Overfishing, conservation, sustainability and farmed fish

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Written by Coty Perry and originally published on the US site Your Bass Guy, 24 February 2021

As with many other aspects of government policy, overfishing and other fishing-related environmental issues are a real problem, but it’s not clear that government intervention is the solution. Indeed, it might be one of the main drivers of overfishing and other conservation and sustainability issues stemming from commercial fishing. Much like drone fishing, there are serious ethical issues of interest to the average angler.

There’s another commonality that overfishing has with environmental issues more broadly: The Western companies primarily concerned with serious efforts to curb overfishing are not the ones who are most guilty of overfishing. What this means is that the costs of overfishing are disproportionately borne by the countries least engaged in practices that are counter to efforts to make commercial fishing more sustainable while also promoting conservation of fish biodiversity.

All of these are important issues not just for commercial fishermen [sic], but also those interested in questions of conservation and sustainability in general, as well as recreational fisherman and basically anyone who uses fish as a food source.

As the ocean goes, so goes the planet, so it is of paramount importance for everyone to educate themselves on what is driving overfishing, what its consequences are and what meaningful steps — not simply theatre to feel as if “something is being done” — can be taken.

Indeed, over three billion people around the world rely on fish as their primary source of protein. About 12% of the world relies upon fisheries in some form or another, with 90% of these being small-scale fishermen: think a small crew in a boat, not a ship, using small nets or even rods and reels and lures not too different from the kind you probably use.

There are 18.9 million fishermen in the world, with 90% of them falling under the same small-scale fisherman rubric discussed above.

Fishing is the socioeconomic foundation of Pacific communities. Photo: FFA.

Overfishing definition: What is overfishing?

First, take heart: as a recreational fisherman, you are almost certainly not guilty of “overfishing”. This is an issue for commercial fishermen in the fishing industry who are trawling the ocean depths with massive nets to catch enough fish to make a living for themselves and their families, not the angler who enjoys a little peace and quiet on the weekends.

Overfishing is, in some sense, a rational reaction to increasing market needs for fish. Most people consume approximately twice as much food as they did 50 years ago and there are four times as many people on Earth as there were at the close of the 1960s. This is one driver of the 30% of commercially fished waters being classified as being “overfished”. This means that the stock of available fishing waters are being depleted faster than they can be replaced.

There is a simple and straightforward definition of when an area is being “overfished” and it’s not simply about catching “too many” fish. Overfishing occurs when the breeding stock of an area becomes so depleted that the fish in the area cannot replenish themselves.

At best, this means fewer fish next year than there are this year. At worst, it means that a species of fish cannot be fished out of a specific area anymore. This also goes hand in hand with wasteful forms of fishing that harvest not just the fish the trawler is looking for, but just about every other organism big enough to be caught in a net. Indeed, over 80% of fish are caught in these kinds of nets that sweep up everything into them.

Underwater photo of a school of skipjack tuna caught in a purse-seine net. The bottom of the fishing vessel is also visible. Photo Undercurrent News.
Skipjack tuna caught in a purse-seine net. Photo: Undercurrent News.

What’s more, there are a number of wide-reaching consequences of overfishing. It’s not simply bad because it depletes the fish stocks of available resources, though that certainly is one reason why it’s bad. Others include:

