More than a job: Latishia Maui-Mataora

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FFA’s Moana Voices series on women shaping the future of oceanic fisheries is edited, researched and produced by Lisa Williams. This interview for Moana Voices 2021 edition is with Latishia Maui-Mataora, of Cook Islands, senior fisheries officer and observer coordinator in Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources. It is published here to mark International Women’s Day.

“The excitement, the deadlines, the frustration, the people – the list goes on. Fisheries is not your usual 8 am to 4 pm government job. The work requires a radically different mindset because you are dealing with many moving parts, each with its own competing priorities. Just when you think you’ve gotten the hang of something, the obligations change, or new technology is rolled out requiring implementation … Many think we count fish all day, but that’s far from the truth.”

I’ve been seven years in fisheries and am currently a senior fisheries officer and observer coordinator with the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) in the Cook Islands. I had come from my studies in Auckland and a few years of working in high-performance sport and living the inner-city life with my husband. We had moved home to instil in our children the same cultural values we grew up with, and I was keen to explore a fitness or sports-oriented start-up. Not to be. With a small island market not able to handle my big business dreams, I was soon needing a paying job, and ended up responding to a call for applicants from MMR, who were looking for an assistant fisheries officer to run the Vessel Management System.

On the day I was interviewed, I remember walking into the ministry offices wondering what I was letting myself in for. I realised I knew nothing about the job title, and focused on just being me – keen to learn and take on new directions, happy to be back home, and giving back in a natural resource area that’s so important for the country. I must have said something right, because I got the call a few days later offering me the job.

I have never looked back.

In seven years, I have learned so much about fisheries and our ocean resources. My primary role as the observer coordinator is to manage the Cook Islands Observer Programme, which deploys trained independent fisheries observers on fishing vessels licensed to fish within the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone, and Cook Islands-flagged vessels fishing in other regional fisheries areas.

Fisheries observers are frontline when it comes to our tuna. They are our eyes and ears out on the water. They collect scientific data used to monitor fisheries, assess fish populations, set fishing quotas, and inform management. Observers also support compliance with fishing and safety regulations.

I love the challenge! The excitement, the deadlines, the frustration, the people – the list goes on. Fisheries is not your usual 8 am to 4 pm government job. The work requires a radically different mindset because you are dealing with many moving parts, each with its own competing priorities. Just when you think you’ve gotten the hang of something, the obligations change, or new technology is rolled out requiring implementation. No day is the same at the office.

Most encounters start off with correcting the perception of fisheries officers and what we do. Many think we count fish all day, but that’s far from the truth. Our mandate sees us working with fishers to ensure the data collected is of high quality, boarding fishing vessels port side (in Rarotonga or Pago Pago, Apia, Papeete, Mauritius) or at sea, doing logistics for observer placement, serving on a round-the-clock shift for a patrol or operation, going into schools to promote awareness and fisheries education, and attending meetings to discuss the management of fisheries.

Opportunities are endless and I love talking about my job. During my seven years, I have been on several surveillance flights with the Australian, New Zealand and French defence forces. I’ve boarded fishing vessels to conduct at-sea inspections with the US Coast Guard in Hawaii, travelled to 15 countries to attend meetings and training workshops, and have worked alongside so many awesome people.

Special moments abound. Sitting in a cockpit of the Australian P3 Orion landing at night in Papeete was awesome. Seeing the runway lights from 100 nautical miles out, then 50, 20, 5 – and finally landing. It’s a memory that makes me appreciate and love the field I’m in.

There’s humour, learning curves, even a bit of irony to the claim that we are born seafarers –at least in my case. My first time at sea sorted out my thinking that I was made for the ocean. It was a rude awakening from day one to day seven. Jumping at the opportunity to board Arago, a French patrol vessel, I told many who had been to sea before me that I didn’t need the seasickness pills, cabin bread and all kinds of sea-legs support. I’ve been on so many boats, I told them. I will be fine. As we departed Avatiu harbour I was feeling great – until the first swells hit. For the rest of the one-week journey I was stuck in my cabin, feeling super tired and seasick. I laugh about it to this day and share that lesson with everyone. And of course, after that I learnt a lesson that applies on land as well as at sea: always take advice and support from the pros.

