In a crucial endeavour to champion responsible fishing practices and combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, the 16th Regional Plan of Action to Promote Responsible Fishing Practices, including Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (RPOA-IUU) Coordination Committee Meeting (CCM) convened from 26-27 October 2023, in Dili, Timor-Leste. Dr Handoko Adi Susanto, Regional Project Manager for The Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action Phase II (ATSEA-2) Project, participated as an observer at this gathering, emphasising ATSEA-2’s ongoing commitment to addressing IUU fishing in the Arafura and Timor Seas (ATS) region.

PArticipants of the 16th Regional Plan of Action to Promote Responsible Fishing Practices, including Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (RPOA-IUU) Coordination Committee Meeting (CCM)

“Our engagement in the 16th RPOA-IUU CCM reflects the shared dedication of ATSEA-2 and regional stakeholders to combat IUU fishing. It is a collective effort that underscores the urgency of addressing this issue for the well-being of our marine ecosystems and coastal communities,” highlighted Dr Susanto.

The meeting brought together member countries, advisory bodies, and observers, collectively addressing the challenges posed by IUU fishing. Timor-Leste’s State Secretary of Fisheries, Domingos da Conceição dos Santos, set the tone by opening the meeting and expressing the nation’s commitment to collaborating with others to tackle this critical issue.

“Timor-Leste recognises that this issue transcends national boundaries and we emphasise the importance of global collaboration to mitigate IUU fishing,” said dos Santos in his opening remarks. “Timor-Leste is committed to working with neighbouring countries to collectively address IUU fishing in the ATS region,” he added.

During the two-day CCM, the participating countries of the RPOA-IUU acknowledged the progress in addressing IUU fishing. They agreed on the need for a clear data-sharing mechanism and outlined a work plan for 2024, focusing on meetings, capacity building and discussions on market measures and gender issues. The ATSEA-2 Project plans to collaborate with the RPOA-IUU to organise the advanced Fisheries Intelligence Training (FIT) in the first quarter of 2024.

Dr Susanto, Regional Project Manager of the ATSEA-2 Project, in a courtesy meeting with the Secretary of State of Fishery in Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Forestry (MALFF), presenting the Updated Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) of the Arafura and Timor Seas (ATS) Region Document

Some emerging issues were also identified, including improving food security for sustainable resource use, exploring a potential regional hot pursuit arrangement for IUU vessels, and launching a public information campaign in the transboundary area with marked gear types. These discussions underscored ongoing efforts to combat IUU fishing through regional cooperation.

Dr Susanto’s mission in Dili included crucial discussions with key officials and stakeholders. Notably, he engaged with Director General Celestino da Cunha Barreto and former Director General Acacio Guterres to plan the Regional Steering Committee (RSC) meeting in Jakarta in the following month (November). Timor-Leste’s agreement to co-chair the meeting signifies robust support for regional collaboration.

“In our discussions with Timor-Leste officials, there was a clear commitment to collaborative efforts. The agreement to co-chair the upcoming RSC meeting and support for the ATSEA program highlight the region’s determination to foster sustainable fisheries and combat IUU fishing,” added Dr Susanto.

Additionally, Dr Susanto had a courtesy meeting with the State Secretary of Fishery, Dos Santos covered critical topics such as project progress, RSC preparation, the Ministerial Forum that will take place in August in Timor-Leste, Regional Governance Mechanisms (RGM), and ATSEA-3. The State Secretary affirmed its support for the continuation of the ATSEA program and expressed readiness to provide financial backing for 2025 and 2026. These efforts symbolise a collective commitment toward sustainable fisheries and the protection of marine ecosystems in the ATS region.

By Stella Yovita Arya Puteri