Busy Friday in Noro / by Francisco Blaha

Back in Noro in the Solomon Islands (what fishing should be in the pacific!). I arrived for a 2 week input on my mentoring work, but this time is a bit different as I have my family with me. They will stay for a week only since is a school holiday in NZ and hang out at the leaf house I rented by the water (no electricity, aircon, etc.) and enjoy the ocean and the place while I go jumping on boats and set up forms and processes.

 Some of the most driven officers in the Pacific

Some of the most driven officers in the Pacific

No doubt transhipments are a complex reality of the fishing industry, and more so the ones in longliners. Many of us have driven hard to have transhipments only in port areas, and since this week we have some for longliners transhipping in Noro Port.

They land some fish and then they tranship other to another vessel (a longliner with no fishing gear) the smaller species and bycatch. Unlike the purseiners, the skippers seen to be quite relaxed about the volumes, in reality all of the cargo goes into one hatch, and then when full a net is used to separate cargoes and next vessels start. But the skippers of none of the vessels seems to be taking notes or numbers…. Surely they will have someone one at the other end doing that.

 Counting fish any day any time at transhipment.

Counting fish any day any time at transhipment.

But for us is a different story. We need to check what it landed (easier as we have counting station at the loading of containers and each fish is individually weighed at a scale) but also what is transshipped and compare it with what was declared in the e-log or logbook. And as we have not done transshipments yet, we needed to develop a strategy and a form.

Of course everything starts with checking stuff before the vessels even get to port. These are Taiwanese longliners that are licensed to fish in SI EEZ, so we have a good chunk of info ready at the moment they request access to port. Their positions on VMS, ATS, e-log and licensing data is all online under FIMS… so we check the general legality of their operations.

 Officers at the cold front of unloading

Officers at the cold front of unloading

But the key issue this days in not illegal fishing, but underreported hence we need to measure what was landed plus assess what is transhipped. The problem is that there are no scales in board either the fishing boat or the reviving vessel, and the authorities port state (Taiwan) where all going be landed does not communicate the volumes landed.

(I don't even think they have any idea what is landed there nor from where).

So the best thing we can do for this year is to work in pairs with officers on board, one counts the individual fish by species being transshipped and the other estimates the volumes being hoisted down to the freezer hold.

The idea is to then compare their recounts on numbers of individual fish by species and the estimated volumes with the ones in the logsheet. Again all this is based on estimates, which is never the best but is the industry standard. Thankfully all this is changing since from next years onwards these vessels will require to land 100% of the cargo and have cameras on board… both measures will go a long way to assure compliance.

Of course, the heroes of this story are the local fisheries officers, that spend hours counting fish, literally jumping form fishing boat to fishing boat out in the bay 7 days a week and as I have witnessed they were still at sea at 9.30 pm on a Saturday night. (In over 30 years in the fishing, I have never seen that before)

 harsh realities

harsh realities

I don't have the numbers to back my claim, but I’m sure that the officers I deal with here in Noro spend more time and effort in relationship to their salary (and their country GDP) controlling Taiwanese Fishing vessels than the Taiwanese Fisheries Officers themselves.

Some people will point always to the problems we still have here in the Solomons, but they should also see the incredible amount of work and advances that we have done in the last few years.

I could not be prouder of these officers here in Noro.

 crazy family + ULT tuna

crazy family + ULT tuna

And as you see, my family is enjoying the ride... well... I dont think my wife is sure!!