As Pacific nations face the threat of coronavirus to their health and economic growth, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) has taken action to continue to monitor and control fishing of the world’s largest tuna stocks.
A key tool in FFA Member’s efforts for monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing in Pacific nations is observers, placed on board fishing vessels to verify catches, transshipment of fish at sea, and compliance with other key rules.
However, worried of the threat of observers catching and spreading the coronavirus, FFA’s 17 member countries decided to suspend the mandatory requirement for use of observers until further notice, a decision later endorsed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
FFA Director General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said: “Stopping the use of observers onboard fishing vessels during the coronavirus crisis does not mean that illegal fishing will go unchecked.
“Right now, FFA continues supporting Pacific countries with other tools such as the Vessel Monitoring System, surveillance operations and data analysis.”
“FFA member countries have responsibilities for the safety and health of observers, who are their citizens, often traversing international borders and regions, and to uphold national border control and shutdowns.
“This is the primary reason that the use of observers has been suspended, and in the meantime other monitoring, control and surveillance tools will help ensure that fishing vessels are monitored and that action can be taken if required,” said Dr Tupou-Roosen.
Vessels detected fishing that are not licensed and on the FFA Vessel Monitoring System (a live database tracking vessels through automatic satellite locator devices) can still be boarded and inspected to confirm activities are in accordance with the law.
Necessary social distancing and protective equipment is to be used by maritime officers to ensure safety of these inspections.
Chair of the Officials Forum Fisheries Committee, Eugene Pangelinan, said that continuing fishing was a priority for Pacific Island countries, where licence and access fees are a major source of government revenue.
“Our intent is to do everything we can to minimise disruption of fishing operations in a manner where we can still monitor such operations, despite the COVID19 situation.
“This will help limit any negative economic impacts of the coronavirus situation in the Pacific,” Mr Pangelinan said.