Observers and compliance: a case study in cooperation to combat IUU fishing

The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) won the global Stop IUU Fishing Award in 2019for its cooperative regional approach to tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Most IUU fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean revolves around reporting violations, such as misreporting or failing to report on fishing activity, and illegal transhipment. All up, IUU fishing results in direct economic losses to Pacific Islands economies of US$152 million a year.

But the small island developing states (SIDS) of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean are fighting back against much wealthier interests to protect their own tuna stocks so they can gain economic benefits and employment, as well as sustain the fishery in perpetuity.

The SIDS don’t have the resources to individually develop and run the complex and high-tech monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) infrastructure needed to combat IUU fishing. So, through the FFA, they have developed a regional framework, with high-tech support from New Zealand, Australia, France and the United States.

Group of FFA people waving and smiling for photo after winning third annual stop IUU fishing award. Photo: FFA.
FFA wins the third annual stop IUU fishing award. Photo: FFA.

The framework can be adapted by other developing countries

The framework is a model of cooperation that other developing countries can adapt to their own region and which the FFA is sharing through southsouth cooperation, a means of developing countries supporting each other to achieve their development goals by sharing knowledge, skills and successful initiatives.

FFA’s collaborative approach to MCS is informed by the idea of rights-based management, where exclusive entitlement to the regional tuna fishery rests with the SIDS.

Regional MCS strategy helps island states manage fisheries consistently

The policy basis for combatting IUU fishing is the Regional Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Strategy 20182023, which has been endorsed by all members of the FFA. It is brought to life by numerous activities and agreements that are integrated across the region.

  • The Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC) provides MCS services to FFA members. One important tool it uses is the regional surveillance picture, an interactive map that draws together analysed data on all fishing vessels in the region. The RFSC also controls aerial surveillance, which is conducted four times a year by Australia on behalf of the SIDS. Any information that indicates IUU activity is passed onto member countries for them to manage through national processes of law enforcement.
  • The Pacific Islands Regional Fisheries Observer (PIRFO) programme has trained more than 800 observers since 2007. Observers are equipped with tablets so they can file reports electronically and with satellite communication devices so they can work independently when on board vessels.
  • The Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA) allows FFA members to grant other member countries the authority to conduct surveillance activities in its waters. A “persons of interest” strategy is being developed under the NTSA. This will allow individuals suspected of IUU activity to be prosecuted, and shifts the focus of IUU fishing from the vessel to the person that operates it.
  • Regional standards have been put in place, with national laws and policies being amended so that minimum terms and conditions of access to fisheries are harmonised and compatible across the region. The standards cover licensing of fishing, and port state measures (PSM) to prevent vessels involved in IUU fishing from using ports and landing their catches. Electronic reporting and electronic monitoring, and the catch documentation scheme (CDS) are being developed and rolled out.

Training builds the pool of local skills and knowledge

Training helps MCS work to be harmonised across the FFA member countries. Although FFA is not a training organisation, it does develop and deliver MCS training to continue to build much-needed local skills. Training in the PIRFO programme is a way to develop a career pathway. A broader course covering monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) has been developed by FFA as a Pacific regional qualification, and is now offered as a high-level certificate IV by the University of the South Pacific.

Cooperation is our Pacific way

As FFA Director-General of FFA Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen says in a video about the island states working to together on protecting tuna stocks, “A key platform for combatting IUU fishing in our region is cooperation: that is our Pacific way and it is the only way we are going to ensure a successful, a secure, a safe, a prosperous region for our people.”

Men at table going over various documents open on the table. Photo Francisco Blaha.
Completing paperwork for transhipments is an important part of meeting compliance requirements. Photo: Francisco Blaha.