A small project to test four types of electronic crane scales may grow into a transhipping process that benefits crews, skippers, vessel managers, scientists and regulators, project members hope.
If their early experiments pay off, the accuracy of weighing catches during transhipment will improve.
After much testing for precision, robustness, ease of use, price, and a few other characteristics, the team has chosen the best performer. Team members need to develop standards that would be workable in the transhipment ports in Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu and Solomon Islands.
The team comprised people from Forum Fisheries Agency, the Pacific Community, and Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, led by fisheries consultant Francisco Blaha. They secured funding for the project from the Pacific–European Union Marine Partnership program.
The team hope this process to increase the accuracy of weight monitoring during the slow work of transhipment will become commonplace. If this happens, the people who monitor transhipments will be able to trust the weights as read by the scales, which will free them up to focus on the species composition of transfers.
Mending fishing nets is no easy task when the net is from a purse-seiner and may be up to 3,000 metres long and 300–400 metres deep, and weigh 6 tonnes, as in the case of super-seiners.
The design and construction of these nets are complex, as they have to function well in a variety of situations, weather and sea conditions that are pretty challenging. Not only do they have to withstand the complicated mix of forces and tensions during setting and hauling, they also have to cope with the extra stress put on them by being used under potentially different currents from the water surface to the bottom of the net.
Running repairs are done constantly. Many are done on board, but major repairs require a large, flat surface such as a wharf or net yard, and the use of forklifts and other equipment to move the net panels around. Francisco Blaha gives us a better appreciation of the difficulty crews face when repairing nets, at sea and in port.
SPC has published short reports into ways that women can have a greater say in fisheries management in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu.
The reports are a snapshot of information on and analysis of the how women participate in fishing in the four countries.
Each report summarises the steps the country has taken so far to improve women’s involvement. These are mostly in policies. It also highlights strengths and weaknesses in current arrangements, and discusses political factors and social norms that prevent or deter women from becoming more actively involved.
These points are used to list ways in which women could become more equal participants in both decision-making about and control of fisheries resources. They include learning from women themselves what they need and want, targeting women when delivering extension services, and implementing gender-equity policies that already exist.
SPC says the reports are intended to stimulate discussion about how to make improvements in the organisation’s Social Development Programme and Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (FAME) Division.
It says the recommendations are also relevant to the national government of the country, and the country’s external partners in development.
Women often don’t see themselves as fishers
In all four countries, many women do not see themselves as fishers, even though they provide seafood for the family. They and the men in their families see only the men as the fishers.
The reports note that women also have less time to be involved in paid work, community decision-making and development activities, as they do most of the reproductive work and caregiving in the family and the community, and don’t have time for other things.
SPC writes that “care must be taken to consult with women and ensure they have time to benefit from development at a pace they can manage”.
Social norms needed to be discussed if people’s thinking was to change. This was difficult work that would take time, especially as there was a lack of expertise in gender analysis in all four countries.
Opportunities in each country highlighted
Women are involved in community decision-making in places in all the countries, and this could be built on to increase their involvement.
In Tonga, women make up 40% of the community councils that manage the special management areas that the government has set up to restore coastal fishing areas that have collapsed. However, SPC notes, the women on the councils may not have the same power as men when making decisions.
In Fiji, women are involved in subsistence fishing and also work in the cannery, hold positions of power, and have extensive knowledge and skills that are different to those of Fijian men in the industry. However, SPC notes, they remain marginalised in decision-making and consultation, and receive fewer benefits.
In Samoa, women make up about 18% of fishers in villages, and are responsible for about 10% of a community’s fishing effort. They also do most of the processing after harvest. SPC notes that although the Samoan Government is hampered by the limited sharing of skills and knowledge between departments, it is working with development partners to improve women’s involvement in coastal and marine fisheries.
The reports cover all fisheries. However, as women are much more involved in coastal fisheries and aquaculture (and men in deep-sea fisheries), the discussion is more focused on these. SPC has a handbook on gender equity and social inclusion in coastal fisheries last year.
At the core of their research is one of the elements at the heart of a heating planet: carbon.
By tracing two of the most abundant forms of carbon, the isotopes carbon-12 and carbon-13, they were able to show that a significant amount of global heating is caused by human activities rather than natural processes.
They also found that several other factors also influence the amount of different carbon isotopes in tuna.
Scientists find evidence of changes in the food chain
One of the most important happens at the start of the food chain, with a group of plankton known as phytoplankton, which use sunlight and carbon to make the energy they need.
The scientists showed that the abundance of different kinds of phytoplankton has changed in the past 15 years, directly as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. They also showed that the proportion of carbon-12 and carbon-13 available changes the kinds and abundance of phytoplankton. These changes don’t stop here, but alter the kinds and abundance of animals, including tuna, all the way up the food chain.
Numbers of some phytoplankton are shrinking, and this too is affecting the abundance and location of tuna.
The change in the balance of phytoplankton is made worse by another effect of climate change: ocean stratification. Surface and deep waters of oceans now mix less, and that fewer nutrients are stirred up and made available for plankton to consume.
The research also showed changes in how quickly phytoplankton grow.
The scientists traced two forms of carbon
The research involved scientists from several fields. Among them was Valérie Allain of the Pacific Community (SPC).
The scientists took 4,500 samples of muscle from albacore, bigeye and yellowfin tuna over 15 years, from 2000 to 2016, from the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans. They found that changes were most pronounced in the Pacific Ocean.
