WCPFC17 members agree on way to negotiate new Tropical Tuna Measure in 2021

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A process for negotiating a new Tropical Tuna Measure has been agreed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), paving the way for adoption at the end of next year.

At this year’s annual WCPFC meeting, which finished yesterday, members agreed to roll over the current conservation and management measure, CMM 2018-01, to extend it for another year. 

This means the commission has avoided the problem that its counterpart in the eastern Pacific now has, after it failed to find consensus on the rollover of its equivalent measure and is left with no way of managing fishing for bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tuna.

CMM 2018-01 was due to expire in February.

The process the WCPFC17 has agreed to was proposed by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). It will be conducted online.

The Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee, Mr Eugene Pangelinan, said in a media conference today that work would need to start almost immediately, because negotiations were more difficult online.

“We have a lot of work to do so that by next December we have all the building blocks read for WCPFC to make a decision, not just on the Tropical Tuna Measure, but also on South Pacific albacore, crewing conditions, and observers,” Mr Pangelinan said.

The WCPFC will convene three workshops to develop the replacement measure. The first one will be in April. Development work will continue between workshops.

The conservation and management measure will work towards the adoption of harvest strategies, as laid out in another rule, CMM 2014-06. The harvest strategy would operate hand-in-hand with the Tropical Tuna Measure and conservation and management measures for other species. Harvest strategies are used to manage commercially important species so they remain biologically sustainable while maximising profits from the fisheries.

WCPFC expected that some, and perhaps all, of the workshops would be held virtually. 

Virtual meetings have proven to be unsatisfactory when negotiating details of important decisions. To minimise the problems with this format, the agreement of the process stated that was “essential” that those taking part in developing the next CMM participate cooperatively in sessions between workshops. 

Mr Pangelinan said, “There have been a lot of lessons learned this year. One of the bad things about using this platform is the lack of interpersonal engagement. This can influence outcomes,.”

The process for negotiating the Tropical Tuna Measure needed to include ways of maintaining appropriate discussion and negotiation.

All proposals would have to be put in writing and shared. They would also have to include an assessment of the impact on small island developing states (SIDS), in line with CMM 2013-06

This CMM is to ensure the SIDS can participate on an equal footing with wealthier members of WCPFC, and that they do not have to bear unreasonable costs or workload.

One of these is ensuring that SIDS members can participate fully.

The Director-General of FFA, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, said in the media conference today, “Our members are very clear about this. Capacity building to be able to work on this virtual platform is as important as being able to sit at the meetings.”

For more information from the Forum Fisheries Agency on WCPFC17, contact Hugh Walton, ph. +677 740 2428, email Hugh.Walton@ffa.int.

2020 tuna research at sea conducted, but cut back to follow COVID-19 rules

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Two important tuna research trips have gone ahead in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) this year, although the research programs and the routes had to be curtailed dramatically.

Both programs, which are run by the Pacific Community (SPC), were cut back to comply with regional practices put in place to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

For the Pacific Tuna Tagging Programme, scientists continued routine tagging of tuna and tested new sampling methods that will help scientists analyse the structure and behaviour of tuna populations. 

The research was conducted in the high seas and the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Kiribati groups of Line Islands and Phoenix Islands. 

This year’s cruise was originally to have focused on understanding more about the habit of tuna to gather around drifting fish-aggregating devices (FADs). It was to have been conducted in waters around Tuvalu, which have one of the highest densities of drifting FADs in the WCPO.

Three men on deck of research vessel Gutsy Lady 4 being prepared at Kewalo Basin, Honolulu, for the tuna tagging cruise in the central Pacific. Photo SPC.
Research vessel Gutsy Lady 4 being prepared at Kewalo Basin, Honolulu, for the tuna tagging cruise in the central Pacific. Photo: SPC.

SPC research scientists Bruno Leroy and Valérie Allain reported on this year’s tuna tagging cruise in issue 162 of SPC’s Fisheries Newsletter.

The tagging cruise left from Honolulu, Hawaii, in mid-August, and returned to the same port in early October, staying clear of any other ports. Mr Leroy and Dr Allain said that protocols to protect Pacific Islands people from COVID-19 meant that, before the research vessels could depart, the crew and scientists had to stay isolated for 14 days and return negative test results to the disease.

