Operation Island Chief conducts surveillance across PNG,FSM, RMI, Nauru and Kiribati waters

FFA REGIONAL HEADQUARTERS, HONIARA, SOLOMON ISLANDS, TUESDAY 24 AUGUST 2010: This year's Operation Island Chief, a surveillance operation involving Papua New Guinea, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Kiribati and the United States of America, coordinated by the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre, ended yesterday with success in the region's activities to deter illegal fishing.

Over the past 7 days, Pacific patrol boats, US Coast Guard vessels and a US Navy aircraft have surveyed approximately 12,000,000 square kilometers of ocean, sighting numerous vessels and checking their compliance with a range of fisheries regulations.  

Approximately 200 people were involved in the surveillance effort and 350 fishing vessels were monitored during the operation, 99 vessels were sighted and 20 boarded.  Two vessels were found to be apparently fishing in contravention of WCPFC regulations and thus conducting illegal activity in the high seas.

Operation Island Chief 2010 involved aircraft and surface vessels from PNG, Palau, FSM, RMI, Kiribati and the US conducting surveillance and boarding operations of the vast areas of the participating Pacific Island Nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones and the surrounding high seas.

Pacific Patrol boats from all these nations 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.  The US Coastguard vessels had Shiprider personnel from Palau and FSM embarked, which authorised them to conduct boardings inside those EEZ’s on behalf of the member nation.  Officers from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority also used the opportunity to gain first hand experience in Pacific Patrol Boat operations by sailing with FSM and Kiribati’s vessels.

This effort was coordinated by the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre, located 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 has led to several successes such as Operation Kurukuru 2009 and Operation Rai Balang 2010 where a number fishing vessels were boarded and apprehended and, in some cases, significant fines imposed.  For this operation the surveillance centre was complemented by personnel from the PNG Defence Force, PNG National Fisheries Authority and observers from New Zealand, United States and Australia

Operations Officer and Coordinator of Operation Island Chief, Martin Campbell said: "During Operation Island Chief 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 Pacific Island leaders which have created conservation and management measures at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission which are now being enforced to control fishing at sea."

"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 Island Chief 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 monitoring, control and surveillance efforts and new initiatives to achieve this are being introduced all the time."

For more details about the Operation see Media Pack below.