By Soli Wilson,
More than 95 per cent of the Pacific's challenge from the unsustainable exploitation of its fisheries resources come from licensed, not illegal fishing vessels, the region's top fisheries official has warned.
The head of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (F.F.A.), Dr. Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen, cited research from the organisation showing that licensed vessels present 95 per cent of the problems associated with Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (I.I.U.) fishing.
"Our challenge is not purely illegal [or] unlicensed vessels; our big challenge, over 95 per cent [of it] is licensed vessels which are not reporting, under reporting [or] misreporting," said Dr. Manumatavai, who is the first female head of the F.F.A.
"So when we look at our monitoring control surveillance tools, we need to ensure that we put in place equipment that will ensure we get the right data in a timely fashion.
"For example electronic monitoring, electronic reporting is very much front and centre of our developments."
In the same study from a few years ago by F.F.A. discovered that although the cost of I.U.U. fishing to the region is not in the billions anymore, the estimated figure of US$616 million is still very significant.
Licensed fishing vessels pose more problems for the region than illegal or unlicensed vessels (Photo: Aufai Areta Areta)
"The number that has been estimated of fish that has been harvested or transshipped waters in our region is in the order of US$616 million and so it is still a significant number and still a significant challenge that none of our countries can tackle alone," she said.
This loss amounts to more than 12 per cent of the $5 billion in dock value the Pacific generated in 2014.
"Which is why the way F.F.A. has been set up is based on our cooperation we have put together and integrated monitoring control and surveillance framework to combat I.U.U. fishing," she said.
The F.F.A. are looking at baseline indicators to determine fishing levels in all countries including Samoa as part of a challenge to eliminate I.U.U. fishing by 2023.
"It's really important that we set baseline information so that we can tell by 2023 that we [have] worked down that figure and so as part of that exercise, we’ll look at how we do it across the board for the region plus the possibility of doing it for individual countries," she said.
The challenge has also been marked as a key priority by the region after being taken to the Pacific Islands Forums and demanded cooperation between the F.F.A. and the Pacific Community (S.P.C.).
"In the context of climate change there is an intensified pressure on coastal resources and so there will be an increasing call on tuna the off shore resources to supplement local food security needs," she said.
"So there is a responsibility on F.F.A., the S.P.C. and all of our regional organisations to see how we best support our people, our members and their priorities including in this context of this serious threat of climate change."
Although tools have been put in place to combat the issues, the Agency says it is still not satisfied as the perpetrators are constantly improving in their methods as well.
"We’re not complacent; the tools put in place are quite advanced but always the technology for fishers are quite smart and advancing how they will extract more fish and we need to stay in tune, in step with these sophisticated technologies and calibrate our [monitoring]," said Dr. Manumatavai.
Asked about China's role, the F.F.A. Chief said it does not matter who member states issue licenses to.
"For any vessel that we license, whether it is China or another partner, what we have to be clear on and our members are very good at underlining [is] what our minimum conditions of access are," she said.
"And that it applies to all across our members so that our countries are not played off against each other and our members are leading in terms of monitoring control and surveillance tools."
Dr. Manumatavai also highlighted that the Association's work is not just about ensuring that members are maximising economic returns but regulating the labour market too.
"It’s also the human side to our works and the social responsibility and making sure that when we do license vessels to fish in our waters, whether they are foreign or domestic that they also ensure that crew on board [and] the conditions for their work are safe and decent," she said.