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.

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

 

Solomon Islands’ strong IUU fishing stance assures EU market

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The Solomon Islands has safeguarded its $500 million a year tuna export industry by taking strong measures to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in its waters.

In good news for the industry earlier this year (March, 2017), the European Commission lifted its cautionary ‘yellow card’, which had been in place since December 2014.

At that time, the EC determined that the Solomon Islands’ Government was not doing enough to combat IUU fishing in Solomon Islands’ waters.

Solomon Islands fisheries exports to the European Union are worth some SBD$500m annually, and an escalation to red card status would have been a disaster for the industry.

(Source: SPC)

The lifting of the yellow card status is an indication that strong enforcement for handling, processing and food safety is now in place.

The shift from yellow to green card status is recognition of collaborative efforts on the part of fisheries stakeholders, according to Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency Director General James Movick.

“The announcement ends more than two years of hard work led by the Solomon Islands government, other ministries working with the fisheries sector, and the industry,” he said. “We could not be more pleased that the tireless work to address these concerns and challenges have met with success.”

The Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association (PITIA) is also delighted with the news.

“This is excellent news for the fishing industry, for fishermen and for companies like Soltuna, which processes tuna here in the Solomon Islands for international markets,” said PITIA’s executive officer Johan Maefiti.

“On behalf of all our members, we would like to congratulate everyone who worked hard to make this happen. We have implemented strong mitigation measures against IUU fishing, and assured our access to critical European Union markets going forward.”– Press Release Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association, PITIA

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‘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.