Pacific Islands act to stop illegal fishing at WCPFC

PAPEETE, TAHITI, FRENCH POLYNESIA, 9 DECEMBER 2009: Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) members were successful in tightening controls on illegal fishing at the 6th Regular Session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting.

Pacific Island countries are the custodians of the last remaining healthy tuna stocks in the world and manage a marine area of 30 million square kilometres, supported with technical support and services from the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). FFA members participate at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission along with other fishing nations (such as Asian nations, EU and US) to set rules for fishing in the Western and Central Pacific

The WCPFC maintains a register of fishing vessels authorised to fish by WCPFC members and a ‘blacklist’ of fishing vessels which are illegal, unreported and unregulated (known as the IUU list). Every year, WCPFC members can nominate fishing vessels found illegally fishing to the WCPFC ‘blacklist’ and this year FFA members initially nominated 8 vessels, six from China and 2 from Chinese Taipei.

Marshall Islands nominated a Chinese Taipei fishing vessel which had fled their waters in a dramatic chase which caused damage to the patrol boat (which was from Federated States of Micronesia). Chinese Taipei was also concerned that this vessel had been untraceable since the chase and assisted Marshall Islands by providing the name of the captain and other information to try and help detection. The fishing vessel is still at large and all WCPFC members agreed to put it on the blacklist.

In making the case for the vessel’s listing, Marshall Islands Head of Delegation Glen Joseph said: ‘The flagrant disregard for our laws, the failure to stop when ordered, the damage inflicted on our surveillance asset, and the disappearance of the vessel means that this matter still needs to be resolved. This is a special case that we are seeking assistance from WCPFC so that any member finding the vessel may board and detain it. In this way, we might be able to take action in response to the very serious violation of our national laws.’

New Zealand nominated six Chinese and 1 Chinese Taipei fishing vessels for the IUU list but withdrew the nomination after China and Chinese Taipei provided documentation they had taken significant steps to ensure fishing vessels were on the WCPFC record of authorised vessels and both countries agreed it would support an FFA proposed amendment to the WCPFC rules to ensure flag states (countries where fishing vessels were registered) take responsibility for making sure their fishing vessels are on the WCPFC Record before they commence fishing beyond its Exclusive Economic Zone.

Speaking about the cases New Zealand brought to the WCPFC this year, on behalf of the FFA members, Head of Delegation Matthew Hooper said:
‘FFA members are concerned that administrative error and communication problems are undermining the use of the Record, which is a key component of the WCPFC’s management infrastructure. We proposed amendments to ensure that the responsibility for placing vessels on the WCPFC Record lies with the flag state and they must ensure that its vessels are on this Record before they fish beyond national waters, otherwise they are eligible for IUU listing.’

Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Council Brendan Pasisi from Niue said: ‘This tightening of the rules for listing of fishing vessels, as advanced by the FFA members at WCPFC this year, will help Pacific Islands make the best use of the WCPFC IUU list as a tool against illegal fishing.’

With the support of the other members of the WCPFC, the FFA amendment was adopted.