My TEDx Talk... fisheries compliance, fairness, and us / by Francisco Blaha

I have seen TED Talks on internet many times, and always liked the format of "directness" they have, and that the speakers seem to be a very eclectic mixture of people. So I was very happy to be asked to talk in the local TEDx Event last week.

As a speaker is quite a soul search not just to develop the "what" are you saying... but as well the "why" are you saying it.  I'm already wiser then when I started the process and that can only be a good thing!. My deepest "thank you!" to all the people putting their time on this.

Below is my script and images of each slide, as it may make it easier than just to see the video.

Slide 1

This young man next to me is Esau Bitiai, he is a crew member in the Solomon Endevour a local pole and line vessel that belong to NFD a local company based in Noro, in the western province of the Solomon Islands. The place that embodies what in my opinion fishing should be in the Pacific.

My talk is as much about Esau’s present and future as it is my one, as it is about a crucial aspect of fisheries... 

You see…  we both make a living of the act of catching fish, our job feed (literally) millions of people, allow us to raise and educate our kids, help our extend family, and hopefully to be better persons… I like to think that my work supports Esau’s aspirations in life, as much as his work supports mine.

I was very the lucky to have the chance to started fishing at a time where my earnings allowed me get an education… and then work on many of the issues that surrounds just catching fish…  the one I would like to talk today is the one of compliance.

 Slide 2

Fisheries in the cross paths of really different fields….  And all have rules

  • Science is about structure in research
  • Law and Enforcement… is a huge issue in fisheries… a Taiwanese flagged vessel is legally a piece of Taiwan, but when fishing in the Solomon Islands has to obey SI fisheries rules, even if the captain and crew are Indonesian, but when they unload in Fiji… Fiji port rules apply… and what legal structure applies to offences committed in “another country”… 
  • Trade Rules of origin… I that fish Taiwanese, Solomonian, o Fijian? 
  • Human Rights whose employment rules apply to the crew… who is responsible for their well-being and their safety at sea? 
  • Diplomacy The presence of Distant Water Fishing Nations, in all seas of the world, is statement to that
  • Public Policy Who “owns” that fish in terms of the benefits, particularly in case of migratory stocks.
  • Economics how are these benefits distributed?, what is the role of subsidies?  
  • Public Health, once fish is on the deck is not fish anymore… is food

And this is only limited to the legal side of fishing!…

 Slide 3

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 7.24.07 pm.png

The key issue I’m involved presently trough my work is IUU fishing as an element of general compliance. 

In essence is a simple problem… if for each fish caught we could answer in a verifiable way all of the questions you see on the screen… then the fish is legally caught and in compliance. Simple problem… complicated solutions

Compliance is a challenging topic… I have always seen my self as an outsider, not one that did not really follow the rules. I grow up in a country with not much of culture of compliance, and while I felt that many of the rules were dumb; at least I expected they should have applied to everyone… and not just to some.

Agnew DJ, Pearce J, Pramod G, Peatman T, et al. (2009) Estimating the Worldwide Extent of Illegal Fishing.

Agnew DJ, Pearce J, Pramod G, Peatman T, et al. (2009) Estimating the Worldwide Extent of Illegal Fishing.

The equanimity of rule of law is a rare cultural privilege… In many ways should not be surprising that, as you can see in the graph above, there is a linear correlation in between the estimated amounts of illegal fishing and a index of transparency in governance among different countries.

The fisheries “crisis” is not a biological crisis, but one of politics and government transparency.

I emigrated partly because I did not foresee much of future in a society that was selective in terms of to whom compliance was expected from. So the fact that I am here (geographically and in terms of my job) today in function of my past, relates to my appreciation to the concept of fairness and equal opportunities… and not the one of enforcing rules. 

We as a society have experience in dealing with “compliance” trough enforcement of rules, Police, Inspectors, etc... but the success of enforcement is quite variable and directly related to the resources allocated to it and the capacities and values of the enforcers… 

I always believed that “fresh” thinking was needed… 

Out of a conversation with Esau about the first bank and ATM in the island… I explained that it wasn’t money what was moved around… was data.

