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‘Operation Tautai’ aimed at illegal fishing

By Rachel Reeves RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, June 22, 2010) – French navy is here to help the Cooks with Operation Tautai.

Several Pacific countries have this year launched Operation Tautai in a combined effort to police uncontrolled Pacific waters for illegal fishing activity.

The mission aimed to identify and apprehend vessels in breach of fishing regulations.

A number of foreign vessels, especially from Asia, fish Pacific waters which are notoriously rich in resources. But vast areas of ocean remain outside the control of any particular country.

A country controls its own exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which covers 200 nautical miles of surrounding ocean, but that leaves out large areas of the Pacific.

To police uncontrolled waters and preserve Pacific resources, a number of island states have resolved to cooperate and formed the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). Operation Tautai is a WCPFC initiative.

As members of the WCPFC, Te Kukupa and the French navy vessel La Tapageuse from Tahiti recently launched a joint mission to the high sea pocket, an uncontrolled area between French Polynesia’s EEZ and that of the Cook Islands. Both vessels returned to Avatiu harbour this week.

French planes from Tahiti accompanied the mission to assist the patrol ships in detecting fishing vessels.

The crews reported that they were in contact with a good number of fishing vessels.

Their interventions, they said, were "strongly codified". After issuing radio warnings to fishing vessels, the French and Cook Islands crews would board fishing vessels to check their merchandise, crew and log books for evidence of illegal activity.

The hardest part for both crews was navigating language barriers, as most of the visiting vessels hailed from Chinese-speaking countries.

According to the crew and the ministry of marine resources, the operation was a great success.

The French and the Cook Islands ships cooperated well, which enabled them to launch well-organised interventions.

They did not find any fishing vessels to be in breach of maritime regulations, and are confident that WCPFC is an effective deterrent.

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