23 Sep 2013

New information sharing systems to track fishing vessels in the Pacific

4:53 pm on 23 September 2013

The Forum Fisheries Agency is developing an integrated information system so that Pacific nations can work together to track fishing vessels in their waters.

The Deputy Director-General, Wez Norris, presented on the importance of information management systems at the 4th Pacific Tuna Forum in Honiara.

Mr Norris says there is a lot of data collected for the management of fisheries, but until now it has been held in isolation.

He told Mary Baines that new technology means different sources can be read together.

WEZ NORRIS: There's a very wide range of information and data that is collected through various sources for the management of fisheries. And what we've experienced over time is that a lot of this information is held in isolation. So we collect one sort of data for a specific purpose and we use it for that, and collect a different set of data for a different purpose. Now that technology is increasing what we're being able to do is integrate those data sources and use them to complement each other and to provide more of an integrated picture of what's happening in a fishery.

MARY BAINES: So what specifically are you able to find out?

WN: So, for example, we've been collecting licensing information for a long time. Each of the Pacific Island countries licenses vessels to fish in its waters and has a database of the vessels that it licenses. At the same time we've been collecting what we call 'vessel monitoring system data', which is satellite tracking of all the fishing vessels that are out there. Held in isolation, those two data sources are useful for their own purposes, but when you bring them together then you can look at a map of the region and you can see vessels that are fishing out there and you can also check that they're in the right place and they're doing an activity that they're licensed to do in that area. So this is our big push at the moment - to develop information management systems that can reach into these databases that are around the region in each of the FFA member countries, here in Honiara for FFA and also the secretariat of the Pacific community in Noumea, reach into those databases and pull them in so you can get a better picture that it's not simply a matter of one person doing one job and another person doing another job, you can have people that are looking at a more complete idea of the reality out on the water.

MB: So its main aim is to combat illegal fishing vessels?

WN: Yeah, they have a very wide range of applications. Certainly from a compliance and enforcement perspective, it provides some very powerful tools. We're faced, in the Pacific, with difficulty in funding surveillance assets. There aren't patrol vessels and aircraft flying around every day, so we need to be very astute in tasking the limited assets that we do have. And this type of information at your fingertips allows you to detect high-risk areas or high-risk vessels that you can focus on. At the same time, though, there's benefits to other stakeholders. The research community, for example, are very often hamstrung by lack of adequate or accurate information, so all of these technological improvements basically assist them, as well. At the same time there are also benefits in this for the fishing industry. If you can provide an information product to the industry it also helps them in their decision-making, whether that's the day-to-day decisions that a vessel captain makes about where to go and fish today compared to yesterday or whether it's company-level decisions about whether to fish in Papua New Guinea this month or whether to fish in Kiribati. So what we're looking to promote is a real partnership approach, because just about all fisheries stakeholders will benefit from better information sharing.