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.

Pacific swaps paper for digital to better manage tuna fisheries

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Unreported tuna catches, especially lack of adequate verification of catches in the high seas is the biggest issue facing control of Illegal and Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

But new digital technology looks set to help commercial fishers to better record and report their activities.

“There is a big need to improve the timeliness and reliability of the fisheries data that managers and compliance officers receive,” says Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency’s (FFA) Hugh Walton who coordinates the Oceanic Fisheries Management Project.

Hugh Walton says more accurate fishing reporting will help make sure regulations are met and that scientists have the best available data for stock assessment

“There are currently challenges with fishers not properly monitoring or reporting as required, and the paper-based systems in place make it difficult to enforce and ensure mandatory data is submitted.”

FFA is working with the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) to develop and implement a regional strategy to strengthen fishery monitoring and data collection through the use of electronic monitoring and reporting.

“The use of electronic log sheets and observer forms and camera-based electronic monitoring systems as well as independent observers on fishing vessels will help us to make sure that the regulations are met,” says Walton. “Such monitoring will also make sure scientists have the most reliable data possible on which to base their assessment of the sustainability of tuna stocks.”

Better monitoring also means scientists can measure the impacts of tuna fishing on accidentally caught animals (bycatch), such as sharks, turtles, seabirds and dolphins.

Last year the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Solomon Islands and Fiji started projects to trial and implement electronic monitoring with some of their longline tuna fishers.

A PNA workshop convened earlier this year between these countries, FFA and SPC looked at how these projects were progressing, and how they might fit into the broader regional electronic monitoring and reporting strategy.

FFA’s Peter Cusack participated in the workshop. He says while there are inevitable challenges to implementing new technologies including costs, the participants agreed that: “the cost of electronic monitoring needs to be compared to the cost of poor information, and that doing nothing comes at a cost.”

The vision of the electronic monitoring and reporting strategy currently under development, is to provide: “a monitoring and assessment framework that provides reliable and timely information to ensure ecologically sustainable management objectives can be met and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing can be eliminated.”’

The strategy would also see tuna fishers using tablet devices or computers rather than paper forms to electronically report on catch and operational requirements.

“Implementing this will require that FFA, SPC and PNA provide training for fisheries staff, who would then in turn train agents and operators in the use of the e-reporting tools,” says Walton.

“The benefits in having more reliable, accurate and timely data will be enormous for managing the world’s largest tuna fishery and ensuring its sustainability into the future.”