Palau Takes Fisheries Surveillance To New Heights KOROR, Palau (Islands Business, Nov. 2013) — Although most islands in the Pacific have Australian-provided patrol boats, aerial surveillance is the key to effective fisheries enforcement. One or even two patrol boats in a vast exclusive economic zone—such as Kiribati or the Federated States of Micronesia—are only marginally useful for fisheries enforcement without airplanes spotting potential illegal fishing activity. But most islands countries can’t afford the cost of aerial surveillance, so it only happens a couple of times a year during joint operations involving the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency member islands nations and the United States, Australia and New Zealand that provide navy and air force planes to direct patrol vessels for vessel boardings. A monitoring, control and surveillance technical meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission held in Pohnpei in October discussed the fact that earlier this year, aerial surveillance discovered 19 [China] long-liners violating WCPFC rules by not reporting their positions in waters near the Marshall Islands. “If there were 19 vessels, regardless of flag, out there not doing the right thing,” says Marshall Islands fisheries Director Glen Joseph, “imagine what is happening with 3,000 long-liners and 300 purse seiners in the region.” In mid-October, the Albacora Uno, a Spanish purse seiner, was fined US$1 million for illegally fishing in Nauru waters. Fishing companies know there is minimal enforcement capability in the islands so the odds of being caught may be worth breaking the rules. A two-prong move by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) member Palau could be a game changer for fisheries enforcement. Palau is set to close its entire EEZ to commercial fishing and begin the regular use of unmanned aerial vehicles—drones —to enforce the closure. On September 30, Australia-based Aerosonde Pty. Ltd officials conducted a demonstration flight of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over Koror, Palau’s capital. “Our tuna fishery continues to dwindle,” said Palau President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. at the UAV demonstration. Remengesau announced this plan soon after taking office in January for an unprecedented third term as president. “If we are to preserve this magnificent resource for our children, leaders throughout the Pacific should begin to realistically assess our tuna stocks, reasonably limit fishing activities and seriously ramp up our tuna stock assessments as well as our surveillance and enforcement capacities.” He says UAVs have “very significant potential to expand the breadth of our surveillance capacity, to greatly increase the efficiency of this surveillance activity, and most importantly to decrease the cost.” Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest is financing the initial drone effort. He visited Palau in January and has involved his Minderoo Foundation to work on the issue. “Andrew absolutely loves the pristine environment of Palau and also loves the people there,” Minderoo Foundation’s Greg Parker told the AFP news agency. “He wasn’t going to stand back and watch Palau being bullied by illegal fishermen.” Aerosonde’s Director of Operations Jack Kormas says while his company has been in the UAV business for a while, this is the first time to put the drones to use for fisheries surveillance. He described the trial run in Palau as successful. The UAV used has a three-and-a-half meter wingspan, can stay airborne for over 24 hours and is fuel efficient, he said. “It’s able to send back video of any illegal fishing activities,” he told Radio Australia after the demonstration. “It’s able to send back high definition still imagery of those illegal fishing activities.” It is this documentary evidence that Palau—and other countries who are following Palau’s UAV trial—is hoping will help it to ramp up enforcement and prosecution of illegal fishing in its 200-mile zone. “The Pacific is a brotherhood,” says Remengesau. “Sometimes one brother needs to step aside so another brother can prosper. We believe that through the closing of our fishery in Palau, we can strengthen the fisheries in the Marshalls, FSM, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu.” And, he says, he’d like to see UAVs in use around the Pacific. If the one-year trial goes well for Palau, drones are likely to be put into service in many islands. It would change considerably the probability of finding and prosecuting illegal fishing at a fraction of the cost to operate an air force aircraft.
Posted on: Fri, 22 Nov 2013 05:42:44 +0000
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