As explained by senior fisheries officer Latishia Maui, the high-tech, satellite-based system allows MMR to track and monitor fishing activities across the Pacific region by charting the position, speed and direction of registered fishing vessels displayed on a bank of wall-mounted video screens.
“I can click on the actual vessel and a whole bunch of information pops up. The latest location for the vessel, the course, the speed, and what time that information came in,” Maui told a crowd of distinguished guests gathered together in the OMC last Thursday.
While under normal circumstances the information can take as long as four hours to update on-screen, MMR officers have the ability to reduce that update time to as little as 15 minutes if they deem it necessary.
“For longline vessels, the information reloads every four hours and for purse seine vessels it reloads every hour. So we get an updated position every hour and every four hours,” said Maui.
“But if I was suspicious about a certain vessel, I can drop that polling rate to as low as 15 minutes. So I can see a position every 15 minutes until I’m satisfied that she’s OK and she’s not doing something silly.”
During the presentation Maui also explained how MMR works with Maritime Police and Police Patrol Boat Te Kukupa during national and regional missions. MMR usually sets up an operational HQ at the OMC, where fisheries officers work around the clock to provide information to Te Kukupa on vessels of interest, enabling Te Kukupa to intercept and board them if necessary.
The VMS is part of MMR’s Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) conducted for Cook Islands and foreign-flagged fishing vessels in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean and the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement area.
The programme forms part of the overall management of the fishery and includes observation and port sampling. Fisheries observers are placed on fishing vessels to collect independent data during fishing trips. A pool of Cook Islands fisheries observers are deployed out of Pago Pago in American Samoa, where the Cook Islands Fisheries Field Office is based.
MCS is used as an important tool to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing activities in Cook Islands waters and includes boarding and inspections of fishing vessels at sea or at port.
Fisheries compliance officers take part in sea patrols and several regional operations each year. Surveillance operations can include aerial and sea surveillance assistance from the QUAD nations: France, Australia, New Zealand and the US.
Note: In last Friday’s story headlined, ‘PM opens Ocean Monitoring Centre’ Ben Ponia, head of the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) was quoted as saying that MMR had collected almost $90 million of revenue for the country last year. What Ponia actually said was $19 million.