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The Pacific Islands region (30 million km2 of ocean and 23 countries and territories) is host to the most productive tuna fishing grounds in the world, supplying over 50 percent of the world's canning tuna. The total land area of 0.5 million km2 (87% in Papua New Guinea) supports a population of slightly less than 6 million (of which 67% are also in Papua New Guinea). The smallest States in terms of land area are Nauru and Tuvalu, which have a total of 21 km2 and 26 km2 of land respectively. However, on a global scale, the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the small island States of the region are large, covering 19.8 million km2 (excluding Australia and New Zealand). Kiribati's zone covers almost 3.6 million km2 and that of the Federated States of Micronesia, 2.9 million km2.

Approximately 50-60 percent of the total tuna catch is taken within the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) member countries. Since 1994, the FFA member countries have been discussing with their distant water fishing nation (DWFN) partners how to jointly manage the 40-50 percent of tuna being caught in the high seas and in the waters of non-FFA members. In September 2000 these discussions resulted in the adoption of the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the western and central Pacific, that will place increased MCS responsibilities on FFA member countries.

Tuna resources of the region

The annual catches in the region of the four principal tuna species - skipjack, bigeye, yellowfin and albacore - consistently total between 1.2 - 1.3 million metric tonnes. The value of the unprocessed tuna catch in 1999 has been estimated in excess of USD1.7 billion. With global demand for tuna growing each year, and limited scope for increased catches elsewhere, the region is destined to become an even more dominant source of the world's tuna in the future.

The region's tuna fisheries

The region's tuna fisheries are complex in nature. There is a range of target species (tuna), in some cases captured at different stages of their life by three fishing gear (purse seining, longlining and pole-and-lining) operated by a variety of fishing nations. A variety of other non-target species (bycatch), some of considerable economic value, are also landed.

The situation is further complicated by the tunas' migratory nature, in that each stock may migrate through numerous national jurisdictions and areas of high seas. The tuna resources of the region, if managed effectively, are capable of generating sustainable revenues over time. Effective management of these resources will only be achieved if the fishing operators whose vessels harvest the tuna comply with the management plans being put in place by FFA member countries in their EEZs. The two main challenges facing the FFA member countries in relation to the operations of DWFN fishing vessels are illegal fishing, and misreporting and/or under reporting of catches of tuna in their EEZs.

Innovative tools for administration and monitoring of fishing vessels

Effective control over all fishing activity in the region is essential if domestic industry development is to stand any chance of long-term success. For this to occur, the island States in the region require improved fleet monitoring and regulatory procedures. Past efforts to establish administrative arrangements for foreign fishing vessels operating in the region have proven difficult. This has largely been a function of the size of the region, combined with the fact that the small island States in the western and central Pacific have only limited personnel and financial resources to apply to this effort.

In recognition of these constraints, the Pacific Island countries have adopted some innovative procedures to assist their fishing vessel administration and monitoring efforts. The procedures that have been developed combine legal and technical elements that are applied at either the national level, or regionally in cooperation with other island States, and in some cases, supra-regional agencies. A diagram depicting the relationship between national, regional and supra-regional vessel monitoring and surveillance arrangements is presented at Figure D1.

Minimum Terms and Condition of Fisheries Access

The Minimum Terms and Conditions of Fisheries Access (MTCs) were originally adopted by the South Pacific Forum in 1982. recognizing the dynamic nature of tuna fisheries in the South Pacific region. FFA member countries reviewed the MTCs in 1990. The revised, harmonised MTCs were adopted by the South Pacific Forum in the same year, and now apply to all arrangements for fisheries access to the EEZs of FFA member countries. As a result of the implementation of the FFA member countries' Vessel Monitoring System (FFA VMS), the MTCs were revised again in 1997 and now include the following:

Uniform Vessel Identification: All vessels operating in the region are required to be marked according to the 1989 FAO Standard Specifications for the Marking and Identification of Fishing Vessels. This is to ensure that each vessel licensed is uniquely marked and can be easily identified during aerial and surface patrols. It also serves to make licence-swapping more difficult.

Catch and Position Reporting: Foreign fishing vessels (FFVs) are required to provide to the licensing State or its representative, information relating to the vessel position and catch on board at least every Wednesday while in the Zone, and prior to entry to and departure from the Zone. As with all other MTCs, countries are free to impose more stringent requirements if they desire.

Transshipment: Full reporting on trans-shipment activity, including 24 hours notice of the intention to do so, is required. Only vessels listed in the Regional Register can take part in transshipment operations. Since 15 June 1993, the licensing country determines the time and place (at designated areas or designated ports) where transshipment may occur, and may elect to place an observer aboard the vessel to monitor operations. Vessels that continue to tranship at sea jeopardise the possibility of obtaining future licences from FFA member countries for in-Zone fishing.

