E-Pacific: The array of apps for fisheries data acquisition we use in the WCPO

Categories Op-Eds: Tuna newsbeat insightsPosted on

Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 20 July 2017

by Francisco Blaha


For a part of the world that has had a lot of difficulties regarding connectivity due to its remoteness, low critical mass concerning population, expensive services and not a lot of money in the population. The Pacific has been a remarkable early adopter of mobile technologies and the development of Apps exclusively dedicated to fisheries data collection for science, management and increasingly, compliance purposes.

In the Apps developments and fisheries related data fields management there are 3 players in the Pacific: FIMS, SPC and FFA. As an independent contractor to all of them, I see my self as a very lucky man working (and more important having friends) with each group. In fact, the one above is a screenshot of my tablet with all the Apps presently being used in the region.

The 1st guys off the block were the iFIMS crew. When I meet Mark (a boss there) for first time many 6-7 years ago at a meeting where I was presenting on the need of data (“catch once use always” was the title) and he was introducing FIMS. The connection was immediately we both were thinking in very similar ways, yet coming from very different backgrounds.

The FIMS project started as a PNG commissioned fisheries data management than the later was taken by PNA. The FIMS “constellation” is a product of Quick Access Computing and remains a privately own product and services provider.

I liked that Mark and its crew were not “fisheries people” hence their thinking was fresh and original, I been collaborating with them since that first meeting and we have most of the tools needed for a full CDS system. Besides that Mark became a friend (a rare commodity in the consulting world), we stayed at each other houses, and we know each other families… which in my worldview means way more than having just business together only.

And while FIMS is an integrated database / universe that does a lot things, from assets management to the administration of the VDS, here I just gonna focus on the present Apps that integrate with their online platform and web interface.

At present they have 2 “products” that are used very extensively:

eForms, is an electronic logsheet application for PS and LL vessels, which is used by fishers, and data sent to the server either by the vessels internet or via an Iridium enabled two-way communication device. The App provides industry with a platform to manage and eLodge data near real time, hence Catch Reporting and other functions available for any country, its operation in all Purse Seine Vessels currently registered in PNA water and quite a few longliners in some of the countries.

eObs, that is an Electronic observer data application for PS vessels and is used by observers, the data is uploaded to national and regional databases at SPC via an Iridium enabled two-way communication device (which provides additional observer safety measures).

The Iridium based communication these Apps use, is enabled via the use two-way, satellite communicator devices are about the size and weight of a smartphone, which have bandwidth limited yet effective data transmission, and using that guaranteed independence and reliability

The data sent has GPS marking included beyond the fact that overlaps with the VMS, so we know where the data was loaded and sent, and the systems have all sort of alarms and notifications included (EEZ and port entry/exit for example).

These two tools provide the regulators at port with the opportunity to assess a lot of info (volumes per species, effort per day, zones fished, observer notes, etc.) before the vessels arriving in port, allowing then the Port state to decide the level of inspection needed. Furthermore, both Apps become the basis of not only PSM but also the CDS.

There are other Apps on the pipeline such as Factory eForms, landing/transhipment monitoring forms as well as online modules (eCDS and port) just to name a few (but can say too much yet)

Their database connects to TUFMAN2 the SPC regional database (see below for more info) assuring data interoperability and future potential interaction with whatever the EU comes up with for the promised upgrade of their the catch certification scheme. As well the International Trade Data System (ITDS), the U.S. government’s single-window data portal for all import and export reporting.

Obviously being the 1rst of the block they set the pace, but most importantly, being private company instead of an institution allows them to be product and results focused, without haven to depend on bureaucracy and budgeting authorization to get the results. On the other hand being a private company has issues concerning the ownership and controls of the information. (Another example of my favourite fisheries mantra “everything has advantages and disadvantages.”)

In any case, what they have done so far is beyond admirable, and I have not seen anything even remotely similar anywhere else in the world.

… Read the rest of the blog post here

One Noro at a time

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Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 20 May 2017

by Francisco Blaha


For some reason, weekends are busy days in most fishing ports in the world; the cynic in me thinks it has to do with the fact that most fisheries administrations (as most non-emergency related public servants) work Monday to Friday. Not in Noro: the fisheries office here runs 7 days a week.

We have NFD‘s 6 Purese Seiners, two Pole & Line (all locally flagged and crewed) unloading exclusively for Soltuna cannery and then various Taiwanese Longliners that use NFD as an agent for unloading of targets species and the port facilities for transhipping of by-catch.

