No room for complacency in protecting tuna stocks, Pacific ministers say

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More work is needed to ensure tuna stocks are protected. Photo: Greg Lecoeur.

There was “no room for complacency” in protecting stocks of tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, even though they are currently at sustainable levels, Ministers and state representatives said at the 16th annual Forum Fisheries Committee Ministers’ Meeting (FFCMIN16).

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 welcomed the lead of the Republic of Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia to eradicate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Pacific by 2023. They acknowledged the global recognition that FFA received for its collaborative approach to combatting IUU fishing.

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.

They welcomed the leadership of the Federated States of Micronesia in electronic monitoring, saying that it had the potential “to be a game changer for improving the management of longline fisheries”. 

They agreed to take part in international negotiations to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies.

The ministers adopted a new strategic plan for 2020–2025. It includes processes to strengthen the capacity of member nations to manage and control tuna fishing effectively. 

They agreed that, over the next year, FFA members would make advances on:

  • Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) measures to recognise zone-based arrangements that FFA members have established for fishing inside exclusive economic zones (EEZs)
  • WCPFC’s agreement on high-seas limits to recognise the interests of FFA members
  • FFA’s position on target reference points for tropical tuna is met
  • transhipment management measures to improve the transparency of longline fishing and tackle IUU fishing
  • improving the Compliance Monitoring Scheme through the identification of audit points and with standards for electronic monitoring
  • implementing the small island developing states (SIDS) strategic investment plan
  • guidelines for voluntarily giving economic data to the WCPFC.

FFCMIN16 was held in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia.

E-monitoring: potential game changer for managing Pacific longline tuna fisheries

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Longliners in the Solomon Islands. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

Electronic monitoring on board Pacific longline fisheries vessels targeting tuna in the Pacific has a huge potential for improving management of these fisheries.

This was one of the stated outcomes of the Pacific Forum Fisheries Committee Ministers’ meeting held last month.

E-monitoring uses video cameras, remote sensors, and satellites installed on fishing vessels to provide information on activities such as retained and discarded catch, bycatch (non-target species caught), location of catch, and movement of catch between boats.

“Observing, measuring, assessing and reporting what is happening with commercial fishing vessels at sea is critical for reducing IUU [illegal, unreported and unregulated] fishing in the Pacific,” says Hugh Walton, the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Chief Technical Officer for the Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (OFMP2).

The Ministers at last month’s annual meeting (18–19 June) held in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), tasked the FFA Secretariat with working with members to develop an electronic monitoring policy before its next meeting in 2020. This policy is to be developed in collaboration with the Parties to the Nauru Agreement Office (PNAO) and Pacific Community (SPC) researchers.

Several PNA member countries have focused on e-monitoring of longline vessels since a workshop last year. This was driven by one of its members, FSM, committing to having 100 per cent of its longline vessels with e-monitoring by 2023.

E-monitoring is particularly important for longline fishing where there is a large number of vessels with limited space, making it difficult to have human observers on every boat.

Unlike purse-seine fishing, conditions on longline vessels are often very difficult, with cramped quarters, and boats can be at sea for many months at a time.

The Pacific purse-seine fishery has 100 per cent human observer coverage on vessels. However, e-monitoring could also complement the activities of observers on these boats.

With e-monitoring, different areas of the vessel can be monitored at the same time and operate 24-7. The images and data can be stored indefinitely and reviewed multiple times.

SPC has been working with the OFMP2 to trial and test e-monitoring. Listen to Principal Research Scientist, Neville Smith discuss the benefits of e-monitoring and how it can complement human observers.

SPC has also been trialling electronic reporting on fishing boats. Researcher Andrew Hunt talks about the benefits of e-reporting on the OFMP2 website, SustainPacFish.