  • Increased algae in the water: Like many other things, algae is great, but too much of it is very, very bad. When there are fewer fish in the waters, algae doesn’t get eaten and there’s way more of it than there should be. This increases the acidity in the world’s oceans, which negatively impacts not only the remaining fish, but also the reefs and plankton.
  • Destruction of fishing communities: Overfishing can completely destroy fish populations and communities that once relied upon the fish that were there. This is particularly true for island communities. And it’s worth remembering that there are many isolated points on the globe where fishing isn’t just the driver of the economy, but also the primary source of protein for the population. When either or both of these disappear, the community disappears along with it.
  • Tougher fishing for small vessels: If you’re a fan of small business, you ought to be concerned about overfishing. That’s because overfishing is mostly done by large vessels and [the situation] makes it harder for smaller ones to meet their quotas. With over 40 million people around the world getting their food and livelihood from fishing, this is a serious problem.
  • Ghost fishing: Ghost fishing is the term for what is basically littering in the ocean. The illegal fishermen created by poorly drafted regulations and subsidies often simply abandon their tools of the trade in the ocean where they were used. Not only does this create pollution because of the trash, it also attracts scavengers who are then ensnared in the garbage and can no longer fulfill their vital function elsewhere in the ocean.
  • Species pushed to near extinction: When we hear that a fish species is being depleted, we often think it’s fine because they can be found somewhere else. However, many species of fish are being pushed close to extinction by overfishing; [these include] … several species of cod, tuna, halibut and even lobster.
  • Bycatching: If you’re old enough to remember people being concerned about dolphins caught in tuna nets, you know what bycatching is: it’s when marine life that is not being sought by commercial fishermen is caught in their nets as a by-product. The possibility of bycatching increases dramatically with overfishing.
  • Waste: Overfishing creates waste in the supply chain. Approximately 20% of all fish in the United States are lost in the supply chain due to overfishing. In the third world, this rises to 30% thanks to a lack of available freezing devices. What this means is that even though there are more fish being caught than ever, there is also massive waste of harvested fish.
  • Mystery fish: Because of overfishing, there are significant numbers of fish at your local fish market and on the shelves of your local grocery store that aren’t what they are labelled as. Just because something says that it’s cod doesn’t mean that it actually is. To give you an idea of the scope of this problem, only 13% of the “red snapper” on the market is actually red snapper. Most of this is unintentional due to the scale of fishing done today, but much of it is not, [with people] hiding behind the unfortunate realities of mass-scale fishing to pass off inferior products to unwitting customers.

Why is overfishing happening?

So, why is overfishing happening? There are a variety of factors driving overfishing that we will delve into here, the bird’s eye view is below.

  • Regulation: Regulations are incredibly difficult to enforce even when they are carefully crafted, which they often are not. The worst offenders have little regulation in place and none of the regulations apply in international waters, which are effectively a “wild west”.
  • Unreported fishing: Existing regulations force many fishermen to do their fishing “off the books” if they wish to turn a profit. This is especially true in developing nations.
  • Mobile processing: Mobile processing is when fish are processed before returning to port: they are canned while still out at sea. Canned fish is increasingly taking up the fish consumption market at the expense of fresh fish.
  • Subsidies: Anyone familiar with farm subsidies knows that these are actually bad for the production of healthy food. Subsidies for fishing are similar. They don’t generally go to small fishermen whom one would think are most in need, but rather to massive vessels doing fuel-intensive shipping.

What’s more, subsidies encourage overfishing because the money keeps flowing no matter what: the more fish you catch, the more money you get, with no caps influenced by environmental impact fishing regulation.

Indeed, according to the World Wildlife Fund, subsidies drive illegal fishing, which is closely tied with piracy, slavery and human trafficking. The University of British Columbia conducted a study that found that $22 billion (63% of all fishing subsidies) went toward subsidies that encourage overfishing.

Of these, the main driver of overfishing is, predictably, government subsidies. So it is worth taking a few minutes to separate that out from the rest of these issues and give it some special attention.

Transhipment of tuna catch in Phonpei Lagoon, Federated States of Micronesia. Photo: Francisco Blaha.
Transhipment in Phonpei Lagoon, Federated States of Micronesia. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

Overfishing and government subsidies

The subsidies that drive overfishing are highly lucrative: the governments of the world are giving away over $35 billion every year to fishermen. That’s about 20% of the value of all the commercially caught fish in the world every year. Subsidies are often directed at reducing the costs for mega-fishing companies — things like paying for their massive fuel budgets, the gear they need to catch fish or even the vessels themselves.

This effectively allows for massive commercial fishing operations to take … [over] the market or recapitalise at rates significantly below that of the market, disproportionately favouring them over their smaller competitors.

It is this advantage that large mega-fishing companies enjoy that is a primary driver of overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices. The end result of this is not just depleted stocks, but also lowered yields due to long-term overfishing, as well as lowered costs of fish at market, which has some advantages for the consumer, but also makes it significantly harder for smaller operations to turn a profit.

Such government subsidies could provide assistance to smaller fishermen, but are generally structured in a way that favours consolidation of the market and efforts counterproductive to conservation efforts.

What role do farmed fish play?

Farmed fish is a phenomenon that we take for granted today, but is actually a revolutionary method of bringing fish out of the water and onto our dinner tables. Originally, it was seen as a way of preserving a population of wild fish. The thinking was this: we could eat fish from farming while the wild stock replenished itself.

