Data sharing supports monitoring and controlExchanging maritime boundaries data will boost fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance in the Pacific. Photo: FFA

A milestone agreement 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 also represents the achievement of a key outcome under the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) programme to reduce IUU fishing through enhanced Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (MCS) of oceanic and coastal fisheries.

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,” she said.

“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.”

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.

“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,” said the EU’s ambassador to the Pacific Sujiro Seam.

“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.”

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.

“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,” said SPC Director General Dr Stuart Minchin.

“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.”

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