The Marshall Islands and Thailand establish cooperation and exchange of information to prevent IUU fishing practices

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Republished from Francisco Blaha’s Blog FEBRUARY 23, 2019

I have been at the 6th Global Fisheries Enforcement Training Workshop (GFETW) here in Bangkok since the 18 Feb. As we ( the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority MIMRA) have been invited to present what we are doing in terms of our Port State Measures (PSM) system to authorise transhipments.

I say “we” because there are 4 of us; Sam Lawni (Deputy Director), Laurence Edwards (Legal Counsel) and Beau Bigler (Fishery Officer) and myself as an Offshore Fisheries Advisor. I was quite keen for all of us to come to this GFETW as conference only happens every two or three years. It was organised by the International Fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS) Network to improve and enhance the capacity and communications of MCS practitioners around the world. The fact that we are in Bangkok made it more special.

While a lot of effort has been focused on the control of transhipments at sea, transhipments from fishing vessels to refrigerated carriers in port are a vital element in the Pacific tuna fishery and a daily occurrence for us. Thailand is the biggest tuna processing country in the world, and I’d say that half of the transhipments we authorise in Majuro will be arriving here to be processed; we call it the “tuna highway”.

From the “transhipment port” perspective, PSM best practices require the port to take a series of steps prior to authorising port use for transhipment, including: a standardised and integrated process of advance notice and arrival fishing vessel intelligence-based risk analysis using available remote sensing capacities, a transhipment authorization protocol, the estimation of volumes transhipped, and the departure clearance of the carriers with full traceability of fish on board and hatch plan totals.

From the receiving port perspective, as is the case in Bangkok, it must be considered that the fish on board the carriers have “not been previously landed”. Thailand’s Department of Fisheries (DoF) under the Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) principles has to evaluate compliance on the legality of the catches of each of the fishing vessels being transported on the carrier, plus the volumes on departure from the last transhipment port. This is to assess the possibility that the carrier would have received fish on board since the last declared port departure. As in many other cases worldwide, the processing states do not have access to all the compliance tools used by the flag states of the fishing vessels, and perhaps most importantly the coastal states where those catches were taken. Having a direct link of collaboration with the regional port states where those vessels transhipped initially facilitate the fulfilment of their obligations under PSMA.

On the other side, only on receiving the fish at the processing plants in Thailand are the verified weights per species per vessels known. Before this, volumes and species composition are based on estimates from the logsheets and observers/monitors estimations. In fact, a 2017 FFA study on the quantification of IUU for the region identified underreporting of catches as the region’s biggest threat in terms of IUU. Yet Thailand’s DoF as part of their e-Traceability program collects all the “weigh in” values of the fish originating on each fishing vessels inside every arriving carrier. This verified information available in Thailand is vital to further understanding the magnitude of the underreporting problem in the Pacific.

6th Global Fisheries Enforcement Training Workshop (GFETW), Bangkok. Image: Francisco Blaha

Based on the understanding of this reality, the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA), as the fisheries body of the most important transhipment port in the Pacific (>400 a year), approached Thailand’s Department of Fisheries to establish an MoU for cooperation and exchange of information of common interest and mutual benefit.

The MoU, signed on 22 February, is the result of over a year-long engagement I have been fostering between these 2 countries I work substantially with. Both sides identified that reciprocal exchange of fisheries data was an area of critical importance that would require mutual collaboration between key players. In this case, the Marshall Islands (Majuro) being arguably the busiest transhipment port in the world and Thailand (Bangkok) as the largest tuna processing and port State.

With the signing of the MoU, the Marshall Islands, through MIMRA, will now be able to receive verified weights of tuna catches that are transshipped in Majuro and offloaded in Bangkok from Thai fisheries inspection officers on a regular basis.

In essence, this will enable officers on both sides to trace the catch both ways to ensure its legality throughout the entire chain of custody, thereby preventing illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices. This verified information is vital to further understand the magnitude of the catch underreporting problem in the region.

The MoU is in line with the Marshall Islands IUU-Free Pacific initiative as declared by H.E. Madam President Dr. Hilda C. Heine last year. Having this direct link of collaboration with a key player like Thailand further facilitates the fulfilment of obligations under the FAO Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), which the Marshall Islands, through MIMRA, is currently considering signing and ratifying in the near future.

At a personal level it has been a huge 10 days as I facilitated a workshop for PEW and WWF full of people I admire, then presented at global fisheries MCS workshop on what are we doing in the Marshall Islands , and realise that I’m a consultant to both the gold (Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency) and silver (ThaiDoF/OceanMind) winners of the stop IUU awards! and then facilitating the Marshalls-Thailand MoU.