Denarau, Fiji 7 December 2016: Concern over illegal fishing by so-called “blue boats” was expressed by officials from the Parties to the Nauru Agreement during this week’s Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) annual meeting in Fiji.
Unlicensed Blue boats originating from Vietnam have been sited in multiple western Pacific nations and territories, including the PNA member nations of Palau, Papua New Guinea, and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), as well as Australia and New Caledonia. The FSM has arrested nine blue boats with 135 fishermen for illegal entry and fishing activity in FSM waters since late 2014.
The FSM delegation at this week’s annual meeting appealed to the WCPFC to help respond to the “enormous challenge” of unregulated blue boats from Vietnam. Suzanne Lowe-Gallen, Chief of Compliance and Technical Projects for the Federated States of Micronesia, told the WCPFC earlier this week that this illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is not only hurting the FSM, but is being felt across the island region. Surveillance and arrests of these boats has cost the FSM government over $200,000, said Ms. Lowe-Gallen.
“We have raised this issue in previous (WCPFC) sessions and in other fora and we will continue to raise it as something that requires serious attention and action, particularly since it is not only a challenge for the FSM but for the wider Western and Central Pacific Ocean,” she said. “The various violations of FSM law include: illegal entry into the country, human smuggling, obstruction and illegal fishing.”
The blue boats are difficult to detect because they are wooden vessels, which do not show up on radar. They are not licensed and carry no vessel monitoring system (VSM) equipment. Reports from fisheries enforcement officials indicate the blue boats are targeting beche-de-mer (sea cucumber).
Vietnam is a Cooperating Non-Member of the WCPFC. Vietnam representative Vu Duyen Hai attending the WCPFC annual meeting this week told reporters, “We have been informed by some other countries that Vietnamese vessels come to Palau or Micronesia to poach. We are not so sure that they are Vietnamese vessels, or that they are Vietnamese flagged.”
During a plenary session, it was suggested by Vietnam that a hotline be established between Vietnam and the islands so future incidences could be addressed through communication. FSM head of delegation Eugene Pangelinan took issue with the suggestion. “We don’t feel like a ‘hotline’ is what the Law of the Sea convention calls for,” said Mr. Pangelinan, FSM’s Executive Director of fisheries. “We want them to live up to their flag state duty to prosecute or take other actions against the blue boats.”
“When I heard the suggestion of a ‘hotline,’ I thought they were joking,” said Parties to the Nauru Agreement CEO Ludwig Kumoru, who is attending the WCPFC annual meeting. “If they allow this (illegal fishing by blue boats), what else will they allow?”
Mr. Pangelinan pointed out that some of the boats and crew arrested and sent home by the FSM government have been later arrested again fishing illegally in FSM waters.
The fact that they’ve been found illegally fishing in Australian, Palau FSM, PNG and New Caledonia waters suggests they are likely illegally poaching marine resources in many other islands as well, said Mr. Kumoru. “The blue boats are a prime example of IUU fishing activity in our islands,” said Mr. Kumoru. “The flag states need to do more to prevent this illegal activity.”
Federated States of Micronesia officials called on the WCPFC to take action to stem IUU fishing in the region. “IUU is a grave concern for the Federated States of Micronesia,” said Ms. Lowe-Gallen. “It is an international obligation to fight IUU.”
Mr. Kumoru said that despite appeals from PNA members to Vietnam, it has not stepped up to deal with this illegal fishing in a responsible and effective manner.