Much has been made on the media of the “embracement” by some pacific countries (The Polynesian Leadership Group) of the Eyes on the Sea utility.
Is nice to see "Eyes on the Sea" finally acknowledge that FFA member countries already (which include all the countries in the group except French Polynesia) have this capability in place. And we have yet to see what additional functionality this new initiative will provide. If it does add something useful then it will be extremely welcome, but everything that has been described so far - AIS, linked vessel information databases, flagging of vessels-of-interest, etc. - is already part of the existing system stretching across the Pacific Islands region. As well as assisting national fisheries authorities it also informs multi-country collaborative surveillance operations.
Unlike the Pew Charitable Trusts, FFA not normally advertise our activities in the global press. We're trying to catch offenders, not just deter them. However, if there is a danger of wheels being unnecessarily reinvented then a higher level of awareness may be necessary. Don't get me wrong - sometimes more wheels are necessary to help spread a heavy load. But they work best if they are all pointing in the same direction.
French Polynesia and New Caledonia have domestic regulations that require all fishing vessels - including unlicenced vessels transiting the EEZ - to provide EEZ entry and exit reports, including details of weight and type of fish on board. This reporting requirement does not interfere with the right of passage across the EEZ. However the information improves boarding and inspection efficiency, since they are able to zero in on the vessels which appear on the surveillance picture, but haven't reported, and deprioritise those who have.
All WCPFC members (implicitly including all fishing vessels in the western and central Pacific) are aware of these regulations, which were notified to the Commission several years ago. It has apparently been accepted that foreign vessels that are entering the EEZ for the legitimate purpose of transit have nothing to hide, and that the provision of this border-crossing information actually helps protect them from hassle. Anyone who doesn't report immediately becomes a vessel of interest.
France, with the support of FFA member countries, attempted to persuade the WCPFC membership to enact compatible domestic regulations in 2010, but this was not agreed by the entire membership. FFA members subsequently included this requirement (for all foreign fishing vessels entering the EEZ) in their harmonised "Minimum Terms and Conditions for Access" (as MTC 12), and this is progressively being included in national legislative updates.
One thing WCPFC did agree to was enhanced "EEZ boundary crossing reporting" requirements for vessels accessing the "Eastern High Seas Pocket" enclosed by the French Polynesia, Cook Islands and the Kiribati Line Islands EEZ boundaries (WCPFC CMM 2010-02).
Reports by LICENCED fishing vessels have always been part of the system - time and place of entry or exit, fish on board, observer_ID etc as well as daily catch/effort (logsheet) recording and VMS (track) reporting. It is the application of this catch-on-board reporting requirement to UNLICENCED vessels transiting the EEZ that is relatively new (although automatic VMS transponder reporting, for all fishing vessels on the FFA register and WCPFC list that are present in the EEZ, has been in place for some time).