At the same time, communities impacted by overfishing would find new ways to get income in an increasingly difficult market. Third world countries would have their protein needs met in a manner that did not negatively impact the environment. It was considered a big, easy win for the entire world.

The reality, as is often the case, turned out to be a little different. Crowding thousands of fish together in small areas away from their natural habitat turns out to have detrimental effects. Waste products, primarily fish poo, excess food and dead fish, begin to contaminate the areas around fish farms. What’s more, like other factory farms, fish farms require lots of pesticides and drugs thanks to the high concentrations of fish and the parasites and diseases that spread in these kinds of living conditions.

Predictably, the chemicals used in making farmed fish possible are not contained in the areas where they are initially used. They spread into the surrounding waters and then simply become part of the water of the world, building up over time. In many cases, farmed fish are farmed in areas that are already heavily polluted. This is where the admonition to avoid eating too much fish for fear of contaminants like mercury has come from.

What’s more, the fish that we eat are not the only fish that are living at the fisheries. Often times, the preferred fish of the human consumer are carnivores that must eat lots of other fish to get to an appropriate size to be marketable. These fish, known as “reduction fish” or “trash fish” require the same kind of treatment that the larger fish they feed do.

All told, it takes 26 pounds [almost 12 kg] of feed to produce a single pound [450 g] of tuna, making farmed fishing an incredibly inefficient way of bringing food to market. Indeed, 37% of all seafood globally is now fed to farmed fish, up dramatically from 7.7% in 1948.

Perhaps worst of all, farmed fish simply do not have the same nutritional value as their wild counterparts, losing almost all of the omega-3 fatty acids that make fish such a prized part of the modern diet.

Salmon, for example, is only healthy when it is caught in the wild. Farmed salmon is essentially a form of junk food. This is in large part due to the diet that the fish eat in fish farms, which is high in fat, genetically engineered and uses soy as a primary source of protein. Toxins at the farms concentrate in the fatty tissue of the salmon. Concentrations of the harmful chemical PCB [polychlorinated biphenyl] are found in concentrations eight times higher in farmed fish than traditionally caught wild salmon.

The pesticides, of course, are not used for no reason, but because of the proliferation of pests due to the high concentrations of fish in the fisheries. Sea lice are one example of such pests; they can eat a live salmon down to the bone.

These pests do not stay in the fisheries, but quickly spread to the surrounding waters and infect wild salmon as well. The pests aren’t the only ones escaping: farmed fish often escape and compete with the native fish for resources, becoming invasive species.

Subsidies vary from one country to another and specific statistics about how much goes to fish farms is generally not forthcoming. But fish farms effectively move the problem of overfishing from the wild oceans and into more enclosed areas. This does not solve any of the problems of overfishing. It merely creates new ones with no less impact on the environment.

Which countries are overfishing?

The main offenders with regard to overfishing tend to not be developed Western countries, but countries from the developing world and parts of Asia. Sadly, the United States is the only Western nation that appeared on a “shame list” put out by Pew Charitable Trusts. This is known as the Pacific Six. The other members are Japan, Taiwan, China, South Korea and Indonesia.

The list only refers to overfishing with regard to bluefin tuna, but it provides a snapshot of the face of overfishing internationally. Overfishing facts say that these six countries are fishing 80% of the world’s bluefin tuna. These countries took collectively 111,482 metric tons of bluefin tuna out of the waters in 2011 alone.

However, when it comes to harmful subsidies there is a clear leader: China. A University of British Columbia study found that China provided more in the way of harmful subsidies encouraging overfishing than any other country on Earth — $7.2 billion in 2018 or fully 21% of all global support. What’s more, subsidies that are more beneficial than harmful dropped by 73%.

Chinese fishing fleet Galápagos-photo www.greenqueen.com.hk
Vessels of a Chinese fishing fleet in the seas surrounding the Galápagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. The size of fleets in the biologically diverse Pacific islands has rung alarm bells over the fishing practices that conservationists say could severely damage the region’s protected marine ecosystem. Photo: www.greenqueen.com.hk.

The negative effects of overfishing are not taking place far away and in very abstract ways. They are causing communities right here in the United States to collapse. In the early 1990s, the overfishing of cod caused entire communities in New England to collapse. Once this happens, it is very difficult to reverse. The effects are felt by the marine ecosystem but also by the people whose livelihoods depend on fishing.