Catch and Effort Logsheets: Standard logsheets have been adopted for all fishing operations in the region. These are required to be completed daily and returned to the licensing country within 45 days of trip completion. A preliminary report is required within 14 days of trip completion. Information on activities within the Zone, as well as adjacent high seas areas, is required when a trip includes fishing in both areas.

Observers: The licensing country has the right to place observers on board FFVs for scientific, compliance, monitoring and other functions. The observer is entitled to officer-level accommodation and the vessel operator is responsible for observer travel, salary and insurance. Observers placed on board foreign vessels can continue their observation duties during a trip which extends beyond national jurisdiction into high seas areas.

Appointment of an Agent: The flag State government and/or fisher's association and/or vessel operator is required to nominate, appoint and maintain an agent. The agent shall be resident in the licensing country, and must have authority to receive and respond to any legal process.

Foreign Fishing Vessels in Transit: Foreign fishing vessels navigating through the fisheries zone or EEZ are required to have all fishing equipment on board stowed or secured in such a manner that it is not readily available to use for fishing,

Flag State or Fisher's Associations Responsibility: Flag States, or in the absence of access arrangements with flag States, the appropriate Fisher's Associations, are required to take measures to ensure compliance by their fishing vessels with coastal State laws. Difficulties encountered with vessels operating under flags of convenience is an issue that requires considerable attention in the region. Although the Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas (the Compliance Agreement), developed by FAO, provides a useful start for dealing with flag of convenience fishing vessels, FFA member countries will need to develop additional arrangements to supplement that Agreement.

Vessel Monitoring System: The vessel monitoring system shall be implemented by the operation of a VMS Register of Foreign Fishing Vessels. The operator of a foreign fishing vessel shall apply for registration of an Automatic Location Communicator (ALC) each year and pay a prescribed fee; install and operate a registered ALC on board the vessel; and maintain the ALC in good working order. The operator shall not interfere with, tamper with, alter, damage or disable the ALC; move or remove the ALC from the agreed installed position without the prior permission of the licensing country; or impede the operation of the ALC. There are also several measures relating to the operation of the ALC while it is on a fishing vessel.

The Regional Register of Foreign Fishing Vessels

The Regional Register of Foreign Fishing Vessels is a compliance mechanism. It constitutes a database of details for foreign fishing vessels that are able to apply for licences to fish in the South Pacific region. The database holds information on vessel owners, operators, masters and the physical characteristics of the vessels, and provides a history of any changes in that information over time.

The intention behind the Regional Register is to shift some of the responsibility for ensuring compliance to the flag State or fishing association. The fundamental requirement of the Register, which is administered by the Director of FFA, is that before any vessel may be licensed to fish in the region, it must be in "Good Standing" on the Regional Register. Good Standing is a status that is automatically conferred on a vessel upon registration. The status may be suspended in certain circumstances, such as where a vessel has committed a serious fisheries offence. Once Good Standing is suspended, the vessel is effectively prevented from fishing in the region, as no FFA member country will issue a fishing licence to vessels that are not in Good Standing on the Register.

The Niue Treaty

In an effort to enhance their control over foreign fishing vessels operating in the region, FFA member countries signed a Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement (Niue Treaty) during the South Pacific Forum in Honiara in July 1992. The Treaty entered into force in May 1993, after the deposit of the fourth instrument of ratification. To date, all FFA member countries and Tokelau have signed the Treaty, while all but three of these have ratified it.

The Treaty is a head agreement intended to provide flexible arrangements for cooperation in fisheries surveillance. It is proposed that bilateral or subsidiary agreements will contain clauses facilitating closer cooperation in more concrete ways, such as the physical sharing of surveillance and enforcement equipment, the empowerment of each other's officers to perform enforcement duties, enhancement of extradition procedures and evidentiary provisions.

The Niue Treaty has been under-utilized by the Parties to the Niue Treaty. The only subsidiary agreement under the Niue Treaty is that signed by Tuvalu and Tonga, though several FFA member countries have recently indicated their intention to enter into subsidiary agreements with neighbouring countries. The Niue Treaty offers an ideal mechanism for increasing the current level of surveillance cooperation in the WCP.


