The fourteenth regular session of the Northern Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) finishes up Friday, 7 September, after three days of meetings in Fukuoka, Japan.
The committee has been considering a draft conservation management measure for a Pacific bluefin tuna catch documentation scheme. General goals for tuna management were already outlined at the committee’s December meeting in Manila, the Philippines. These included keeping WCPFC members’ total fishing effort in the area north of the 20th parallel below the 2002-2004 annual average catch levels; and keeping total catch of Pacific bluefin tuna weighing less than 30 kilograms at less than 50 percent of the 2002-2004 annual average levels. The proposal calls for any overage of the catch limit to be deducted from the country’s catch limit for the following year.
In order to achieve these goals, the establishment of conservation management measures was promoted, with certain requirements, with the prerequisite that members will cooperate to establish a catch documentation scheme to be applied to Pacific bluefin tuna; and that members would also take measures to strengthen monitoring and data collecting system for Pacific bluefin tuna fisheries and farming in order to improve the data quality and timeliness of data reporting.
The goal of the CDS is to make it difficult to sell illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fish, as they would lack the necessary paper (or electronic) trail. A major point to be decided is whether the CDS would be paper-based or electronic. Other questions to be debated include whether the documents should be validated and by whom, and whether there should be an exemption for artisanal and recreational fisheries.
During its meeting, the WCPFC will also investigate the systems used by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT).
The 15th Infofish World Tuna Trade Conference and Exhibition opened on 28 May in Bangkok, Thailand. The three-day conference covered resources, fisheries management, markets, new technologies, food safety, sustainability, and environmental issues.
Among the sponsors was the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Jong-Jin Kim, FAO’s deputy regional representative for Asia and the Pacific, said during his opening address that the international community now has at its disposal a number of new and powerful instruments with the potential to drastically reduce and eliminate illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, including the FAO Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Catch Documentation Schemes and the FAO Global Record of Fishing Vessels.
FAO Fishery Planning Analyst for Asia and the Pacific Cassandra De Young explained the various programs to SeafoodSource.
The 2009 FAO Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) is the first binding international agreement to specifically target IUU fishing. Its objective is to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU fishing by preventing vessels engaged in IUU fishing from using ports and landing their catches. Entering into force in June 2016, 54 States and the European Union have joined forces by becoming Parties to the PSMA, as of May 2018.
FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Catch Documentation Schemes were officially adopted by the FAO Conference in July 2017 and, with seafood trade at record highs and consumer demand still rising, CDS are increasingly seen as an effective tool. For example, since 2010, the European Union has used a CDS that covers all fish shipments imported into the bloc from overseas; and in 2016, the United States announced its own scheme, the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP). In 2017, ASEAN adopted the voluntary ASEAN Catch Documentation Scheme for Marine Capture Fisheries to enhance intra-regional and international trade of fish and fish products.
“The FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Catch Documentation Schemes is the first international policy document that provides a ‘gold standard’ for governments and businesses looking to establish systems that can trace fish from their point of capture through the entire supply chain – from ‘sea to plate’ – in order to stop illegally caught fish from entering the marketplace,” De Young said.
The Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels (the Global Record) is a collaborative, global initiative to make available, in a rapid way, certified data from State authorities about vessels and vessel-related activities. The Global Record provides a single access point for information on vessels used for fishing and fishing-related activities with the primary objective being to combat IUU fishing by enhancing transparency and traceability.
Key to the Global Record, De Young said, is the Unique Vessel Identifier (UVI) – a global unique number that is assigned to a vessel to ensure traceability through reliable, verified, and permanent identification of the vessel. Once assigned, the UVI is with the vessel for its entire life, regardless of changes in flag, ownership, or name. To date, IMO numbers have been allocated to more than 23,000 fishing vessels worldwide. Countries are closing the net on IUU fishing as countries around the globe, De Young said, calling out Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, Thailand, the United States of America, Vanuatu and the European Union member states for praise, as all have started disseminating their data through the Global Record Information System. Launched in April, 2017, the Global Record initially includes larger vessels (100 gross tonnage, or 24 meters and above) but aims, over time, to include official information on vessels all the way to 10-50 GT or between 12 and 18 meters.
Japan is the second-largest contributor to the FAO’s budget. Keiko Okabe, a communication specialist at the FAO’s Japan Liaison Office, said FAO’s leading initiatives in Japan including implementation of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems and zero hunger initiatives funded by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF).
“The FAO, as a whole, has been implementing a project in supporting developing countries to achieve sustainable fisheries, and to eliminate IUU, which is funded by MAFF,” Okabe told SeafoodSource.
