A milestone has been reached by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the Pacific Community (SPC) following the successful completion of an agreement between the two organisations for the exchange of maritime boundaries data.

This milestone also represents the achievement of a key outcome under the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) programme to reduce Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing through enhanced Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (MCS) of oceanic and coastal fisheries. It comes at an opportune time with the global focus of World Oceans Day on 8 June being “Innovation for a sustainable ocean. Together we can protect our home.”

FFA members had recognised the need to routinely update Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) 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 authorised SPC to release its dataset to FFA, using the international standard format, to enable updating of the FFA VMS. Through an ongoing Service Level Agreement (SLA) between SPC and FFA, this has now been achieved and authoritative Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) data has been included and operationalised into the FFA VMS, which is used to track fishing fleets across the Pacific region.

When FFA developed the region’s state-of-the-art VMS, the only EEZ boundaries available were provisional lines developed from different sources under the Maritime Boundaries Project which was later transferred to SPC. 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 VMS.

While expressing his congratulations, the Ambassador of the European Union for the Pacific HE Sujiro Seam said, “The European Union is proud to have partnered with SPC and FFA in the operationalisation 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. It recognises 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 FFA is happy with the continuous collaborative work with SPC, especially with regards to the Service Level Agreement on maritime boundaries.

“We are very pleased with the continued strong collaboration between FFA and SPC to support our Members in the sustainable utilisation of our valuable offshore fisheries resources.  Specifically, the work on the delimitation of maritime boundaries is fundamental as has been underlined by our Pacific Island Forum Leaders.”

Dr Tupou-Roosen also spoke highly of the PEUMP programme for supporting the milestone achievement, saying, “We are very appreciative of the collaborative approach that PEUMP is taking in implementation as a multi-partner programme 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 recognised. 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.”

Pacific representatives participating in the region’s first virtual MCS Working Group Meeting in May congratulated the FFA and the SPC on reaching a critical milestone for fisheries management in the region.

Following several years of collaborative work, the two regional organisations completed Phase 1 of the SLA in April 2020 and the updated EEZ information has been on display since May. (ENDS)

Background

All of the boundary data shared through this agreement has been collected, analysed, and catalogued through the Pacific Regional Maritime Boundaries project. The project was originally established to assist Pacific countries to obtain greater certainty in the limits of their EEZs to support fisheries management and enforcement, and it has supported the successful declaration of 19 shared boundaries between countries since 2001.

The project is coordinated by SPC and is supported by a Consortium of partners, including the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, FFA, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Geoscience Australia, Attorney General’s Department-Australia, University of Sydney, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), GRID-Arendal, Commonwealth Secretariat as well as the European Union and Sweden through the PEUMP programme.

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