The Palau Arrangement

After the PNA considered a brief prepared by Papua New Guinea concerning the rapid expansion of the purse seine fleet operating in the western Pacific in 1990, the parties recognized the urgent need to agree on a mechanism to regulate purse seine fishing effort within their EEZs. The final text for the Arrangement for the Management of Western Pacific Purse Seine Fisheries (the Palau Arrangement) was signed by the parties in October 1992. While stock conservation is a consideration in the Arrangement, it primarily seeks to improve the economic returns to coastal States through access fees and local fishery development.

The main components of the Arrangement, which stem from Articles 56(1)(a), 61 and 62 of UNCLOS and the First and Second Implementing Arrangements of PNA, and which recognize the special interest of the PNA in high seas adjacent to their EEZs are:

In an effort to regulate fishing effort and thus support prices for raw material, vessel numbers by fleet nationality will be capped under the Arrangement according to agreed criteria. These include the history of compliance and cooperation with South Pacific island nations and the fact that flag of convenience vessels will no longer be licensed. The Palau Arrangement will not necessarily prevent new fleets entering the fishery. In fact, interest from potential new operators in the fishery will be encouraged by South Pacific countries on the basis that the new entrants would have the potential to displace existing operators if the new entrants demonstrated an improved commitment to terms and conditions for access to the region and were willing to pay increased fees.

Not only do buoyant tuna prices create a more favourable environment for DWFNs to be able to meet license fee expectations of South Pacific island countries, but depressed tuna prices constrain attempts by Pacific island countries to develop their own tuna harvesting capacity, a development already actively pursued in the region. Thus, it is in the interests of South Pacific countries to promote mechanisms that will help support prices for raw tuna at reasonable levels. By regulating the number of purse seine vessels that will be licensed to operate within zones, the Palau Arrangement promotes this objective.

In the future, additional tools including improved domestic fisheries legislation which will address issues such as port State enforcement, and vessel tracking, observer programmes and communications will be further developed and implemented by the FFA member countries themselves, or where possible, in cooperation with others with a mutual interest in the long term rational utilisation of the resource.

Agreed Minute on Surveillance and Enforcement

In May 1994, the Director of FFA, on behalf of FFA member countries, and the United States signed a minute of agreement relating to cooperation in fisheries monitoring and surveillance in the Western and South Pacific (WCP). The Minute provides for cooperation between FFA member countries and the U.S. in all matters relating to fisheries compliance in the western and South Pacific. It includes the exchange of intelligence on fishing vessel activities in the region, the exchange of personnel to assist with the investigation of fisheries infringements, the exchange of information in the case of suspected violations and fisheries enforcement training. Following consultation with the appropriate FFA member country, the Minute also provides for the U.S. to take action, consistent with U.S. law, against vessels that violate the conservation and management measures of FFA member countries.

The Minute governs the FFA Secretariat's relationship with the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Coast Guard. NMFS provides seconded personnel to occupy the position of Fisheries Enforcement Adviser in FFAs MCS Division and on a more ad-hoc basis, provides personnel to assist with MCS training at the FFA Secretariat. The U.S. Coast Guard has participated as an observer at several MCS meetings at the FFA Secretariat and as from 1998, has participated fully in the annual Regional Aerial Surveillance Meeting. Both U.S. organizations are actively involved in surveillance cooperation with FFA member countries either bilaterally or multilaterally through the FFA Secretariat.

Lacey Act

Increased awareness and successful application of the Lacey Act is perhaps one of the most significant recent developments as far as regional cooperation in fishing vessel monitoring in the South Pacific is concerned. This provides a useful means by which, in collaboration with U.S. authorities, FFA member countries can seek the prosecution of foreign fishing vessel operators who infringe the fisheries laws of their country, and who subsequently enter a U.S. port and attempt to discharge their fish. Although the FFA member country concerned receives no financial settlement as a result of a successful prosecution under the Lacey Act in U.S. courts, the effect of deterring foreign fishing vessels from future illegal activity while within the zones of member countries, and promoting improved compliance, is of significant value. In any case, additional action, utilising the Regional Register, can be initiated as supplementary support for any action that may be taken by the U.S. against foreign fishing vessels for contravening FFA member country laws.

Port State Enforcement

In the absence of effective flag State control, as is the case for a number of fleets operating in the South Pacific, port State control offers an effective mechanism to ensure compliance with regional or subregional agreed conservation and management measures. Port State control should cover elements such as reciprocal rights to inspect documents, logbooks and licenses, the catch on board, to enforce the rules and regulations of other parties to an arrangement, which ideally should be regional or subregional in scope, and provide for enforcement action against fishing vessels that infringe coastal State laws when the flag State fails to do so within a limited time period. FFA member countries have supported a clear elaboration of port State enforcement in the outcome of the United Nations Conference of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. In the future, all FFA member countries, both individually and as a group, are likely to develop comprehensive legislation relating to port State enforcement.