Another example of economic instability is the Japanese fish market. Japanese fishermen are able to catch far less fish than they used to, meaning that the Japanese are now eating more imported fish, often from the United States. This creates a perverse situation where America exports most of its best salmon to other countries, but consumes some of the worst farmed salmon in the world today.

Just how bad is overfishing?

Surely overfishing can’t be that bad, right? The seas are just filled with tonnes of fish and it would take us forever to overfish to the point that they began to disappear entirely, right?

Think again. Overfishing is happening at biologically unsustainable levels. Pacific bluefin tuna … has seen a 97% decline in overall population. This is important because the Pacific bluefin tuna is one of the most important predators in the ocean food chain. If it becomes extinct the entire aquaculture will be irreparably disturbed.

The first fish that disappear from an ecosystem are larger fish with a longer lifespan that reach reproductive age later in life. These are also the most desirable fish on the open market. When these fish disappear, the destructive fishing operations do not leave the area: they simply move down the food chain to less desirable catches such as squid and sardines. This is called “fishing down the web” and it slowly destroys the entire ecosystem removing first the predator fish and then the prey.

There are broader effects on the ecosystem beyond fish, effects that resonate throughout the entire Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Many of the smaller fish eat algae that grows on coral reefs. When these fish become overfished, the algae grows uncontrolled and the reefs suffer as a result. That deprives many marine life forms of their natural habitat, creating extreme disruption in the ocean ecosystem.

What are some alternatives to government-driven overfishing?

While there are certainly policy solutions to rampant overfishing, not all solutions will come from government. For example, there are emerging technological solutions that will make bycatching and other forms of waste less prevalent and harmful.

Simple innovations based on existing technologies, such as the Fishtek Marine pinger, seek to save sea mammals from the nets of commercial fishermen while also increasing profit margins for these companies in a win–win scenario. The device is small and inexpensive and thus does not present an undue burden to either the large-scale commercial fishing vessels or small fishermen looking to eke out a living in an increasingly difficult market.

We must also recognise that current regulations simply do not work. In one extreme case, governments restricted fishing for certain forms of tuna for three days a year. This did absolutely nothing for the population of tuna, as the big commercial fishing companies simply employed methods to harvest as many fish in three days as they were previously getting in any entire year.

This, in turn, led to a greater amount of bycatch and waste. Because the fishing operations didn’t have the luxury of time to ensure that they were only catching what they sought to catch, their truncated fishing season prized quantity over quality, with predictable results.

Quotas, specifically the “individual transferable quota” scheme used by New Zealand and many other countries, does not seem to work as intended for a number of reasons. First, these quotas are, as the name might suggest, transferable. This means that little fishermen might consider it a better deal to simply sell their quota to a large commercial fishing operation rather than go to work for themselves, and we’re back to square one.

More generally, quotas seem to be a source of waste. Here’s how they work. A fishing operation is given a specific tonnage of fish from a specific species that they can catch. However, not all fish are created equally. So, when commercial fishing operations look at their catch and see that some of it is of higher quality than others, they discard the lower-quality fish in favour of higher-quality fish, creating large amounts of waste. These discards can sometimes make up 40% of the catch.

An alternative to the current system is one that balances the need for fish as a global protein source with a long-term view of the ecosystem, planning for having as many fish tomorrow as there are today and, thus, a sustainable model for feeding the world and providing jobs. One way to do this would be to tie subsidies to conservation and sustainability efforts, rather than simply writing checks to large commercial fishing operations to build new boats and buy new equipment. Such a scheme would also prize smaller-scale operations over larger ones. A more diversified source of the world’s fish would also be more resilient.

One such alternative is called territorial use rights in fisheries management (TURF). In this case, individual fishermen or collectives are provided with long-term rights to fish in a specific area. This means that they have skin in the game. They don’t want to overfish the area because to do so would be to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. So, they catch as many fish as is sustainable and no more. They have a vested, long-term interest in making sure that there is no overfishing in the fisheries that have been allotted to them.

Not only does this make sustainable fishing more attractive, it also means that there is less government bureaucracy and red tape involved. Fishermen with TURF are allowed to catch as much as they like. It is assumed that sustainability is baked into the equation because the fishermen with rights want to preserve the fishing not just for the next year, but for the next generation and the one after that. This model has been used successfully in Chile, one of the most economically free countries in the world … to prevent overfishing and create sustainability. It is a market-driven model that prizes small producers with skin in the game over massive, transnational conglomerates with none.

