"Unlicensed Vessel's Catch Includes a Huge Load of Finned Sharks"

February 20, 2008

The Kaselehlie Press

(Federated States of Micronesia) - Within the last month, three fishing vessels were spectacularly arrested by FSM Law Enforcement officers for fishing violations in FSM waters. On February 12th the US Coast Guard Buoy Tender Sequoia serving as a platform for the law enforcement activities of FSM National Police Officer Justino Helgen facilitated the boarding of the Koshin Maru #31, a Japanese long liner operating out of Guam. On the 13th the USCG Cutter Assateague facilitated the boarding of another Japanese longliner Koyo #8, by FSM National Policeman Nicholas Raifmai.

Both vessels were licensed to fish in the FSM and were detained for fisheries violations. Neither vessel had switched on their Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) as they are required to do when inside FSM waters. The VMS allows FSM National Police to monitor the movements of vessels in the FSM Exclusive Economic Zone. Without it the fishing vessels are invisible to law enforcement officers unless they are visible by radar within a fairly short range. The Koshin Maru was apprehended in Yap waters north of Gaferut Island. The Koyo was apprehended a day later in waters East of Gaferut also in Yap waters and well inside the FSM's EEZ.

Those vessels are being escorted back to Pohnpei by the crew of the FSS Micronesia, one of the three Australian donated Marine Surveillance vessels that enforce marine law in the FSM. They are due in to port on February 20 where they will face FSM charges for VMS violations as well as possible other charges.

On January 18, FSM National Police operating under an increased fuel budget for the 2008 fiscal year apprehended a Chinese flagged fishing vessel 40 nautical miles from Kapingamarangi Island. The vessel was approximately 100 nautical miles within the FSM's EEZ.

The FSM Palikir under the command of Lieutenant Commander David Marer spotted the vessel on radar at 8:30 on that morning. Officers boarded the Fu Yuan Yu 096 approximately 45 minutes later. The ship turned out to be an Illegal Unlicensed Unmonitored (IUU) vessel unlicensed to fish in the FSM, the first that the FSM has encountered in many years according to Commander R. Maluweirang of the Police Maritime Wing. fishing FSM National Police begin their count of finned sharks at the Dekehtik Marine Surveillance Headquarters. The final tally of finned shark bodies was 1766. At press time the fins had not yet been counted.

Police reports said that the Fu Yuan Yu 096 when boarded had shark fishing gear laid out on the stern (the rear) of the boat "characteristic of a vessel making ready to set a long line." Many other fisheries violations were noted by the National Police when they boarded the vessel.

The vessel was carrying fishing gear typically used for catching sharks. Officers found that the long liner's catch included a significant number of finned shark bodies and shark fins. It is illegal to fish for sharks in the FSM. Several other species of fish were also found in their freezers. According to an FSM National Police Press Release some of the catch was still bloody, soft and pliable to the touch indicating that they had only recently been caught.

One FSM law enforcement official expressed surprise that the Chinese long liner held a current Solomon Islands license to catch sharks in their EEZ. He said that the Solomon Islands is a member of the Forum Fisheries Agency and that most if not all of its members had made shark fishing illegal as far as he was aware. FSM officials are checking into the validity of the purported license.

Fu Yuan Yu was apprehended as part of a vigorous and concentrated maritime patrol program driven by the Chief of Police, Colonel Pius Chotailug and Commander Maluweirang with the assistance of the Royal Australian Navy Maritime advisors.

The vessel was escorted by the FSS Palikir to the FSM Maritime Wing Headquarters in Pohnpei, Micronesia at Dekehtik. It arrived on January 21. The crew and captain are confined aboard the ship while they await a formal notification of a court hearing on the matter.

FSM Shark Seizure Record?

An August 15, 2007 arrest of a Taiwanese vessel during the Rai Balang II fisheries enforcement operation in which the FSM participated made international news when law enforcement officers found 94 shark bodies, and 650 fins. In a plea bargain arrangement in Palau the ship's captain, Tsai Nuen Teng was ordered to pay $185,000 in fines and fees and was sentenced to two years in jail, 32 days of which he had to serve. The rest of the two year sentence was suspended. He has been banned from Palau for life.

On the morning of February 13, 2008, FSM National Police officers began unloading shark carcasses from the Fu Yuan Yu. They stacked the carcasses on the dock in Dekehtik. There were more than 80 when it was decided that the rest of the count could be completed inside the holds of the ship.

The final tally was 1776 finned and frozen shark bodies. Officials had not yet begun to count the shark fins on the vessel at press time but said that based on the number of shark bodies there should be approximately 9000 aboard. If the fishermen began throwing back finned sharks into the water, a common and to conservationists, loathsome practice there could well be many more.

