Study shows alarming extent of illegal fishing in region

14/12/2012

A new data-driven process to further crackdown on illegal tuna fishing in the Pacific could help reduce the loss of local fish industry earnings by up to $1billion, a recent study shows.<!--more-->

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A recent two-week surveillance operation to detect illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities in the region has confirmed the importance of data collection to deter and eliminate illegal fishing malpractices in the world’s biggest and most important tuna fishery.

The numbers are staggering: More than 320 vessels were sighted, 206 were boarded and 27 infringements were recorded during November 2012.

The operation, called “Kurukuru 2012”, was the region’s biggest ever surveillance exercise and involved five maritime patrol aircraft, 12 patrol boats, a frigate and a coast guard boat all surveying an area of some 30 million sq. km covering the maritime territories of the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Bryan Scott, Fisheries IUU Liaison Officer for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) said, “Controlling illegal fishing in the region is complex. There are multiple organisations and nations in the Pacific that govern the rules that fishers can fish under, depending on when and where they are.

“To cross check and analyse a vessel’s catch history and other information during the time of a single boat boarding is extremely difficult, because it is all paper-based.”

The SPC and the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) are working together to put exact figures on these losses by building a comprehensive data network. However, regional estimates put lost earnings from activities such as under-reporting or misreporting catch sizes at anywhere from the millions to over a billion.

The Kurukuru operation helped inform the early stages of a $10-million European Union-funded project known as DEVFISH2 – the Development of Tuna Fisheries in the Pacific African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries. The project aims at improving information management and data analysis as a means of providing additional deterrence for illegal fishing.

The SPC and FFA aim to have the improved information management and data screening systems in place over the next 12 months. The future database management system will help authorities quickly and accurately identify inconsistencies between fishing vessel log books and data captured from surveillance through the Vessel Monitoring System and the reports of at-sea fisheries observers and in-port monitoring of catch landings.

The Kurukuru 2012 surveillance operation was headquartered in Honiara, Solomon Islands at the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre, and data was collected from aerial, ship and electronic surveillance sources.

Australia, New Zealand, France and the US provided surveillance support for the exercise.

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