The economic value of tuna catches in the Western Pacific

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Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 4 October 2017

by Francisco Blaha


As said many times before, I’m not only blown away by the number of readers of this humble blog, but as well by the calibre and expertise of many of them. This is evident when I get clarifications, on stuff I published, by totally disinterested contributors from some of the top experts in the tuna world. When I posted about the 2017 Pacific Tuna Forum, I quoted some figures for the economic value of the catches. Les Clark (a key advisor to PNA) very kindly provided me some further figures, that reflect more accurately the situation for the PICs. I quote them below:

The economic value of catches in 2016 was: USD 5.28 billion (PS: $2.84 billion and LL: $1.48 billion). Yet this is the value of the catch in the whole Western and Central Pacific Ocean.  So it includes the value of catches in the waters of Indonesia and Philippines and the high seas as well catches in the waters of Japan and other countries in the WCPO.

The value of catches in the waters of the Pacific Islands FFA members (i.e. FFA waters excluding Australia and New Zealand) is estimated at $2.59 billion. This data, including the estimate of $5.28 billion for the WCPO comes from the very useful value of WCPO tuna fisheries 2017 Excel files produced by Peter Terawasi from FFA and (available at

The $500 million that stays in the Pacific (that I quoted in the Tuna Forum post), is only for the government revenue from foreign vessels. On top of that, there are the broader economic benefits from domestic vessel operations including crew earnings, profits and various payments to government, provisionally estimated at around $350m for 2016.

So that means about $850m is retained of the $2.59b earned by vessels in Pacific Island waters – much of the rest is payments for fuel etc.  This also doesn’t include the economic benefits from onshore processing, local purchases by vessels, etc.

Hence, in reality, the full picture of the benefits for the Pacific Island Countries is better than the one I portrayed. If all included we could be at a 30% retention of the total value, now if that is sufficient and fair is the kind of discussions I love to hear.

Fisheries Economics is a specialised topic I don’t know much about, hence I have lots of respect for my colleagues in that area, and I follow their work with deep interest. At the end of the day, commercial fisheries are about money, and money decides fisheries politics.

Notes from the 6th Pacific Tuna Forum

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Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 18 September 2017

by Francisco Blaha


Just back 6th Pacific Tuna Forum in Port Moresby in PNG: the “who is who” tunawise around the region meet to debate on current issues in the Pacific tuna sector. Covering the developments in the VDS scheme, impacts of climate change on fisheries, sustainable fishing practices in the Pacific, regulatory issue, markets opportunities and challenges and opportunities in growing Pacific Islands based tuna fishing and processing industries.

Yet it wasn’t much debate, overall was a rather mild Forum, not a lot of people, particularly if compared with the last one in Fiji in 2017.

The conference started with a stern presentation of the current PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill who, politics besides (he is embedded in more nationalistic approach), started deeply questioning (to my delight) some of the issues that I have pointed here for years.

The DWFN operating here (mostly Philippines) have been based here for over 20 years as a way to get cheaper access under the excuse of developing the local industry. Yet the 5 canneries here are working at less than 25% capacity, less than 15% of the fish caught here is landed in the country, locals are confined to the lower ranks jobs, vessels flagged locally have only 3-4 locals on board… and so on. In other words, the Philippine, Thailand, Taiwanese, etc., tuna industries survive based on local fish… and here we get the crumbs.

Of course, excuses abound… productivity is low, people are dumb and lazy, we don’t make money… but we want more licenses… and no we are not leaving even if working here is terrible. Yeah, right.

Looks like the present political leadership seems to be keen to change that. So even if they only do 50% of what they promise it should be ok.

I started my presentation with few words in Māori (Maori language week in NZ) and expressing my big and sustained disappointment to the fact that of 30 speakers only 4 are women, in an industry that has a whole is much more balanced and has very capable female leaders.

And this is not a fault of INFOFISH (the organisers) who are mostly women. In fact, Shirlene Maria Anthonysamy (the 1st woman in charge of the organisation in its history) and her mostly female team are trying to do the right thing, yet is telling that she has been the Acting Director for over a year now without being confirmed.

After having been part of the 6 editions (over 12 years) I decided I will not participating again until a fairer gender representation is on stage, and I’m doing this just based on a sense or what is right, my views of working with women in fisheries are long-held. We just need to do better, simple as that.

Of the presentations, three impacted me the most and they came from Feleti Teo the Boss at the WCPFC and my colleagues in SPC Valérie Allain and Robert Scott. I will blog about Valeries’ work on climate change later on.

