The UK government is planning to step up efforts to investigate illegal fishing around St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, it has been revealed.
The House of Lords heard that short term patrols and satellite monitoring are already used to track fishing vessels around the islands.
But it appears the islands do not yet benefit from oversight by the UK’s National Maritime Information Centre – set up in 2011 to detect dangers such as sea-borne terrorist threats.
The centre does protect waters around two other overseas territories chosen as Marine Protected Zone – and a third such zone is planned for Ascension, suggesting it may get similar protection.
The information was disclosed by foreign minister Baroness Anelay in response to a question by Lord West of Spithead on 3 February 2016.
He asked whether the new agency “is providing comprehensive surface coverage of the exclusive economic zones of dependent territories to ensure wildlife and resource protection; and how those zones are policed, in particular around Tristan da Cunha, Ascension Island and St Helena.”
Baroness Anelay replied that the centre was helping to investigate illegal and unregulated fishing around the British Indian Ocean Territory – meaning the Chagos Islands – and Pitcairn, in the Pacific Ocean.
She said: “Overseas territories are policed in a variety of ways as marine management is a devolved responsibility.
“In St Helena, Ascension and Tristan de Cunha, a variety of surveillance and enforcement measures are deployed, including satellite monitoring, vessel tracking, short term patrols and observer coverage of fishing vessels.
“Potential enhancements to surveillance and enforcement requirements for the UK’s 14 overseas territories are being considered as part of the government’s commitment to create a Blue Belt around these territories.”
The planned Blue Belt of protected waters around all UK overseas territories was announced with great fanfare at a reception at the House of Commons in September 2015.
Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith declared it “the biggest conservation commitment by any government ever.”
It includes a plan to create a vast protected zone around Ascension, with only limited sustainable fishing allowed – similar to zones already established or announced round the Chagos and Pitcairn islands.
“Blue belt” marine conservation zones, with lesser protection, are promised for all other territories, including St Helena.
People at the launch event heard how satellite and radar data are being used to detect fishing vessels by tracking the pattern of their movements.
The technique is described in a news report on the website of the Blue and Green Tomorrow campaign group.
It says: “Analysts can track declared fishing vessels and monitor the behaviour of undeclared ones.
“Container ships and cruise liners tend to go in straight lines. Fishing vessels tend to hover where there are fish. If a ship exhibits suspicious behaviour the relevant authority can be notified.”
The site says: “Industrial fishing ships can stay at sea for months refuelling and offloading stock mid-ocean. A quarter of all fishing is illegal. But the world’s oceans are a notoriously difficult place to monitor and protect.”
Lord West is a former Royal Navy officer who rose to become First Sea Lord and later Chief of Defence Intelligence.
He is also chairman of Spearfish, a company the helps clients “manage physical security risks – both on land and at sea.”
His listed interests include defence and the environment, and overseas territories in the South Atlantic.
(Original image of Lord West from Wikimedia Commons)