by Francisco Blaha
Once in while we get in the news that some companies are fined for illegal waste dumping. In the pacific to my recollection is always in Pango Pango (American Samoa) last week an American based company was fined 1.6 millon USD, a few years ago NZ based Sanford endured the same issue in the same place.
Marine Pollution issues are “governed” by MARPOL 73/78 is the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973 as modified by the Protocol of 1978. (“MARPOL” is short for marine pollution and 73/78 short for the years 1973 and 1978.)
It was developed by the International Maritime Organization in an effort to minimize pollution of the oceans and seas, including dumping, oil and air pollution. The objective of this convention is to preserve the marine environment in an attempt to completely eliminate pollution by oil and other harmful substances and to minimize accidental spillage of such substances.
From my time in Fishing Boats and from the workbooks I see from SPC/FFA fisheries observers that include a Regional Observer Pollution Report Form GEN-6 (See at the end of the post for an example). I assumed the issue must be substantial, even if nothing gets done with the findings (a bit like compliance issues). And unfortunately… I wasn’t wrong.
The report examines more than ten years of collected data on more than 10,000 pollution incidents by purse seine vessels and more than 200 pollution incidents by longline vessels within the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of 25 Pacific countries and territories, and in international waters. The report finds that 71% of the reported purse seine pollution incidents related to Waste Dumped Overboard; 16% to Oil Spillages and Leakages; and 13% to Abandoned, Lost, or Dumped Fishing Gear.
When the category “Waste Dumped” was examined further, Plastics were found to make up the largest portion of total purse seine pollution incidents (37%). Only 4% of the incidents occurred in International Waters, while the rest occurred in the EEZs of Papua New Guinea (44%), Kiribati (13%), the Federated States of Micronesia (12%), Solomon Islands (7%), Marshall Islands (6%), Nauru (6%), and 19 other countries and territories in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
While based on limited data, the report finds evidence that pollution from fishing vessels, particularly purse seine vessels, in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is a serious problem and highlights the need for three initiatives:
- increased monitoring, reporting, and enforcement of pollution violations by all types of fishing vessels, especially longliners, which currently have a very low (5%) mandatoryobserver coverage;
- a regional outreach and compliance assistance programme on marine pollution prevention for fishing vessel crews, business operators and managers; and
- improvements in Pacific port waste reception facilities to enable them to receive fishing vessel wastes on shore.
This report provides the first consistent and substantive documented evidence about the nature and extent of ocean-based marine pollution in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. These incidents were all reported by regional fisheries observers through use of the Secretariat of the Pacific Commission/Pacific Islands Foreign Fisheries Agency (SPC/FFA) Regional Observer Pollution Report Form GEN-6.
The pollution reports are overwhelmingly biased to the purse seine fishery, due to high levels of observer coverage in the fishery, which is mandated by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). Prior to 2009, observer coverage for the purse seine fishery was around 5-8%, increased to 20% in 2009, and to 100% required coverage from 2010 to the present (P. Williams, personal communication, March 18, 2015, WCPFC, 2009). By contrast, observer coverage of the approximately 3,000 longline vessels operating in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is only 5% for the entire fishery as of 2012 (WCPFC, 2014).
There is also likely to be some bias in observer reporting particularly through some observers not reporting MARPOL issues, although the extent of this bias is not yet known.