Mr Leroy said that, since the Pacific Tuna Tagging Programme began in 2006, about 455,000 tuna had been tagged. If SPC tagging campaigns carried out since the end of the 1970s were included, the number was more than 800,000. On the 2019 cruise, researchers tagged nearly 17,000 tuna.

Second study to develop better ways to sample small marine animals 

Bruno Leroy and Valérie Allain also reported on a second SPC research cruise, which was also curtailed to comply with COVID-19 rules. 

The SPC’s scientific team conducted a four-day trial to develop a new sampling method to collect micronekton from the surface of the ocean to a depth of 600 m. (Micronekton are marine animals such as fish, crustaceans, jellies and squids that measure 2–20 cm in length. They are the main source of food for seabirds, tuna and marine mammals.)

As the research vessel Alis is based in New Caledonia, the trial was conducted inside the country’s EEZ.

The original cruise planned for this year in the waters of New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Federated States of Micronesia has been postponed until 2021. It is part of a long-term program to study the ecosystem of the open oceans in the Western and Central Pacific. 

Crew on the research vessel Alis haul in a net full of micronekton during the 2020 research cruise in New Caledonian waters. Photo: Valérie Allain, SPC.
Crew on the research vessel Alis haul in a net full of micronekton during the 2020 research cruise in New Caledonian waters. Photo: Valérie Allain, SPC.

PNG fishing association wins MSC certification

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The Papua New Guinea Fishing Industry Association won Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in May.

The association covers 32 purse-seine vessels flagged to PNG and another 32 flagged to the Philippines that are based in PNG. The tuna must be processed in one of six PNG-based facilities, all of which are members of the association.

The May and June 2020 issue of Trade and Industry News said it was seventh purse-seine certification given in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO), and the first covering the use of drifting fish-aggregating devices (FADs). 

As part of becoming certified, the association must meet 10 conditions. Seven relate to lessening environmental impact, including on whales and dolphins, and interactions between whales and sharks. Three relate to how the fisheries are managed. 

Trade and Industry News, which is published by the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), said that certified organisations had to adopt harvest strategies to limit fishing to sustainable numbers. However, these were still being developed in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. 

Marine Stewardship Council logo of certification
MSC certification logo

Certification may help sell local tuna in the US

MSC-certified tuna might give the PNG association an advantage in the US market. Trade and Industry News reported that the US retailer Walmart was moving towards using only certified tuna in its brand Great Value. The brand Bumble Bee was doing the same.

The newsletter also discussed new tariffs on fish products being introduced by the United Kingdom now that it has left the European Union. Even though tariffs for canned tuna and tuna loins would drop from 24% to 20%, the price of Pacific Islands tuna means it should remain competitive.

More deaths on fishing vessels highlight lax approach by operators

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Recent deaths on tuna-fishing vessels operating in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) have again signalled the need to improve safety and working conditions on vessels, and to introduce and enforce meaningful penalties for vessel owners that flout regulations.

FFA’s Trade and Industry News for May and June 2020 reported on the death of a Kiribati observer from “unnatural” injuries in March 2020. It also reported on the deaths of four Indonesian crew on a Chinese vessel in the WCPO. They died in 2019, but their deaths did not come to light until April 2020. 

Existing rules have been criticised for not going far enough to protect observers or crew, Trade and Industry News reported.

It said that at least one well-known voice in the region, Bubba Cook, of WWF-New Zealand, had called for a new approach to keep observers safe, since current rules and penalties were failing observers. Mr Cook said that using more electronic surveillance technology on ships might help. So might banning a ship from ever fishing in WCPO waters if an observer disappeared or died in suspicious circumstances. 

Trade and Industry News said that “the death of an observer must be reported immediately and can shine a spotlight on the situation, some incidents relating to crew death or welfare can go unnoticed for months or even years”.

Two men stand in open hatch on frozen tuna. Photo Francisco Blaha.
Two members of the crew of a purse seiner prepare to unload a load of frozen tuna. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

In 2016, FFA adopted harmonised minimum terms and conditions for access by fishing vessels (HMTCs). They are used to regulate fishing in the waters of the 17 countries that are members of FFA. The HMTCs make getting and keeping a licence to fish for tuna contingent on maintaining a safe work environment for observers. They give instructions on how to do this, and on what to do if an observer is assaulted, harassed, dies, goes missing, or is believed to have fallen overboard. 

The HMTCs were updated in 2019 to state that the operator of the fishing vessel was also responsible for the health, welfare and safety of the crew while they are on board, and for the duration of their contract. Crew members must also be given a contract they understand (for example, in their own language).

