Fisheries compliance officers from New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, France, and the United States have detected nearly 40 alleged breaches of high seas rules during a major South Pacific patrol.
Called Operation Nasse, the fisheries patrol covered a vast area from the Tasman Sea eastwards to the south of the Cook Islands. It wrapped up last month after 3 weeks at sea and surveillance from the air, with the main aim being to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing throughout the South Pacific Ocean.
IUU fishing is estimated to cost the Pacific region millions of dollars in lost revenue each year.
"This operation was vital to our plan and vision to knock out all forms of illegal fishing, which seriously undermines sustainable fisheries management, threatens food security, and creates an unfair playing field for legitimate commercial fishers," said Fisheries New Zealand's director of fisheries compliance, Steve Ham.
"Fisheries patrols of this level are a key initiative in detecting illegal fishing because, with eyes on the sea and from the sky, our fishery Officers can legally gain full access to a vessel’s catch records and fish holds.
"Our international team boarded and inspected more than 20 vessels at sea, along with monitoring the movements of 120 other vessels during our air surveillance work. We found 38 alleged breaches – many of these were about non-compliant seabird mitigation gear being deployed."
Other alleged offences found included incorrect flags being displayed, failure to provide vessel monitoring data, maritime pollution and poor handling of sharks and sting rays.
Commander Joint Forces New Zealand Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour says the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) worked closely with our international partners deploying vessels, aircraft, and trained personnel alongside fishery compliance officers on various operations to detect and deter IUU fishing.
"This was the first time the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s new Poseidon P-8A aircraft had been deployed on Operation Nasse, with the crew providing valuable information on the activities of fishing vessels during their patrols," he said.
"IUU fishing destroys livelihoods and the sustainability of fishing resources, and more broadly undermines regional security. It is critical that we continue to protect marine resources from those who believe the rules don’t apply to them.’’
Many of the rules are designed to protect not just fish stocks from exploitation but also seabirds and important marine animals, such as shark species and turtles.
Operation Nasse is an annual patrol and along with aircraft and vessels from the NZDF, the United States Coast Guard provided a C-130 aircraft, and Australia and France also provided sea patrol vessels.
"This year also saw Fiji participate for the first time in the international patrol," said Mr Ham.
"Bringing Pacific Island nations into the forefront of these patrols to gain experience is something we want to continue. Pacific Island nations and their communities stand to lose economically because of illegal fishing on the high seas and we are behind them all the way in supporting frontline port inspections of fishing vessels.
"The Ministry for Primary Industries works closely with the relevant flag states, and we’ll be referring the 38 alleged breaches of high seas fishery rules to these states for urgent investigation.
"Historically, flag states have responded and taken action when their vessels have been found to have breached these laws with fines at the more serious end of offending at over USD$1million on one occasion for intentionally misreporting tuna," Steve Ham says.