Solomons to boost digital compliance to make Noro an “e-port”

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HONIARA – In an effort to step up monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) efforts to improve the management of its tuna fisheries, Solomon Islands will soon be the first state in the region to introduce a digital catch documentation and traceability scheme for the Noro port. 

Following a workshop held in March in Munda, Western Province, plans are in place to have Noro port, which will be known as an e-port, conduct a pilot of the scheme. 

The port of Noro is the only one in the region with all three types of fleets: purse seine, pole-and-line, and longline. It exports regionally and internationally, shipping whole fish, loins, canned fish, and sashimi-grade tuna. 

The workshop involved representatives from the Ministry of Fisheries, customs, health, ICT services, the Forum Fisheries Agency, Soltuna Fishing Company, and National Fisheries Development (NFD). 

Participants of the workshop on the development of the Noro e-port pilot project, which took place in Munda in March. Photo: Dr Transform Aqorau.
Participants of the workshop on the development of the Noro e-port pilot project, which took place in Munda in March. Photo: Dr Transform Aqorau.

Noro project will have “regional ramifications”

Local fisheries expert, the founding director of Pacific Catalyst, and the CEO of iTuna Intel, Dr Transform Aqorau, was instrumental in the establishment of the new scheme, which is currently in its infant stage.

“The project will have regional ramifications, as there have been a lot of discussions of a regional catch and traceability system,” Dr Aqorau said. 

“The Noro e-port will be able to test the integration of electronic tools available into a pilot in a port-based context, as the starting point for a catch documentation scheme. The Noro e-port will see the digital integration of all port monitoring, compliance and surveillance related activities. 

“The data to be integrated will include the requirements of the WCPFC port state measures, unloading data, factory weigh-in, and processed volumes leaving Noro. The system will mass balance inputs and outputs, and will use tablet-based apps,” said Dr Aqorau.

He said markets require transparency along the value chain, not simply assurances about the legality of the catch. 

“Soltuna already has a world-class traceability scheme. Industry is leading the way. This is a partnership between the government and industry,” he added.

Head and shoulders portrait of iTuna Intel CEO Dr Transform Aqorau. Photo: Pacific Catalyst.
iTuna Intel CEO Dr Transform Aqorau. Photo: Pacific Catalyst.

Pilot project will test integration of electronic tools 

The pilot project will be used to test the integration of current electronic tools into port activities, as the starting point for an electronic catch documentation scheme (CDS) that should provide a substantial benefit to the region. 

“The recent development of a regional blockchain-based traceability tool that could provide assurances, beyond the regulatory scope from harvest to export, offers a unique opportunity to be integrated in the development, and hence “extend” the range of the assurances provided all the way to the final consumer,” Dr Aqorau said.

Edward Honiwala, the Director of Fisheries for the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, said the scheme was part of the Solomon Islands Government’s effort to improve compliance. 

“The linkage of information and data from the fishing vessels to the market is vitally important for the government. The complete information is important for the government, through the Ministry of Fisheries, to make decisions,” Mr Honiwala said.

He said that tuna was a product in high demand globally, and the local tuna industry had to work in the international arena with both marketing and trade. There were many challenges to face, especially in compliance and monitoring. That made improvements in Solomon Islands’ MCS important.

“This e-port project will be part of our MCS tools. We have a growing tuna industry in Solomon Islands; we have Noro, the tuna hub of Solomon Islands. The Bina Harbour project is also coming up, which the government named as its priority project. With those developments in the tuna sector … we must prepare as well,” he said. 

Head and shoulders photo of The Director of Fisheries for the ministry of Fisheries & Marine Resources, Mr Edward Honiwala standing behind microphone
The Director of Fisheries for the ministry of Fisheries & Marine Resources, Mr Edward Honiwala

The system would complement other tools used for monitoring the tuna fishery.

Dr Aqorau said the next step was to scope and develop the project. There was still a long way to go, including identifying a developer, but the excitement of the stakeholders and their sense of ownership of the project were encouraging.

He hoped the e-port project would put Solomon Islands at the cutting edge of digitally integrated CDS. 

“This will truly put us at the forefront of port state management and enforcement that integrates blockchain technology and other innovative apps, making us a leading tuna innovator,” Dr Aqorau said.

Skilled fisheries officers a critical part of effective port state measures, as Marshall Islands charge shows

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There is a lot written by many fisheries organisations in the world about the port state measure (PSM), from the FAO PSM Agreement, to the WCPFC PSM CMM and IOTC PSM CMM, to FFA’s developing PSM framework.

Yet, operationally, for a country, the whole point of PSMs is to avoid the use of its ports for the unloading of fish caught in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing operations by vessels both foreign and domestic. 

One does not need to read every word in a document with a lawyer’s loupe or sign agreements to start operations. You just start working it out in your own time and at your own pace. There is no need to have all the papers lined up and all the standard operation procedures written before you start doing something.

‘Doing something’ may entail fisheries authorities changing the way the port operations are conducted. Training by doing takes time, resources will need to be mobilised, routines need to be created, and so on. Many aspects of the day-to-day work cannot be foreseen by doing a one-week workshop, attending some meetings, and expecting all things to be right. You need to start, and to learn by doing – and for that you do not need to sign any high-level document. 

Anyone working in compliance has learned that there is only one thing worse than not signing a piece of paper: it is to sign it and then not be able to comply with it. 

All countries do understand the importance of signing on to international commitments. Still, they are also aware, on a daily basis, of the limitations faced, particularly when small countries blessed with good natural ports are taking on the on the job of controlling vessels. 