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) introduced a rule in 2017 that requires vessel operators and captains to immediately undertake the emergency action specified if an “observer dies, is missing or presumed fallen overboard” or “suffers from a serious illness or injury that threatens his or her health or safety”. It builds on older rules on how to help observers do their job properly

Trade and Industry News said the Indonesian Government tabled its concerns about “labour abuse” in a paper to the 16th annual meeting of the WCPFC in December 2019.

Under WCPFC resolution 2018-01, the countries of the region, and other countries that fish in the region are expected to enact laws that require fishing operators to provide crews of fishing vessels with fair working conditions, fair pay, and a safe environment to work in. 

The rules of both organisations reiterate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Two fisheries observers monitor tuna catch on purse-seine vessel. Photo: Hilary Hosia.
Fisheries observers monitor tuna catches on board purse seiners as well as during transhipment in port. Their work provides important data for fisheries managers. Photo: Hilary Hosia.

Electronic monitoring may help improve working conditions

Trade and Industry News said the use of electronic monitoring and surveillance technology and artificial intelligence may make working conditions safer for observers and crew. 

It reported increased interest in electronic compliance and observance as a result of suspending the observer program as part of COVID-19 restrictions. Observers are a lynchpin in keeping reporting of fishing effort accurate, and in the prevention of bycatch and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. 

The countries in the region have been working out how to make electronic monitoring feasible, especially for the small island developing states (SIDS). It is expensive, and much of it is not fully developed yet, Trade and Industry News reports.

The FFA newsletter also reported that Thai Union was looking at using artificial intelligence to detect IUU fishing and abuses of human rights on tuna fishing vessels. 

Bank of electronic monitors used to monitor tuna fishing. Photo: AFMA.
Electronic monitoring installed on fishing vessel. Photo: AFMA.

A shared vision for self-determination: the PNA story in print

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A Solomon Islander who is a household name in the Western and Central Pacific tuna industry has written the story of how the Davids of the industry prevailed against the Goliaths.

Fishing for success: lessons in Pacific regionalism is the story of how the Parties to the Nauru Agreement came into being, and is written by one of those involved in its formation: Transform Aqorau.

The book was published recently by the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University. 

Dr Aqorau said in an interview with the Coral Bell School that it was “one of the happiest stories” to come out of the region.

“The huge increases in revenues, from our work in getting hard limits for the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS), and in restructuring the VDS and running it as a business, demonstrated that we can manage our resources more effectively,” Dr Aqorau said. 

“I wanted to share this story because for a long time we were really played off by the foreign fishing operators. It was quite unfair how the distant-water fishing nations, for the better part of 30 years, did not pay us for the true value of our tuna.”

Dr Transform Aqorau on deck of a purse-seine fishing vessel. Photo: Giff Johnson.
Dr Transform Aqorau on board the purse-seine fishing vessel Lojet during a two-week voyage. Photo: Giff Johnson.

The PNA began operating from a small office in Majuro, Marshall Islands, in 2010. Dr Aqorau said that, at that time, the PNA states collected US$60 million in revenue from tuna fishing. 

Because of the agreement, in 2019 the same states earned revenue of US$500 million. 

It was an achievement “that donors, regional organisations and political leaders have been trying to do for years, but could not”, Dr Aqorau said.

“it is about how a group of countries, friends and colleagues – through their friendship, alliance, shared vision and desire to control their fisheries … – put their heads together and created the largest capitalised tuna fishery in the world.” 

He was motivated by wanting “to ensure that our peoples – the young, the old and feeble, the people in the village – get a fair share of the returns from our tuna resources”.

Dr Aqorau charts the early discussions on the agreement, and the opposition, challenges and victories along the way. 

The development of the agreement is threaded through many of the tuna conservation and management tools used in the region today. They include the Vessel Day Scheme for purse-seine and longline fishing vessels, and the Fisheries Information Management System (FIMS). They also include the achievement of the first Marine Stewardship Council certification in the region, and the related set up of the Pacifical tuna-marketing brand.

Some arrangements had been more successful than others, he said, but from the beginning the countries saw that the conservation of tuna populations and economic gain went hand in hand. 

“The story of the PNA has been a remarkable one, especially the success of the VDS and how its significant economic returns have made such a large impact on the development of Pacific communities,” Dr Aqorau said.

