The scientific and statistical committee (SSC) for the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC) has recommended that no catch limits be set for longliners pursuing bigeye tuna near the three US territories in Pacific Ocean — American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands — from 2020 until 2023.
The panel also recommended that each of the territories be allowed to allocate up to 2,000 metric tons to federally permitted Hawaii longline vessels.
The SSC’s recommendations came during a three-day meeting concluded in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Thursday, and preceded a meeting by the WPRFMC to be held in the same city, June 25-27, where bigeye tuna catch and allocation limits will be on the agenda.
Small, developing states in the Pacific don’t have longline-caught bigeye quotas, the council explains on its website, but under an amendment to its pelagic fishery ecosystem plan, the US’ National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has the authority to specify annual catch and allocation limits for the three US territories. In recent years, each US territory had a 2,000t limit and authority to allocate up to 1,000t.
Prior to making its decision, the science panel reportedly reviewed stock projections through 2045, which showed that catch limit and allocation scenarios of up to 3,000t per territory were not significant enough to cause the stock to go over any limit reference points adopted by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, an international regional fishery management organization that develops quotas and other management measures for tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
The SSC this week also set the acceptable biological catch for the main Hawaiian Islands Kona crab commercial fishery at 30,802 pounds for 2020 to 2023. The decision accounted for the scientific uncertainties with an estimated risk of overfishing of 38%, the press release stated.
Catch limits and options for specifying annual catch limits on Kona crab also are to be on the council’s agenda next week as well as a presentation from Global Fishing Watch, an organization that uses technology to visualize, track and share data about global fishing activity.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) has commenced the process of getting its tuna fishery Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified, and it is already looking ahead to the benefits it hopes certification can bring.
Key among those is boosting the on-shore processing sector, which has had some difficulties in achieving its full potential in recent years. There are six plants on PNG, including Filipino firm Frabelle’s own operation and its joint venture with Thai Union Group, named Majestic Seafood.
There is also RD Processing, IFC, Nambawan Seafood, and South Seas Tuna Co.
Frabelle president Francisco Tiu Laurel has previously told Undercurrent News of the difficulties in realizing the company’s potential on the island. This time last year the two plants it is involved with had been forced to lay off employees, and were considering closing entirely, apparently because the government had ended subsidies for foreign companies.
Already, though, the situation is looking brighter, Tiu Laurel said.
“For our plants Majestic and Frabelle PNG we are again up and running at about 70% of our capacity, and we have rehired about 800 workers per plant as the government of PNG has approved to give us some refund for the fish that PNG-flagged vessels unload and process on shore-based facilities,” he said.
The government’s final decision on these regulations is yet to be determined, and once it is, Frabelle will be hoping PNG’s national fisheries authority signs it as soon as possible.
“Once we get this we will be running the factories at full capacity, and hire more workers hopefully in the near future,” said the Frabelle boss.
Presenting at the recent Seafood Expo Global in Brussels, Belgium, PNG Fishing Industry Association (FIA) chairman Sylvester Pokajam noted the island’s six plants are currently operating at around half capacity; Frabelle at 90 metric tons (of a possible 120t) per day, and Majestic at 80t of a possible 250t.
In total, the processing sector is operating at 7,125t/ day, compared to its full capacity of 15,000t. Pokajam and Tiu Laurel both told Undercurrent that gaining MSC would help bring that utilization up.
“If PNG gets its own MSC it will definitely help the plants, as demand for MSC fish is increasing in several markets around the world,” said Tiu Laurel.
How will MSC help?
PNG’s government originally set up its “domestication policy” to attract downstream investment to the island, FIA told Undercurrent.
This policy incentivized shore-based investments from fishing operators already working on PNG, like RD and Frabelle, by discounting fishing license fees to compensate for the higher production costs of processing in PNG. This meant tuna canned there could compete on the global export market (mostly Europe). “Canned products from PNG had to compete with high volume, low-cost products from South America (Ecuador) and Thailand, which were also going into the EU market, and still is.”
The policy attracted overseas investors too, leading to the construction of five of the plants now operating (IFC initially set up shop in PNG to can imported mackerel for the domestic PNG market, FIA added”.
