The standardisation of transhipments controls in ports / by Francisco Blaha

For the last year or so I have been working a lot under my contract with the DevFISHII program with transshipments in port areas, which are a complex reality in our region. While there are valid logistical and economic reasons for their existence, we are working on standardising transshipment compliance monitoring.

Transhipment (the unloading of all or any fishery products on board a vessel to another vessel) of tuna in the Pacific context consist of three main players:

  • Purse seine fleets of Japan, China, Taiwan, USA, Vanuatu, Korea, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, PNG and others;
  • International fish brokerage firms based in Japan, Taiwan, and the USA with regional offices in Asia and elsewhere, and the carriers they operate or charter;
  • Shipping agents and service providers in the major transshipment ports of Pacific island countries.

Transhipments are very regulated, under WCPFC and national regulations, and there are way over 1000 transshipments from DWFN seiners in the five major transshipment ports of Pohnpei, Majuro, Honiara, Rabaul and Tarawa.

Multiple factors contribute to choices of transshipment port by DWFN seiners, the most important being proximity to fishing grounds, but a port’s advantageous geographic location near fishing grounds does not necessarily guarantee that fishing is within its country’s EEZ. 

Fisheries officers play a role in clearing inward fishing vessels and collecting information on transshipment operations. Monitoring may consist of remaining onboard during transshipment for various purposes, including prevention of dumping of fish and varied levels of verification of quantities transshipped take place. The monitoring function more commonly includes collection of the relevant documentation relating to volumes transhipped. However, this is sometimes limited in the ways the evaluation of the legality and volumes of the fish on board is undertaken.

A limited implementation of the principles of the Port State Measures Agreement (PSM), is a good way to tackle part of the problem, by turning around the table on the fishers. Instead of the Port State Authorities proving them wrong, they have to prove themselves right. Ergo, it is in their camp to prove that the fish on board was legally caught, otherwise port access and services can be denied.

It is worth noting that in global Monitoring, Compliance and Surveillance (MCS) methodology, PSM have only recently been the subject of particular focus, precisely because of the weaknesses in Flag State Responsibilities and in the difficulties of applying Coastal State Measures in some countries. Indeed as surveillance at sea is made difficult where there are extensive EEZs (often the case for small islands countries) and it is very expensive, Port State Measures can be cost-effective.

The implementation of PSM is a major challenge for developing countries, as human resources can be a problem particularly in ports where the landing and transhipment activities are intense, and it is often very difficult for the fisheries inspectors to monitor the entire landing or transshipment operations, and inspections can be cursory.

The basic principles of Port State Measures are:

  • Prior notification. The master of the vessel has to present a prior notification to the competent authorities requesting approval to transship.
  • Confirmation from the flag State may be needed, where flag the State confirms the legal status of the catch.
  • Authorisation to land or transship. Such authorization is given by the Port State, if the flag State and/or Coastal States have confirmed the legal status of the catch.
  • No authorisations shall be given if this is not the case. By derogation an exception can be made, but the vessel can not be released before the required confirmation is given.
  • Volumes on board should be communicated to the next port of call.

But for PSM to work, you need to have the responsibilities allocated along the key authorities involved. Normally it should work this way:

The Port Authority (PA) is responsible for clearance of all vessels in and out of port and anchorage, however if the vessels has fish on it (FVs or Carriers), the PA communicates the request to Fisheries Authority (FA) and waits for their advice prior to authorise entry (unless emergencies) and prior to authorise any unloading or loading of fish, as fisheries need to cross check the compliance status of the vessel. Finally the enforcement authority (police, coastguard or navy depending the country) enforces the decisions. Furthermore, the departure of the vessels needs also to be cleared by Fisheries, prior Ports gives the clearance in terms of assuring the volumes on board. 

So we are working on the strengthening of the  administrative paths and information flows with the other ports, as the vessel arrival notification and the vessel departure authorization need to take account of the amounts o fish left on board… so we make sure nothing get lost (or found ☺) on the way.

As well as having the authorisations sorted, there are logistic complications with partial catch transshipment (only some especies get transferred). From a regulator perspective, the limitation of these practices are not to be “annoying or difficult”, but is that every partial transshipments makes the required traceability almost unmanageable, as it does complicate immensely the “landed volumes per trip” analysis and “the catch dates” from a MCS and Catch Certification perspective.

Standardizing all these issues among all ports is the challenge, so we all singing the same song and vessels don’t cherry pick. The support of my colleagues in the Fisheries Authorities in the Pacific as as always is fantastic!

If you are interested in a deep analysis of what is happening in the region in terms of transhipments, you should read FFA's 2012 report (A Survey of Tuna Transshipment in Pacific Island Countries by Mike A. McCoy), Mike is a person that knows the Pacific as no other does and is a great guy.