Leaders need to tackle illegal fishing

Editorial

THE very real threat posed by illegal fishing in the Pacific on the economic survival of island states which depend on the sustainable harvest of the resource is growing.
This threat was again highlighted at the just-concluded Pacific Island Forum leaders meeting in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia. Pacific Islands Forum chairman, PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, reiterated the need for action by members states on issues affecting the fisheries sector, particularly illegal fishing.
O’Neill announced that the forum leaders have called for greater action in dealing with unregulated unreported fishing and related activities taking place in Pacific waters.
“Illegal fishing is stealing millions of dollars in fisheries revenue and damaging marine ecosystems and is involved in other disgusting activities such as human trafficking.”
O’Neill also stated that the forum leaders were resolved to stamp out the corruption that is in the fisheries sector.
The increase in illegal fishing and human trafficking, especially by fishermen and companies of Asian origin in this country and elsewhere in the Pacific, has been a long growing concern.
Such criminal activities impact on the economic survival of many small island nations, especially when large importers like the European Union and the United States ask questions and threaten to impose trade restrictions.
Efforts by the fisheries authorities of the various, mostly ill-equipped island countries and their collective voice, the Forum Fisheries Agency, have been largely unsuccessful in effectively curbing illegal fishing.
In a way, the Papua New Guinea National Fisheries Authority is far better placed to monitor and report on such practice by foreigners lured by the abundance of the oceans.
The NFA has over the years, drawn on the assistance of the maritime element of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and through it the Australian navy as well, to patrol waters. This was recently highlighted at a meeting in Port Moresby.
For the rest of the members of the Pacific Island Forum, a lot is left to common sense, good will and hope that sovereign territorial rights would be respected by our neighbours. We might never get to know the full extent of what is happening on the high seas.
The European Union has helped to a certain degree to ensure as much as possible that its own standards in fishing and fishing related activities are met.
Ongoing incursions into territorial waters are indicative of blatant disrespect for sovereignty. And such a practice does nothing to help mutual relations between countries.
Earlier this year fisheries and law enforcement agencies in Milne Bay caught and charged a number of foreign fishermen for illegal fishing. The fishermen were caught, charged and fined for harvesting bech-de-mer while there was a standing moratorium on the fishery. This shows serious contempt for our country’s laws by foreigners.
It was a double blow to the locals who rely on the resource for household incomes. While the NFA moratorium prevented them from harvesting bech-de-mer, it was being taken away from the back door by poachers.
It would appear that even any degree of diligence by members of the FFA would be limited without the cooperation of partners and stakeholders outside the agency.
The FFA would need the help of Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand in the surveillance of waters of the Pacific Island states against illegal fishing and other trans-border criminal activities.
Human trafficking for instance, on board foreign fishing vessels has happened and in the past even in PNG waters.
Individual nation states are therefore incapable of curbing such activities on their own without assistance from other member states but more so by foreign flag states cooperating fully in the battle against such crime.
For now, such cooperation and joint surveillance of the region’s fisheries resources would seem the best way help minimise illegal fishing which has already a worrying trend indeed.
Repercussions of illegal fishing are not only about economic losses for small island nations but there are also greater environmental concerns involving the maintenance of marine species.
Government agencies involved in the any measures to minimise and curb illegal fishing by foreign fishing vessels should be well-resourced and backed by Pacific governments to prevent the depletion of a resource thousands of coastal and island communities depend on.

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