Honolulu 12 December 2018 — For decades, Pacific island fisheries officials were “driving blind” for lack of information on the commercial tuna fishery they were mandated to manage. Catch data, vessel locations, transshipment activity, use of fish aggregating devices, — this and more was controlled by fishing nations, with little information available to inform management decisions by island fisheries departments about their resources.

    The Integrated Fisheries Information Management System (iFIMS), however, has revolutionized management of the tuna fishery by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA).

   The system was initially developed by Papua New Guinea’s National Fisheries Authority (NFA). It now contains sections for data for the NFA, PNA, fishing industry and flag states that have oversight of fishing fleets.

   “This is the world’s first information platform that integrates fisheries management, compliance and marketing,” said NFA Vessel Monitoring System (VDS) Manager David Karis, who developed the web-based platform.

   “This is the game-changer,” said PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru. “We are able to control and manage our fishery because we now control the information through iFIMS.”

   At last week’s PNA Ministers’ Meeting in Honolulu, PNG Minister for Fisheries and Marine Resources, Hon. Patrick Basa, announced that Papua New Guinea is moving forward to purchase the information management system for the PNA. PNA Ministers attending the meeting extended their appreciation to the PNG government for the purchase of iFIMS. The PNG government is expected to confirm the iFIMS purchase this week.

   Prior to electronic reporting, it could take three to four months for daily catch logs filled out by purse seine vessel captains to get to fisheries managers in the region. “Now, through iFIMS, we have this information in real time,” said Mr. Karis. “About 240 purse seiners are reporting real time catch data daily.”

   The iFIMS platform integrates fishing industry reporting of catch, vessel position and activity data generated by the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), and fisheries observer reporting. Through the industry database, companies can see their own boats and catch information, and apply electronically for licenses through their portal — license application information that the system automatically delivers to the PNA Office. Data related to catch and vessel activity in particular EEZs can be viewed through iFIMS by individual PNA Parties.

   Put simply, iFIMS “is a one-stop shop for fisheries management,” said Mr. Karis. “It holds industry, government and flag state information. No other system in the world brings together in one system these three most important parties for sustainable management of the fishery.”

   iFIMS has easy, big picture applications, such as the iFIMS “dashboard” where managers can immediately find out at any time how many purse seiners are in each of the nine exclusive economic zones managed by the PNA VDS or how much tuna tonnage has been caught in the region to date.

   Through its 16 management “portals,” iFIMS provides the fine detail that aids the full range of fisheries management work, including:

   • Patrol boats on surveillance missions at sea can log into the Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) “live” section of iFIMS to check vessel licenses, making surveillance work more efficient.

    • The “other integration” section is being used by PNG’s National Fisheries Authority to share import and export data related to fisheries with the government’s Customs Department for the first time. It is also used to share catch data with the Pacific Community (SPC) for stock assessments.

    • The “observer management” section allows observer managers to manage their observers, including electronic reports.

    • The VDS section allows PNA access to data and reporting needed to manage purse seine fishing in PNA waters.

   • The “audit and traceability” section aids verification of “chain of custody” of fish that is essential for exporting tuna to international markets and for gaining certification of the fishery, as PNA has accomplished for its skipjack and yellowfin purse seine free school fishery through the Marine Stewardship Council.

   The data system also addresses the complex compliance environment in a multi-zone fishery. Mr. Karis described, for example, the not unusual situation of a PNG-flagged vessel with a Solomon Islands observer on board that commits an offense while fishing in waters of the Federated States of Micronesia and then goes to transship its catch in the Marshall Islands — or any similar combination of vessel flag, observer, fishing zones and transshipment activity. In the past, it would take many months to process and deliver paperwork to proper authorities on such a situation. “Now, we receive a critical incident report in real time, which is sent to the flag state of the vessel, the state where it was committed, and to the observer manager,” said Mr. Karis. “This is case management in real time.” He added that if the observer debriefer confirms the legitimacy of the offense committed, it will be passed to a compliance officer who assigns an investigator to the case.

   By integrating multiple data streams, iFIMS provides island fisheries managers with the necessary information for sustainable fisheries management, said Mr. Kumoru.  

   Currently, PNA is using the system only for purse seiners and FADs. But Mr. Kumoru said the goal is to expand this to include longline, carrier and bunker (refueling) vessels in the future.

   By early next year, Mr. Karis said at least 275 fisheries observers will be feeding catch data into iFIMS from their electronic tablets. This will continue expanding until the entire Pacific observer force of about 800 is performing electronic reporting to iFIMS.

   Mr. Kumoru called iFIMS the most important tool for managing tuna resources in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.