By ASHTOSH SINGH
All of the boats had been accused of fishing on fish aggregating devices (FADs) during the FAD ban in 2009, a measure put in place across the region to reduce catches of small bigeye tuna.
Several vessels were also charged with placing FADs during the closure, and setting their nets on whales.
While evidence given by Pacific Island fisheries observers has helped secure judgments against the owners, operators and fishing masters of six tuna purse seiners, with heavy fines imposed – over USD 1.5 million in total.
The observers gave evidence in two long-running court cases brought by the US authorities, who enforce regulations on their own fleet fishing in Pacific Island waters, under the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Convention Implementation Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
An official of the Enforcement Section of NOAA (the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) paid tribute to the six Pacific Islanders.
‘The observers were the heart of the cases and did a terrific job. The judge’s decision demonstrates that he found the observers credible, trustworthy and persuasive,’ said Alexa Cole, the section’s deputy chief.
Observers are trained to collect scientific information on fishing operations and catches, as well as to report any illegal fishing activities.
Observer training is currently supported by a number of development partners – the European Union, New Zealand, Australia and Japan – but most other costs of the observer programme are recovered from the fishing industry.