The first Forum Fisheries Agency coordinated fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance operation of 2021, Operation Rai Balang concluded last week after two weeks of increased surveillance effort in eight Pacific nations.
National organisations in Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have been working together to conduct surveillance, supported by the four Pacific Quad partners (Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States).
Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said the operation provided maritime surveillance across 13.3million square kilometres of the Pacific and achieved 349 sightings and 30 boardings. The operation included 11 surface ships and 6 surveillance aircraft.
“Working collaboratively to protect the income generated by our oceanic fisheries means protecting the incomes, jobs and livelihoods of many Pacific people,” said Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen.
“This is a great example of the power of united effort. The strength of our cooperation has ensured this Operation was a success. We extend our sincere thanks to all our Members and partners who joined us for Operation Rai Balang.”
RSIPF Maritime, Deckhand, Mrs Tricia Wilimae said Op Rai Balang was a great learning experience for her. “I could see the way the RFSC worked with the different agencies in our country, and how working together we all achieved a better result,”said Wilimae. “I know that I will take back things I have learnt, to share with my colleagues in Maritime Police.”
Speaking from the FFA’s Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC) in Honiara, FFA Surveillance Operations Officer, Commander Robert Lewis reflected that Operation Rai Balang wasn’t just about catching perpetrators.
“Our operation brings many benefits to FFA’s member countries,” said Commander Lewis.“It helps build a national skills base across many Pacific nations. We focus on intelligence driven and targeted operations to create a deterrence effect. There’s been a change towards a culture of greater operational collaboration across the Pacific, and the shared assets participating make the operation more effective.”
“It has also helped us to deliver a sharper picture of what risks this sector faces and how it can be protected. It is sometimes not as obvious as a vessel operating illegally or running “dark”. IUU fishing by the licensed fleet is estimated to account for over 95% of IUU activity in Pacific tuna fisheries. Operation Rai Balang attempted to close these gaps by encouraging FFA Members to actively consider inspections, including monitoring catch and effort reporting, unloading or transhipment, and verification of catch data for licensed vessels during dockside activity or at sea.”
Operation Rai Balang is one of four targeted operations hosted by the FFA annually, however regional surveillance is supported 365 days a year through the RFSC Regional Surveillance Picture. The operation also utilised the Aerial Surveillance Program funded by Australia under the Pacific Maritime Security Program, which has a focus on detecting and responding to IUU, but can also be used by Pacific Nations for broader maritime security threats.