Illegal Vietnamese ‘blue boats’ are officially designated a significant and growing threat to Pacific island countries, their food security, economies and reef biodiversity.
Already affected are Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Australia and New Caledonia. And late last month, the Solomon Islands captured three of them in its waters for the first time. All have first-hand experiences suffering financial, environmental and social loss from the experience. Multi-agency government officials need to develop a response, one of those is policy as this is a new issue Pacific countries had not envisaged.
It is no surprise that fisheries officials from Pacific countries further south are raising concerns that it is only a matter of time before the threat reaches their reefs.
Tokelau’s fisheries officer, Mr Feleti Tulafono told Pacific Guardians, “Tokelau need to be made aware of this incoming threat to our inshore fisheries resources. And the only way is through raising awareness in our communities so that they have a fair understanding of what these Blue Boats are, and the risks and implications they bring with them.
“Whilst their transgressions may be occurring half a world away from Tokelau, our immediate neighbours Samoa, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Cook Islands are now concerned that with this new threat that a strong and vigorous public awareness campaign should be developed.”
The rising concern among Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) members triggered the agency to organise a special meeting for countries already affected by ‘Blue Boats’ to work on a way forward.
The meeting, which took place in Brisbane, Australia earlier this month, focused on two key areas that will, in the long-term determine how effective the Pacific-wide response could be.
The meeting explored a ‘draft Blue Boat Strategy’ and the need to expand FFA’s mandate.
The second point of discussion is critical if the Pacific’s proposed blue boat strategy is to be effective. The reason for that is because ‘Blue Boats’ target coastal/inshore areas, which are under national sovereignty, which means that they are, technically, outside FFA’s mandate which is to manage ‘offshore fisheries resources’.
Extending FFA’s mandate would enable the agency to bring the full might of tools and weapons it’s using to fight illegal fishing in the offshore fishery, to fight the Blue Boats in coastal fisheries.
FFA’s initial involvement according to Director General, Mr James Movick is: “because every time there are illegal boats in the region everybody says, what is FFA doing about it. So we have the responsibility but also the opportunity of using the regional MCS framework [tool to fight illegal fishers],” he told Pacific Guardians earlier this month at FFA Headquarters.
He also confirmed that at the Brisbane meeting, “we are looking for a full mandate from member countries.”
He is hopeful that “Attorney Generals and senior officials” of countries affected by the Blue Boats will be attending so they can give a “direction on a mandate that FFA will take to the Fisheries officials and Ministerial meetings for some form of formalisation in July 2017.”
“We do have a very effective tool in place and we do need to use it as these are problems that are affecting the sovereignty of our countries, the livelihoods and opportunities that exist for our own people to harvest these resources,” he said.
The Blue Boats are extremely bad for the places they plunder.
“When they go to a reef, they don’t catch a few [sea cucumbers], they catch them all. Sea cucumbers need a certain amount of number to reproduce. Blue Boats will obliterate them from the reefs. They will never grow there again,” said one FFA official.
Coastal fisheries are considered the breadbasket for island communities. They support food security, livelihood and small-time business of island communities.
The actions by countries involving arrests, apprehensions, destroying of boats are not successful because there are more than 100,000 blue boats; and the Vietnam government does not recognise or assume responsibility for them and their actions