The numbers of fish captured are as usual staggering, even if the news show that the stock are on the “safe” zone, yet at different risk levels.

Record tuna catches in 2016 (provisional)
Total: 2,717,850 mt
Purseine (PS): 1,858,198 mt
Longline (LL): 859,652 mt

Of which: SKJ (skipjack): 1,816,650 mt,  YFT (Yellowfin): 650,491 mt, BET (Bigeye): 152,806 mt

Economic value in 2016: USD 5.28 billion
PS: $2.84 billion
LL: $1.48 billion

Is important to note that around only USD 500 million stays in the Pacific. And this is to be seen as positive, 10 years ago it was only 90 million! but still, shows that we get crumbs.

And the problems for the fishery are the usual:

  • Multi-stakeholders tensions
  • Finalizing negotiations of the Bridging CMM on Tropical Tunas
  • Continue to develop Harvest Strategies
  • Gap in Data and Data Quality

And that Harvest Strategy is the way of the future.

… Read the rest of the blog post here

The insides of the FAO Port State Measures Agreements implementation

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Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 5 September 2017

by Francisco Blaha


The last 2 weeks I have been working for FAO as a resource consultant for a series of workshops on the formulation of national strategies and action plan for compliance with the 2009 FAO Agreement on Port State Measures Agreements in 5 very different countries. More than ever Frank Zappa’s “One Size Fits All” keeps resonating in my ears.

There is no doubt that the PSM concept is fantastic: vessels need to come to port, therefore, it is really cost effective in comparison to at sea boarding and so on… and it is largely the quality of Port State monitoring and the work of its fisheries officers that determine the risk of illegally or unreported fish entering the supply chain.

For this Port states must consider the following mechanisms:

  • Two-way communications for acquiring information about vessels using or intending to use port facilities; communications with flag states and parties such as coastal states and RFMOs are basic and fundamental.
  • Designated specific fishing ports for foreign fishing vessels must be made mandatory as to enables effective oversight.
  • Incoming vessels must formally request port entry to enable resources to be allocated for port procedures, vessel inspections if required and processing of catch certificates and so on.
  • A system of authorizations for entering ports and unloading should be in place to ensure that permissions are denied in cases of suspected or established IUU fishing.
  • When inspections are required, sufficiently competent fisheries inspectors with law-enforcement powers must be on hand.
  • Standard inspection information must be recorded and transmitted in accordance with PSMA and/or RFMO rules.

In some developing countries the denial of a port use, hence of a landing authorization and potentially the denial of validation under a CDS, may involve minimal legislative changes and can be implemented by training the relevant officials, and so establishing a simple path to providing the enforcement function of a responsible port state.

Even if you don’t have a strong sanction regime, when you to deny port access to fishing vessels suspected of IUU fishing, or to deny landing authorizations and access to port services or even just delay them for investigations. These actions provide for substantial losses for illegal operators, and there are also economic consequences in terms of delays for carriers, incomplete orders, loss of trust and in many cases financial penalties associated with incomplete volumes under contract.

If we tackle the illegality at the port, any issues down the chain are around volumes: misreporting, underreporting, fish laundering and here is where a CDS comes to play.

Said so, the PSMA is a high-level document agreed by many countries, yet the realities of different countries are so varied that it cannot just be “implanted” and so just apply to all countries and to the realities of its different ports.

How can you bring the realities of places like Thailand, Tuvalu, Ghana, Uruguay, or Curacao Just to name a random few) into one document without some serious customization? Thankfully this possibility is somehow contemplated, but to an extent only

Furthermore, this customization needs to include the role of regional organisations in each region, for example in the Pacific the role of FFA is overarching for all its member and supplies the Port State a strength that sometimes cannot be totally captured by the view or a “single” State.

Also, there is the fact that if country may choose not to become a party (sign and ratify) for reasons related to cost effectiveness for example, yet still can comply with the principles of PSM.

Many busy ports in developing countries may be reticent to sign because this will imply compliance with strictly regulated systems inside the PSMA (such as reporting and exchange of information with various actors including flag state, state of nationality of the master, FAO, RFMOs, etc.)

For some regions, similar outcomes could be achieved via RFMO CMM like the one that IOCT has endorsed and has been discussed by the WCPFC

Independently of the methodology, PSM is here to stay and it would become the norm with time.

A lot of my involvement in this topic relates to vessel pre inspection intelligence, inspection and enforcement. Yet these are areas that I know from being at the receiving end of them, as well from training Inspectors on the “tricks of the trade”. But I have never been a fisheries officer and don’t come from an enforcement background (i.e. police, coast guard) as many of my colleagues, so I need to be extra careful not to be too casual about methodology.