Harmonization of National Laws

National legislation provides the basic framework for all fisheries activities in the region. Thus the incorporation of arrangements, such as the MTCs, into domestic law is important in ensuring the effectiveness of the regionally agreed arrangements. Once the MTCs are part of national law, they can be enforced through the courts and cannot be called into question during access negotiations.

FFA member countries have met with varying degrees of success in implementing the MTCs through national legislation. In most countries, considerable time is needed to effect changes to legislation. The Parliamentary process can be extremely slow, and it is impractical for a country to pass a new Fisheries Act every few years.

To overcome this, many countries have used enabling provisions to allow regulations to be promulgated by the Minister or other authorities. Alternatively, power may be conferred on designated bodies to conclude access agreements in conformity with certain prescribed parameters. A less satisfactory mechanism is to confer upon the Minister or Cabinet, power to attach conditions to a licence. The disadvantage of this approach is that it still leaves scope for the DWFN to enter into negotiations on the conditions to be attached to the licence.

Observer programmes

The observer programme implemented under the multilateral Treaty on Fisheries between FFA member countries and the U.S. is the only regional observer programme currently operational in the western and central Pacific. This programme is designed to monitor the compliance of U.S. vessels licensed under the Treaty. In addition to compliance duties, observers deployed under this programme also collect biological and scientific information. The FFA Secretariat, as administrator of the programme, encourages observers to report sightings and activities of other foreign fishing vessels observed during trips aboard U.S. vessels.

The regional programme conducted under the auspices of the Treaty on Fisheries complements national observer programmes operating in a number of member countries of FFA, including Australia, New Zealand and Federated States of Micronesia. Several other FFA member countries such as Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, Palau, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Nauru and Marshall Islands have also established observer programmes for foreign vessels operating within their zones.

In addition, the SPC operates a scientific monitoring programme that extends throughout the region. Coordination of the various programmes that operate in the WCP region are the responsibility of the regional agencies, the SPC and the FFA. Coordination of the various programmes that will be operating in the South Pacific region in the future will most likely be the responsibility of the regional agencies, SPC and FFA.

Port Monitoring

The implementation of the ban on trans-shipment at sea in mid-1993 has been of substantial economic benefit to FFA member countries. Most of the trans-shipment activities in ports have, so far, taken place in Federated States of Micronesia and Solomon Islands. These countries, and to a lesser extent, Kiribati and Nauru, have benefited from the registration, port and trans-shipment fees levied on the purse seiners and carrier vessels and from the expenditures made by the vessel operators on provisions, fuel, agency services and travel while they are in port.

Overall, the transshipment activities in ports have generated substantial economic benefits and can be expected to spur the development of local service industries to cater more effectively for the needs of the foreign vessels. The monitoring of catches has also been dramatically improved with the onboard monitoring of trans-shipment operations now possible. Port visits by vessels also make it considerably easier to deploy observers on fishing vessels for scientific research and compliance monitoring. With the development of additional national observer programmes and the commencement of enhanced observer and port monitoring programmes at the two regional fisheries agencies, the SPC and FFA, port monitoring will play an increasingly important role in gathering information and compiling vessel activity profiles for fishing operations throughout the western and central Pacific region in future.

Aerial and Surface Surveillance

Currently, Australia provides approximately 450 hours of aerial surveillance and New Zealand provides approximately 300 hours of aerial surveillance annually to the South Pacific. In 2000, France provided approximately 30 hours of aerial surveillance per year to Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga. In addition, some countries, for example Tonga, operate national aerial surveillance programmes using either their own defence force, or chartered, aircraft.

Coordination for the majority of the aerial surveillance effort in the region increasingly involves the FFA Secretariat. In recognition of the value of this role, an informal meeting of personnel involved in regional aerial surveillance issues has been convened annually since 1992. The 10th Regional Aerial Surveillance Meeting took place at Honiara, Solomon Islands on 12 March 2001 involving Australia, France/New Caledonia, New Zealand and the FFA Secretariat. The United States National Marine Fisheries Service participated as an observer.

Utilizing industry sources and periodic reports from observers, FFA is well placed to identify areas of primary interest for aerial surveillance. This has been used to good effect in the last few years resulting in several significant settlements for infringements reported during aerial surveillance flights.

The majority of the surface patrol vessels operational in FFA member countries have been provided as part of an Australian Defence Cooperation initiative, the Pacific Patrol Boat Programme, which was announced at the 1983 South Pacific Forum Meeting. Under this Programme, vessels, spare parts, training and technical assistance have been provided to enhance the capability of island nations to detect and apprehend vessels operating illegally within their respective EEZs. Since 1983, 22 vessels have been built and provided to 12 FFA island member countries under this Programme.