Belize, Denmark and even the United States have used TURF with significantly positive results.

While it’s nice to support the little guy over Big Fishing and we certainly support sustainability and conservation efforts, there’s another, perhaps more important and direct, reason to support reforms designed to eliminate overfishing: food security. When bluefin tuna, for example, becomes extinct, it’s not coming back. That means no more cans of tuna on the shelves of your local supermarket.

That’s a big deal for people in developed, first world countries, but a much bigger deal in developing countries. When major protein sources are depleted forever, there will be intensified competition for the resources that remain. This also creates unrest in the countries that are less able to compete in a global market due to issues of capital and scale. Even if you’re not concerned with overfishing, overfishing and the problems it creates will soon be on your doorstep – unless corrective measures are taken before it’s too late.

New technologies promise monitoring breakthrough for transhipment at sea

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Republished from FFA Trade and Industry Newsvolume 13, issue 4, July–August 2020

Technologies such as vessel monitoring systems, onboard electronic catch monitoring and blockchain traceability continue to gain attention as tools for monitoring industry activity related to the fishing sector. 

Government and inter-governmental bodies (e.g. the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre), as well as the private sector and NGOs [non-government organisations], have developed and deployed these methods and are experimenting with next-generation approaches. 

In general, these tools aim to develop methods for monitoring elements of the fishing supply chain that are generally outside of the view and reach of authorities.*

Recent months saw a new tool in this realm join the ranks of new technological and data-based initiatives to contribute to progress in management – this one focusing on transhipment at sea. 

The tool – the Carrier Vessel Portal – was developed through a collaboration between two NGOs, the Pew Charitable Trusts and Global Fishing Watch (GFW). The partners describe Carrier Vessel Portal as the world’s first public, global searchable monitoring portal of carrier vessels. 

The portal is based on GFW work that combines satellite data on vessel location (AIS data that cargo ships are mandated to keep on board by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) and machine learning to study global transhipment patterns. The portal is public and searchable and includes vessel identity and authorisation status.

The developers hope that regulators, policy makers and researchers will utilise the portal directly for the monitoring and enforcement of transhipping. 

In releasing the portal, GFW and Pew have emphasised the multiple purposes it can serve, including: 

  • verifying carrier vessel activity
  • identifying suspicious or illicit behaviour
  • tracking vessel activity between RFMOs
  • and ideally, guiding reform.

In addition to the Carrier Vessel Portal, GFW has developed a range of tools and analyses to monitor the location and activity of fishing vessels, and is working to develop partnerships that will enable such tools to be used directly in the management sphere. (GFW has a list of papers published on its findings.)

Monitoring transhipment at sea has been a high priority for management in the WCPO, given it is estimated that more than US$142 million worth of tuna and other seafood products are lost in illegal transhipment annually, and missing and fraudulent reporting undermines management efforts and scientific data that is used to understand population dynamics and to inform management decisions. 

However, transhipment at sea has proved remarkably difficult to monitor, making regulations difficult to enforce. Generally, transhipment data are reported from governments to RFMOs, usually in summary form and often a year after the data are collected in-country. It has been demonstrated that official reports are often incomplete and thousands of transhipments on the high seas are unreported.

* For more on the use of electronic monitoring and blockchain technology, read the following:

Commitment to enhanced cooperation between FFA and RSIPF: media release

Categories Media releases, NewsPosted on

Honiara, 10 September 2020  A visit by executive officers of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) headquarters on Tuesday this week has highlighted the commitment to continuous cooperation between the two organisations, especially during this period of the COVID-19 pandemic and into the future.

During a meeting with the FFA Director-General, Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen, the RSIPF officials, led by Acting Deputy Commissioner National Security & Operation Support, Ian Vaevaso, were congratulated for their hard work during this challenging time. Dr Tupou-Roosen also briefed them on FFA’s work and opportunities for further collaboration. 

Executive officers of the RSIPF, FFA Director-General, Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen (6th from left), FFA Director Fisheries Operations, Allan Rahari (7th from left), and FFA RFSC staff inside the surveillance centre. Photo: RSIPF Media Unit.
Executive officers of the RSIPF, FFA Director-General, Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen (6th from left), FFA Director Fisheries Operations, Allan Rahari (7th from left), and FFA RFSC staff inside the surveillance centre. Photo: RSIPF Media Unit.

