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Regional Fisheries Surveillance Cooperation Continues

Regional Fisheries Surveillance Cooperation Continues with Operation Bigeye 2013

FFA HQ, Honiara, SOLOMON ISLANDS Pacific analysts and national fisheries officers are noting stronger levels of cooperation and data collation, following on from the annual ‘Operation Bigeye 2013’ regional surveillance swoop on fishing vessels in Pacific waters.

Operation Bigeye takes a sub-regional focus on Micronesia, Melanesia and neighbouring areas of the north-western Pacific. Launching on August 21, it closed off its ten-day surveillance exercise for 2013 last weekend. Like all regional fisheries surveillance operations, Bigeye dates and details involved tight coordination amongst a regional eyes-only list led by the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC) in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

Six patrol boats, four aircraft, and some 300 people across six countries surveying more than 3million square km of Pacific Ocean participated in Operation Bigeye 2013. Of 35 fishing vessels boarded for inspection, all had licenses and were fishing as per their license requirements. The 35 boardings came from 43 sightings by the six participating patrol boats from Palau, FSM, PNG, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu who between them travelled over 9,200 nautical miles of ocean. Patrol boats had aerial support from four participating aircraft from Australia, New Zealand and the US. Between them the aircraft, complete with surveillance crew, flew 11 missions with more than 410 vessel sightings in an area covering 3.16 million square kilometres, or about 10% of the FFA region.

FFA Director General James Movick applauded the high level of interagency and national collaboration involved in Bigeye 2013. He noted the improved interaction between patrol boats and surveillance aircraft, notwithstanding some challenges with communications and weather.

Levels of involvement and resource support for regional fisheries surveillance are increasing with every Bigeye operation. Strengthened data collation and processing at the RFSC supported by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, SPC, is helping to save time between information collection, uploading and sharing. Five visiting watch-keepers and observers from Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu supplemented a core of five staff based at FFA RSFC.

Australia, New Zealand and the US covered the USD 3million-plus cost of funding Bigeye in 2013, with aircraft being the most expensive item. Australian Defence Force International Policy Division also directly funded USD 250,000 for patrol boat fuel and supplies, enabling their participation in the operation. Australia also funds the position of FFA RSFC team leader, Commander Mike Pounder of the Royal Australian Navy.

“Our ability to assist and coordinate major surveillance exercises like this through the FFA RSFC owes much to the backing of Australia and other key partners New Zealand, the US and France. The success of any surveillance effort also depends on our FFA members stepping up to share and collaborate as they commit national resources to run patrols, boardings and inspections. Through their surveillance and reporting efforts, we all benefit from the overall birds-eye surveillance view which the FFA RSFC is able to generate,” says Movick.

“Without such coordination and teamwork the efforts of the individual countries would be small but working together, we can coordinate aircraft in the skies and beneath them, patrol boats on the seas to increase our effectiveness. The key and ongoing task for FFA is ensuring those fishing in Pacific waters—licensed or not -- know very clearly that we are watching,” he says.


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