They traced two forms of carbon, carbon-12 and carbon-13. This is possible because each isotope each has a different weight and also behaves slightly differently.
Carbon is found naturally in living things, and in the air, land and water. It is also present in coal and oil, and when these burn, carbon-12 is released into the atmosphere.
More than 90% of atmospheric carbon is absorbed by the oceans. From there, it enters the food chain, being taken up by plankton and passed on to each predator up the chain, until it ends up in tuna, along with other forms of carbon such as carbon-13.
Reporting on their findings in the most recent issue of SPC’s Fisheries Newsletter, Valérie Allain and another researcher, Anne Lorrain, said that the data will be “of inestimable value” in projecting the effects of climate change on the health and quantity of seafood, and in validating modelling. This is because they collected so much data over such a long time and a very large geographical area.
Their research makes much more certain that humans do affect the environments and inhabitants of the open oceans.
It covers the subtropical and tropical waters of the WCPO, and informs users about the best methods for handling and releasing sharks and rays, recommended by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
Many shark and ray species in the WCPO (and elsewhere in the world) are in danger of dying out, and accidental catch during fishing is a major cause of deaths in some species. If these species are to be saved, scientists and fisheries managers need accurate figures on how many are being caught. And that means being able to identify them reliably.
SPC says that, as well as helping fishers, it also helps observers, who collect operational data from fishing and report back to fisheries managers, who use the information to manage not just tuna fishing but the care of the marine environments that tuna rely on to remain healthy.
To make identification at sea easier, the illustrations show the most important distinguishing features of each species, and its colour when alive.
Identification will also be made easier by the inclusion of the common name for each animal in six languages: Cantonese, English, French, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, and Spanish.
The manual is written by Timothy Park, Lindsay Marshall, Aymeric Desurmont, Boris Colas and Neville Smith, and illustrated by shark and ray illustrator Dr Lindsay Gutteridge, who is also a scientist.
The new manual refines an older guide that defines 30 species of sharks and rays.
More than 16,600 tuna were tagged in a recent scientific tagging expedition in ocean generally north of Papua New Guinea.
The voyage targeted skipjack tuna, which makes up 70% of the volume of tuna caught in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).
Tuna tagging helps the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and national fisheries managers assess numbers of tuna. The assessments are used to set catch limits.
This voyage was conducted largely in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Palau, and Federated States of Micronesia, with a little time spent also in two pockets of high seas.
In its most recent fisheries newsletter, SPC reported that fisheries authorities in PNG, Palau and FSM provided research permits and gave support to the research being done in their EEZs.
An average of almost 450 tuna were tagged and released each fishing day. Most – 93% – were skipjack, the rest being yellowfin (6%) and bigeye (1%). Most came from free-swimming schools (i.e. the tuna were not caught near fish-aggregating devices, or FADs).
Some fish were implanted with what is known as an archival tag, a physical device which must be inserted using small surgery and a very fast turnaround – no more than 30 seconds – so that the tuna doesn’t become too stressed and lacking in oxygen.
SPC reported that it expected some of the tuna tagged in this way would be recovered and would provide good data on the behaviour and movement of the fish.
The agency also reported that some tuna were injected with strontium chloride, a slightly radioactive salt that becomes incorporated into a part of the tuna’s skeleton known as the otolith (or ‘ear stone’). As the fish grows, scientists can use the mark left by the strontium chloride in the otolith to estimate how old the fish is. (Otoliths help fish to balance and to understand how fast they are swimming.)
To conduct the tagging cruise, SPC chartered a pole-and-line vessel from Noro, in Solomon Islands.
This was the fifth western Pacific tagging cruise, and it lasted from July to September 2019.
Tuna tagging has been carried out regularly since the Pacific Tuna Tagging Programme ran its first voyage in 2006.
Tuna fishers will have to do everything they can to save rays, including the magnificent manta ray, that are unintentionally caught during fishing operations.
Several species of mobulid rays, which include the mantas, are perilously close to extinction. One of the reasons for this is the numbers that die when they become part of the tuna catch.
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) hopes to reverse the trend to extinction. At its 16th annual meeting, delegates agreed on tougher rules aimed at helping rays survive industrial fishing operations. (Wildlife caught accidentally during fishing is known collectively as bycatch.)
According to World Wildlife Fund, every year between 13,000 and 19,000 seabirds, particularly albatrosses and petrels, die after being caught on longline hooks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean — even though a conservation and management measure already exists to protect them.
The new guidelines are simple so that they can be followed easily, and so are the materials needed to safely release seabirds: a towel or blanket, pliers, net, a box or bin, and gloves. Most of these are already likely to be on longline vessels.
Although the guidelines aren’t binding, they do mark a step up in WCPFC’s push for a sustainable tuna industry.
It said all four species that are economically important in the region – skipjack, South Pacific albacore, yellowfin and bigeye – are being fished sustainably.
In the parlance of the report, “none is being overfished, and overfishing is not occurring”, although there was “no room for complacency” in how fish stocks are managed because all four species continue to decline overall.
The abundance of a species is estimated against a benchmark, called a target reference point (TRP), which is a desirable level of stock needed to maintain the healthy functioning of the species, the environment it lives in, and the sustainability of fishing.
The report card said that numbers of skipjack tuna are above the target reference point (TRP) for that species. TRPs are being developed for the other three species.
The report noted that the value of tuna fishing to the region is increasing, and had passed the target for 2020.
Local employment in the tuna industry was also increasing, and was on target to meet the 2023 target.
“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.