With the cooperative work with FFA in ensuring the sustainable management of tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO), Dr Tupou-Roosen acknowledged the support from the RSIPF towards its surveillance operations – with the recent Operation Island Chief 2020 (OPIC20) being a fine example.

“We sincerely thank the leadership of RSIPF for their visit and the constructive discussions. We identified some key areas where we can enhance our collaboration, including in the area of combatting IUU fishing, and we look forward to implementing these,” the Director-General said.

The RSIPF officials also visited the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC) to see first-hand what the FFA is actually doing in supporting member countries to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, the strong linkage of this work to maritime security ,and the current COVID-19 support of vessel contact tracing.

At the surveillance centre, the FFA Director of Fisheries Operations, Allan Rahari, and FFA RFSC staff gave a brief overview of the roles and functions of the centre; the planning, conduct and coordination of regional fisheries surveillance operations, including the recent Operation Island Chief; and COVID-19 response, support and assistance to members. Mr Rahari also thanked the RSIPF for staff support during OPIC20 and hoping to see more local police officers engaged in future operations.

RSIPF Acting Deputy Commissioner National Security & Operation Support, Ian Vaevaso. Photo: FFA Media.
The RSIPF Acting Deputy Commissioner National Security & Operation Support, Ian Vaevaso. Photo: FFA Media.

For some of the RSIPF officials, this was their first ever visit to the FFA headquarters and the RFSC, and Acting Deputy Commissioner National Security & Operation Support Mr Ian Vaevaso said, “it is a privilege for us to see and hear first-hand information on the work that FFA does and the support the Centre provides to FFA members.”

Mr Vaevaso added that cooperation is what the RSIPF always long for, and that is the way forward.

“We look forward to working closely with FFA in terms of information and intelligence sharing especially on areas of Maritime security and fisheries enforcement,” he said.

ENDS//

FFA Director of Fisheries Operations Division, Mr Allan Rahari, giving a brief overview of the roles and functions of the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC). Photo: FFA Media.
FFA Director of Fisheries Operations Division, Mr Allan Rahari, giving a brief overview of the roles and functions of the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC). Photo: FFA Media.

Media inquiries

For more information and photos contact:
Ronald F. Toito’ona, FFA Media, ph: +677 7304715, ronald.toitoona@ffa.int
Desmond Rave, RSIPF Media, ph: +677 24016/23800 (ext. 239)/7988912, Desmond.Rave@rsipf.gov.sb or rsipf.media@rsipf.gov.sb

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 decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management. Find out more here www.ffa.int

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Coordination and commitment during regional fisheries surveillance operation: media release

Categories Media releases, NewsPosted on

Honiara, 3 September 2020 – A fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance operation in the Pacific concludes this week, with excellent cooperation demonstrated between nations despite the challenges of COVID-19 continuing to affect surveillance in the region. 

The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) led Operation Island Chief, which took place from 24 August to 4 September, conducting surveillance over the EEZs of all FFA Members. This year the operation included Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu, after their Operation Tui Moana was postponed in May due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Especially during these challenging times with the focus of the world on the pandemic, we welcome and sincerely thank our Members and partners for their commitment and cooperation demonstrated across the region to deter illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in our waters,” says FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen. 

“The strong collaboration between the FFA, our embers, and national security partners has achieved positive surveillance results during this operation.”

Cook Island Pacific Patrol Boat Te Kukupa at Alofi Wharf, Niue, during 2020 surveillance Operation Island Chief. Photo: Niue NHQ.
Cook Island Pacific Patrol Boat Te Kukupa was unable to remain alongside at Alofi Wharf, Niue, due to heavy swell. It proceeded to conduct surveillance in the Niue EEZ during OPIC20. Photo: Niue NHQ.

FFA Director of Fisheries Operations, Mr Allan Rahari, added, “We are particularly delighted to see the way Cook Islands worked with Niue to conduct cooperative surveillance of both EEZs under the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA). The NTSA provides the legal framework for exchange of fisheries data and information, as well as procedures for cooperation in monitoring, prosecuting and penalising operators of IUU fishing vessels. This is the first time that the Niue Treaty Information System (NTIS) has been used to record these arrangements during a surveillance operation.”

The Pacific QUAD partners, Australia, New Zealand, France and the United States, provided support through aerial surveillance alongside the FFA Aerial Surveillance Programme aircraft, further enhancing the maritime surveillance coverage during the operation. 

The FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC) team, supported by three officers from the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF), had an increased focus on intelligence gathering and analysis, providing targeted information before and during the operation in order to support surveillance activities by Member countries. 

Fisheries, Maritime and Ports Authority officers monitor a fishing vessel unloading under COVID-19 protocols in Apia Port, Samoa. Photo: Samoa NHQ.
Fisheries, Maritime and Ports Authority officers monitor a fishing vessel unloading under COVID-19 protocols in Apia Port, Samoa. Photo: Samoa NHQ.

Over 180 vessels were sighted or boarded during Operation Island Chief.

“There were several occasions where the RFSC coordinated with nations to divert assets to conduct specific intelligence led surveillance,” said Mr Rahari. “There are a couple of fisheries investigations underway from patrol efforts during Operation Island Chief but so far no IUU activity has been identified, which shows that our regulatory and surveillance efforts are working.” 

Despite the threat of COVID-19, FFA Members and QUAD partners demonstrated their ongoing commitment to fisheries surveillance across the region. 

“The crews persevered to interrogate vessels, and in some cases to conduct boardings, in some exceedingly uncomfortable weather conditions,” said Mr Rahari. 

Dockside boardings, as well as boardings at sea, were conducted under national authority, and followed protocols to ensure crew were not exposed to unnecessary risks. 

ENDS//

The PMSP/FFA Aerial Surveillance Program (ASP) aircraft at the Honiara International terminal. Photo: FFA.
The PMSP/FFA Aerial Surveillance Program (ASP) aircraft at the Honiara international terminal. Photo: FFA.

For more information, contact Ronald F. Toito’ona, FFA Media,
ph: +677 7304715, ronald.toitoona@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 decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management. Find out more here www.ffa.int.

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FFA: Aerial surveillance critical for monitoring of our EEZs — media release

Categories Media releases, NewsPosted on

HONIARA, 25 August 2020 – Fisheries ministers at their 17th Forum Fisheries Committee meeting on 6–7 August recognized the importance of aerial surveillance, including through the Pacific Maritime Security Program–Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (PMSP/FFA), after noting the increased risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The Australian Department of Defence and FFA agreed to temporarily suspend the PMSP/FFA aerial surveillance program in March 2020 due to the swift move by Pacific Island countries to restrict travel, coupled with the uncertainty and risks involved. The suspension was lifted on 1 July following gradual easing of travel restrictions and interest received from members to conduct maritime surveillance over their exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

The FFA Director-General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, said the resumption of the PMSP/FFA aerial surveillance program is highly welcomed and especially important during this time as recognized by our Fisheries Ministers.

“With the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on other forms of monitoring such as observer coverage, constant aerial surveillance is critical for Pacific Island countries to monitor their vast EEZs,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.

“We note the strict COVID-related clearance protocols in place in the region and are working with the appropriate authorities to satisfy these protocols so as to continue to provide our members with the surveillance they require.

“One of the benefits of this program is that in addition to our members being able to direct the aircraft in terms of where, when and what they would like to target IUU fishing, it also addresses other maritime security-related threats,” she added.

Since the lifting of the suspension, the aerial surveillance aircraft has been providing surveillance for Solomon Islands.

The Commander of RSIPF Maritime Division, Chief Superintendent Charles Fox Sau, noted that during this time, with the limited tools to monitor the large EEZ, the risk of not only IUU fishing but also other threats entering the EEZ are higher.

“We are grateful to the governments of Australia and New Zealand and to the FFA for providing aerial surveillance assistance, which is complementing our patrol boats in monitoring our borders — especially for the illegal entry of small craft,” Chief Superintendent Sau said.

During the FFC ministerial meeting, ministers made specific reference to the support provided by the FFA Secretariat to members through the use of the vessel monitoring system to contact-trace the movements of fishing vessels. This has been invaluable for ensuring border security and mitigating the risk of COVID-19 entering countries by sea.

Negotiations with Pacific Island countries interested in recommencing their aerial surveillance are currently underway. FFA members are encouraged to contact the FFA to ensure their access to the PMSP/FFA Aerial Surveillance Program on air.tasking@ffa.int.

ENDS//

For more information contact Ronald F. Toito’ona, FFA Media, ph: +677 7304715, ronald.toitoona@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 decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management. Follow us on Facebook | on Twitter | on LinkedIn | on YouTube | www.ffa.int