NGOs slam fishing nation delay tactics: stalemate on albacore tuna

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MANILA, Philippines, December 7 – Environment NGOs have delivered a damning indictment of a group of Pacific Tuna Commission members, saying they have deliberately blocked conservation measures for the South Pacific Albacore tuna fishery.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) is in the final hours of its week-long deliberation focused on new tropical tuna measures – the rules governing the fishery.

In the past 3 years moves to improve WCPFC rules for albacore have gone at a glacial pace.

“For years we have listened to impassioned pleas from every Pacific Island state with respect to their declining catch rates of South Pacific Albacore,” said Alfred (Bubba) Cook, Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager on behalf of WWF, Greenpeace and the EDF (Environmental Defense Fund).

But few Distant Water Fishing Nation members have been willing to join Pacific nations to take action.

“It seems, despite these impassioned pleas, despite the voluminous scientific and economic evidence put before you, you…don’t…care.

“You don’t care about the domestic industry in the Pacific. You don’t care about the communities in the Pacific Islands that are almost wholly dependent on this resource.

Moreover, you don’t appear to care about the health of the resource.”

The NGOs said most parties around the table had “bent over backwards” to try and accommodate a few demands and these members still refused to budge.

“There does not seem to be even a spirit of compromise. What would you agree to, honestly? Because despite the enormous efforts of most of the parties around the table, you continue to postpone adoption of target reference points and now claim that we should just wait for the next stock assessment or the next meeting or the next something.

“This, to us, seems like a crass delay tactic designed to buy one more year until you can develop another strategy to delay further. And meanwhile the Pacific industry and the countries that depend on the resource wither and die,” said Bubba Cook for the NGOs.

“What additional proof is required to convince you to be a good global citizen and inspire you to recognize your responsibility to the other countries and cultures in this room?

“Lastly, this is a disaster of your own making for a few of you.”

The NGOs said despite repeated calls and measures to limit capacity, these members had put more vessels into the fishery.

“And now, stunningly, you are upset at even the suggestion that you might have to withdraw that capacity and effort in the future. If you are worried about the potential impact on your industry, well, it is by your own hand and the rest of the members in this room shouldn’t have to suffer for your poor judgment.”

The NGOs said agreeing to a non-binding workplan left little satisfaction as it only served as another delay. They called on them to start living up to their collective responsibility to conserve and manage the critically important resource.

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.”