“The ocean is a great, interconnected system, and while we tend to work in sectors, the ocean doesn’t behave in sectors. So, what happens in one area what happens in another area, and we have to manage it accordingly,” Dr Johns says.
He says that, by bringing together all the science that’s happening across SPC, PCOSS makes it easier for information about one area or sector to be informed by science from all the other areas. This allows governments and communities to make better decisions that support communities in integrated ways.
The data and information also needs to be accessible and well-communicated.
“A key part of what we’re doing is making sure we’re translating science in a way that’s understandable to people,” Dr Johns says.
Dr Johns says PCOSS is useful nationally, to help individual countries manage their maritime zones, and internationally, because it can “provide a voice for the Pacific”.
The establishment of PCCOS (pronounced pea-coss) was announced at the Pacific Community’s 70th anniversary celebrations in 2017. SPC’s Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems division was given the job of setting it up. It worked with two other parts of SPC, the Geoscience, Energy and Maritime Division and the Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability Programme, to get the centre up and running.
The 49th CRGA meeting was held at the SPC headquarters in Noumea, New Caledonia.
In a communiqué on the outcomes of the meeting, the ministers noted that all stocks were continuing to decline and that there were gaps in tuna management, particularly on the high seas and in the longline fishery.
This was despite progress on meeting targets of the regional roadmap for sustainable fisheries. Progress had been driven largely by the purse-seine fishery, they said.
The ministers also “welcomed the priority that the FFA is placing on work to respond to the threat of climate change, which they say “is the single greatest threat to the security of Pacific Island countries”. They called for greater investment in research into the impact on tuna of climate change.
The ministers discussed improvements in minimum working conditions for crews working on foreign vessels that are licensed to fish in FFA members’ waters. They would extend these conditions to cover domestic fleets.
All smiles … Francisco Blaha and a Solomon Islander at work on a pole-and-line vessel in 2010. Francisco is this year’s SeaWeb Seafood Champion for advocacy. We profile him here. (Photo: Francisco Blaha)
Francisco “brings a unique perspective and has the credibility of very different but complementary groups in fisheries”, SeaWeb said when it announced the 2019 winners earlier this month. It noted that some of his ideas had been adopted by big players in the fishing industry.
Francisco sees his award as recognition
of his ability to work with three groups that were often at odds with each
other: governments, industry, and non-government organisations (NGOs). He says
the SeaWeb awards brings together many people trying to do the right thing.
“This is a good thing, with all the bad
news that fisheries get,” Francisco says.
“There are no superpowers attached to the award, to the disappointment of my daughter.”
SeaWeb is a project of the Ocean Foundation. It has presented awards in four categories since 2006 to recognise individuals and companies for outstanding leadership in promoting the production of environmentally responsible seafood.
It comes in part because he works for
himself, and does not have to follow any company line, he told Tuna Pacific
after winning the award.
“I guess people appreciate that I don’t
pretend to be anyone or anything I’m not: I’m just a dyslexic fisher that got
lucky with access to education and work for himself,” Francisco says.
“I have never had to use a suit and ties,
even when I was working with the UN [United Nations] in Rome. Whatever I got was on my own terms. I don’t
‘sell’ anything for anyone. If I don’t like something, I just don’t accept the
job, and I’m vocal on why I disagree with it.
“I dislike profoundly ingratitude and pretentiousness.”
Francisco discovers a love of the ocean
Anyone who has read Francisco’s popular blog – he says it had 25,000 individual readers in 2018 – knows that he began his fishing life working on boats taking squid, hake and toothfish in southern Argentina. But they may not know that he has an earlier association with the sea.
Francisco grew up far from the ocean, in
the traditional lands of the Guaraní people around the border of Paraguay and
Argentina, with his local mother and European father.
“My family crossed the Atlantic on board
a cruising ship from Germany all the way to Argentina when I was six years old.
I like to think that trip marked my life,” Francisco said.
It wasn’t the only thing that influenced
him to take up a life on the sea.
“I guess some people grow by action: they
decide they want similar things to their parents and other people around them.
