The map from Global Fishing Watch was criticised by the ministry yesterday “as not being a true reflection of actual fishing activity in Cook Islands waters” in 2016.
The ministry said the movements of vessels on the map could not be verified as being isolated to fishing activity.
Offshore Fisheries Division director Tim Costelloe said the tracks, by themselves, had little meaning and did not reflect actual fishing activity.
But Passfield disagrees, saying they are the paths of nine fishing boats listed on the right-hand side of the map.
“There are nine fishing boats in CI waters. They are not cruise boats, or cargo boats, they are fishing boats.
“Those tracks are an indication of the fishing activity of those boats.”
Asked if the boats were fishing, not just moving through, Passfield says: “No they were fishing.”
He says: “The information says Global Fishing Watch applies fishing detection algorithms to Automatic Identification System data to determine apparent fishing activity based on changes on a vessel’s speed and direction.
“They look at a boat and if it is going quite fast and then slows down and, for next 30 miles, is going in a straight line at 4 knots, it is laying out its long line.
“Then the boat will zip around back to the beginning of the line and go even slower hauling up the longline. Those are the sort of things they watch for to determine fishing activity.”
And is the data they are using accurate?
“It’s the same system, I understand, as the Vessel Monitoring System that is used by organisations to track and monitor fishing activity.
“They say the VMS is much more accurate because it has all the boats signals on there, but the methodology of working out if the boats are fishing - or not, is the same in both cases.”
Passfield said the fact is there are nine boats journalist Michael Field had tracked on that Global Fishing Watch map.
“I don’t know how many were licensed in 2016, but in 2015 there were 36 foreign boats licensed.
“So that’s nine of them.
“It’s probably true that’s not an accurate representation of the fishing activity because, in fact, there is much, much more than the map shows because it shows only nine boats out of 36.
“The truth of the matter is that it is an accurate representation of nine boats, but there’s another 27 boats as well.”
Passfield says Michael Field’s map was based on the AIS system, which is a tracker for all boats. “Even yachts and cargo boats. It’s so you can see where they are.
“The VMS system is specifically designed for fishing boats and all the licensed boats in our Exclusive Economic Zone are meant to have them on at all times.” Passfield says officials are keeping the data secret, saying it is “commercial” and they do not want to give competitor information to other boats.
He says: “The belief that the fish of the Pacific are somehow private property is unacceptable; these people are taking the common wealth of the Pacific. We are entitled to complete transparency over it.
“The bottom line is that if the Cook Islands government does not accept the accuracy of Global Fish Watch data, then they should release all the data they have so the public can monitor and verify.”