Surveillance Operation Rai Balang shows success in deterring illegal fishing

FFA REGIONAL HEADQUARTERS, HONIARA, SOLOMON ISLANDS, TUESDAY 4 MAY 2010: This year’s Operation Rai Balang, a surveillance operation involving Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the US, coordinated by the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre, ended yesterday with success in the region’s activities to deter illegal fishing.

Over the past 10 days, Pacific patrol boats, Coast Guard vessels and aircraft have surveyed approximately 3,000,000 square kilometers of ocean and found no sign of illegal fishing.  Approximately 100 people were involved in the surveillance effort from FSM, Palau and the US and 205 fishing vessels were monitored during the operation, 43 were sighted and 6 boarded.  One vessel was found to be apparently operating without a valid licence and thus conducting illegal activity in Palau’s EEZ.  The vessel has been escorted back to Koror for further investigation.

Operation Rai Balang 2010 involved aircraft and surface vessels from Palau, FSM and the US conducting surveillance and boarding operations of the vast areas of the Palau and FSM EEZ’s and the surrounding high seas.  Pacific Patrol boats President H.I. Remeliik from Palau and FSS Micronesia from FSM complemented the surveillance by US Coastguard Cutters Sequoia and Assateague based in Guam and a P3C Orion surveillance aircraft provided by the US Navy based in Okinawa, to conduct patrols targeting Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing vessels. 

This effort was coordinated by the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre, at the FFA regional headquarters in Honiara which collects fisheries information and data from all the regional countries. Using satellite tracking of vessels and other data, the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre produces interactive maps of vessels in the region which can show vessels that might be engaging in illegal fishing or have a previous history of illegal fishing. Using this analysis, the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre is able to advise all countries participating in an operation, locations where illegal activities are likely and coordinate the efforts of Pacific Islands and regional defence forces of US, France, New Zealand and Australia to best detect illegal activities. This increases the efficiency of surveillance operations and led to several successes such as Operation Kurukuru 2009 where 10 fishing vessels were boarded, 3 apprehended and fines in excess of USD1.4 were imposed.  

Operations Officer and Coordinator of Operation Rai Balang, Martin Campbell said: “During Operation Rai Balang we have observed a significant reduction in the number of vessels conducting illegal activities. This is consistent with what the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre has been seeing for some time now.  It is clear that the concerted effort to continuously survey the regional waters is proving an effective deterrent to illegal fishing.  Credit must also be given to the foreign fishing vessels which operate in the region most of whom are abiding to their registration and licence conditions and the conservation and management measures which the FFA members and Distant Water Fishing Nations have brought into force over the past two years.”

“In previous years the measure of effectiveness of the annual operations was based on the number of fishing vessels apprehended for a range of violations.  If the outcome of Rai Balang 2010 is anything to go by, this year will see the effectiveness being judged by a reduction in illegal activity being undertaken, which is a sure sign the policing methods are working. However, we have still some way to go to ensure that we are 100% effective in our monitor, control and surveillance efforts and new initiatives to achieve this are being introduced all the time.”

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