However, before all processing plants were able to fully reach their processing capacity there was a shift in the application of the domestication policy, whereby the fishing license fees were calculated on the basis of the “vessels day scheme” (VDS) rate, on a par with a region-wide benchmark price. “This benchmark price was two-to-three times the discounted rate,” FIA noted.
“The PNG government then further changed the policy application and introduced the regional VDS rate across the board on all fishing vessels (both domestic-based and distant-water fishing nations). This again further compounded the production cost of a unit of canned tuna produced in PNG.”
So, now PNG’s domestic vessel operators feel there’s no incentive to produce a cost-competitive product in PNG if they are paying the same licensing fee rate as the distant-water fishing fleets, “who have not sacrificed and taken on risk on any shore-based investment, as PNG domestic investors have done”.
The industry lobbied, and the PNG government tried a new line; a rebate scheme on both the processing sector — calculated per metric ton of value-added — and on the fishing sector (per ton of fish landed into a PNG shore-based plant). “This rebate scheme is having its share of challenges in implementation to date, and rebates haven’t been paid as and when due,” said FIA.
Hence, FIA said, processors are not currently inclined to utilize their full capacity. But:
“With the MSC fish, it attracts a premium price compared to the current non-MSC fish products. Hence, with certification, the same volume of fish produced by PNG processors will attract the premium price, and this would enable a viable return for the processors to produce more in PNG. Eventually, the MSC value becomes the incentive to attract the volume to be landed and produced in PNG, and the plants processing volume will progressively improve towards their full capacity.”
Extra volumes too
Tiu Laurel also noted PNG’s ongoing MSC process encompasses an area of fishery not currently covered by the PNA certification.
“Plus it [would] also make catches from the archipelagic waters of PNG MSC certifiable, [volumes] which currently are not included in other MSC approved areas,” he added. At present PNG is part of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement MSC certified tuna fishery, but it is looking to break away from this organization as the sales are controlled by Dutch organization Pacifical, which parts of PNG’s sector have fallen out with.
“The archipelagic waters produce a lot of fish annually, and [are] very near the ports of Lae and Madang, where most of the factories are located, thus making it very important for the factories to get a constant supply of fish to process,” Tiu Laurel said.
Historical catch records suggest archipelagic catches would add around 90,000t more MSC certified tuna per year, the FIA told Undercurrent.
From a high of 506,413t of tuna caught in 2013 in PNG waters, volumes dived to 135,687t in 2015. That has since been on the rise again, to 316,278t in 2018, according to FIA data. Importantly, said Pokajam, this has always been made up just 1% bigeye tuna, a species there are concerns for in terms of biomass. Skipjack made up 65% of the total, and yellowfin 34%, in 2017.
“Landings in PNG are actually up, in my opinion, except for the first three months [of 2019] when catches were down, mainly due to bad weather. But from April onwards I think it will be okay,” Tiu Laurel told Undercurrent.
Based on Tiu Laurel and Pokajam’s comments, PNG’s tuna sector is now waiting on what it hopes will be a successful MSC certification and a more favorable government approach.
“We need this additional refund to make us really competitive, as we are now paying full VDS [vessel day scheme] fees — the same as other overseas fishing companies fishing in PNG, which is not fair,” said Tiu Laurel of the possible changes in regulation.
Other Pacific Island nations grant the locally-flagged fleets a 40-50% discount on VDS rates, and allow them to fish for free in the “eastern high seas”, managed under the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, he claimed.
“This is a terrible disadvantage to the PNG-based fleet. The difference in cost of operation per vessel is about $1 million per annum versus other vessels,” said Tiu Laurel. “Due to this many have actually left the PNG registry, and if not addressed soon many more will leave.”
In 2018 there were 226 vessels licenses to fish in PNG’s exclusive economic zone — 61 reefers carriers and 165 purse seiners. In 2019 there are 61 vessels either PNG-flagged or locally-based foreign vessels licensed, affiliated to five companies; see the slide to the right.
Any new regulations for PNG will have to wait for the time being, though. As the Diplomatreports, a vote of no confidence was slated to take place on May 16 to remove prime minister Peter O’Neill from office. O’Neill had rejected calls to resign earlier in May.
O’Neill disrupted the opposition’s plans by obtaining a parliamentary adjournment on May 7. Following the adjournment, opposition members of parliament can now only table a no-confidence motion again once parliament resumes operations on May 28.
