Jun 04, 2020 Last Updated 12:26 PM, Jun 3, 2020

"Fishing doesn't stop, so neither will our surveillance," said Commander Robert Lewis, at the Forum Fisheries Agency’s Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC) in Honiara as Operation Rai Balang 2020 comes to a close.

The two-week fisheries surveillance activity ends tomorrow. It covered 14.1million square kilometres and included 108 sighting and 24 boardings during the heightened global response to coronavirus. 

"Fisheries surveillance in the Pacific is imperative to ensure compliance by the fishing fleets, and deter any illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities.  Fisheries have a direct benefit for Pacific island counties economies, and that makes surveillance even more important in these unprecedented times," Commander Lewis said.

“Twenty-four boardings is a real impact considering the current COVID-19 situation; obviously each crew considered national guidelines to ensure their safety and avoid any potential coronavirus transmission," said CMDR Lewis. 

The participants of Op Rai Balang were eight FFA member states: Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.  This was supported by Quadrilateral defence partners: Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States, and the Pacific Maritime Surveillance Programme aircraft.  Due to developing global travel restrictions and recalls of national surveillance assets, not all surveillance assets were utilised as planned.

FFA Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen underlined the regional coordination demonstrated during Op Rai Balang.  "At the outset, we sincerely thank all of those who participated to ensure the success of this operation during these challenging times.  In the Pacific, we know that together we are stronger.  The extraordinary circumstances for Op Rai Balang presented a unique way to demonstrate our collective commitment to protecting our valuable fisheries resources and confirming that any challenge can be overcome through Cooperation.  The FFA is proud to continue to assist our member States in this way."

Op Rai Balang is one of four targeted operations hosted by the FFA annually, however regional surveillance is supported 365 days a year through the RFSC Regional Surveillance Picture. 

THE important Pacific tuna grouping, PNA has been rocked by serious allegations of mismanagement and illegal operations with its tuna marketing arm, Pacifical. 

John Kopia, a former employee of PNA (Parties to the Nauru Agreement) made the allegations after he was removed last March as chief financial controller of the Marshall Islands-based sub-regional organisation.

“Parties to the Nauru Agreement Association which is a joint venture [of] Pacifical is illegal and cannot exist with a profit motive,” Kopia wrote in a lengthy email he sent to member governments of PNA. A copy of his email was also sent to this magazine.

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Race for FFA top job

Pacific lawyers to replace fisheries boss

THERE are two definite frontrunners in the race for the position of Director-General of the Forum Fisheries Agency. Marshall Islands Attorney-General, Dr Filimon Manoni, and Tonga’s Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen were the definite top contenders to replace James Movick of the Federated States of Micronesia whose term ends this year. At the end of the 14th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in Pasay City, the Philippines last month, Movick confirmed that nominations had been received for Manoni and Tupou-Roosen.

“Traditionally the post of DirectorGeneral has been held by a Pacific Islander with the Deputy DG from either Australia or New Zealand,” Movick said. “Nominations will close early in 2018 and then the Forum Fisheries Ministers will meet to decide on my replacement.

I must say, however, that there are many competent regional people who can take up the role and the process is moving ahead smoothly.” Tonga has started to lobby quietly for Tupou-Roosen who currently heads the FFA Legal Unit in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

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Bullies control tuna

Small countries lose out

AFTER 14 meetings of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, one thing is obvious. The Distant Water Fishing Nations – China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States – continue to bully the owners of tuna stocks in the Pacific.

In fact the small Pacific fisheries nations who own up to 60 per cent of the global tuna were forced yet again into positions in which they made extreme concessions and put the sustainability of stocks at stake. Wez Norris, the outgoing deputy Director General of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) was blunt in his assessment of the 14th WCPFC held at Pasay City in the Philippines last month.

“Every single Pacific Island country gave up something both in terms of opportunities they had for development (and through measures) which come at a cost, but also provide potential for future benefit,” Norris said. “The five big distant-water longline fleets secured an approximately 10 per cent increase in their catch limits...

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Time for compromise

Fiji calls for understanding

By NETANI RIKA, Pasay City, the Philippines

AS the self-nominated representative for Small Island Developing States, Fiji has found itself in a position where it may have to fight a lone battle for tuna conservation.

The 14th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting this year appears no closer to agreeing on uniform conservation measures as national priorities outweigh regional obligations.

Fiji – as a signatory to the Tokelau Agreement on South Pacific Albacore – has agreed to limit its catch to 12,000 tonnes per year, a drop of 2000 tonnes.

“That is our commitment to the region and the need to ensure sustainable fisheries so that all countries can benefit,” said Fiji Fisheries Minister, Commander Semi Koroilavesau.

“Fiji has taken drastic measures to reduce our catch. We’ve accepted the cuts because they are necessary but (other countries) do not agree to cuts.

“We understand their difficulties. Their budgets are based on their fisheries industry which can make up 50 to 60 per cent of annual national budgets.”

In the spirit of the Tuna Commission (WCPFC), Koroilavesau is reluctant to name the offending nations but his reference is to Tuvalu and Kiribati, tuna-rich countries to Fiji’s north.

In 2015 year the Fiji fleet caught 7608 tonnes worth USD30 million.

By comparison over the same period Kiribati took in 149,314 tonnes worth USD233 million.

The total catch in Kiribati’s waters, including that caught by its foreign fleet, came to  641,119 tonnes worth a staggering $911million.

Tuvalu’s fleet caught 5175 tonnes worth USD9 million while the total catch in its waters came to 80,205 tonnes worth USD103 million.

“On the side lines of this and other meetings Fiji has been asking for some consideration so that we can also benefit from tuna fisheries but we can’t force anyone,” Koroilavesau said.

“The tuna that comes into Fiji waters travels from the north so we fully support the closure of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADS) for three months and a cap on the harvests by national fleets.’’

A FAD is a man-made object used to attract ocean going pelagic fish. Over 300 species of fish gather around FADs.

Some countries at the WCPFC have expressed reluctance to adhere to catch limitations and the closure of FADs, among them Kiribati.

Koroilavesau admitted that there was tension within the membership over the issue of FADs and harvesting.

“These issues have been pending for some years and we are hoping for a conclusion and some compromise,” the former navy officer said.

“We need consensus to agree on the basic facts of issues facing the commission.”

Koroilavesau said that despite the strong objections of other nations he remained optimistic.

“It’s important that there is support for limits, especially for a country like Fiji which relies on fish which travel through the waters of other sovereign nations before reaching us,” he said.

“If our neighbour agreed to limitations that would lead to an increase in the number of fish which we can harvest.

“A three-month FAD closure – and it looks like Kiribati has agreed to that – will have a huge impact on our stocks and the fisheries industry at home.”

That closure signals a shift in Kiribati’s stance on day one at the 14th WCPFC when Fisheries Minister, Tetabo Nakara highlighted the impact such a limitation would have on his country.

"Access fees from tuna fishing contributes more than 80 per cent toward the total government's annual expenditure that supports, amongst others, crucial funding for our education system, medical care, other basic needs that the government is obligated to deliver as services to its 110,000 inhabitants, as well as salaries of civil servants," he said.

With two days of talks remaining, it’s unclear how many other countries will be willing to make concessions.

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