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Region's biggest maritime surveillance operation acts to stop illegal fishing

Operation Kurukuru 2011, a coordinated maritime surveillance operation in which the countries of the Pacific region cooperated to detect, deter and eliminate activities such as illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing and other transnational crimes which may have connections with fishing such as smuggling and people trafficking, was hosted by the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) during the period 7 to 14 November 2011.Operation Kurukuru 2011 was the single largest monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) operation ever conducted in the region and resulted in the sighting of over 400 vessels, the boarding of 80 vessels and the apprehension of eight vessels, five of which have been escorted to port for further investigation. A further four vessels have been flagged for potentially conducting IUU fishing activity through analysis of their activities as monitored on vessel monitoring systems (VMSs). Appropriate follow-up investigations by Pacific Island enforcement agencies are being initiated for these cases. Several other vessels were issued citations and fines for fisheries infringements. Eight surveillance aircraft were involved in the operation and they collectively flew a total of over 150 hours covering approximately 350 000 square kilometres of ocean.The area of operation for Kurukuru 2011 was widespread, covering an area of roughly 30 million square kilometres - including the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. The MCS operation involved fisheries and enforcement staff from all of the FFA Pacific Island countries working together with their Quadrilateral Defence counterparts from Australia, France, New Zealand and the U.S. over the period of the operation.Surveillance and enforcement was conducted by individual countries within their respective EEZs and on adjacent high seas using 12 Pacific class patrol boats (one each from Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, and two from Federated States of Micronesia), one New Zealand vessel, one U.S. Navy and one U.S. Coast Guard vessel, and four French patrol boats. These efforts were supported by aerial surveillance provided by eight maritime patrol aircraft (one Dash-8 aircraft supplied by Australia, three P-3 Orion aircraft supplied by Australia, New Zealand and the U.S., two Gardian and one Casa aircraft supplied by France and a Hercules C-130 aircraft from the U.S. Coast Guard). In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard patrol vessel embarked an enforcement officer from the Cook Islands and conducted part of its patrol within the Cook Islands EEZ exercising the bilateral ship-rider agreement signed between these two countries.The operation was hosted and coordinated by the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency at the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC) located at the FFA Secretariat in Honiara, Solomon Islands. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community helped facilitate the operation through its EU-funded DevFish (Development of Tuna Fisheries in the Pacific ACP Countries) project. The RFSC was staffed by watch-keepers from Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, U.S. and Vanuatu with observers from Australia, France, Marshall Islands, Vanuatu and the Pacific Trans-national Crime Coordination Centre. All countries had access to analyse the FFA web-based VMS regional surveillance map which provided a real-time snapshot of licensed fishing vessel positions and activities occurring throughout the region along with planned surveillance flights and patrol plans. Through the use of these tools, watch-keepers from individual countries were able to network with other MCS specialists and make informed decisions for scheduling, planning and directing the movements of their patrol boats to locations where aerial surveillance flights, using updated surveillance maps provided by the RFSC, had identified suspicious activities or vessels.Significant outcomes of Kurukuru 2011 include: First-ever coordinated regional surveillance operation to have had active participation from all 17 Pacific Island members of the FFA and all four Quadrilateral Defence countries; The exercise of two Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreements - between Federated States of Micronesia and Palau and between Cook Islands and Samoa, resulting in cooperative surveillance operations occurring within neighbouring country EEZs; A Solomon Islands patrol boat boarding and apprehending three foreign fishing vessels, returning them all to port; A French patrol boat boarding foreign fishing vessels in the high seas under the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission High Seas Boarding and Inspection scheme for investigative purposes; A Tuvalu patrol boat boarding, apprehending and fining a foreign fishing vessel; A Federated States of Micronesia patrol boat boarding and issuing citations to three foreign fishing vessels for numerous infractions; and Combined aerial and surface surveillance identifying several vessels apparently not complying with their FFA registration and license conditions and are the subject of further investigation.The combined success of the MCS efforts by the FFA member countries and their Quadrilateral Defence partners should not necessarily be measured by the number of fishing vessels apprehended. The reduction in the number of vessels conducting IUU fishing activities is only one measure of the success of this operation.Operation Kurukuru is an activity that is coordinated and executed to meet identified strategic objectives outlined within the Regional MCS Strategy endorsed by Forum leaders in 2010. It also meets the broader objectives of sustainable fisheries development and management in the Pacific region. This annual operation, held across all FFA member countries is the culmination of the annual operational cycle and complements other operations held in sub-regions of the FFA membership earlier in the year.(Source: Forum Fisheries Agency media release)