Tiu Laurel has, in the past, told Undercurrent of Frabelle’s ambitions to expand its processing to other Pacific Islands, namely Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).
The latter remains on the cards, though plans have been delayed, he said.
“We intend to build one more loin and pouch plant in FSM, Pohnpei state, and we are now working on a state agreement with the fisheries department. But recently there has been a change in leadership as there is a new president, and we are waiting for the new cabinet to be chosen and continue the negotiation.”
Frabelle hopes to finalize talks this year, and to begin construction next year, he said.
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The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), a global coalition of scientists, the tuna industry and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), has added three new names to its 11-member board of directors.
The new additions include Rohan Currey, a scientist at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Prior to working for MSC, he was a principal scientist at New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries, specializing in marine mammal science and Antarctic fisheries science. He also represented New Zealand in the International Whaling Commission and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
Also joining is Martin Tsamenyi, a professor of law and the former director of the Australian National Center for Ocean Resources & Security at the University of Wollongong. Tsamenyi has served as fisheries law advisor to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency and legal counsel to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and was chairman of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.
Additionally, ISSF’s board has added Giuseppe Di Carlo, director of the WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative, where he is responsible for supporting Mediterranean countries to achieve key conservation and management targets, specifically on fisheries and marine protected areas. Since 2008, Di Carlo has been involved in developing and implementing ecosystem-based based management into conservation strategies.
Alfred Schumm, the former director of the WWF Global Fisheries Program and now director of innovation, sciences, technologies and solutions at WWF, will be stepping down from the ISSF board after serving for more than eight years, the organization reports.
Pacific Islands fishery leaders are said to be content with the results of last weekend’s Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting in Hawaii, US, reports theHerdon Gazette.
Agreements have been made to maintain current tuna catch limits, minimum standards of labor for fishing crews, and increasing the involvement of small island states in the day-to-day business of the WCPFC.
While the US had initially been planning a push to increase its tuna catch quotas, these were ultimately withdrawn, as the tropical tuna measure remains in place.
An additional two-month prohibition on the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) by purse seiners on the high seas has been implemented, while limits on the use of FADs for three months from July 1 remain in place.
“FAD closures are an important conservation action that reduces catch of juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tuna,” Ludwig Kumoru, head of the parties to the Nauru agreement, told the Gazette.
“Maintaining the FAD closures is contributing to sustainably managing our tuna stocks.”
The Western and Central Pacific tuna stocks are all in healthy condition, according to scientists with the Pacific Community (SPC) at the recently concluded Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) officials’ annual meeting in Palau.
“This is in part due to strong long-term management of the tuna fishery in PNA waters through the purse seine vessel day scheme (VDS),” said PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru. He pointed to fish aggregating device (FAD) closures, limits on fishing days, and other PNA conservation measures that have contributed to the overall sustainability of the tuna fishery.
“In comparison to tuna stocks in other oceans, the Pacific tuna stocks are doing well,” he said. Bigeye, yellowfin, albacore, and skipjack are all said to be in healthy condition in this region, according to the SPC stock assessment for 2017.
Over the past several years, PNA has maintained the same level of fishing days without increase and this has shown in relatively stable catch tonnage in both the purse seine and longline industries.
In addition to a “Status of Stocks” report from SPC, the annual officials meeting in Palau dealt with numerous management issues, ranging from an economic overview of the fishery and VDS administration, to updates on harvest control rules for skipjack fisheries and the fisheries information management system.
PNA officials discussed options for increased participation in the fishery and diversifying revenue streams through various initiatives, all of which are made possible by VDS management of the fishery, it said.
The Parties continued to discuss options for increasing the value of the VDS, including options for investing revenue. A presentation was provided by an investment fund manager active in the region during the meeting, which “continued the process of exposing PNA members to options for consideration”.
Just five of the world’s 19 commercial tuna stocks have earned a passing “Principle 1” score from the Marine Stewardship Council, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) notes in a report issued Friday.
Principle 1 is the standard for operating in a way that does not deplete the fishery.
