Regulate Fiji’s catch

Picture: 123rf.com/RADIO NZ

THE Government is proposing to accede to the Agreement on Port State Measures to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal unreported and unregulated fishing.

At a time when Fiji and other Pacific Island countries face growing challenges in policing its Exclusive Economic Zone, the move was welcomed by some sectors in the industry particularly the Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji and lately the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF).

The agreement is described to be “the first legally binding international agreement that will target illicit activity, which accounts for up to $23.5 billion worth of seafood each year, or up to one in every five wild-caught fish.

If Fiji were to ratify the agreement, it would become one of the first Pacific Island countries to do so.

According to secretary general of the Pacific Islands Development Forum, Francois Martel there would be benefits if Fiji were to sign and ratify the agreement.

One is that it would help the country gather, verify and exchange information leading to an accurate assessment of fish stocks and strengthen the monitoring of both national and international waters.

“As far as we are aware no specific study has been made of the impact of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) in Fiji,” said Mr Martel.

“Owing to its nature, it was difficult to calculate the value of IUU fisheries in the Pacific but Greenpeace has calculated it to be around $US600 million ($F1.2b) per year. Besides the lost revenue, IUU also impacts on the sustainable management of fisheries in the Pacific risking the overfishing of certain species.

A global agreement is thus welcome. However, Pacific countries including Fiji, need to be in a position to honour the commitments of said agreement. It should be noted that countries and agencies have offered their support to the Pacific in this area,” he said.

While making a submission before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence last week, Mr Martel said the impact of IUU fishing was quite difficult to assess because it was not reported.

“Most previous estimates had been global in nature, using existing trends from other regions with the assumption that IUU fishing was high in the central western Pacific, so the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) commissioned an independent study specifically for this region in 2016,” said Mr Martel.

“This found that the effect on the Pacific Islands tuna fishery due to IUU fishing was significantly less than previous global estimates had assumed, and that the main value lost was due to illegal transhipment and misreporting of catch. One of the specific risks to Fiji might be from Fiji-flagged long liners being authorised to fish on the high seas on condition that they land their catch in Fiji.

“In this case landing their catch in another country or transhipping it to a reefer that landed in another country would be illegal. It could be tackled by better observer coverage and better electronic monitoring, but also by port state measures being implemented by all potential ports of landing outside Fiji.”

As a way forward, Mr Martel said the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)’s view was that whoever will be attending the Food and Agriculture Oorganisation (FAO) Committee on Fisheries (July 9-13 in Rome) should take the opportunity to engage with FAO secretariat and talk to other countries about their experiences and report back to the Standing Committee.

“Fiji could also report to FAO that it is taking its Port State fisheries responsibility very seriously, with a view to acceding to the PSMA, but because Fiji could not fully engage in the negotiation of the PSMA text because of capacity constraints and a focus on priority regional affairs, there is a need to go through a process of national consultation and an assessment of the national capacity to comply with the agreement before being exposed to the risk of being held noncompliant at the first assessment, while national capacity is still being developed,” he said at the closing submission.

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