The eight states that are members of the PNA are Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

Western and Central Pacific banks on SPC specimen collection

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One of the most important tools in understanding the biology and environment of tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is a bank.

This particular institution, the Pacific Marine Specimen Bank (PMSB), has been slowly building its revenue of research currency – muscle, organ and bone samples, stomach contents, photographs, and radiographic images – since 2000.

It also collects samples from other large, oceanic species such as marlin and swordfish that are also economically valuable.The PMSB is managed by scientists in the Oceanic Fisheries Programme of the Pacific Community (SPC). The datasets held in the bank help the scientists understand the world of tuna. Their knowledge forms part of SPC’s annual assessments of the state of health of tuna populations. In turn, the assessments are used to manage tuna fishing in the region.

Analysis of the specimens held in the bank also helps scientists understand how the climate crisis is influencing changes in the location of tuna and changes in their diet.

Specimen banks are important because they throw light on our understanding of current situations – and because scientists in the future can use the same samples to find answers to new questions or to ask the same questions using new techniques or research tools.

Four of the scientists involved in PMSB explained the difficulties of managing the specimen bank in the latest Fisheries Newsletter published by SPC.

One of the challenges the staff of PMSB face is ensuring that samples, which are collected all over the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, are kept in prime condition until they get to a permanent storage facility. Part of the scientists’ work is to prepare some samples to make it easier to transport them to analysis laboratories outside New Caledonia.

Two tuna lie in a cradle on a fishing vessel at sea. They are being tagged for scientific research by two men. Photo Pacific Community.
Tagging tuna on a pole-and-line vessel during a research voyage in the WCPO. Data collection during tagging is stored in the specimen bank. Photo: SPC.

Much care goes into getting, storing, and transporting samples so they can be used for immediate research and analysis, and also in many years’ time.

This usually means that they have to be kept cold enough. Many samples can be kept at –20°C; however, those used in genetic analysis must be kept at –80°C. Freezers of the second kind are difficult to come by, and expensive to run.

Other tissue must be preserved in formalin and then transferred into ethanol.

The nine cubic metres of freezer space at the laboratory at SPC in Noumea is now too small to contain the growing collection. Although there are plans to enlarge it, research partners are also helping to house pieces of the collection in other parts of the region.

And SPC has funded the purchase of freezers in the main fishing ports in the region to that samples can be stored safely until they are transferred to their final destination.

In April, the PMSB contained nearly 120,000 samples collected from 34,000 specimens. Some national observer programs have participated in collecting samples for the bank since 2002.

Note: post updated 6 July 2020 to correct a spelling error.

Wallis and Futuna counts FADs washed up on its coasts

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Wallis and Futuna is counting the number of lost and stranded fish-aggregating devices (FADs) that wash up on its coasts so it can calculate the damage they cause.

The campaign is being run by the Wallis and Futuna Fisheries Service. 

Bruno Mugneret, from the Department of Fishing and Management of Marine Resources in Wallis, said the number of washed-up FADs had become a problem.

“In Wallis and Futuna, the problem appeared with great intensity in 2019, when the population saw the resurgence of these objects on beaches, on reefs, in the lagoon, and also in the open sea around the islands, causing many questions about the origin and the activities associated with this multiplication,” he said.

The Fisheries Service is collecting data from fishers and local populations. It will use a radio campaign to raise awareness in communities about their important role as “sentries” in locating washed up FADs. 

The results of the research will be shared with coastal communities, so they can help develop ways of managing the FADs and protecting coastal environments.

Drifting FADs on deck of a purse-seine vessel, Micronesia. Photo: Pew Charitable Trusts.
Drifting FADs on deck of a purse-seine vessel, Micronesia. Photo: Pew Charitable Trusts.


The Wallis and Futuna research complements a study on where drifting FADs ended up being stranded in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. One of the scientists involved in the study was Lauriane Escalle, of the Pacific Community (SPC).

“SPC conducted this study to estimate the impact that the massive use of FADs can have on the coastal areas of our region. The data available demonstrate a certain under-estimation of strandings,” Dr Escalle told Wallis and Futuna Fisheries Service people at the launch of the local campaign. 

She said it was important that island nations and territories collect information on stranded FADs to contribute to existing databases that are used to assess grounding rates and the consequences of strandings on coastal ecosystems and local fisheries.

