Media Release: FFA leads one of largest maritime surveillance operations to end illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing

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HONIARA, 25 October 2019 – The Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) lead Operation Kurukuru is one of the largest maritime surveillance operations globally covering an area the land size of Russia, India and Egypt combined.

The multi-million-dollar operation targeting illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing was conducted from 7–18 October 2019 and covered 21.3 million square kilometres. It is coordinated from the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC) at the FFA Secretariat in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

FFA Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, said: “Operation Kurukuru is the largest of the four major operations coordinated and supported by the FFA each year.  These operations empower members to take collective and national action against IUU fishing and the success of these operations is due to the commitment and partnerships with our members along with the assets provided by Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States.”

“The operation consumes considerable resources, but we continue to undertake them to ensure our members have the highest levels of social and economic benefits through the protection and sustainable use of our offshore fisheries resources,” she added.

The 12-day operation saw around 132 sea days of active patrolling and 540 flight hours of maritime air surveillance. There were 131 boardings at sea and dockside, with only four infringements found.

The FFA Surveillance and Operations Officer, Commander Robert Lewis, who is seconded from the Royal Australian Navy, said: “The fact there were no unknown fishing vessels found with such thorough air surveillance coverage and only 4 infringements imposed with such a high level of boarding is evidence that current regulations and law enforcement practices are working well with the four FFA operations leading the effort.” 

Ordinary Seaman Sereima Naiqovu from the Fijia Navy was not only the first female Fijian naval person to attend Operation Kurukuru but also one of the first women to join the Fiji Navy.

In her capacity as watch keeper during the operation, she said: “The operation was a great experience for me, mostly as I got to experience and learn a lot of new things from the RFSC. I was overwhelmed to be given the opportunity to be the first female in the Fiji Navy to go for an operation, and I look forward to experiencing and learning more new things.”

Operation Kurukuru aims to detect, deter, report and/or apprehend potential IUU fishing activity, but also looks to build capacity of watch keepers, intelligence analysts and supervisory staff seconded to the RFSC during the operation, to conduct their own operations upon their return home.

The operation involves 15 FFA members – Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. It also involves the Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group: Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States of America.

##ENDS##

For more information contact Donna Hoerder, FFA Media, ph: +677 21124

 donna.hoerder@ffa.int

About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)

FFA assists its 17-member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members who make sovereign decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management. www.ffa.int

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‘No place to hide’ for illegal fishing fleets as surveillance satellites prepare for lift-off

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Republished from Mongabay News, 30 August 2019

by Gavin Haines

  • A low-cost satellite revolution is paving the way for real-time monitoring of fishing vessels using synthetic-aperture radar (SAR).
  • SAR allows researchers to monitor ‘dark vessels’ that aren’t transmitting Automatic Identification Signals (AIS) location data.
  • Disabling or manipulating AIS transmitters is a tactic commonly used by vessels engaged in illegal fishing activity.

The prospect of monitoring every vessel at sea in real-time has moved a step closer to reality as a new generation of surveillance satellites takes to the skies.

The satellites are being launched by a small number of private companies with the potential to transform the monitoring of marine fisheries. One of those companies is Capella Space, which will launch a constellation of 36 surveillance satellites into orbit starting in December, following successful trials with a pilot satellite.


A 2018 map of areas likely damaged from ash and lava flow from Fuego volcano in Guatemala derived from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA). Each pixel is 30 meters (99 feet) across. Radar images penetrate smoke, clouds and darkness to provide information on the structure of what is below. They can thus assess ground surface damage from volcanic activity (here, red color indicates more damage), as well as the presence of a large fishing vessel on the sea. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/Copernicus/Google.

Capella’s “minibar-sized satellites” are equipped with synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) sensors, which ping signals down to Earth and use the information bouncing back to generate radar images. Though radar pictures lack the detail of optical images and cannot currently be used to identify specific vessels, they can detect the presence of any ship in the ocean, day or night, whatever the weather.

SAR’s greatest asset is that it can detect the presence of vessels that aren’t transmitting Automatic Identification Signals (AIS), so-called “dark ships”. Vessels weighing 300 gross tons or more are required to carry AIS transmitters, which broadcast a vessel’s name, country of origin, speed, and location. Crews engaging in illegal fishing activity often disable them or manipulate the data to give false coordinates.

