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Different approaches towards managing a heavily depleted fish stock have emerged between two Pacific nations.
In the past decade southern albacore numbers have dropped significantly making profitability very difficult, especially for Pacific-owned boats that do not receive fuel subsidies available to many foreign vessels.
At the 14th annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) currently being held in Manila, Philippines, the Solomon Islands and the Cooks Islands – home to the two biggest southern albacore fisheries – have separately voiced preferences for competing management systems for the tuna.
Previously, Solomon Islands said it has withdrawn from a key fishing agreement aiming to limit the total catches of southern albacore, citing differences over how to best manage catches.
The agreement, known as the Tokelau Arrangement, saw 11 nations from the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) member countries agree in 2014, to place limits on albacore catches in their EEZ waters.
Under-Secretary for the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Ferral Lasi, who also heads Solomon Islands’ WCPFC delegation, said Tokelau’s “catch-based system” which uses quotas to allocate fishing rights was in conflict with its own longline vessel day scheme (VDS).
Vessel day schemes sell fishing rights to fishing boats at a daily rate. The system has been used successfully by a group of Pacific nations under an arrangement called the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). Fishing fleets – mostly from distant water fishing nations – can pay over US$10,000 per day to fish for skipjack tuna in PNA waters.
Under the VDS, PNA nations have seen fisheries revenue rise from US$60 million annually in 2010 to close to $500 million this year.
This year, the Cook Islands established a quota-based management system for albacore catches in its own waters, which it believes is better-suited for the fishery.
Speaking in Manila, Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources Secretary Ben Ponia said differences between the longline and purse seine fishing methods need to be considered when assessing management systems.
Issues such as higher by-catch in the longline industry and difference in stock sizes between various species of tuna also need to be taken into account.
“In some respect applying an effort control over the skipjack fishery was not a problem,” he said.
“But when you’re dealing with a much smaller stock of Albacore, or Yellowfin or Bigeye, you really need to be careful as to how much volume you are extracting.”
“It is probably easier to manage using a vessel day scheme, but ultimately what we’re trying to do is control catches, not effort,” he said.
In 2015, catch value for southern albacore reached US$357 million.
Between 8-10 per cent of Albacore catches occur in Cook Islands waters, he added.
Ponia said the Cook Islands has reservations about aspects of the Tokelau Arrangement, but hasn’t formally withdrawn.
“We are prepared to engage in the Albacore fishery in a meaningful way, and we are demonstrating that I believe through our own regulations,” said Ponia.
Despite differences over management approaches towards albacore, Lasi said the primary reason Solomon Islands is pulling out of the arrangement is concern over a reduced catch allocation for his country.
“We don’t want to be constrained,” he said.
The Solomon Islands is now devising a replacement for the Tokelau arrangement, Lasi said.
“We are proposing another arrangement on top of Tokelau that will be better for everyone, including the Solomon Islands.”
Apart from Solomon Islands, signatories to the Tokelau Arrangement include: Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.