Others, like me, grow by reaction, by going the opposite way. As anything to do
with the ocean was outside my family’s influence, I went that way,” Francisco says.
By joining the Argentinian navy as a
cadet, Francisco was able to go to high school. He learned a lot about “the
ocean, and rowing and swimming” – and then a second-hand 1976 National
Geographic fell into his hands.
“It had an article about the trip of the Hokule’a,
the Hawaiian double-hulled canoe that went from Honolulu to Papeete. I started
learning, reading history, and fantasising about the South Pacific,” he says.
Francisco loved the ocean, but not the military life – he admits to having a strong anti-authority streak – and when he was released from the navy after the Falklands War, he decided to go fishing for a few years, and worked as technician on board fishing and research vessels while he gained a Masters in fisheries science.
His experience of working during this time taught him that he had no desire to work in a job “where you spend half your time navigating political storms” of bureaucracies and grooming political connections to get jobs and promotions.
“So, I decided to come to the Pacific and
go to all those places I had read about in the article on the Hokule’a
as teenager. Two weeks after graduation, I got in a sailing boat that was going
to Tahiti via Cape Horn … no plans, no contacts, just hopes and a smile.”
He spent almost two years heading west, fishing
and doing odd jobs in Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, before landing in New Zealand in
1995. He fell in love with the country, and has set up his life there.
An introduction to fisheries compliance
Francisco worked for New Zealand fishing
companies such as Sanford and Simunovich Fisheries. It was here that he was introduced
to a level of fisheries compliance he had not experienced. To his surprise, he
enjoyed the work.
Having decided it would be useful to have
a degree from an English-speaking university, he earned a Masters in food science,
then started doing domestic consulting work.
“I found international fisheries
consulting work mostly by chance,” Francisco says. “I didn’t know such a job
existed. But if fit me well: I know fishing, I have a good practical and
academic background, and I love travelling and spending time with fisheries
people. I also have a total lack of embarrassment about trying new languages,
and that helped, too.”
Apart from a two-year stint with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome, he has worked for himself for the past 25 years.
A familiar face in the Pacific – and around the world
Francisco is now a familiar face in the
Western and Central Pacific Ocean, where he holds contracts with governments,
charitable and non-government organisations, and international bodies. Most of
his work these days is with monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) to
combat illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. This involves him in
the development of port state measures (PSM) and catch documentation schemes
He does a lot of work with the Pacific Islands Fisheries Forum Agency (FFA), from high-level development of procedures such as the Port State Measures Framework to training compliance officers to the use of new hook-type scales to monitor transhipment volumes.
“The Guaraní I grew up with have a
culture that has a surprising affinity with the cultures of the Pacific, so the
customs that are the basis of Pacific life are not too foreign to me. When I
started collaborating with the FFA over 10 years ago, I found an organisation
whose values are akin to mine,” Francisco says.
“FFA is at the edge of the best practices
in fisheries worldwide. I love working for them. In fact, I consider many of
the staff as part of my extended family now.”
Home, soul and family in the Pacific
Francisco has his fingers in many other
pies, too. Among other projects, he is an adviser for the Marshall Islands
Marine Resource Authority (under a contract with the NZ Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and Trade), “dealing with an amazing variety of stuff, from strategy
advice, procurement for boarding boats, intelligence analysis of vessels
arriving at port, inspections—and 100 other things.”
He is working with FAO on the implementation of port state measures and social responsibility and the use of blockchain technology to make the chain of fish production more transparent. And he is collaborating with OceanMind on remote intelligence analysis of fishing vessels.
A one-off project he had fun with was developing a colouring book to help train subsistence fishers of countries that belong to the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on best practice in fishing.
Francisco’s work isn’t restricted to this region. In his CV, he lists 58 countries he’s worked with around the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.
However, while he works around the world,
his work in the Pacific has special meaning for him.