“It’s hard to quantify how widespread this practice is, but I think it’s pretty widespread,” said Peter Horn, who leads the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Ending Illegal Fishing Project.

Paul Woods, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Global Fishing Watch, agrees. “There are a lot of vessels running around, particularly fishing vessels doing bad things, that don’t want to be tracked,” he said.


Stacks of fish found in the hold of the Taiwanese-flagged fishing vessel Yu Feng from alleged illegal fishing activity off the coast of Sierra Leone.  Members of various security agencies of Sierra Leone and U.S. Coast Guard sailors found the illegal catch after conducting a joint boarding operation. Sierra Leone is patrolling the waters further from their shore to protect their economic zone. Image courtesy of United States Coast Guard.

SAR is part of a suite of surveillance tools used by law enforcement agencies and environmental watchdogs, such as Skytruth, to check for the presence of “dark ships”. The technology is also widely used to identify oil spills and to observe changes in sea ice at the poles and forest cover in the Amazon.

Now, a new breed of satellites, which are 20 times lighter than their outdated predecessors and therefore easier and cheaper to launch, promises to greatly expand the capabilities of SAR surveillance.

Current drawbacks of SAR

SAR data are currently gathered by a handful of satellites, which are operated mainly by government agencies, such as NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), which gives its SAR data away for free. Airbus also has a SAR satellite system.

The problem with these satellites is that they provide an incomplete picture of the world’s oceans because there aren’t enough of them. What’s more, because they are large—about the size of a trash dumpster—and power-hungry, they typically operate where it is light to allow for solar charging.

“They only image a small portion of Earth every day,” said Woods. “So, we don’t have really good coverage of the oceans with SAR.”


Huge school of fish off the Mexican coast. Image by Matthew T. Rader via Pexels.

Although environmental watchdogs and enforcement agencies can task SAR satellites to take images of particular places where they suspect illegal fishing is taking place, such requests are expensive and time-consuming. Orders have to be placed many hours in advance, either over the phone or via fax, and there is always the possibility that requests will be deprioritized if the military wants to task the satellite at the same time.

“It costs thousands of dollars to order an image, and we have to order it up to 72 hours in advance, because we have to wait for the satellite to get into position,” said Woods, highlighting SAR’s current shortcomings.

This latency is the reason SAR data is mainly used for long-term strategic planning, such as deciding where to send patrols, rather than in live situations. “The guy who is doing illegal fishing will do it for six hours and then disappear,” said John Allan, Business Development Consultant for Capella Space. “If you’ve got to wait 24 hours to get an image, that’s useless.”

The holy grail of real-time SAR

Capella claims its satellites will provide a much faster turnaround and that its customers will be able to order on-demand images online through an API. Inmarsat, a satellite telecommunications company, will then transmit the order to Capella’s nearest satellite in a matter of seconds.

“It will do to satellite tasking what Amazon did to retail,” Allan said. “We’re going to make it so easy for people to task the satellites.”

Capella’s network is due to be fully operational by 2022, though each satellite will start taking SAR images as soon as it is launched. When all 36 satellites are up, Allan said, the constellation will be able to provide a new image of a target every hour at the equator and even more frequently the closer you get to the poles. This is a significant step towards real-time SAR.


1.2 tonnes of fish seized in Fiji

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A fishing boat sits in Fiji’s Suva harbour. Photo: RNZ / Jamie Tahana

Republished from Radio New Zealand, 21 August 2019

Fiji’s Fisheries Ministry says it has seized 1.2 tonnes of fish of which 600 kilograms are of the banned species donu (grouper) and kawakawa (mackerel tuna).

The temporary fishing bans came into effect on 1 June and ends on 30 September this year.

In June last year, a study showed the kawakawa and donu populations had declined by 70 percent over the last 30 years.

The ministry said in a statement three penalty notices had been issued.

It said the fish seized by the ministry’s enforcement personnel had been preserved for evidence in legal proceedings.

The ministry warned that any person or business found violating the four-month ban period could receive fines of up to $US20,000 for individuals and $US40,000 for corporations.