Combined maritime surveillance patrols by New Zealand and Fiji agencies recently identified six commercial fishing vessels alleged to have been fishing illegally in a traditional fishing ground (iqoliqoli).
Aisake Batibasaga, the Director of Fisheries, said Fiji fisheries officers, together with New Zealand and Fiji personnel currently conducting combined maritime patrols, boarded and inspected the vessels in Qelelevu Lagoon in accordance with their legal mandate.
“The six vessels were identified following information received by the Fiji Naval Division’s Maritime Surveillance Centre from customary fishing rights owners concerned about possible illegal activity,” Mr Batibasaga said.
“Upon inspection, a substantial quantity of catch was found on board the fishing vessels and it was confirmed that none of the vessels were permitted to fish in the iqoliqoli area.”
The entire catch was confiscated because it was obtained illegally and was subsequently thrown back into the sea because of operational and safety concerns, Mr Batibasaga said.
The vessels alleged to have offended were ordered back to port, where their crews were questioned further by fishery officers.
Through the combined patrols, which began in early June, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has been helping Fiji authorities enforce regulations for inshore fishing, protect fishery resources and police the South Pacific country’s borders.
For the second consecutive year, the NZDF has deployed a Royal New Zealand Navy inshore patrol vessel, HMNZS Taupo, to help Fiji patrol its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of more than 1.2 million square kilometres. Two fishery officers from New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries support at-sea boarding and inspection of fishing vessels.
“We want to ensure sustainability so that we do not deplete our fishery resources,” Fiji’s Fisheries Minister Semi Koroilavesau said.
“These patrols by Taupo with the Republic of Fiji Navy and Fiji’s fisheries enforcement officers help us check whether fishermen are complying with inshore fishing regulations.”
Lieutenant Ben Flight, the Commanding Officer of Taupo, said the patrols were progressing smoothly, with personnel from Fiji’s Ministry of Fisheries and Revenue and Customs Service leading the inspections.
“It’s been great working with our Fiji counterparts. We have integrated well and have been learning a lot from each other,” Lieutenant Flight said.
Fiji Navy sailors were also being trained on Taupo, he said.
Major General Tim Gall, the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, said New Zealand, Fiji and other countries in the region had a shared interest in protecting Fiji’s EEZ and resources.
“Fish is an important element of food security in the Pacific. We need to help protect a valuable resource for future generations and in order to promote sustainability of resources we must ensure that commercial fishing, as well as subsistence fishing, do not have a negative impact on these resources,” Major General Gall said.
Fishing is Fiji’s third-largest natural resource sector, after sugar and other crops. It contributes more than US$56 million to the country’s annual gross domestic product.
Jobs directly related to fisheries represent about 3.8 per cent of the total number of jobs in Fiji, with about 50 per cent of all rural households involved in some form of subsistence fishing.