Dr Escalle was also involved in research that determined that between 30,000 and 65,000 drifting FADs are deployed a year in the WCPO by industrial fishers. At least 7% of them become stranded. The largest numbers have washed up on the coasts of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

Although drifting FADs have become an important tool in increasing tuna catches and in the profitability of fishing fleets, the sheer numbers of them are causing environmental problems and are a drain on budgets of island states that are left to dispose of them.

The Wallis and Futuna campaign began in February. The territory is a member of SPC.

Women slowly gaining access to more jobs in tuna fisheries, but remain mostly in traditional roles

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Small changes are slowly resulting in opportunities for women to take up a wider range of jobs in the tuna fisheries.

However, researchers have found that most of the options for women remain limited along traditional gender lines.

The researchers assessed how the ways the value chain is governed in tuna fisheries affect the well-being of communities, which includes women’s participation in the economy. They studied two communities in Solomon Islands, Noro and Gizo, both in Western Province, and two communities in Indonesia.

In Solomon Islands, some women were doing well in jobs with greater responsibilities such as technical supervisors or managers in the SolTuna cannery at Noro, or had built up trading businesses and fleets of fishing vessels.

And, in 2019, three women started work as cadets on the National Fisheries Development fishing fleet. Until then, the agency employed only men on its fishing vessels.

Generally, however, few women work on tuna fishing vessels anywhere. In Solomon Islanders, they make up a large part of the workforce once that catch is landed, dominating work on processing lines in factories, and selling raw or processed fish in local markets. 

Female compliance officer and two longline fishing vessels Solomon Islands. Photo Francisco Blaha.
Controlling longline vessels in Solomon Islands … women are slowly becoming a presence across the tuna industry. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

The researchers described their study and findings in the most recent issue of the Women in Fisheries Bulletin, which is published by the Pacific Community.

They said some women were also found in technical, financial and managerial roles, but usually in lower-paid, less powerful positions than their male colleagues. This was the same for tuna that is exported and for tuna sold in local markets for local consumption.

The researchers said that the largest employment opportunities in the tuna fisheries, on fish-processing lines for women, and as general crew of fishing vessels for men, were poorly paid. Two-thirds of the workforce of SolTuna are women, but most of them are in the lowest-paid jobs with the least authority. 

The researchers said that the International Finance Corporation had worked with SolTuna since 2015 to improve opportunities for women, as well as their working conditions.

Women’s work in the tuna fisheries was made more difficult because they were expected to fit paid work around their obligations to care for families and homes, with strong social and cultural values shaping women’s and men’s views on where women could legitimately seek work.

Most women who sell tuna in the Gizo and Noro are involved in small, family-run businesses. (This was different to the situation in Indonesia, where the value chain is more complex and offers more opportunities for women to be involved in or run larger businesses.)

If women were going to take up paid work across the tuna industry in greater numbers, jobs needed to be flexible so women could also meet their extensive family responsibilities.

Laughing woman in orange cap and coverall clothing with paintbrush and box in factory Solomon Islands. Photo Francisco Blaha.
A Solomon Islander at work in tuna processing … women are concentrated in the low-paid jobs. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

Manual on design, technology and use of anchored FADs updated

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new technical manual on the design of and use of anchored fish-aggregating devices has been released for the Pacific Islands.

The technical manual covers standard designs for different kinds of anchored FADs, and some regional modifications of these. It also discusses technical considerations for the design of upper floatation devices, main lines, and anchors, and considers deployment location and techniques from different kinds of fishing vessels, and maintaining FADs.

The manual improves on a 2005 edition by drawing on the experience and lessons learned by users of FADs across the Pacific. 

The manual is published by the Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (FAME) Division of the Pacific Community (SPC).

The new manual doesn’t replace the old ones, which FAME says still contains useful technical information. However, FAME said it became clear in 2016 that the older manual did need updating, when Pacific FAD users came together to share their knowledge and experiences in FAD design and innovation.

They said information that was still relevant in the 2005 edition had not been repeated in the new manual, but was referred to.

The manual is free to download in individual sections or as a complete manual. The 2005 manual can also be downloaded from the SPC website.

composite photo. Left image 3 men with leaves, floats, anchors, making anchored fish-aggregating devices. Right photo: two men on a small boat at sea feeding anchored FADs into the water. Photos: Forum Fisheries Agency.
Construction and deployment of FADs, Nauru. Photo: Forum Fisheries Agency.

Note: this post was amended on 18 March 2020 to replace images.