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Unreported tuna catches, especially lack of adequate verification of catches in the high seas is the biggest issue facing control of Illegal and Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
But new digital technology looks set to help commercial fishers to better record and report their activities.
“There is a big need to improve the timeliness and reliability of the fisheries data that managers and compliance officers receive,” says Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency’s (FFA) Hugh Walton who coordinates the Oceanic Fisheries Management Project.
“There are currently challenges with fishers not properly monitoring or reporting as required, and the paper-based systems in place make it difficult to enforce and ensure mandatory data is submitted.”
FFA is working with the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) to develop and implement a regional strategy to strengthen fishery monitoring and data collection through the use of electronic monitoring and reporting.
“The use of electronic log sheets and observer forms and camera-based electronic monitoring systems as well as independent observers on fishing vessels will help us to make sure that the regulations are met,” says Walton. “Such monitoring will also make sure scientists have the most reliable data possible on which to base their assessment of the sustainability of tuna stocks.”
Better monitoring also means scientists can measure the impacts of tuna fishing on accidentally caught animals (bycatch), such as sharks, turtles, seabirds and dolphins.
Last year the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Solomon Islands and Fiji started projects to trial and implement electronic monitoring with some of their longline tuna fishers.
A PNA workshop convened earlier this year between these countries, FFA and SPC looked at how these projects were progressing, and how they might fit into the broader regional electronic monitoring and reporting strategy.
FFA’s Peter Cusack participated in the workshop. He says while there are inevitable challenges to implementing new technologies including costs, the participants agreed that: “the cost of electronic monitoring needs to be compared to the cost of poor information, and that doing nothing comes at a cost.”
The vision of the electronic monitoring and reporting strategy currently under development, is to provide: “a monitoring and assessment framework that provides reliable and timely information to ensure ecologically sustainable management objectives can be met and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing can be eliminated.”’
The strategy would also see tuna fishers using tablet devices or computers rather than paper forms to electronically report on catch and operational requirements.
“Implementing this will require that FFA, SPC and PNA provide training for fisheries staff, who would then in turn train agents and operators in the use of the e-reporting tools,” says Walton.
“The benefits in having more reliable, accurate and timely data will be enormous for managing the world’s largest tuna fishery and ensuring its sustainability into the future.”