In 2015, I attended an Australia Awards Fellowship at ANCORS [Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security] to do with developing management capacity to ensure sustainable fisheries in the Pacific Ocean region. During the first class, I was blown away with the journey that we as a Pacific nation and people have had to endure through the decades, from receiving zero dollars to the creation of maritime zones and having sovereignty over our oceans. That history class was a pivotal personal moment for me. I saw myself in that class being part of why our founding leaders of the region worked so hard to take on the world and fight for the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to create the global rules for oceans. It was an unforgettable moment where I silently acknowledged all who’ve gone before me and paved the way for future Pacific islands custodians of our ocean resources to continue the work.

I realised then, and at every meeting I attend, that the old saying “We are stronger together” is so true of fisheries management through regional solidarity – especially when we as small island, large ocean states are among the bigger and stronger countries. I want us to realise that just because we are small developing countries, we have a voice, and it is only as strong as the bigger countries if we stand together.

Although we have awesome programs in place to combat IUU [illegal, unreported and unregulated] fishing in the region, there will always be the “pirates” who try to ruin this for the rest. I would like my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to able to see and eat the fish that we have available today. If we don’t have sustainable practices that are both safe while still being able to provide economic benefits, then a change of mindset is required. Fish need to regenerate and be resilient to the fishing effort and catches. If the balance of fishing outweighs the ability of fish stocks to replenish over time, the bad practices win, and the vision will be lost.

As a woman in this field, especially out at sea, it’s a world of men. Sometimes, you are reminded of that. On my first vessel boarding to conduct an inspection, the captain was horrible. I felt so intimidated and nervous being a woman. It was a novelty for the captain and crew at the time to see a female fisheries officer giving instructions. Luckily, I had a supportive boarding team and colleagues who ensured I was safe and able to complete my part.

As the years progressed, I keep that memory of my first boarding in the back of my mind. It gets me through the moments when I need a tougher, stronger skin. The men may outnumber the women at sea, but one thing that outnumbers everyone is jargon. The language of fisheries is full of acronyms, my least favourite being the WCPFC, for the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. It gets me all the time. To this day, I still mix up the F before the C and drop the P in the wrong place. It ends up starting as a stutter and finishes with the giggles. Speaking of which, my favourite acronym is BOJAK, for the Boarding Officers Job Aid Kit – it has a very cool ring to it.

Where to next? I am keen to keep progressing and to get some papers in fisheries management, so study is eventually in the plans. I plan to gain more experience before potentially looking for a regional role. To keep me focused, I often use this quote from Jon Steward as something to live by: “I want to look back on my career and be proud of the work, and be proud that I tried everything.” It inspires me to always give 100% to the task at hand!

Sharing with youth eyeing careers options, I just say give it a go! At times, many feel intimidated by the study of fisheries and marine biology, but I can tell you from experience that you will love it.

I encourage them to identify and treasure the role models in their lives, because I can’t picture my own without the role models who have surrounded and shaped me into the person I am today. My parents, grandparents, especially my grandma. I take lots of inspiration from my faith. Through my busiest, most stressful moments, a little prayer and leaning on scriptures for those moments of struggle goes a long way. Especially for helping you to get up and keep trying in those moments when you fall. Because those moments are just an unavoidable part of life.

I try to live by two things. Family is important. I make time for family and kids, and schedule like a ninja so I can avoid pushing family time aside to meet deadlines. Which brings in the second thing: time management. I use the calendar feature in Outlook for everything. There are reminders for meetings, report due dates, kids’ appointments, my appointments, bill payments and so on. Then I sync this to all my devices, so I am reminded even when I am away from my laptop. Thank God for technology! At the same time, although you can’t pre-plan everything, it’s amazing how much you can plan.

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.

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.”