“The Pacific has been home for half my
life. It has given me a second run in life, and family, friends, meaningful
work, and an oceanic playground to surf, do open-water swims, spearfish,
paddle, navigate by wayfinding … My soul is at home in the Pacific. And the
Pacific fishing problems are my fishing problems – I live off fishing in this
ocean for most of my year.”
A passion for fairness
For someone who holds little regard for
rank, the challenging world of compliance may seem like an odd choice of
“The fact that I am here today in New
Zealand with this job is a function of my past, and relates to my appreciation
of the concept of fairness and equal opportunities. I’m coming into it from the
perspective of it being fair for all sides. It does not relate to enforcing
rules,” Francisco says.
“For me, the fisheries ‘crisis’ is not a
biological crisis, but one of politics, transparency, and fairness.
“Right now, the system is not fair. When
I broke my knee on board back in Argentina, when I had exams at university, there
was a ‘system’ set up by the fishers’ union to look after me. When I see the
conditions and pay that many of the crews today have, it just upsets me!
“I have the same posture on gender and
diversity. I don’t participate any more on panels and conferences unless the
organisers can prove that there is more diversity than at the last one. This is
not some ‘new age’ thing I’m trying to pose for; it’s just that is not fair,
and that is enough for me.
“I grew up in a country with not much of
a culture of compliance, and while I felt that many of the rules were
dumb, at least I expected they should have applied equally to everyone and
not just to some. The equality of the rule of law in New Zealand is a rare
He says he had found a niche that suits him,
working “in the middle” between regulators with whom he shares insights into
fishing; industry, which he can help be more cost-effective; and the fishers, for
whom he is a voice for decent working conditions and wages.
He is proud of being trusted by all.
“People respect that you understand their
job because you have done it yourself. For example, when you go on board, crew
immediately know if you spent time fishing by the way you move on board, the
fact that you know how to operate the instruments and the bridge—and that you
can call them on technical issues when they are trying to derail the
conversation when you find a compliance problem.
“It’s the same at factories. And in boardrooms. When people know you know your stuff, that is good for everyone to improve the industry.”
Fishing is the people – men and women
Francisco likes to point out that he
doesn’t work with fish any more.
“I work with the people who work with
fish. I love working with fishermen and fisheries inspectors, factory people. I
have gained a much wider perspective by working on the ground than being in
classrooms,” Francisco says.
“In a fishing boat, you don’t have to
like the guy next to you, but you should be able to trust him. Everyone on
board has a job, and you have to do your job right. If you don’t, people die;
it’s as simple as that.
“Fishing also makes you very aware
of your overall insignificance. When you are in storm at sea and there are 20 metre
waves outside and 80 knot wind gusts, nothing really matters a lot other than
staying alive. And when you see those seas and what nature can be, it is a
profound life experience … or at least it is for me.”
He would like to see more women working
in all fields of the fishing industry.
“It still is an unfair playing field out
there,” Francisco says.
“But I would say to women that it is
getting better, mostly because other women before you started opening the way.
Now it’s your turn. Many men are also changing and walking along with you, and
you’ll be surprised how many good people are out there for each of the idiots
you will still find along your path.”
Francisco says that he has been shaped by
fishers and fisheries; that they allowed him to educate himself, help his
family, make friends, and work in places he’d never heard of.
“I love fisheries, and fisheries are
people, for good and for bad, and they cannot and should not be separated. My
favourite Māori proverb or whakataukī
is something I appreciate more as I get older. It goes: He aha te mea nui o
te ao. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
“What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.”
The WCFPC has toughened its stance on tuna fishing. It has extended fishing limits, expanded the official observer program, and made tougher rules against bycatch, including the compulsory use of non-entangling FADs.
Tougher rules to protect tuna stocks as well as boost struggling Pacific Island economies were the focus of Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) decisions at its recent annual policy-setting meeting.
