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High seas fishery patrol completed

A multi-national, interagency, high seas fisheries patrol in support of the sustainable management of Pacific tuna fisheries has recently concluded with high levels of compliance found.

Although bad weather affected the patrol, nine fishing vessels were inspected with three alleged offences detected during the patrol.

A positive trend apparent was the increased level of compliance within the licensed fleet compared with previous years. Rules are put in place on the high seas by the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) which are designed to not only protect the tuna stocks from overfishing but to also minimise fishing impact on the surrounding marine ecosystem.

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) provides operational support to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) for fisheries patrols.

Royal New Zealand Navy offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Otago patrolled international waters adjacent to the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of New Zealand, Samoa, Tokelau, American Samoa, Cook Islands, Tonga and Fiji while Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft supported the patrol with forward air support. The patrol was also carried out in conjunction with Australia, France and the United States.

Maritime Component Commander, Commodore Tony Millar, Acting Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, said the NZDF regularly worked with MPI by deploying ships and aircraft to assist New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours with fisheries monitoring and surveillance activities.

“These patrols are important as they support our Pacific neighbours in the sustainable management of the Pacific tuna fisheries,” Commodore Millar said.

The Commanding Officer of HMNZS Otago, Lieutenant Commander Ben Martin, said the ship supported MPI with boarding teams, and maritime aviation via the SH2I Seasprite helicopter that was embarked on the ship.

“Otago was involved in extensive patrols over a large area of the South West Pacific, hailing and boarding fishing and transhipment vessels. The boardings found a number of compliant and non-compliant vessels,” he said.

The patrols are carried out to ensure compliance with the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Treaty which was established in 2000 for the conservation and sustainable management of highly migratory species including tuna, billfish and marlin.

During the inspections, catch records are checked, holds are inspected and the boarding party makes sure the vessel’s fishing equipment meets regulations.

MPI spokesperson Steve Ham, Fisheries Compliance Manager, said that overall the levels of compliance were high but the non-compliance identified showed the importance of boarding inspections at sea.

All matters of non-compliance had been referred back to the responsible flag state for investigation, he said. In previous years non-compliance like this had resulted in sanctions such as fines, skippers removed from the fishery and companies having fishing permits revoked.

One member of the boarding party was HMNZS Otago Able Electronic Technician (AET) Timothy Ong, who speaks Mandarin and was able to communicate with Chinese fishing captains, gaining valuable information about their fishing activities.

It was also during the patrol in the Pacific that the crew of a P-3K2 Orion located a Chinese fishing vessel damaged by fire and arranged for the ship’s sister ship to rendezvous with the stricken vessel. The next day the P-3K2 located a member of the ship’s crew who had gone overboard, dropping a life raft to the man who had been in the water for about 50 hours by that stage. All 18 crew members were rescued.


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