong words, we are strengthening our surveillance and enforcement system to better protect our ocean resources from poachers.”

Fisheries sector ‘key economic driver’ in Pacific Islands states

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Republished from The National, 15 September 2017


The fisheries sector will be a key economic driver in the region if tuna is processed in the Pacific Islands states, according to the Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association.

Association chief executive John Maefiti spoke of the challenges and opportunities in growing Pacific Islands-based tuna fishing and processing industries during the regional tuna industry and trade conference in Port Moresby on Wednesday.

He said there were foreign resource-user boats in the region which went in every year to get access licence from the Pacific Island states.

“They will go fishing and when they get a full catch, they then offload the fish to bigger ships which transported them to Bangkok in Thailand and other countries to be processed and then re-exported by Europe and United States markets,” Maefiti said.

“We should ask why most of the fish are processed outside the countries that they were caught in. Because if they are processed in the Pacific Islands States, the fisheries sector could be the key economic driver in the region.”

Maefiti said the regional body represented the national associations in the region.

“We were established in 2005 and our key objective is to provide the united voice for our members on issues that affect our business interests in the region.”

No more breadcrumbs for Pacific Island fisheries

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Republished from Papua New Guinea Today, September 2017


Now is the time for Pacific Island Nations to work together to end predatory behavior by companies that take unfair advantage in the fisheries sector, so that value can be added to exports.

This was the message from Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Hon. Peter O’Neill CMG MP, speaking at the Pacific Islands Forum Private Sector Dialogue on Ocean Commerce today.

PM O’Neill said the political strength of Pacific Island Nations to correct inappropriate practices is often underestimated.

“In the Pacific we are small in population, but we can be very influential when we work together in the global community,” PM O’Neill said.

“The ocean territory our countries occupy is vast, and has an abundance of marine resources.

“Too often the great wealth that belongs to the people of the Pacific has been exploited and taken to foreign shores.

“For many years in Papua New Guinea we had been licensing foreign vessels to fish in our waters.

“This delivered minimal benefit for our economy and did not create any jobs for our people, while our fish stocks were seriously damaged.

“Manufacturers from other countries had also taken advantage of inefficiencies in the sector and only ever processed the bare minimum.”

The Prime Minister said the Government reached a point where enough was enough, and is now making deliberate interventions where exploitation is taking place.

“We are now changing the dynamics of the fisheries sector in our country so that we do not let foreign companies take away the wealth and simply leave breadcrumbs behind.

“We are getting behind our fisheries sector to stimulate growth in onshore fish processing.

“This proactive approach is creating thousands of jobs, increasing revenue and providing jobs for young fishermen.

“We are pursuing this agenda vigorously and we will work through the Forum and with our parents to stimulate reform around the Pacific.

“All Pacific Nations have the right to protect their marine resources and to draw value from these resources for their people and their economies.

“When we review licensing arrangements that we have in our countries, and the arrangements we have for processing, we can work together in the Pacific to add value together.

“Only by working together can we protect revenue in our countries, create jobs and make sure revenue goes to the right people.”

US proposes to install radar system in Palau to help fight illegal, unreported, and undetected fishing

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United States continuing efforts to strengthen maritime domain awareness in the region will bring benefits to Palau’s work to combat illegal, unreported, and undetected fishing, one of the lingering challenges in policing the island-nation’s marine sanctuary.

US and Palau are discussing installing five Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) radar stations on the island nation.

Palau’s Vice President Raynold Oilouch said the sites identified for MDA are Kayangel, Ngardmau, Angaur, Sonsorol and Helen Reef.

Palau is obligated to provide lands to the US for defense and security purposes.

Discussions with landowners on the use of the land are still ongoing.

However some of the areas identified are private properties, which requires discussions with the landowners.

According to Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr, the radar system will enhance Palau’s surveillance and enforcement capabilities especially its Palau National Marine Sanctuary.

“The radar systems will enhance Palau’s maritime law enforcement capability in its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone while also providing the United States with greater air domain awareness for aviation safety and security,” stated the August 21 joint statement from the US and Palau.

The radar installation is also expected to increase employment opportunities for Palauan citizens to construct and operate the sites. There will also be training for Palauan officials to interpret and make use of the collected maritime data.

Remengesau highlighted that the radar will help with effective enforcement, surveillance and protection of the marine sanctuary especially from illegal, unregulated and unlicensed (IUU) fishing activities.

Remengesau said the radar would also help better protect the region from any incursions from the sea or air.

The Palau government will operate the MDA systems. Along with this, the US has also offered to fund the aerial surveillance valued at $300,000 for two years.

The US under the Compact of Free Association in Palau is responsible for the island-nations’ defense.

Keobel Sakuma, Executive Director of the Palau Marine Sanctuary said that its five-year monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS) plan released by the office in 2016, includes detailed plans to fight illegal activities and manage emergency responses in its marine sanctuary. The plan recommends possible technologies to enhance Palau’s capability to combat illegal activity in its waters and establish a Southwest Islands Support facility.

“This region of Palau’s EEZ/Marine Sanctuary is largely uncontrolled and represents a significant fraction of the total protected area,” the plan states.

Palau faces between 50 and 100 incursions a year by pirate vessels working across a vast expanse of ocean, according to the Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism talking at a work port state measure workshop on August 28.

