Honolulu 7 December 2018 — Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is being targeted for elimination like never before following calls by Pacific Leaders for “action to end illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and associated activities.”
Earlier this year, Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, who is also the current Chair of the Ministerial Forum Fisheries Committee, highlighted a key priority for the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) “is concerted and strengthened collective approach to combating the continued threat of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.”
In October, Marshall Islands President Dr. Hilda C. Heine again elevated the focus on IUU fishing by calling on Pacific nations and those fishing in the Pacific to strive to abolish IUU fishing within five years. “IUU activity has devastating consequences,” President Heine said. “A five-year target to eliminate IUU fishing by 2023 is bold but the stakes are too high not to be audacious in the goals we set. If we are serious about combating IUU, we need a tougher mindset.”
Pacific fisheries managers are using the momentum of calls from Leaders to ramp up work to mitigate IUU fishing, and FFA Senior Officials are meeting in Honolulu this week in advance of next week’s Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) annual meeting.
“The value of the Pacific fishery to individual Pacific Islanders and the economies of our 17 island members is enormous,” said Dr. Manu Tupou-Roosen, Director General of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). “This is motivating new initiatives in support of existing monitoring, control and surveillance programs to eliminate IUU fishing.”
“We have implemented a management system for the purse seiners through the vessel day scheme (VDS) that has greatly reduced opportunities for IUU activity in this fishery,” said Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) CEO Ludwig Kumoru. “Our requirement of 100 percent fisheries observer coverage on purse seiners and other measures is a big deterrent to illegal fishing.” Over 60 percent of the tuna caught in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean comes from the eight nation members of PNA.
“FFA and PNA monitoring, control and surveillance strategy is to develop and deploy game-changing applications in support of IUU mitigation,” said Dr. Tupou-Roosen. “We’re leading the charge against IUU fishing,” said Mr. Kumoru.
But more work is needed and is in progress to combat IUU fishing, said the FFA Director General and the PNA CEO. A report on the impact of IUU fishing prepared for the FFA in 2016 estimated the value of catch associated with illegal fishing at over US$600 million annually, with the direct economic loss to FFA members of around US$150 million.
In particular, the FFA and PNA are calling for the support of distant water fishing nations, who are also members of the WCPFC, to eliminate IUU fishing. “We want them on board and to understand this is a collective effort of the FFA and PNA to implement a best practice strategy to effectively track and hold offenders accountable,” said Dr. Tupou-Roosen.
At next week’s WCPFC meeting in Honolulu, the 17 FFA member countries, eight of whom are also members of the PNA, will be advocating strongly for the Commission to adopt an “IUU List” for 2019 to include three vessels that have previously been identified for IUU fishing in the region. FFA members have called on all Commission members “to actively work together to locate these vessels so that their illegal activities can be stopped,” said Dr. Tupou-Roosen.
In another important development, the FFA is progressing work on its “Persons of Interest Strategy” as a tool for combating IUU fishing. FFA members are working to develop the process for identifying the operators behind illegal fishing vessels in the region. “These are tools that will help us combat the IUU problem,” said Dr. Tupou-Roosen. “The Persons of Interest Project will collect, analyze and share personal information on the people behind rogue vessels, such as the owners, the captains, and the fish masters in order to provide greater information to FFA member authorities that issue licenses and target monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) effort.”
Through FFA and PNA regional MCS efforts, national-level activity, and coordination with Australia, New Zealand, the United States and France, the region now has a layered and expanding network focused on identifying and preventing IUU fishing.
FFA operates the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Center based in the Solomon Islands, a unique monitoring and enforcement facility that coordinates MCS work through the 17-member network, including through deployment of two year-round dedicated surveillance aircraft.
Under PNA’s Fisheries Information Management System (FIMS), there are now 240 purse seine vessels in the FFA region using daily electronic reporting of catch logsheets. This real-time reporting allows for daily monitoring of catch across the region. Similarly, Pacific Islands Regional Fisheries Observers are increasingly using electronic reporting for daily upload of data forms. When combined with each vessel’s electronic Vessel Monitoring System reporting of vessel location, this daily reporting from vessels and observers means fisheries administrations are increasingly able to undertake a more focused effort on data analysis as cumbersome and time-consuming paper-based data entry is being phased out, said Dr. Tupou-Roosen. “This allows for much-improved analysis of possible IUU anomalies,” she added.
FFA through its Regional Fisheries Surveillance Center coordinates four large MCS operations annually, which provide coordinated regional surveillance. This integrates aerial and patrol ship support from the four FFA partners Australia, New Zealand, the United States and France, police and fisheries MCS personnel from all FFA member countries, a dedicated analytical hub and national patrol boat operations. These regional multilateral MCS operations resulted in the boarding of 743 fishing vessels from 2015-2018, resulting in 67 infringement actions issued by ship boarding personnel and 16 infringements issued by shore authorities.
Mr. Kumoru said IUU fishing continues to be a front-burner issue for Pacific Islands. “Eliminating IUU fishing is a core part of our fisheries management work and we look forward to support and participation from our partner nations and the fishing industry in this effort,” said Mr. Kumoru. “Working together to eliminate IUU will enhance sustainable and economically viable fisheries for the benefit of everyone.”