MIMRA establish a collaboration MoU with Thailand’s DoF and announces intention to ratify FAO PSMA / by Francisco Blaha

I have been in the 6th Global Fisheries Enforcement Training Workshop (GFETW) here in Bangkok since the 18 Feb. As we (MIMRA) have been invited to present what we are doing in terms of our Port State Measures system to authorise transhipments.

Happy faces all around!

Happy faces all around!

I say we, because there are 4 of us: Sam Lawni (Deputy Director), Laurence Edwards (Legal Counsel) and Beau Bigler (Fishery Officer) and my self as an Offshore Fisheries Advisor. I was quite keen for all of us to come as we this GFETW is a biennial or triennial conference organised by the International Fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS) Network to improve and enhance capacity and communications of MCS practitioners around the world. And the fact that we are in Bangkok made it more special.

And while a lot of effort has been focused on the control of Transhipments at sea, transhipments from FV to refrigerated carriers in port, are a vital element in the Pacific tuna fishery and a daily occurrence for us. Thailand is the biggest tuna processing country in the world, and I’ll say that half of the transhipments we authorise in Majuro will be arriving here to be processed, we call it the “tuna highway”. 

From the “transhipment port” perspective, PSM best practices require the port to take a series of steps prior to authorise  port use for transhipment, including: a standardised and integrated process of advance notice and arrival fishing vessel intelligence-based risk analysis using available remote sensing capacities, a transhipment authorization protocol, the estimation of volumes transhipped, and the departure clearance of the carriers with full traceability of fish on board and hatch plan totals.

our MoU in one slide (pic by Lara Manarangi)

our MoU in one slide (pic by Lara Manarangi)

From the receiving port perspective, as the case in Bangkok in Thailand, since the fish on board on board the carriers fish has “not been previously landed”. Thailand’s DoF under PSMA principles has to evaluate compliance on the legality of the catches of each of the FVs, being transported on the carrier, plus the volumes on departure from the last transhipment port as to assess the possibility that the carrier would have received fish on board since the last declared port departure. 

As in many other cases worldwide, the processing states do not have access to the all the compliance tools used by the flag states of the Fishing Vessels, and perhaps most importantly the coastal states where those catches where taken, hence having a direct link of collaboration with the regional port states where those vessels transhipped initially, does facilitate the fulfilment of their obligations under PSMA.

On the other side, only at the moment of reception of the fish at the processing plants in Thailand the verified weights per species per vessels are known, before this, volumes and species composition are based on estimates from the logsheets and observers/monitors estimations, in fact a 2017 FFA study on the quantification of IUU for the region identified underreporting of catches as the region’s biggest treat in terms of IUU. Yet Thailand’s DoF as part of their e-Traceability program does collect all the “weight in” values of the fish originating on each fishing vessels inside every arriving carrier. This verified information available in Thailand is vital further understand the magnitude of the underreporting problem in the Pacific.

Based on the understanding of this reality the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) as the fisheries body of the most important transhipment port in the pacific (>400 a year) approached Thailand’s DoF to establish a MoU for cooperation and exchange of information of common interest and mutual benefit. 

The MoU, signed on 22 February, is the result of over a year-long engagement I have been fostering between these 2 countries I work substantially with, whereby both sides identified that reciprocal exchange of fisheries data was an area of critical importance that would require mutual collaboration between key players, in this case, RMI (Majuro) being arguably the busiest transhipment port in the world and Thailand (Bangkok) as the largest tuna processing and port State.

Beau and Lawrence get to know Makai (Thira), we all work around PSM at both end of the “tuna highway” in between Majuro and Bangkok.

Beau and Lawrence get to know Makai (Thira), we all work around PSM at both end of the “tuna highway” in between Majuro and Bangkok.

With the signing of the MoU, the RMI, through MIMRA, will now be able to receive verified weights of tuna catches that are transhipped in Majuro and offloaded in Bangkok from Thai fisheries inspection officers on a regular basis. 

In essence, this will enable officers on both sides to trace the catch both ways to ensure its legality throughout the entire chain of custody thereby preventing Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing practices. This verified information is vital to further understand the magnitude of the catch underreporting problem in the region.

The MoU is in line with the RMI IUU-Free Pacific initiative as declared by H.E. Madam President Dr. Hilda C. Heine last year. Having this direct link of collaboration with a key player like Thailand further facilitates the fulfilment of obligations under the FAO Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), which the RMI, through MIMRA, is currently considering signing and ratifying in the near future.

At a personal level it has been a huge 10 days as I facilitated a workshop for PEW and WWF full of people I admire, then presented at global fisheries MCS workshop on what are we doing in RMI, and realise that I’m a consultant to both the gold (FFA) and silver (ThaiDoF/OceanMind) winners of the stop IUU awards! and then facilitating the Marshals-Thailand  MoU.

I’m a privileged and very lucky man‬