We had 4 Taiwanese longliners coming to Noro this Friday. They announce that on Wednesday, which gave us the time to cross-check via FFA VMS their tracks and compliance index, furthermore via FIMS we can verify the whereabouts since their last port of call. As many of them are using e-reporting, we get to see how much fish they have declared, plus the EEZ where they fished, as well as the licenses they hold.

Hence we have the tools to evaluate their activities prior arrival and approve their Port Entry and Port Use. We have been doing this with Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) in mind, either by direct signing or perhaps via a WCPFC CMM (now that Japan, who was the main antagonist, has ratified and this is BIG news). In any case, we been doing it for a while so is up to the bosses in Honiara to decide what and when.

We have a target of 100% inspection on foreign vessels,  we suspect something from the screening, we go on board to find answers. If not (as with this 4) we go to the clearing and to crosscheck the e-log with the log sheet as well as the logsheets’ consistency and format, besides making sure that the vessels are the one we have tracked via the markings and the serial numbers on the gear on board.

When (like on Friday) we had 4 Longliners in a row and all of different sizes, getting to the last one can be tricky. So my full respect to Jamie and John, but especially to Nesii, there are not many young female fisheries officers that would move so at ease like her.

Once is all good the vessels is cleared to unload, with they start doing immediately, mostly -35 to -50C YF. As you can see we (in this case Sandy) tally each fish individually, next to the buyer rep and the seller rep. The fish goes immediately into a -50C container that is aimed later to the Asian market.

While our targets for domestic vessels could be lower, we do the same procedure (vessels VMS check, e-log and in these cases many times e-observers as well), we go on board to look for issues if any, and then clear for unloading.

Have to say that NFD vessels are the best vessels I ever work with: super straight, clean, most of them only fish in archipelagic waters and they know compliance by heart. In fact, they are the only MSC certification for tuna I have personally agreed with… but that is a thorny topic for another blog!

Here in Noro for the last 3 years now, we have accounted for every kg of each species caught by the locally flagged fleet for every individual landing and we have accounted for every kg that has been exported in any shape or form to any market, plus what goes for domestic consumption.

We do a “mass balance reconciliation” prior every movement of fish out of establishments here in Noro. There is no way that “fish declared in is more than fish declared out” can happen. On a weekly basis, we audit a random landing of any of the seven vessels, and we check that “fish in = fish in storage + fish out”, just to make sure that we are doing the right job.

Thankfully NFD and Soltuna have the best inventory and process controls database that is have ever seen in the 52 countries I have worked so far. I have know Edmond, the database guru behind it, for years now and we have always interacted on what is expected of the system to do from the compliance side.

We (government and industry) can track and trace fish from any landing of any locally flagged boat from the moment it was fished to the container number in which it left Noro, and/or where in the coolstore is the balance… and we can do that without anyone getting crazy… because as I said, we do it on a weekly basis.

… Read the rest of the blog post here

Back in PNG with FAO and Port State Measures

Categories Op-Eds: Tuna newsbeat insightsPosted on

Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 20 March 2017

by Francisco Blaha


I have been coming to PNG since 1999 and the place and people here have a special place in my heart. I go back a long time with many people in NFA (National Fisheries Authority) and I see many of them as extended family, I know their family, they know mine, I have been to their house, they have been to mine.

I think that those human connections are the key part of the job, since they mean trust. So I was quite happy to be invited to be part of a mission with my former colleagues in FAO to deal with a topic that is an integral part of my CDS and MCS work: Port State Measures Agreement.
The PSMA needs to approached with care, not because there is anything wrong with its principles (all the opposite), but because developing countries should move progressively towards it as not to “choke” with all the requirements and then go backwards with the steps done.

Using another analogy: PSM is a tool… and you need to know how to use the tool before trying to fix a car with it after taking from the box.

And is not an easy task: legislation need to be updated, logistics of vessels arrival, notifications, intelligence work prior use of port authorization, inspection capacity and enough people to do it, communication, reporting capacity and many more issues.

Also, you need to draw some lines on the sand; one can interpret it that the use of, and access to, ports should be denied irrespective of the gravity of the illegal activity… and while this is a potent tool to force change, has implications for developing states particularly if the measures are not taking regionally, as the boats can travel to another nearby state and have it “easier” there.

There are considerations when countries like here in the pacific have overlapping requirements as part of the WCPFC and their membership with FFA and PNA.

The reporting alone can be quite complex, as there are quite a few parts to please.