When a payment is deposited into your account, you make extractions until you get to cero… then no more money comes out. Furthermore the system can identify when and where the money came from and where/when it came out. There are no interpretations here… is just accountancy and software.

So when back here, one day waiting for some waves in Palm Beach (yes we do have some surf here, you just have to be patient... and that gives you time to think).

I started to think that instead of catching fish to get data our of them… I also could use fish as data itself! Hence started to look at banking and logistics for inspiration (I can’t believe I’m saying this!) Could we not use the same system that banks have, but for fisheries? 

 So for the last few years I have been spending lots of time talking “fish” with database managers and IT guys, helping on the design and implementation of the "fish accountancy" side of what we call “Fisheries Information Management Systems”

Slide 4 

A good starting point is that Fish does not become illegal during processing… fish is caught illegally! We have now an increasing level of controls over the vessels activities, via remote sensing (Vessel Monitoring System - VMS) and increasingly e-reporting (real time reports from fisheries observers on board - that in the case of the Purseine Fleet in the pacific covers 100 of vessels), so we are in a much better position to assess the legality of the catch based on “who” that vessels is, “where” it has has been fishing, as well as “when” and “how”

Under the UN Port State Measures Agreement, fishing vessels need to notify port arrivals for fisheries related operations, And the Port has the capacity of denying services if the fish on boar is illegally caught. So if when a vessel is requesting permission to come to port to land or transship the fish (high seas transshipments are forbidden), cannot prove that the caught the fish along the requirements of it license… the local port have the option of refuse landing authorization. Or they allow them to come in but no operations start until the legality of the catch is proven.

That leave us with the “how much”, knowing this has 2 benefits… we know how much is being caught, which management importance, and then we can record those volumes as the “initial deposit”, and by this we avoid chances of “fish laundering” from any potential illegal landing (just as any financial systems deals with money laundering)

We use the volumes unloaded as the initial deposit from which extractions will be made from, and the different species unloaded become “different currencies” on a same deposit.

Then a traceability scheme in the system allow us to follow the “extractions” of different currencies trough time either by whole fish sales or processing. Furthermore, processing losses get dealt by the system like currency exchange (1kg of fish = 400g of fillets).

Finally, we “mass balance” each sale/export against that original “deposit” until the volume is exhausted, and no more fish can be attributed to that unload. If some one wants to export fish he “didn’t” land… then we know something is happening there and the inspectors can focus on them.

As you imagine, there is lot of developmental and technical complexity behind these systems… progress is slow… and we don’t have the money that a bank have! 

I been doing this work for the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, under a EU funded program, WWF has presented the idea to the US Presidential Task Force against IUU fishing, and recently the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is paying me to present for discussion a set of draft technical guidelines for a system among this lines. 

 So the concept is gaining momentum… but what I really like is that is understandable by proxy to the banking system and “fair”… as there are no “interpretations”… is just about balancing volumes… “fish in” vs. “fish out” 

Slide 5 

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I like to think this “fairness” helps Esau and his people, who are after all the real owners of the resource… but then why are they and so many other Pacific islanders in the little boats, and not owning the big boats? 

And while I’m quite proud of my work and the systems I’m building… I can’t stop feeling a bit like a patronising neocolonialist … 

I live in this idyllic island (in green), in a stable, transparent and safe country… but my work places (in red) is not always like that…

The world I work is one of food for today more than aspirations for tomorrow… in the world I work:

  •  20% of its population survives with less than 1 USD a day,
  • 50% with less that 2 USD a day (this is the world my mother lived till her teenage days, and many of Esau’s people live),
  • A staggering 80% live below 10USD a day (and this is the bracket where most of my hosts in the many vessels in the pacific I worked are… and is where I was until I came to NZ).

We here, are very small percentage of mankind, which can actually afford to think about the future.

Slide 6 

So... does Esau really need my work?

Or he needs a better present, before a sustainable fishing future… if we are not able or willing to deal with such a “management failure” as society and as a specie… what real hope does fishery has?

l like to leave you with that question. 

Thank you - Gracias