Regional cooperation vital for fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

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HONIARA The cooperative work between the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) member countries is vital in the fight against the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU), says the Deputy Director General Wez Norris.

Mr Norris says cooperation is one of the biggest determinants of sustainable fishing in the Pacific region.

He says, without cooperation none of the successes of operations against IUU fishing in the Pacific region would have been achieved.

“There is no other international cooperation in fisheries on this sort of scale that we’re aware of.

“Again, it comes down to a very long history of Pacific countries working together in cooperative fisheries management that really makes it work,” the deputy director general of the region’s biggest fisheries network says.

Wez Norris, FFA Deputy Director believes regional cooperation is the key to sustainable fishing in the Pacific

Norris explains two critical factors in the Pacific region leads to the small island developing states (SIDS) coming together to have such high impact operations against IUU.

Firstly, are the co-operative operations between SIDS, including the Tui Moana (covering the Polynesian countries), Rai Balang (the Micronesian states), Island Chief (Melanesian countries), and Operation Kurukuru, which covers the whole of the Pacific region.

Norris says this cooperation between SIDS would not work without each country freely and openly sharing its information with each other and with partner organisations, including the FFA..

The second critical factor in the fight against IUU is the support FFA receives from the quadrilateral surveillance providers: Australia, New Zealand, France and the United States.

“There is no other international cooperation in fisheries on this sort of scale that we’re aware of, “ Norris says.

“Again, it comes down to a very long history of these countries working together on fisheries management that really makes it work.

“The combination of having that open relationship amongst the countries then having a supportive role that the secretariat can play through the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre {RFSC) is critical”.

Phil Rowe who is the Surveillance Training and Liaison Officer at the RFSC also stresses the importance of cooperation.

Mr Rowe says, without the regional partners, they would not be able to combat IUU.

“Without our regional partners, we can’t conduct the operations and we won’t be out there looking for illegal fishing activity.

“So it’s vitally important that we get support from all those concerned,” Rowe says.

Marine surveillance operation involving 4 countries seizes two Filipino vessels in Palau

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The recent marine surveillance work that seized two Filipino vessels found in Palau waters underscored the need for government to mobilise its resources and collaborate internationally to combat illegal fishing in its waters.

Operation Kaukledm 2 in Palau’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) involved four countries: Palauan Pacific Class Patrol Boat PSS President H I Remeliik, Japanese Fisheries Agency Ship Mihama, US Coast Guard Cutter Assateague, and a surveillance aircraft chartered by the Australian Defence Cooperation program.

Kaukledm means “working together.” The joint operation by the aircraft and three ships searched the entire Palau EEZ (750,000 square kilometres) over the eight-day period, which concluded on May 11.

Local Palau aircraft and the three vessels help man Palau’s EEZ during Operation Kaukledm 2. The operation was made possible through the cooperation between Palau, U.S. Australia and Japan. Photo by Richard W. Brooks

The aircraft used in the operation was a local small plane from Pacific Mission Aviation, a not for profit organisation with offices in Palau.

Japan’s ship Mihama patrols Palau’s waters as part of the bilateral cooperation between Japan and Palau.

The US Coast Guard Cutter Assateague is operating under the Ship-Rider program whereby US vessels can enforce Palauan law in the Palau EEZ as long as they have an officer from Palau’s Division of Marine Law Enforcement (DMLE) onboard.

As a result of the operation, Palau’s patrol boat Remeliik detained two Filipino vessels believed to be involved in fishing activities within the Palau waters in violation of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Act (PNMS). The detained vessels included one purse seiner with 16 crew, and a fish carrier with 8 crew.

The fish carrier can carry as much as 42 tons of fish and when seized it had at least 20 tonnes of fish on board, mostly Skipjack and Yellowfin tuna.

No fishing gear was found onboard.

Vice President and Justice Minister Raynold Oilouch said that on the weekend of May 6, the vessels were apprehended, boarded and escorted to the Marine Law Dock at Malakal, Koror, Palau.

Instead of filing charges against the fishermen caught on board the seized vessels, the DMLE “took action to unload the fish and to repatriate back to the Philippines the fish carrier and its crew, along with the crew of the purse seiner, and other fishermen who have been held here for about 6 months,” a statement from the Vice President Office stated.

Oilouch said the decision to send the fish carrier back the Philippines was based on a number of reasons, including the strength of government’s case against the fish carrier and its owner(s), the increasing financial burden on the government for the continuing care of the fishermen while being held at Marine Law Dock, and the limited space at Marine Law Dock to hold increasing numbers of vessels.

He also said that most of the fishermen sent home has been in Palau for six months and had been sleeping and living in the seized boats during that time.

The fish carrier had to give up its haul of over 20 tons of fish and distribute free of charge to relevant government agencies, private schools and residents of Palau.

With the addition of the recently apprehended purse seiner, there are now three fishing vessels being detained at Marine Law Dock, two of which have been here for about six months with cases pending in court.

The Office of the Attorney General is now considering the type of action against the newly apprehended purse seiner. In any case, there are only nine Filipino crew members still remaining in Palau to keep watch over their vessels.

Palau’s waters, especially near its southern reefs, are currently threatened by over-fishing from boats from China, Indonesia, and particularly the Philippines.

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.