By Giff Johnson
A fisheries information management system, touted as a key element for Pacific islands to control the tuna fishery, has been purchased by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA).
Developed by Quick Access Computing of Australia, initially in collaboration with the National Fisheries Authority in Papua New Guinea, the Integrated Fisheries Information Management System (iFIMS) has become the tool used by all members of the PNA to manage the multi-billion dollar skipjack tuna fishery in the western and central Pacific.
PNA leaders had been debating purchasing the system to own it outright for the past two years. PNA ministers at a meeting in September approved the plan to purchase the system, which reportedly has a price tag over $US10 million.
PNA recently established a new company in the Marshall Islands, FIMS Inc, to manage the system, said FIMS board chair Mathew Chigiyal, who works for the National Oceanic Resource Management Authority in the Federated States of Micronesia.
The change in ownership of the fisheries information management system will not affect fisheries departments, industry and other existing users, who would continue receiving services as valued clients, said Mr Chigiyal.
The iFIMS system was described last year as a "game-changer" by PNA chief executive Ludwig Kumoru.
"We are able to control and manage our fishery because we now control the information through iFIMS," he said.
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 development of iFIMS, however, revolutionised management of the tuna fishery by 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 manager David Karis, who developed the web-based platform.
Prior to electronic reporting, it could take three to four months for daily catch logs filled out by purse seine vessel captains to arrive 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, and fisheries observer reporting.
Through the industry database, companies can see their own boats and catch information, and apply electronically for licences 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 was 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."
The purchase was concluded on 29 November - a month ahead of schedule, said PNA Commercial Manager Maurice Brownjohn, who is based in Majuro.
"PNA office now owns 100 percent shares in the company FIMS Inc, a Marshall Islands domestic onshore company."