In early January, Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo announced the creation of an interinstitutional center, which objective will be to rigorously combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The center will contribute to the development of measures against IUU fishing and water pollution for the conservation and protection of the marine and coastal environment of Panama’s jurisdictional waters.
“This initiative by Panama is a great step forward for transparency and monitoring [of fishing fleets],” Milko Schvartzman, an Argentine specialist in marine conservation and illegal fishing, told Diálogo on January 25.
The Coordination Center for the Monitoring, Preservation, and Protection of the Marine and Coastal Ecosystem is made up of the ministries of Environment, Public Security, the Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama (ARAP), and the Panama Maritime Authority. It has an executive secretariat embodied by the Ministry of Public Security, through the Panamanian Air and Naval Service (SENAN), and an Administrative Unit, Panama’s Ministry of Environment indicated in a statement.
The center will coordinate, plan, establish, and operate at an interinstitutional level the monitoring, control, and surveillance activities aimed at preventing, deterring, and eliminating IUU fishing, as well as preventing the pollution of marine and coastal ecosystems, among other functions. The center will have experts in satellite imagery, environmental management, and marine-coastal resources regulations.
To carry out its work, the center will be able to rely on other entities and organizations from the public, private, academic, and civil society sectors, when technical knowledge and specific contributions are required, the Ministry of Environment indicated.
“This initiative is going to have a direct impact in South America on fleets of other nationalities, especially Chinese […],” Schvartzman said.
The center will have several technological tools to coordinate at the interinstitutional level to allow all institutions to follow up on illegal fishing cases, Panama’s Environment Minister Milciades Concepción said. “It’s going to be difficult for someone to do something wrong, improper, or to refuse to comply with the rules.”
“This center will have monitoring technologies that we already know: infrared images, radar images, AIS [Automatic Identification System]; but the most important thing is that those who use these technologies are trained to use them, so that they understand what they are seeing on the monitors, and that what they are seeing has an impact on the water,” Schvartzman said. “That is, that this monitoring leads to actions, controls, inquiries, inspections […]. Technology alone, without the will or ability to control, is of no use.”
IUU fishing is one of the greatest threats to ocean health and contributes to the collapse of fisheries that are critical for economic growth. As such, the United States is committed to supporting its regional partners. In October 2022, the U.S. government established the U.S. Interagency Working Group on IUU Fishing, which over the next five years will focus its efforts on helping partner nations, among those Panama, in their efforts to combat IUU fishing and related threats.
“The United States and Panama have many overlapping priorities with respect with stopping IUU fishing,” the U.S. Embassy in Panama told Panama’s television network TVN in mid-October. “The IUU problem cannot be solved by any one country. It will require all nations worldwide to work together and that’s why it’s important for the United States and Panama to partner on this.”