Improvements in the design of fish-aggregating devices (FADs) could make a major difference in improving the sustainability and efficiency of skipjack tuna fishing in the Pacific Ocean, according to the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.
The Washington, D.C.-based NGO is pushing for better FAD management and practices, focusing on the skipjack fishery in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. It asserts that improvements in the design of FADs could help to cut bycatch of overfished bigeye and yellowfin tuna, as well as other species like sharks, dolphinfish, and turtles.
From surveys by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) – an organization made up of Pacific Island nations that control a large amount of tuna resources within their exclusive economic zones (EEZ) – as many as 50,000 FADs are likely now in use in the Western and Central Pacific tuna fishery, up from 30,000 just five years ago.
FADs became more popular in the 1990s due to dolphin-free campaigns and regulations. Tuna seiners used to locate tuna by spotting and tracking down dolphins and seabirds feeding on the schools, but in catching the tuna they also netted and killed dolphins. FADs, which can be as simple as a bamboo raft trailing some disused netting, then came into common use. Fish tend to gather around FADs, though the reason for this behavior is not well known.
Some disadvantages of FADs soon became apparent. Many FADs end up abandoned, lost, or discarded, contributing to the problem of plastic litter in the sea. There is also a higher bycatch rate when fishing on FADs, with particular concern about juvenile bycatch of overfished bigeye and yellowfin tuna, as well as sharks, rays, and sea turtles. But two trends are currently transforming the traditional FAD into a more modern, and potentially less environmentally harmful, product.
The first is that attached GPS satellite devices now allow the use of drifting FADs (DFADs). While the cost of the GPS and sonar can be more than JPY 100,000 (USD 1,000, EUR 800) per unit, vessels pay large fees based on the number of fishing days they spend in an EEZ, so they find it profitable to make the most efficient use of their days. Additionally, attaching a sonar device to a DFAD allows fishermen to remotely monitor which ones have attracted a large biomass underneath. A vessel may then focus its effort on the FADs that will yield the most fish for their effort.
As advances in technology greatly increase the number of fish a single seiner may catch, regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) such as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission have been considering strategies to manage their use. Fishing effort is usually managed by vessel days and gear, but the increased use and efficiency of electronic DFADs may now merit their inclusion as regulated gear.
The ISSF has made that recommendation to the WCPFC, along with several others. In some fisheries, supply and support vessels set DFADs, so that fishing vessels can concentrate on catching fish. The ISSF recommends the regulation or banning of setting FADs from support vessels as one way to reduce fishing effort in its report titled “ISSF 2016-11: ISSF Survey Paper on the Treatment of Supply Vessels.”
As DFADs are equipped with transmitters, it should be possible to supply all of the data to fisheries managers to allow them to better understand the number and location of DFADs, better estimate stocks of fish, and to pick up oceanographic data such as water temperature and movement of currents, according to the ISSF.
In addition to better data sharing, the organization is encouraging the WCPFC to mandate non-entangling DFAD design to reduce shark mortality. Most DFADs in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean are made with bamboo rafts trailing large-mesh seine nets –considered to be high entangling-risk FADs. ISSF is promoting an industry-wide conversion to less entangling-risk FADs and non-entangling FADs. The former are made of smaller mesh nets, such as those used for anchovies and sardines, while the latter are made of ropes and canvas, with biodegradable materials preferred to address the plastic waste problem.
This conversion will help reduce mortalities of oceanic whitetip and silky sharks, which are the sharks found most frequently around DFADs. Because these sharks must keep moving to pass water over their gills, when they get caught in the net of a DFAD, they cannot swim and soon die. As the carcasses may subsequently become free and fall off the net, this phenomenon is called “cryptic fishing” bycatch, as it generally isn’t noticed or recorded.
One recommendation the ISSF isn’t making is an outright ban on FADs, as every fishing method has its own problems. Rather, they seek to improve their design and management. The PNA has applied FAD closures in the past order to protect overfished bigeye tuna from being taken as bycatch, but found that overall catches of bigeye did not decline, as fishing effort was refocused to the high seas after the ban went into place in its EEZ.
The ISSF has numerous other recommendations for the WCPFC and other RFMOs overseeing large tuna fisheries, including the use of scientific assessments in setting catch rates and greater observer coverage of the fishing fleet. The current push is on the WCPFC because other RFMOs have already established working groups to consider measures to manage FADs.
“In the WCPO, FAD sets account for about 30 percent of tropical tuna catches. There is a need globally for measures that help better monitor and manage FAD usage in every ocean region,” ISSF President Susan Jackson said. “Shark mortality and other FAD-fishing ecosystem impacts in the WCPO also have to be addressed, for which the wide-scale adoption of non-entangling FAD designs is a critical step.”