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New legislation afoot to prosecute illegal activity

By Giff Johnson MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Oct. 17, 2009) – Reported fishing violations by American purse seiners in Marshall Islands waters cannot be prosecuted until the government adopts new regulations governing fishing within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone, the director of the fisheries department said Monday.

To step up its enforcement activity, the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority is moving to adopt new fishing regulations that have developed through regional efforts to reduce fish catches and manage the $4 billion annual tuna industry.

The "Fishing Licensing Regulations of 2009" are now going through a public review and comment period, said MIMRA Director Glen Joseph.

MIMRA observers who travel on board U.S., Taiwanese, Korean and other purse seiners fishing in Marshall Islands waters at the weekend reported infractions by U.S. Flagged purse seiners of a regional ban on the use of fish aggregation devices — "platforms" that fishing boats place on the surface of the ocean to attract tuna.

The proposed new regulations are a result of recent action of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement countries — the eight Pacific nations that control about 60 percent of all tuna caught in the region — to close off fishing in high seas "pockets" in between the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of several South Pacific nations, and to outlaw use of fish aggregation devices for several months each year.

Joseph confirmed reports that two American-flagged purse seiners violated the August and September ban on using FADs, but said the regionally adopted measure was largely unenforceable until the domestic regulations give force to the decision of the eight nations. In 2010, the new regulations call for a three-month ban on FADs, which is aimed at reducing tuna caught.

Other measures include requiring vessels to bring all catch to shore instead of discarding under-sized tuna at sea, as is the current practice.

This change will provide more complete catch data to island fisheries departments, Joseph said.

These conservation measures were adopted recently by PNA leaders, but need to be enacted into formal regulations in each of the eight PNA nations to be enforceable, he said.

"We aim to have these in full force by 2010," he said. "The only way to do it effectively is through legislation or regulation at the national level."

One question raised is whether PNA countries can make rules for the high seas "pockets" that are outside of their 200-mile EEZs. Joseph said the issue is simple, since any fishing boat wanting to fish in these high seas pockets must travel through at least one EEZ to get there. "If you want to fish in PNA waters, a condition is not to fish in the high seas pockets," he said.

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