Floating Freezer?

In explaining how so many fish could fit aboard the vessel a police official said that most of the boat consists of holds for storing fish in a frozen condition with a space for fishing on deck. The crew, he said, sleeps in tiny berths into which they can just barely squeeze their bodies. "It's all about fish", he said.

In addition to the 1776 shark carcasses police found: Big Eye Tuna: 363 Barracuda: 112 Mahi Mahi: 76 Marlin: 60 Sword Fish: 56 Wahoo: 47 Yellow Fin Tuna: 18 Oil Fish: 11 Shark stomachs: 56

The FSM Department of Justice is likely to be filing charges at some point after the fish are all counted. In preparation for a trial, the FSM hired a certified ship's surveyor from Guam to establish the value of the vessel including the volume of its holds. The figure will be used to help establish the amount of a judgment should they decide to seek it.

International Cooperation

The arrest of the Fu Yuan Yu 096 was accomplished on a vessel donated by the Australian Government. Australia also provides an expert crew of Royal Australian Navy Advisors for Marine Surveillance activities. The Japanese vessels that were apprehended north and northwest of Chuuk were apprehended under a temporary agreement between the United States Coast Guard and the FSM. Officials from both the FSM and the US Coast Guard hope that a permanent agreement can be put in place soon.

Lt. Commander Tess Neumann who is the Chief of Response for the USCG Sector Guam said that this is the second time that the FSM and the USCG have operated under a short term Sea Rider Agreement. Officials at very high levels of both governments are still trying to hammer out the terminology of a permanent agreement. She hoped that the success of the current operation will help to show the value of a permanent relationship.

She said that fisheries violations in one area of the Pacific Ocean affect fisheries in all EEZ's across the ocean and that a cooperative agreement to aid a country like the FSM that has limited law enforcement resources benefits all of the Pacific Ocean resources. Commander Mark Sorby, of the Royal Australian Navy assigned to the FSM as its Maritime Advisor said that there are benefits to the FSM of a cooperative Sea Rider Agreement. He said that the US Coast Guard has assets that the FSM doesn't have that would help them to cover the huge expanse of ocean that is the FSM's EEZ. FSM waters cover an area that is only a little smaller than the continental United States.

Another helpful cooperative enforcement tool is a US law called the Lacey law which, by way of an oversimplified explanation allows the United States to prosecute fishing vessels who break the law in the EEZ of another country but who then dock in a US port. The law can be exercised after notification by the country where the law was broken. The US in such a case would recoup its court expenses and send the remainder of any judgment money to the country where the violation took place.

Law Enforcement Efforts Hampered by "Spies"?

Police Officials who are charged with enforcing the fisheries laws in the FSM's EEZ say that it is often a frustrating task.

One official said that they have been having particular troubles with FSM licensed long liners operating out of Guam. FSM Licensees are required to turn on their VMS system as soon as they steam into FSM waters. He said that oftentimes vessels do not comply, and that they are able to get away with it so often that they have become recalcitrant. He said that much of the law enforcement for the FSM EEZ relies on faith in the vessel owners to do the right thing. For long liners it is so financially rewarding to not do the right thing that they just keep violating the law over and over again.

He said that unless the fishing companies sense a real threat of harsh prosecution in the FSM if they are caught violating laws they simply have no motivation to stop making money hand over fist and operators continue to build the cost of adverse judgments for law violation into the cost of doing business. Meanwhile, the FSM's waters, which have been called the world's last great tuna fishery, is suffering at the hand of unscrupulous operators.

The official who wished to remain unnamed said that marine surveillance activities are often hampered by the inability to keep surveillance vessel movements secret. For instance, on at least one occasion the surveillance unit noticed a large group of VMS movements in the area of Kapingamarangi. They deployed one of the surveillance vessels to investigate. He said that the ship's agents in Pohnpei often see that "the law" is heading out of port and alert the vessels. There's nothing to keep them from doing it. By the time the FSM law was in the Kapingamarangi area three days after departure, all of the vessels were gone having one by one disappeared from FSM monitors as they departed the EEZ. As the FSM vessel steamed back to its Pohnpei port the group was once again amassing in the Kapingamarangi area.

Commander Maluweirang said in a National Police press release, "I want to stress to all fishing vessels to take note that the targeting of shark is not permitted in the FSM and is only allowable as a by-catch to legitimate fishing operations which must be correctly justified and carefully recorded and reported. The FSM Police Maritime Wing strongly condemns any illegal activity in the FSM EEZ and will continue to closely monitor and apprehend any vessel that is operating in breach of FSM's laws."