FFAs MCS Division, principally through the position of Surveillance Operations Officer, liaises with Maritime Surveillance Advisers based with patrol boats in FFA member countries and with FFAs Surveillance Contacts in each member country. FFAs Manager Monitoring, Control and Surveillance and the Surveillance Operations Officer actively participate in the annual conferences of Maritime Surveillance Advisers.

The FFA member countries' vessel monitoring system (FFA VMS) - position and catch reporting

In 1988, a regional meeting of fisheries surveillance officers from FFA member countries discussed the possibility of using satellite technology to enhance other compliance measures used by FFA member countries in their respective EEZs. From those early discussions that were reported to the FFC, the concept was developed by the FFA Secretariat in collaboration with fisheries officials from FFA member countries, into a FFA VMS Business Plan.

The FFA VMS Business Plan identified two main business problems, namely illegal fishing and misreporting and/or under reporting of catches of tuna in FFA member countries' Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), that total approximately 30 million square kilometres of ocean. Once developed and discussed with FFA member countries, the business plan was then used as the basis for engaging a contractor to build the FFA VMS. On 17 March 1999, the FFA Director signed off with the FFA VMS contractor, signifying that the contractor has delivered the FFA VMS as required.

To complement the technical development of the FFA VMS, two legal workshops involving legal and Monitoring, Control and Surveillance officers from FFA member countries have been held to discuss the legal under-pinning of the system. The FFA Secretariat has assisted several member countries in the development of national FFA VMS legislation.

The FFA VMS provides the FFA member countries with a cost-effective tool to enhance other measures in place in their EEZs to ensure fishing vessel operators comply with national fisheries regulations. The system has been built to exacting standards and has been rigorously tested to provide the functionality required by FFA member countries.

Though the FFA Secretariat provides technical, administrative and management support for the FFA VMS, the FFA member countries have agreed that they will be individually responsible for informing their bilateral fishing partners about the timetable for implementing the FFA VMS in their respective EEZs. Vessels applying for licences to fish in the EEZ of a particular FFA member country may be advised by the national licensing authority that a pre-condition of obtaining a licence is that the vessel must first be registered on the FFA VMS Register. The decision to require a fishing vessel to register on the FFA VMS Register is therefore the responsibility of FFA member countries, not the FFA Secretariat. There are currently over 570 vessels of all types being tracked by the FFA VMS.

Definition of Maritime Jurisdictional Limits

The entry into force of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982, on 16th November 1994 has placed additional pressure on FFA member countries to accurately define their various maritime limits. Under UNCLOS coastal States are required to provide the United Nations with either charts or a list of coordinates defining outer limits. Due to limited resources, in terms of funds and survey and cartographic expertise, and the fact that the production of charts is a long-term expensive option, most South Pacific States will opt, in the first instance, to produce a list of coordinates.

In recognition of the importance of accurate maritime jurisdictional limits information to fishermen and surveillance personnel, the FFA supports a regional programme which has the objective of defining those limits for all member countries. Throughout 2000, the Agency's Maritime Boundary Delimitation project continued to assist member countries in the technical aspects of the determination of the maritime zones and limits, including preparations for negotiating the delimitation of maritime boundaries, the provision of appropriate geographic databases and maps, and training related to these various activities. During 2000, the Maritime Boundary Coordinator conducted fieldwork in Marshall Islands and Vanuatu.

In 2001, the Maritime Boundary Delimitation project will be transferred from the FFA Secretariat to the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) based at Suva, Fiji. Although it will have a new location, the project will continue to provide assistance to FFA member countries.


The FFA member countries are well placed to be able to generate significant economic benefits from the rational utilisation of their tuna resource. In order to realize this potential, the member countries of the FFA have worked harmoniously over a period of 20 years to gradually establish effective administrative controls for exploitation of the resource. This has been facilitated by working towards the implementation of effective means for monitoring, control and surveillance throughout the western and central Pacific, at both regional and national levels.

Although there remains much to be done if FFA member countries are to secure full control over use of the valuable tuna resource of the region, building on existing cooperative arrangements through the adoption of new surveillance and monitoring tools, such as the FFA VMS, have provided a sound platform from which the FFA member countries can become more directly involved in the management of the fishery. Where in the past exploitation has been dominated by foreign fishing fleets, in the future, domestically-based fleets will dominate the fishery thus ensuring that a greater proportion of economic benefits accrue to the resources owners themselves.

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