FFA members meet to discuss tools for illegal fishing

HONIARA, SOLOMON ISLANDS, SATURDAY 27 MARCH 2010: The Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) Working Group meeting closes today after five days of discussions about how to respond to illegal fishing.

37 experts from monitoring, control and surveillance of fisheries from the 17 member countries and territories of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) have been discussing tools to combat illegal fishing.

Illegal fishing is difficult to estimate - but if just 10% of the skipjack catch of 1.2 million tons is taken by illegal fishing, a possible US$276 million dollars worth of fish is being stolen each year. This is a great loss for Pacific Island economies, government revenues and for the many islanders that rely on fisheries for jobs and food.

The response of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and its members has been to use a range of tools to deter, detect and prosecute cases of illegal fishing. The MCS Working Group meeting has been discussing how Pacific Island countries and territories and can improve these tools to combat illegal fishing in national waters and the high seas. Tools discussed included:

Monitoring tools: the FFA Vessel Monitoring System, a satellite-based system that monitors the position, speed and direction of licensed fishing vessels, the Observer Program, which places independent data collectors on board fishing vessels.

Control tools: Legislative arrangements for data sharing between countries, enforcement legislation, Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission rules and their implementation at a national level.

Surveillance tools: the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre which collects, displays and analyses aircraft and vessel movements to identify and monitor suspicious vessels and advise national staff to make decisions on where to allocate surveillance aircraft and patrol boats.

The Regional Monitoring Control and Surveillance Strategy (which is in development to assist the region to better communicate and coordinate to target their efforts for an effective monitoring, control and surveillance regime) was also discussed by the workshop participants. This will be presented to Ministers in July 2010.

Recommendations from the meeting will be made available shortly. This meeting partly funded by the GEF-funded Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (www.ffa.int/gef).