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Fisheries Managers from across the Pacific met in Honiara last week to discuss strategies for ensuring sustainable and profitable longline fisheries in the Pacific.
Although scientists currently rate the southern longline fishery, primarily targeting southern albacore tuna, as biologically sustainable with no overfishing, there is concern about the economic viability of this fishery.
This fishery is currently affected by poor economic conditions, due to the relatively low value of the fish, the relatively high costs of Pacific island based fishing operations, and declining catch rates. This is of concern given that many Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) have domestic longline fisheries.
Low profitability is also an issue in the tropical longline fishery, which limits the economic benefits that Pacific island coastal States can get from their longline resources.
Last week’s workshop, facilitated by Alice McDonald, consultant at NRE People, sought to explore the issues facing longline fisheries, and develop some strategies for overcoming these issues.
The Oceanic Fisheries Management project (OFMP2) supported the workshop, which aims to have a regional longline strategy ready to present to the Forum Fisheries Committee in July next year.
Participants in the workshop identified the following key objectives:
- Avoiding a collapse in the target tuna fish stocks
- Ensuring economic sustainability – employment and livelihoods
- Minimising environmental impacts
- Respecting human rights, including safety of observers on boats
- Improving monitoring, surveillance and compliance, especially given the uncertainty of data about Illegal, Unreported or Unregulated (IUU) fishing
A MRAG study into longline fishing of tropical tuna species indicates that the two biggest IUU risks are from misreporting or non-reporting of catches (49%), followed by post harvest activities (39%), including illegal transhipment of fish at sea. Only about 3% of IUU is likely due to unauthorised or illegal fishing.
Derek Ta’uika Tagosia, e-Reporting and Monitoring Coordinator for the Solomon Islands Ministry of Fisheries & Marine Resources, reported on the success of their e-reporting, now installed and operational on over 100 locally based fishing vessels.
“Electronic reporting is entering and sending of catch and other data from the vessel to the office via satellite devices,” he said. “Before that we were using manual reporting where a log sheet is handed out to the captains and they fill it in manually using pens or pencils and we found a lot of challenges – handwriting is not clear, some missing fields, some missing pages, some using dialects.
“One of the biggest problems we had with manual logsheets was the delay in receiving those logsheets; we received them weeks late, or even months. But moving into e-reporting we managed to receive those logsheets – in just a click of a button.
“You can have the catch record for that day and the data for that catch, for that day.”
Experiences with longline fisheries in Samoa and Papua New Guinea were also presented, providing an opportunity for participants to share lessons learnt from successful initiatives and discuss strategies to overcome persisting challenges.
The workshop group listed the most urgent actions they thought needed to be taken in the regions longline fisheries including:
- Strengthening MCS for longline fisheries, including increased implementation of electronic reporting and electronic monitoring
- Promoting zone-based management
- Locking in high seas allocations
- Tightening transhipment measures, especially in the high seas
- Specifying sovereign fishing rights
- Gaining agreement on target reference points
- Working towards a harvest strategy that recognises existing zone-based management measures
- Developing management approaches that increase economic revenue and benefits
- Understanding the stocks and linking scientific research to Monitoring, Compliance and Surveillance (MCS) needs
- Defining and protecting maritime boundaries and baselines
- Getting stronger agreement about crew welfare, perhaps through a Resolution at the next Tuna Commission (WCPFC) meeting in December.
Chair of the meeting, FFA’s Deputy Director General, Matt Hooper said that resource owners, the PICTs, were currently paying for most of the costs of managing the longline fishery but were not enjoying a share of the economic returns.
“We need to look at ways to improve the economic rents from tuna fisheries, and if we are successful in that endeavour we may be in a position to recoup some of the management costs from industry.”