Majuro, Marshall Islands 29 October 2016: How do you manage a multi-billion dollar fishery in nine distinct fishing zones with multiple nations fishing? Five years ago, it was mostly done with a hand calculator and pencil, and by transmitting data by email or fax. Today, the fishery that is generating US$400 million a year to nine Pacific islands is managed by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement’s Fisheries Information Management System (FIMS) that allows managers to know what is taking place in their fishing zone with a tap of their computer keyboards.
The FIMS was specially designed for the PNA fishery. “It provides easy access to fisheries information for increasingly effective management of PNA’s Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) that governs purse seine fishing in the western and central Pacific,” said PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru, who added that the VDS and the FIMS management tool is also being rolled out for the longline industry.
Coordinating data on close to 300 purse seiners fishing in the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of eight island nations and one territory that involves identifying fishing and non-fishing days, monitoring fishing trends to ensure “fishing day” use stays within agreed-to annual limits, tracking sales and trades of fishing days among PNA parties, recording catch data provided separately by onboard fisheries observers and the fishing vessels, tracking and managing the use of tens of thousands of fish aggregating devices, and handling online registration of vessels is all in a day’s work at the PNA Office in the Marshall Islands.
Five years ago, PNA Office staff managing the VDS in coordination with national fisheries departments used a hand calculator to manually work out the number of hours and days each of the several hundred purse seiners had fished in which PNA member’s zone. “We’ve come a long with PNA’s Fisheries Information Management System,” said PNA VDS Manager Patricia Jack, who is based in Majuro.
The Fisheries Information Management System (FIMS) gives users the total number of fishing days (Total Allowable Effort) for the entire PNA area, and the number of fishing days allotted to each member (Party’s Allowable Effort). “FIMS shows each party’s usage of fishing days and the percentage of days left,” said Ms. Jack. The PNA Office coordinates this fishing day data with each fishery department in the nine islands using the VDS, including resolving any differences between the national fishery department and the PNA Office in determining fishing day usage.
Day-to-day VDS management of fishing day data translates directly into major revenue for each VDS participant. Between 2010 and 2015, revenue to the islands rose from US$60 million to close to US$400 million.
“Lots of money is attached to this,” said Ms. Jack. “That’s what makes the FIMS system so important — to ensure the fishing industry pays for days fished in different EEZs and to make sure the islands get their fair share.”
The VDS is PNA’s management system for the fishery, while FIMS was developed for national level management of the fishery with PNA Office playing a coordinating role. Now that vessel position information generated on a 24/7 basis from onboard “vessel monitoring system” (VMS) units is electronically transmitted directly to the PNA FIMS, each of the nine VDS parties has access to their own data through the FIMS system. “We have port-to-port data coverage of purse seine vessels,” said Herman Kisokau, PNAO VDS/VMS Officer, who like Ms. Jack is based in Majuro. “We can track fishing vessels wherever they are including outside of PNA zones.”
In years past, vessels submitted their catch data, declaration of fishing and non-fishing days and other data by email or fax, which was a cumbersome process to manage. Now it is all done through FIMS.
A key part of the system is information provided by the purse seine fishing industry to PNA through a special industry platform known as iFIMS. “The iFIMS platform gives confidence to the industry that no one is changing their data, since PNA has no access to iFIMS,” said Mr. Kisokau, explaining that industry data uploaded to iFIMS is automatically received by PNA’s FIMS for use by the PNA Office and fisheries departments. The combination of data from the onboard vessel monitoring system that shows vessel position, industry-provided catch data through iFIMS, and fisheries observer-provided data “gives enough information to the parties to determine if a vessel has used a day for fishing or not,” he said.
“We are receiving near real-time information when the vessels are fishing,” said Mr. Kisokau. “FIMS captures in one system the information needed to manage fishing day use, catch levels and fishing effort.” This real-time access to catch data makes in-port transshipment monitoring more effective. “By the time a vessel arrives in port, we already have their catch data from the trip,” said Mr. Kisokau. “So when enforcement officers go on board, they already know what the catch should be and can confirm it (the veracity of the vessel’s report).”
Because FIMS also tracks fish aggregating devices (FADs), it can be used for enforcement of the annual several month FAD closure in PNA waters. “If we are in a FAD closure period, why is a vessel by a FAD?” said Mr. Kisokau of the ability of the system to track vessels and FADs in the region. “The system provides information needed to manage the resource.”
FIMS is also a key part of the reporting requirement for verifying sustainably caught tuna that meets Marine Stewardship Council standards. Tuna that complies with MSC “chain of custody” requirements pays a higher dividend to fishing boats and retailers because customers in Europe, the United States, Australia and elsewhere are willing to pay a premium for sustainably caught fish. The FIMS shows, for example, that in 2015, there were 349 fishing trips that aimed to meet MSC’s strict sustainability standards. This year, through mid-October, the number more than doubled to 788 trips, demonstrating increasing industry participation in this value-added fishery initiative.
Beginning in late 2015, PNA began extending the VDS beyond the 300 purse seiners by trialing the VDS for the longline industry. PNA is now set to fully implement VDS management for the more than 3,000 longline vessels active in the region in 2017.
In large part due to FIMS usage and management, an independent review of the VDS earlier this year concluded: “The purse seine VDS is a very successful fisheries management regime by any real world standard,” and the management system in place “provides a simple and robust compliance framework for the fleet.”