WHY ISLANDS STRUGGLE WITH FISHERY PATROL? – CAPTAIN’S BLOG 43

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Island nations and developing economies with large Exclusive Economic Zones offshore still struggle to manage their fishery resources. Traditionally they have ignored effective patrols. Recent increases in pirate and IUU fishing have seen increased attention given to this. Many governments now realise the significant benefits of effective fisheries policy and management. Nevertheless, their road to achieving enforcement is far from easy. Much of this relates to the significant costs of aerial surveillance and on-the-water patrols.
Recent advances in drone technology has seen them becoming readily accepted for aerial surveillance. While today they are mostly limited to larger governments and NGOS, there is little doubt that competition, technological advances and economies of scale is pushing them into more widespread applications including fishery surveillance for smaller nations. There are also great leaps being made in using satellite imagery in the location and tracking of IUU vessels.
Aerial surveillance however is just half of the equation. The second half is actually securing IUU vessels, and this requires maritime personnel on the water – however the difficulty in achieving this is not what you might think.
If you consider maritime security in bigger nations, this is typically achieved in heavy 30-70m steel vessels. Many such former patrol vessels can be purchased for as low as $200,000. These use around 10-50 litres per nautical mile, depending on cruise speed and size. Even using the most optimistic figure, a 2-week patrol will still burn around 40,000 litres (US$40,000). Or say half a million dollars per year in fuel with 50% utilisation. Crew wages in such places might be cheap, however diesel certainly is not.
For struggling Island nations, such ongoing costs become a heavy burden to bear. The barrier to patrols is often not so much the initial vessel investment, but rather the ongoing fuel costs to keep them running. Over the last few years I’ve visited many Island nations and a number have large steel hulled patrol vessels sitting idle in port almost year round. Some were donated by larger countries such as the US and Australia. Some were purchased outright. But they become white elephants, with the Island governments unable to justify sea voyages unless there is an emergency.
In light of this, many have resorted to small vessels (5-12m) for patrols but with a number of limitations. Firstly they can only patrol inshore areas. Small vessels do not have the range for blue water surveillance, nor do they have the space to allow voyages longer than a few days. Further to this, limited crew numbers also places their personnel at risk against a reasonably armed pirate fishing crew. Finally, such vessels become inherently unsafe in big seas. As a result, their inshore fishery may be suitably managed, while their offshore areas remain largely unprotected. The effects of this are far-reaching, with ever depleting fish stocks from rampant IUU fishing.
It needn’t be like this however. Island nations can equip themselves with cost effective long-range vessels, however they need to shy away from fuel-hungry hand-me-downs, and invest in modern vessels more suited to their needs.
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