Intel, data, technology mark new Pacific firsts against IUU fishing

KURUKURU 15 PHOTOGALLERY

Friday 16th October 2015, FFA RFSC, Honiara, SOLOMON ISLANDS –The largest intel and analysis team to ever take part in any Pacific fisheries surveillance operation against IUU, supported by more data sources and technology sources than ever has made 2015 a year of firsts for the Kurukuru (KK15) regional surveillance sweep.

Thanking the participating nations as the ten-day Operation Kurukuru ended this afternoon, The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency's (FFA) Acting Director General Wez Norris says recent renovation work on the RFSC “has helped the staff quickly analyse data and ensure solid outcomes.”

Kurukuru 2015 is the first major surveillance operation since the renovated centre opened its doors on October 1.  For the first time in a decade of the Kurukuru operations, the centre comfortably held up to 25 officers working towards maintaining the regional surveillance picture, and analysing information and data across FFA’s member nations.

Along with that milestone of having a record number of staff filling a record mix of different roles all under the same roof, there were some other significant firsts, says FFA RFSC team leader Commander Gavin Baker, of the Royal Australian Navy.

Adding to the information layers which the FFA RFSC coordinates and filters as part of its day-to-day work, “KK15 was the first operation during which we received, reviewed and processed satellite-based surveillance imagery to augment and confirm the data generated by the Regional Surveillance Picture,” Baker says. “Contributions included the UK-based Catapult and US-based SkyTruth operators, and the information they provided served to improve the overall clarity of the Regional Surveillance Picture.”

“As well, the RFSC Intelligence and Analysis Cell was the largest ever, with a total of eight people processing and reviewing the data gathered."

“Finally, this was the first time in over eighteen months we have actually detected non-reporting fishing vessels in the WCPO.  Data analysis of known contacts gave us suspicions over illicit activity. We were fortunate to be able to task a Maritime Border Command Dash-8 aircraft to the area. Two fishing vessels in the high seas pocket north of the Solomon Is. EEZ were not reporting their position, and FFA is currently liaising with the WCPFC to determine any potential enforcement action.”

“This detection is significant,” says FFA Acting Director General Wez Norris.  “It demonstrates both the value of the surveillance tools that have been developed by and in the region as well as reconfirming the value of the generous donation of aerial support by our partners.  It highlights the key message that we have been offering for several years now – ‘the Pacific is watching’ and there is no haven for illegal fishing here.”

Working alongside the core FFA RFSC staff involved with regional surveillance, the visiting team for KK15 included subject matter experts from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Maritime Border Command), the Ministry of Primary Industries in NZ, and the US Coast Guard. Fiji’s Naval and Fisheries divisions made up the team of three from Fiji, with two officers from the FSM Maritime Police and watch keepers from Kiribati, RMI, Tonga, and Vanuatu. An observer from the French Forces based in New Caledonia, also spent a short period with the Kurukuru operation.

Externally, as well as the participating NHQ from all 17 FFA member countries, there were Boarding Teams from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration operating in Guam and American Samoa.

Maintenance of ships and aircraft involved in the operation posed major challenges during Operation KK15, added to weather issues preventing several Pacific patrol boats from more actively participating. An opening-day plan for 11 participating boats eventually dropped to seven, being TE KUKUPA from the Cook Islands, KULA from Fiji, MICRONESIA and INDEPENDENCE from FSM, PRESIDENT H.I. REMELIIK from Palau, the VOEA SAVEA from Tonga and TE MATAILI from Tuvalu.

From the defence assets of the QUADS – Australia, France, and the US, the ongoing surveillance support and links to Pacific Maritime HQs deployed via the US Coastguard, French patrol boats from Tahiti, and aerial surveillance with six aircraft flying a total of almost 65 hours and covering 2,900,000 square kilometres.

OPKK15 encompassed the EEZ of all FFA members and the associated high seas, a total area of 21.4 million sq. km. In addition to the RFSC team of 25, there were approximately 30 people supporting KK15 from the various national maritime, police and fisheries headquarters across the region. Over 400 personnel led 112 at-sea and harbour boardings, where eight infringement notices were issued—including one from the patrol boat MICRONESIA, which has resulted in the investigated vessel being escorted to port.

There were 211 detections overall, with 45 aircrew deployed via participating surveillance aircraft, while national maritime HQ’s most consistent in submitting daily situation reports were the  Cook Islands, Fiji, FSM, Palau and Tonga. In the RFSC, longer term capacity building was also part of the ten day operation, with Whylik Alfons from FSM taking on a long-term attachment which incorporated being part of the Kurukuru crew for 2015.

“The participation by visiting watchers to Kurukuru from our attending member countries—in particular that of Alfons, has been excellent,” says Commander Baker. Prior to the closing moments of the operation later in the afternoon, the KK15 team met for the final briefing, sharing lessons and challenges of keeping the Pacific watch over the world’s richest tuna fishery.

“While we have seen some firsts in KK15, there’s a fascinating aspect of Pacific surveillance which has been seen for more than a decade of this work,” says Acting DG Norris….”there is a camaraderie and contact network that evolves with every operation, and that remains a strong feature of surveillance work led by the Pacific nations.”     

“I want to thank all individuals who participated in and made Kurukuru 2015 a success,” he says. “We continue to stress the importance of information and feedback from national partners to collecting and building the Regional Surveillance Picture—and this is the centrepiece of any surveillance operation.”

Norris thanked the QUAD partners and Australia for the continued high level of technical and financial support into regional Fisheries surveillance.

“Finally, we commend our member countries and their efforts at national level. Our strength comes from the island nations who put their hands up for the Pacific watch and signal our collective message to the global fisheries community that if you want to fish from our waters, we are watching to ensure you fish by the rules.”-ENDS

 ABOUT FFA:

The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) strengthens national capacity and regional solidarity so its 17 members can manage, control and develop their tuna fisheries now and in the future. Based in Honiara, Solomon Islands, FFA's 17 Pacific Island members are Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.  Since 1979, FFA has facilitated regional cooperation so that all Pacific countries benefit from the sustainable use of tuna – a multi-billion dollar resource important for many people’s livelihoods in the Pacific.

CONTACT Lisa W-Lahari, [email protected]  Tel: + 677 7574230 (Mob.)