The most important measures agreed to at the WCPFC15 meeting in Honolulu in December 2018 are:
setting a target reference point (TRP) for South Pacific albacore tuna, to balance the preservation of fish populations and economic needs
The rule applies to FADs to be deployed in or that will drift into the western and central Pacific Ocean. During discussion at WCPFC15, the European Union reported that it already used non-entangling FADs in other oceans, and that they had no impact on the amount of tuna caught. The WCPFC agreed that, to prevent animals becoming tangled up in FADs, fishing fleets should avoid using mesh if possible. However, if mesh is to be used:
the netting must be less than 7 cm when stretched, whether used on the raft or in the hanging “tail”
if the raft is covered, the mesh is to be wrapped securely so that animals cannot become enmeshed
any mesh used in a tail is to be tightly bundled and secured into “sausages” that are weighted so that the tail hangs straight down in the water column and remains taut.
It recommended a solid canvas sheet as a better option for the tail.
Biodegradable FADs recommended
The WCPFC flagged the introduction of biodegradable FADs, to reduce the amount of plastic rubbish in the ocean and that washes up on reefs and coastlines. The Scientific Committee (SC) and the Technical and Compliance Committee (TCC) are to present suitable designs by 2020.
FAD closure extended
The Commission also increased by two months a year the period in which FADs are banned from use in some areas. They were previously prohibited from 1 July to 30 September by purse seiners operating on the high seas and in exclusive economic zones (EEZs) between 20°N and 20°S. The ban is now extended for an extra two months on the high seas.
Protection zone extended to reduce seabird bycatch
Longline fishing vessels must use several approved measures to reduce the number of seabirds accidentally caught while fishing.
The measures were already in place for the Pacific Ocean south of 30°S. From 1 January 2020, that area will be extended, with vessels fishing between 25°S and 30°S to also use approved measures, although the EEZs of Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Tonga are exempt. The measures allowed are detailed in CMM 2018-03 and summarised in policies and rules on Sustainpacfish.
Seabird bycatch mitigation measures
North of 23oN:
large longline vessels of 24m or longer to use at least 2 mitigation measures, including at least one from Column A
small longline vessels of less than 24m to use at least one measure from Column A.
Between 25oS and 23oN:
longline vessels are encouraged to use at least one of these measures, and preferably more.
Side setting with a bird curtain and weighted branch lines
Night setting with minimum deck lighting
Deep-setting line shooter
Weighted branch lines
Management of offal discharge
The commission also amended the rules to conserve and manage turtles, but failed to agree on new measures for sharks.
Interim target set for catch of South Pacific albacore tuna
Pacific small island developing states cautiously hailed the adoption of limits to the catch of south Pacific albacore tuna. The limit, called a target reference point (TRP), tells fishing nations how many fish can be taken, based on the combined weight of all breeding-age individuals (called “spawning biomass”) of that species.
Catch rules clarified for Pacific bluefin tuna, and limits maintained for tropical tuna
The WCPFC clarified the catch rules for bluefin tuna so that, when a country exceeds its effort and catch limits in one year, the amount extra it has taken is deducted from the catch it is allowed the following year.
The Northern Committee of the WCPFC had argued for a catch-documentation scheme (CDS) to be applied to Pacific bluefin tuna to help bring populations of this depleted species back to sustainable levels. This will be developed as part of the conservation and management measure (CMM) on bluefin tuna. The goal of the CDS is to create a paper trail (physical or electronic) in fisheries to make it much more difficult to sell illegal, unreported or unregulated fish, since they wouldn’t have required documentation.
Despite some pressure to relax catch limits for the main commercial tropical tuna species—bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack—the WCPFC extended current limits for another two years. These three species are worth more than US$4.4 billion a year.
Reducing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing
Last year, the president of the Marshall Islands, Dr Hilda Heine, said: “A five-year target to eliminate IUU fishing by 2023 is bold, but the stakes are too high not to be audacious in the goals we set. If we are serious about combating IUU, we need a tougher mindset.”
Strengthen the observer network and compliance
WCPFC members agreed on several measures to strengthen compliance.
The Commission also expanded the compliance monitoring scheme (CMS), with some reporting information to be made publicly available online, and searchable. Flagging of alleged violations has also been formalised, with deadlines given for countries to address violation notices.
Calls to make work safe for fishing crews and observers