This is a job that ought to be shared with the flag states, yet that is not always the case. For example, many port states in the western and central Pacific region inspect more vessels from distant water fishing nations (DWFN) than the vessel’s own flag state authorities do.

Routine PSM operations pay off

Yet, when you start doing PSM routinely, it pays off. The recent case of the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) is the perfect example. In February, it charged a Korean longliner for fishing in Marshall Islands waters without a valid licence. The charge was based on best PSM practices.

MIMRA’s PSM strategy focuses on intelligence analysis around the identity, licensing and operations of arriving vessels before they are authorised to use the port.

image of newspaper story on charges laid in Marshall Islands against a Korean longline fishing vessel
The Marshall Islands Journal report on charges being laid against the Korean longliner

The operations part requires them to analyse the ship’s movement before it enters port. This is done by looking at its vessel monitoring system (VMS) track. Yet it is one thing is to look at VMS track, and another is to understand the behaviour of a particular type of vessel based on gear deployment and manoeuvring. 

While VMS may give you a good indication of what happened at a time and place, sometimes it does not suffice as evidence. So, once on board, the officer needs to know what to look for and where to find it, so they can collect definitive evidence that cannot be disputed. 

Accurate analysis of ship’s documents also needed

The types of supplementary evidence that make cases watertight include logbooks (captains’ and chief engineers’), temperature records, onboard GPS plotters, and buoy-recovery marks, among other types of vessel information. 

Furthermore, the active conduct of the boarding officers shows the captains that they know their job. In most cases, captains accept this, and accept the charges to cut their losses.

And this is exactly what my colleagues in Majuro have done with the FV Oryong 721. Officer Beau Bigler identified the offence during the manoeuvring analyses that are part of the routine intelligence report prepared for every vessel intending to enter Majuro. He took notes on time and place, and once on board went straight to the bridge and collected evidence from documentation written and instruments operated by the captain, making the evidence really hard to dispute.

Photo from above and behind of man checking documentation on ship. Photo Francisco Blaha.
Fisheries officer Beau Bigler crosschecks ship documentation with relevant findings in the arriving-vessels intelligence analysis for a purse seiner intending to gain authorisation to tranship in Majuro. This is done for every vessel intending to use the port. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

The charging of the vessels (the last one of four the past two years) is a total win for the PSM team in MIMRA. It is one you get by understanding how different fishing vessels operate, and what and where info is recorded and stored on board. 

Add to that the dedication of competent officers, and we have PSM that does work and produce results without having to sign – for now – any big documents … simple as that.

FSM to review tuna fishing access concession practices

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Republished from Marianas Variety, 31 January 2019

PALIKIR, Pohnpei (FSM Information Services) — During a recent cabinet meeting in Palikir, President Peter M. Christian ordered an official review of current FSM tuna fishing policy and practices, as a component of ongoing internal tuna fisheries development policy review.

He expressed particular concern that concessions may have been granted without tangible proof of full performance by the concession grantee of agreed business investments and the delivery of benefits to the FSM and its people. Officials were instructed to ensure a proper and fair balance between maximizing revenues from licensing foreign fishing boats and promoting greater national participation in on-shore services and investment.

President Christian was explicit: the FSM government must not grant concessions until fishing investors and operators can demonstrate genuine on-shore business investments and tangible results that show an overall net gain to FSM’s economy and the well-being of its people and communities.

He called for more robust enforcement of concession trade-offs to be established by 2020.

“Genuine investors and partners should have no fear about a tightening up of FSM policies and practices,” President Christian said. “They will understand that delivering genuine and equitable two-way benefits provide the best assurance of long-term business viability and the sustainability of the tuna resource.” 

While the first 12 nautical miles from land is considered territorial waters — i.e., the surface water and everything below is officially part of the country it’s near — an Exclusive Economic Zone is the sea zone stretching 200 nautical miles from the coast. While the surface water is considered international (i.e. ships can travel through it) everything below the water, including its fish, is for that country’s use. The value of tuna fishing access in the FSM’s EEZ has grown steadily since 2007, resulting from the implementation of the Vessel Day Scheme by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement  and the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission fishing effort restrictions. The FSM is poised to benefit significantly from restructuring and transforming its tuna fishery from foreign-based fishing operations to domestically-based fisheries.

The FSM, like most other Pacific Island Countries, has granted fishing fee concessions, or discounts, to fishing companies that are nationally owned or based in the FSM. Since 1987 the FSM has provided incentives to help offset initial high establishment costs that companies might face in order to invest in or transfer their operations to FSM. This concession policy was based on the understanding that those investments and activities would generate clear and tangible socio-economic benefits to the FSM economy and community, within an agreed timeframe, that would offset the fishing access revenues given up by the government when it grants the concessions.

The FSM’s fishing industry has grown from just two fishing companies with five purse seiners to 23 purse seiners in 2019. The growth is primarily attributed to the practice of granting concessionary VDS rates for domestic-basing that creates jobs for FSM citizens and enables the FSM’s full participation in the fishery and its development. FSM’s goal is to maximize the contribution of the fishery industry toward socio-economic development of the FSM and maximizing benefits to the resource owners (the people of the FSM). With larger values at stake in the fishery, the FSM government is reviewing and tightening up its investment and fishing access concession policies to ensure that they achieve the level of benefits that they seek within its national development aspirations.

FSM government officials emphasize the importance of full compliance by fishing concession holders to prove, as much as possible, the level of benefits they had promised to deliver in return for the concessions they have received.

The National Oceanic Resource Management Authority, its Executive Director Eugene Pangelinan said, “will implement robust monitoring of concessions to inform annual FSM VDS allocations to its fishing industry as called for by the president.”