Working in Kiritimati Island / by Francisco Blaha

I’m a very lucky man in many aspects, and one of them is that I have the opportunity of working in really unique places… and in terms of uniqueness is hard to beat Kiritimati island.

it was just so good to go back to catch fish with real straight people.

it was just so good to go back to catch fish with real straight people.

I have spent my last week there working under the Towan Waara programme which is a NZ MFAT supported program working the Kiribati’s MFMRD. The programme is aimed to support the good work of MFMRD in various aspects of their responsibilities. My bit has to do with some of the issues that are part of EU market access requirements no only form the IUU CCS side, but also from the sanitary (SPS) side, and area I did a lot of work in the past.

The reason why I had to spend only a week, is because there is 1 flight a week only, so is either 1 or 2 or 3…. If is up to me only, I will spend more than just one. But I had to get to my work in Majuro,where I’m also doing work for NZMFAT.

Kiritimati is on the Line Islands, one of the 3 groups of Kiribati, each of them separated by highs seas patches. The place has an amazing history rich in a bizarre amount of details from early oceanic (allegedly Polynesians) settlement, to be potentially be claimable by Spain! (sic) to have been “owned” by a millionaire French priest that had a huge coconut plantations there, printed his own stamps and named villages as Paris, London, Poland, to British annexation and “sharing” with the US, so both decided to denotate Nuclear weapons in the atmosphere without mobilising the local population, nor the Fijian and NZ troops working there… read and explore the place amazing story from their Wikipedia page and others.

The place is as well a sport fisherman’s destination as the come there from all the world (literally) to do fly-fishing for bonefish (mostly catch and release) in the flats as well as GT in the lagoons. This as sprung a mall industry and most of the accommodation available is based around catering to them.  

Normally I have no issues staying anywhere, I’m really easy going (if it has some electricity for my coffee is good and if it near the ocean is excellent). The most upmarket places cater for the richer people there, but I’m always weary of staying with drunk (most of them drink!) recreational fishers that as soon as they know I work in commercial fisheries management and controls (and even worst that I was a commercial fisherman) start going on and on how I suck at my work and how to do my job better.  Somehow a rich dentist Salt Lake City or a businessman of Brisbane don't see any issues in telling me how to do my job better, but he would be horrified if I start advising him how to do their job.  

Surely in the fisheries world we all have a place and this group definitively help a community that otherwise has not much potential income earners… but the moral superiority is something I resent… I assume that having the money to come all the way there, catching fish and stressing them into a fight for some sort of perhaps sadistic pleasure and a ego picture to then let them go (with arguable limited survival rates), as immediately start again with another one, is definitively not my game… but then that is me… I catch fish to eat it, and I used to catch it as a job, is not enetrtainments or “sport”

Anyway stayed at a low key place called Sunset Horizon... I'm the only guest which suits me fine... only the last day a group of surfers from Fanning island come over and I got even more excited about coming back with my board!

In any case, it has been a while since I spent 16 hrs at sea working with 3 cool guys on fishing, gutting and icing fish in a banana boat (which was great!), but never the day after training fisheries officers on Information Management Systems, PSM and vessels intelligence analysis and even less under the same mission for the same program!

So!! Thanks for the trust NZ MFAT / Towan Waara I don’t think many donors (and managers) will trust a consultant with 2 areas of work, pretty much at both ends of the fishing spectrum.

On the PSM and transhipment side of my work, it was along the line of what I did in Tuvalu and other countries, but with a further twist, Kiritimati is unique transhipment port as it serves not only the WCPFC vessels transhipping to carriers with final destination in Bangkok and Vietnam, but also a number of IATTC (to which Kiribati is full member) vessels, with carriers destined to Manta in Ecuador. No other port in the WCPO is in that position.

IATTC only requires prior information from vessels that intend to participate in transhipments at port. Although the IATTC Resolution and data availability omits some important elements present in the system for WCPFC and PSM best practices. Such as port and date of last port call, type of vessel and VMS information

The IATTC still does not have a port inspection scheme, despite six years of discussions on proposals drafted to adapt to the needs of member States, hence their requirements are less “defined” than those for WCPFC, and there is no regional body that provided the type of compliance evaluation tools that FFA provides, yet the requirements used by Kiribati as a Port State are t be consistent across the board, yet based on available information

Hence the standardization of all these elements are areas we are working with.

On the other side, I went back to my industry days and to my beginnings into the consulting world.  So I worked on a plan to support potential exports of the local processing facility that sources from the locally based small scale fleet, so I worked the value chain from catching (out at 4 am) to the processing of the fish for local market, accessing the regulatory and operational need for potential airfreight exports to the US and Australia/NZ/Asian markets

I loved every minute of it! I wish all missions were as diverse as this one and in places so amazing as Kiritimati… I totally recommended to visit it if you ever have the chance.

Some images of the place, and even better is my birthday today!