Some worry that it can be felt that small states are “subsidising” the poor flag state performance of most DWFN. Most vessels transhipping and unloading in the region are not flagged here, so it kind of becomes the “obligation” of the port state to “police” them. And while one could argue that is in the coastal/port states’ interests to do so, this still is huge stretch for many fisheries administrations, plus the basic issue that for example Philippines, Taiwan, Korea, etc. should be taking care of their vessels and not PNG or the Solomons… they have a job to do, but the ultimate responsibility is in the flag state… and we all know how “responsible” they are.
Also, any measure taken by individual countries may lose strength if is not reflected by regional neighbours, and when you have a very different variety of resourcing and capacities (beyond political wills), the scenario can become really complex, even if all good intentions are there.

So yes, this are only some of the considerations I’ll need to take care, beyond the capacity building, the operational considerations and the IT structure behind all these.

Yet PNG has faced many challenges before and it keeps dealing with them with principle and pride, so I’m very much looking forward to be involved with them once more.

… Read the rest of the blog post here

The tuna transhipment hub of Majuro

Categories News, Op-Eds: Tuna newsbeat insightsPosted on

Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 29 October 2016

by Francisco Blaha


Very little is known about the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI), even if they are at the crossroads of many of the developed world consequences… 4 colonial masters in less than 100 years (Spanish, Germans, Japanese and the US), then 2nd WW hotspot, followed by American imperialism, then nuclear tests and fallout, set up as tax heavens, FoCs (flag of convenience organizations), sea levels rising and climate change, airlines duopoly squeezing fortunes of them, just to name a few…

However, its location and magnificent protected lagoon make it a fantastic transshipment hub for the Pacific tuna trade.

Last year they had 704 transshipments involving nearly 450,000 tonnes of tuna, which at the tuna prices on the Bangkok market (that have started to weaken) to$1400/mt are worth 630 million USD, which is ridiculous when you consider that RMI annual budget is 90 millon (U.S. aid and reparations accounted for 60% of it).

So every day millions of dollars worth of tuna are transhipped in the Majuro lagoon, while most Majuro’s inhabitants live in tough conditions and the remoteness of the outer atolls makes mostly accessible only by boat, even if at any time they would be several helicopters on top of the purse seiners transhipping.

From the fisheries compliance perspective, their role is fundamental and is entrusted to the Oceanic Division of the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA). I have been their guest for this week.

The key issue is that for biggest part of the purseine tuna, this is the last stop before they leave the region forever, and by the nature of fishing, the verified weights (hence how much fish was actually caught) is only known at the dockside on the processing states, where the fish is weight in for payments and prior to processing. The rest is all estimates.

And as the processing nations for most of the WC Pacific Tuna (Thailand, Philippines and increasingly Ecuador) don’t communicate back the weights per vessels, the transshipment weight estimations are our best opportunity to know how much was caught.

Furthermore, fish does not become illegal at the factories, it is caught and unloaded illegally. And as all these movements occur here, RMI needs to be a responsible port state. Let me use my standard explanation: “A” steals a stereo from “B”, and then it goes to “C” house and sells it… “A” is a criminal and “C” is an accomplice, and “B” is the accuser. Pass this to the IUU fish world, “A” is responsibility from the Flag State, “B” is the Coastal State where the IUU fishing occurs and “C” is the Port State.

And while there is solid argument on question why a country with such a limited resources as RMI, is to take responsibility of controlling the operations of vessels from DWFN that ridiculously subsidize their industry and have an abysmal level of compliance (Taiwan – 400millon US/year, China around 2 billons, including 1 million fuel subsidies per Purse Seiner).Taiwan – 400millon US/year, China around 2 billons, including 1 million fuel subsidies per Purse Seiner).

Well… that is a big topic… one that deserves its own discussion (not today). The reality is that many of the PICs do take the responsibility as fish is one of the few sources of revenue they have, and then the pressure from civil society and the EU that will point fingers and shame them with labels of non-cooperating countries, or pirate ports or whatever.

And, since all vessels come and go from here, is a hub for the Fisheries Observers (in no many places in the world you will see guys with fisheries observer t-shirts in shops, walking the streets and so on). Hence the place is at the forefront of what we try to do regarding tuna fisheries in the Pacific. Not in vain, the PNA Office is based there.

Needleless to say MIMRA has only limited resources available, but very good people! Therefore in many ways RMI is a great place to test run the Unloading Authorization Code model, integrated into FIMS (wrote about this in the past), so I came here to scope the system design… and it has been great.

… Read the rest of the blog post here