Though The South Pacific albacore Principle 1 score has improved thanks to further progress by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission on this stock’s harvest strategy work plan, two other stocks have seen their overall Principle 1 scores worsen, ISSF noted. The eastern Pacific bigeye fishery saw its score decline “due mostly to uncertainties in its latest stock assessment”, while the Atlantic yellowfin tuna dropped “due to weak tools in place to control exploitation that may be hindering its rebuilding plan”, the group said.
Australia has played host to an international team as part of a wide operation against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the high seas of the Pacific Ocean, its Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) has said.
Over four weeks, AFMA hosted representatives from Australia’s Maritime Border Command; the New Zealand ministry for primary industries; the US Coast Guard; the French ministere des armées; and the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) as part of “operation Nasse”.
The participating nations, all members of the Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group, worked together to coordinate at-sea inspections, aerial surveillance, and maritime intelligence sharing.
The operation successfully demonstrated Australia’s ability to coordinate aircraft and surface patrol boats from all four countries, to monitor fishing operations and target IUU fishing on the high seas.
34 fishing vessels inspected, with 27 suspected violations identified, which have been reported to the relevant flag states for action, said AFMA. The operation was focused on tuna, and violations of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission rules.
Skipjack tuna prices for delivery to Bangkok, Thailand during August are increasing again, after hitting a two year-record low last month, industry sources told Undercurrent News.
“The lowest price recorded was around $1,210 per-metric-ton,” one US-based source told Undercurrent, pointing out that western Pacific Ocean boat owners have “reacted to even lower FOB price demands from traders”.
As a result, “the traders started shorting canneries and talked of a fish shortage, the [price] tendency reversed, and now it’s possible the price may well sail through $1,300/t on its way towards $1,350/t or $1,400/t in the near term”, the US source said.
The skipjack raw material price closed at $1,300/t in July 2018, Thai Union Group pointed out in its quarterly results published on Aug. 6. During the second quarter, the average price was $1,667/t, down 5.4% year but 5.7% up quarter on quarter, the Thai group also said.
Commenting on the price rebound, some sources questioned why “did prices ever get up as high as $1,800/t in April”.
“There is no sense to what the way the market has been moving,” one said. But other sources stressed that the rebound was expected, as prices tend to increase in correspondence of the “veda” closures in the western and central Pacific in July and in the eastern Pacific at the end of July.
A Taiwanese purse seiner hauls its catch in the western Pacific. Photo: GreenpeaceA purse seine tuna fishery in the western and central Pacific shared by the US, China and Taiwan — and supplying tuna company FCF Fishery of Taiwan — has achieved Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.
The South Pacific Tuna Corporation (SPTC), in conjunction with FCF and the Western Pacific Sustainable Tuna Alliance, announced the central Pacific skipjack and yellowfin free-school purse seine fishery had achieved and received the MSC standard on June 22.
The fishery is operated by US, China, and Taiwan-flagged vessels. Authorized vessels principally fish for skipjack and yellowfin tuna within the exclusive economic zones of countries that are Parties to the Nauru Agreement, as well as the high seas.
“This certification is an important step we have worked diligently towards to meet the standards of MSC. We are proud to be the leader in driving sustainable practices, as well as establishing a standard that exceeds that of the NGO community,” said Ray Clarke, vice president of environmental development and government affairs at SPTC.
According to Clarke, the companies will now provide in excess of 100,000 metric tons of MSC-certified tuna to the global market.
The certification comes amid Greenpeace allegations of labor abuses on tuna vessels supplying FCF Taiwan. However, Taiwanese fishing authorities have said the allegations refer to old cases, while industry sources have also queried the connection with FCF.
The eight Pacific Island nations and territory in the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) tuna fishery, the world’s largest, have organized the tuna industry’s first large blockchain initiative, promising to give retailers, consumers and environmental groups information about vessels, captains, locations of harvest and when fish was processed.
The development was announced at the SeaWeb Sustainable Seafood Summit, in Barcelona, Spain, this week by Pacifical, the market development company that represents the eight nations, including the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu, and also the territory of Tokelau.
The initiative, which is set to be launched by the end of July, is being developed with the help of Atato, a Thailand-based provider of blockchain services.
The fishery represents 25% of the world’s tuna landings, according to a press release. The initiative will cover more than 100 large fishing vessels and “the entire supply chain and chain of custody of about 35 million tuna fish caught annually in an area with a surface 40% bigger than Europe”, the release said.