The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the Pacific Community (SPC) have completed an agreement for the exchange of maritime boundaries data, which would better facilitate responses to cases of illegal fishing within a jurisdiction's maritime zones.
This milestone also represents the achievement of a key outcome under the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership program to reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing through enhanced monitoring, control and surveillance of oceanic and coastal fisheries.
The agreement was signed June 8, World Oceans Day themed “Innovation for a sustainable ocean. Together we can protect our home.”
FFA members had recognized the need to routinely update vessel monitoring system maps when maritime boundaries were agreed, made publicly available and incorporated into national laws.
Acknowledging that it was crucial that stakeholders were all working from the same data, members authorized SPC to release its dataset to FFA, using the international standard format, to enable updating of the FFA vessel monitoring system.
Through an ongoing service level agreement between SPC and FFA, this has now been achieved and authoritative exclusive economic zone data has been included and operationalized into the FFA vessel monitoring system, which is used to track fishing fleets across the Pacific region.
When FFA developed the region’s state-of-the-art vessel monitoring system, the only EEZ boundaries available were provisional lines developed from different sources under the Maritime Boundaries Project which was later transferred to SPC.
Led by Geoscience Australia, the Pacific Maritime Boundaries Project aims to assist Pacific island countries to secure maritime jurisdictional rights consistent with international law.
As Pacific Island states and territories made progress in delimiting, negotiating and declaring their maritime boundaries, more updated datasets were made available via open source platforms and this was used to update the vessel monitoring system.
“The European Union is proud to have partnered with SPC and FFA in the operationalization of such an awaited data sharing agreement. It reaffirms EU’s global commitment to promote the sustainable management of marine resources and the achievement of the SDG14 – Life below water,” said Sujiro Seam, ambassador of the European Union for the Pacific.
“It recognizes the importance of marine issues for the small island states of the Pacific, which are big Ocean States, in line with the 'Strategy for a Blue Pacific Continent' endorsed by the Pacific Island Forum leaders at their meeting in Tuvalu in 2019. It adds value for the toolbox to fight IUU fishing and ensure a high level of maritime security in the region.”
FFA Director General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said his organization is pleased with the strong collaboration between FFA and SPC to support members in the sustainable utilization of valuable offshore fisheries resources. “Specifically,” he added, “the work on the delimitation of maritime boundaries is fundamental as has been underlined by our Pacific Island Forum leaders.”
Tupou-Roosen also spoke highly of the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership program for supporting the milestone achievement. “We are very appreciative of the collaborative approach that PEUMP is taking in implementation as a multi-partner program which has resulted in these types of successful outcomes.”
SPC’s Director General Dr Stuart Minchin said national fisheries officers can now respond to cases of illegal fishing within their maritime zones with confidence, knowing that the boundaries displayed are internationally recognized. “Fisheries are a critical source of wealth for the peoples of the Pacific and strengthened monitoring and management of fisheries has exponential impacts on the sustainable development of our region,” Minchin said.
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