One Noro at the time / by Francisco Blaha

By some reason, weekends are busy days in most fishing ports in the world, the cynic in me thinks it has to do with the fact that most fisheries administrations (as most non-emergency related public servants) work Monday to Friday. Not in Noro, the fisheries office here run 7 days a week.

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We have NFD's 6 PureseSeiners, two Pole&Line (all locally flagged and crewed) unloading exclusively for Soltuna cannery and then various Taiwanese Longliners that use NFD as an agent for unloading of targets species and the port facilities for transhipping of by-catch.

We had 4 Taiwanese longliners coming to Noro this Friday. They announce that on Wednesday, which gave us the time to cross-check via FFA VMS their tracks and compliance index, furthermore via FIMS we can verify the whereabouts since their last port of call. As many of them are using e-reporting, we get to see how much fish they have declared, plus the EEZ where they fished, as well as the licenses they hold. 

Hence we have the tools to evaluate their activities prior arrival and approve their Port Entry and Port Use. We have been doing this with Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) in mind, either by direct signing or perhaps via a WCPFC CMM (now that Japan, who was the main antagonist, has ratified and this is BIG news). In any case, we been doing it for a while so is up to the bosses in Honiara to decide what and when.

We have a target of 100% inspection on foreign vessels,  we suspect something from the screening, we go on board to find answers. If not (as with this 4) we go to the clearing and to crosscheck the e-log with the log sheet as well as the logsheets consistency and format, besides making sure that the vessels are the one we have tracked via the markings and the serial numbers on the gear on board. 

 Jamie and John R clearing the arriving vessels

Jamie and John R clearing the arriving vessels

When (like on friday) we had 4 Longliners in a row and all of different sizes, getting to the last one can be tricky. So my full respect to Jamie and John, but especially to Nesii, there are not many young female fisheries officers that would move so at ease like her. 

 Nesii makes it look easier

Nesii makes it look easier

Once is all good the vessels is cleared to unload, with they start doing immediately, mostly -35 to -50C YF. As you can see we (in this case Sandy) tally each fish individually, next to the buyer rep and the seller rep. The fish goes immediately into a -50C container that is aimed later to the Asian market. 

 Sandy weighs every fish

Sandy weighs every fish

While our targets for domestic vessels could be lower, we do the same procedure (vessels VMS check, e-log and in these cases many times e-observers as well), we go on board to look for issues if any, and then clear for unloading.

Have to say that NFD vessels are the best vessels I ever work with, super straight, clean, most of them only fish in archipelagic waters and they know compliance by heart. In fact, they are the only MSC certification for tuna I have personally agreed with… but that is a thorny topic for another blog!

Here in Noro for the last 3 years now, we have accounted for every kg of each species caught by the locally flagged fleet for every individual landing and we have accounted for every kg that has been exported in any shape or form to any market, plus what goes for domestic consumption.

 If it was unloaded and not processed or exported, then is here. End of story

If it was unloaded and not processed or exported, then is here. End of story

We do a "mass balance reconciliation" prior every movement of fish out of establishments here in Noro. There is no way that "fish declared in is more than fish declared out" can happen. On a weekly basis, we audit a random landing of any of the seven vessels, and we check that "fish in = fish in storage + fish out", just to make sure that we are doing the right job.

Thankfully NFD and Soltuna have the best inventory and process controls database that is have ever seen in the 52 countries I have worked so far. I have know Edmond, the database guru behind it, for years now and we have always interacted on what is expected of the system to do from the compliance side. 

 Jamie is great to work with

Jamie is great to work with

We (government and industry) can track and trace fish from any landing of any locally flagged boat from the moment it was fished to the container number in which it left Noro, and/or where in the coolstore is the balance… and we can do that without anyone getting crazy… because as I said, we do it on a weekly basis.

Now back to the LL! What is not landed (target species) is transshipped (bycatch and smaller fish). Transshipping for longliners are complex events as they happen while anchored, in the port area but away from the wharf. And it gets even more complicated when we try to estimate by-catch. As said the vessels are anchored (hence they move) therefore electronic scales don't do the trick, so we have struggled to account for the by-catch. So far we did pieces counting and weight estimations, yet this Friday we manage to account species, pieces, and weights. 

With a couple of old scales I found, a couple of ropes, a well-designed checklist, lots of humour and the good will of everyone we are doing the full load (piece by piece) of the four vessels.

And incredibly an inspector of Taiwan Fisheries Agency is here (albeit quite clueless), and he really wants our info (surely the EU yellow card has nothing to do with it). Solomons helps Taiwan this time :-).

 Solomons helps Taiwan

Solomons helps Taiwan

What this system now means for us here, is that we check the legality via a procedure compatible with PSMA and then account for every kg of fish that is unloaded in Noro and for every kg that leaves Noro in any form or shape and we mass balanced it. 

Which is in principle what a CDS should do, and that one is long conversation we been having. 

The fact we manage to have this here in Noro in the Solomons (with all the limitations of an LDC country) is a combination of two very straight local operations and the good will from the local officers. 

And I cannot stress how critical this is, particularly regarding having the officers committed, empowered and understanding why they are doing what they are doing. And believe me, is not their salaries… most western teenagers have more pocket money over the year. But these guys and girls here do believe in what they are doing and understand the bigger picture. Not that they or things are perfect… far from that; the office is small and stingy (we moving soon to a bigger one), the car does not work, internet is unreliable, every thing takes long time to arrive... but the officers are committed, and that is worth gold.

 Lunch with the crew, they would have not invited us if they did not respect what we are doing

Lunch with the crew, they would have not invited us if they did not respect what we are doing

But I think that if you treat people with respect for their way to see things, create personal connections, do their job with them, share food, learn from them, make it two way relationship… things do happen. Whakataukī (proverbs) play a large role within Maori culture, and my favourite for years has been this one:  He aha te mea nui o te ao (What is the most important thing in the world?) He tangata, he tangata, he tangata (It is the people, it is the people, it is the people). The longer I do this job, the more it makes sense. 

I don't know if what we do here is replicable across the Pacific or even in other ports in the Solomons… but I do know that Fisheries would be in better space if we could move forwards, one Noro at the time.

 My home in Noro

My home in Noro

Disclaimer
My presence here over the last 4 years has been of around 6 to 9 weeks per year, doing mentoring and thechnical gidance, either with contracts with FFA/EU or NZ Aid.

But I have been coming here since 2000 under many roles and agencies, if there was to be a 2nd home for me in the Pacific, is here in this leaf house you see, is my place here in Noro, the place that for me represents what fisheries should be in the Pacific.