Combined maritime surveillance patrols by New Zealand and Fiji agencies recently identified six commercial fishing vessels alleged to have been fishing illegally in a traditional fishing ground (iqoliqoli).
Aisake Batibasaga, the Director of Fisheries, said Fiji fisheries officers, together with New Zealand and Fiji personnel currently conducting combined maritime patrols, boarded and inspected the vessels in Qelelevu Lagoon in accordance with their legal mandate.
“The six vessels were identified following information received by the Fiji Naval Division’s Maritime Surveillance Centre from customary fishing rights owners concerned about possible illegal activity,” Mr Batibasaga said.
“Upon inspection, a substantial quantity of catch was found on board the fishing vessels and it was confirmed that none of the vessels were permitted to fish in the iqoliqoli area.”
The entire catch was confiscated because it was obtained illegally and was subsequently thrown back into the sea because of operational and safety concerns, Mr Batibasaga said.
The vessels alleged to have offended were ordered back to port, where their crews were questioned further by fishery officers.
Through the combined patrols, which began in early June, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has been helping Fiji authorities enforce regulations for inshore fishing, protect fishery resources and police the South Pacific country’s borders.
For the second consecutive year, the NZDF has deployed a Royal New Zealand Navy inshore patrol vessel, HMNZS Taupo, to help Fiji patrol its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of more than 1.2 million square kilometres. Two fishery officers from New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries support at-sea boarding and inspection of fishing vessels.
Fishing is Fiji’s third-largest natural resource sector, after sugar and other crops. It contributes more than US$56 million to the country’s annual gross domestic product.
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