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Partners in the Pacific: NZDF operations support sustainable fisheries

Line of Defence Magazine, Spring 2017

Offshore Patrol Vessel HMNZS Otago on fisheries patrol in the South PacificOffshore Patrol Vessel HMNZS Otago on fisheries patrol in the South Pacific


Peter Greener, Senior Fellow at Victoria University Wellington’s Centre for Strategic Studies, reports on two significant NZDF operations highlighting the contribution New Zealand can make to sustainable fisheries in the South Pacific.


“Global fish production approaching sustainable limit, UN warns” was the headline in The Guardian on 7 July 2016, commenting on the report released that month by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). The report highlighted that approximately 90 percent of global fish stocks are either fully or overfished.

Almost a decade ago, writing in the journal Marine Policy, Professor Rögnvaldur Hannesson of the Norwegian School of Economics noted that there was, “reason to believe that a further growth of the tuna fisheries of the Pacific Island states would lead to overfishing of the tuna stocks.” Professor Hannesson went on to note that for the small island states of the Pacific the picture looked bleak if their futures did not lie in tuna.

Of concern for Pacific fisheries was the confirmation in the latest FAO report that 41 percent of the seven principal tuna species were estimated as being overfished.

The New Zealand Ministry of Defence’s Defence Assessment 2014 noted that the global demand for food is expected to increase by 35 percent by 2030 and that the demand for fish is therefore also expected to increase, putting more pressure on Pacific fisheries and leading to a greater presence of fishing fleets from distant nations. The document highlighted the potentially devastating effect this could have on small island economies.

Elsewhere in this issue of Line of Defence, I report on the inaugural meeting of the Heads of South West Pacific Maritime Forces. Whilst this gathering was aimed at strengthening maritime partnerships at a strategic level, it will build on what is already being done at an operational and tactical level.

Two significant operations that the New Zealand Defence Force have undertaken this year are Operation Wasawasa and Operation Calypso.

In late April, the (Inshore) Patrol Vessel HMNZS Hawea deployed on Operation Wasawasa to Fiji for six months – the first time an IPV has operated in the South Pacific – to work with Republic of Fiji Navy personnel patrolling Fiji’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and territorial waters. Additionally, personnel from Fiji’s Ministry of Fisheries and Forests, the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service (FRCA) and NZ’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) took part in the patrols.


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Whilst the initial patrol in May covered almost 1,200 nautical miles (2,200 km) and included 16 vessel boardings, one patrol in June alone boarded 70 vessels, with seven being sent back to port because of licensing and safety infringements.

From April to September, throughout the first rotation, a total of eight patrols were undertaken, with over 370 vessels boarded – an average of seven boardings per day.

Of concern to Lieutenant Dave Luhrs, Commanding Officer of HMNZS Hawea, were the large number of offences identified – 65 in total – many of which involved safety issues.

The Hawea has now seen a change of crew with the original crew, who left on 4th September, being replaced by the crew of HMNZS Taupo. In farewelling the outgoing crew the Deputy Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF), Brigadier-General Mohammed Aziz, said the crew had forged a solid bond with the Fijian Navy and had made Fiji’s waterways safe. The new crew will continue the work, carrying out patrols until November.

Meanwhile, on 26 June the Offshore Patrol Vessel HMNZS Otago departed Devonport Naval Base bound for Noumea and the first stage of this year’s Operation Calypso, part of the ship’s two-month deployment to the South Pacific.

The Pacific Islands fisheries patrols are part of the work supporting the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), an agency that strengthens national capacity and regional solidarity so its 17 members can manage, control and develop their tuna fisheries, an industry worth some $3 billion.

“We have been supporting fisheries management in the southwest Pacific by deploying our ships and aircraft to conduct these annual patrols,” said Major General Tim Gall, the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand. “Vessels fishing for tuna will be the focus of our inspections.”

During the fisheries patrols the Otago was joined for three days by a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion. The Orion spotted almost 500 vessels over 1.2 million square kilometres through Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia and reported 60 vessels of interest to the FFA.

Meanwhile, the crew of the Otago boarded 26 vessels in the EEZs of Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

Whilst the focus is often on illegal and unregistered fishing activities, the September 2016 United Nations report on Transnational Organised Crime in the Pacific highlighted that these activities are less of a concern to maritime surveillance agencies across the Pacific than the underreporting of catches.

The Commanding Officer of HMNZS Otago, Lieutenant Commander Lorna Gray, noted that much activity across the region is being undertaken by legally licensed vessels, underreporting or misreporting their catch. “Physical inspection is the only way to verify that the catch is being properly reported,” she observed.

Each of these NZDF operations underscores the importance of the contribution New Zealand can make to the region to help maintain sustainable fisheries into the future.


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