Cooperation and comms helps nab IUU fishers as Operation Tui Moana/Island Chief 2016 ends

FFA RFSC, Honiara, SOLOMON ISLANDS Monday 27th June 2016—Strong communications and cooperative work amongst the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries nations identified six tuna fishing vessels and four Vietnamese ‘blue boats’ targeting coastlines of Pacific nations as part of the region’s latest maritime surveillance operation.
Operation Tui Moana/Islands Chief for 2016(OPTMIC16), a ten day regional surveillance operation which ended on Friday 24th June, involved full or partial participation from all 17 FFA member nations, as well as the Defense force assets of the ‘Quads’ – Australia, France, New Zealand, and the US.
Infringements during OPTMIC16 were linked to vessel markings and identifiers in Kiribati (reported by Cook Islands patrol boat Te Kukupa), FSM (reported by FSM patrol boat Palikir) and Tuvalu (reported by Tuvalu patrol boat Te Mataili).
Significantly, two unidentified ‘dark targets’ were found in Fiji’s EEZ by HMNZS OTAGO. The Chinese-flagged LongLiners did not have automatic location transponders required by FFA and WCPFC regional VMS systems—the first rule for fishing in Pacific waters as it allows for tracking and remote monitoring of location and activity by Pacific maritime officials, and the FFA’s Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC).
“The detection of these vessels is a credit to active participation and communications support by Pacific nations working across the 30 million square km of Ocean covered by OPTMIC16, as FFA members act together against IUU fishing in their own and neighbouring EEZs. As the investigations and follow up work continues into the outcomes of this operation, I thank the participating members and our quad partners for their strong support for vigilance over fishing activity across our shared oceanic resource,” says FFA Director General James Movick.
“The sightings of dark targets that may actually be targeting the southern Bluefin fishery to the south of the WCPFC fishery area and of Vietnamese blue boats aggressively expanding to poach reef resources deeper into the Pacific Island region, exemplifies the importance of coordinated MCS engagement to effectively fight the scourge of IUU fishing. It’s important that the contribution of developing Pacific nations and support of the Quads be well-recognized and valued, because the future of our tuna and other oceanic and reef fisheries and sustainable fisheries management rests upon this monitoring work.”
OPTMIC16 saw 213 vessels detected, with 99 sightings supplementing the 162 boardings at sea and in-harbour. The operation involved close to 500 personnel mostly based in the 11 Pacific Patrol Boats, the HMNZN OTAGO, and 2 US Coastguard cutters who spent a combined total of 110 days at sea. Port boardings contributed significantly to the region-wide success of this Operation. Fifty aircrew, leading missions out of the Fiji, FSM, Kiribati, PNG, Solomon Islands, and French Polynesia added to the international group at the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre. Officers from Australia, New Zealand, FSM, Fiji, Palau, PNG, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and the US were part of the numbers at the RFSC.
“Skills development in the use of the Regional Surveillance Picture, information systems and intel work is a key part of the watch-keeping experience for our Pacific officials,” says DG Movick. He commended Tuvalu’s Saifoloi Talesi for his leadership and “outstanding” efforts as Chief of Staff for the Operation. “As we broaden the experience base and level of involvement with RFSC members throughout these operations, the increase in levels of responsibilities by individuals like Sai will also impact on MCS work at the national level when these officers return home”, he says. 
DG Movick noted the new challenges presented by the rising detections of ‘blue boats’ – linked more to inshore pillaging of reef resources than to any tuna fisheries,  “and highlighting the interplay between the Coastal and Offshore sides of the Future of Fisheries Roadmap. FFC Ministers will most likely discuss these newer threats when they look at IUU issues in the region and the MCS agenda, during the forthcoming Ministerial in Port Vila next week.
He commended all involved in the operation, for the “proactive engagement and communication between all parties involved, which has helped the Pacific nations to send a strong and clear warning to IUU fishers that their activity is seen, and will not be tolerated.”--ENDS