Personally, I’m learning a lot, even if sometimes I get a bit down since most of the outcomes of this work, at this stage at least, are all paper based: strategies, policies, etc… and some days I feel I don’t produce much more than stacks of words only. But as my friend Pam told me, those documents can be the start of better things to come, and she is normally right.

… Read the rest of the blog post here

Securing a sustainable future in the Pacific – a TED talk

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Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 29 July 2017

by Francisco Blaha


My colleague and friend David Power, a management advisor in FFA, told me a few months ago he was Invited to do a TED talk in Sydney, and wanted to catch up on how is to do one?  Since I have done one, yet in a much smaller venue, we had  good chat about it. For me doing a the TED talk was a really good experience, albeit quite sobering.   

While I talked about what I do, it made me think about why I do it. It is quite nerve wracking, you talking about your work to a lot of people that may have preconceived ideas on fisheries issues, and you have 15′ to explain your universe!

So I feel for David when he says “it was the most nerve wracking experience he ever had with public speaking”! But he did a really good job as you can see, he owned the stage!

David is a good man and I’m sure it was an honour for him to have the opportunity to talk about the great work that everyone is doing in the region and showcase the Pacific.

I think is great that the people working in the Pacific fisheries have more public profiles, as I always say; is about people, not just fish.

Good on you David! (and thank you for using some of my pictures and crediting them!)

… Read the rest of the blog post here

E-Pacific: The array of apps for fisheries data acquisition we use in the WCPO

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Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 20 July 2017

by Francisco Blaha


For a part of the world that has had a lot of difficulties regarding connectivity due to its remoteness, low critical mass concerning population, expensive services and not a lot of money in the population. The Pacific has been a remarkable early adopter of mobile technologies and the development of Apps exclusively dedicated to fisheries data collection for science, management and increasingly, compliance purposes.

In the Apps developments and fisheries related data fields management there are 3 players in the Pacific: FIMS, SPC and FFA. As an independent contractor to all of them, I see my self as a very lucky man working (and more important having friends) with each group. In fact, the one above is a screenshot of my tablet with all the Apps presently being used in the region.

The 1st guys off the block were the iFIMS crew. When I meet Mark (a boss there) for first time many 6-7 years ago at a meeting where I was presenting on the need of data (“catch once use always” was the title) and he was introducing FIMS. The connection was immediately we both were thinking in very similar ways, yet coming from very different backgrounds.

The FIMS project started as a PNG commissioned fisheries data management than the later was taken by PNA. The FIMS “constellation” is a product of Quick Access Computing and remains a privately own product and services provider.

I liked that Mark and its crew were not “fisheries people” hence their thinking was fresh and original, I been collaborating with them since that first meeting and we have most of the tools needed for a full CDS system. Besides that Mark became a friend (a rare commodity in the consulting world), we stayed at each other houses, and we know each other families… which in my worldview means way more than having just business together only.

And while FIMS is an integrated database / universe that does a lot things, from assets management to the administration of the VDS, here I just gonna focus on the present Apps that integrate with their online platform and web interface.

At present they have 2 “products” that are used very extensively:

eForms, is an electronic logsheet application for PS and LL vessels, which is used by fishers, and data sent to the server either by the vessels internet or via an Iridium enabled two-way communication device. The App provides industry with a platform to manage and eLodge data near real time, hence Catch Reporting and other functions available for any country, its operation in all Purse Seine Vessels currently registered in PNA water and quite a few longliners in some of the countries.

eObs, that is an Electronic observer data application for PS vessels and is used by observers, the data is uploaded to national and regional databases at SPC via an Iridium enabled two-way communication device (which provides additional observer safety measures).

The Iridium based communication these Apps use, is enabled via the use two-way, satellite communicator devices are about the size and weight of a smartphone, which have bandwidth limited yet effective data transmission, and using that guaranteed independence and reliability

The data sent has GPS marking included beyond the fact that overlaps with the VMS, so we know where the data was loaded and sent, and the systems have all sort of alarms and notifications included (EEZ and port entry/exit for example).

These two tools provide the regulators at port with the opportunity to assess a lot of info (volumes per species, effort per day, zones fished, observer notes, etc.) before the vessels arriving in port, allowing then the Port state to decide the level of inspection needed. Furthermore, both Apps become the basis of not only PSM but also the CDS.

There are other Apps on the pipeline such as Factory eForms, landing/transhipment monitoring forms as well as online modules (eCDS and port) just to name a few (but can say too much yet)

Their database connects to TUFMAN2 the SPC regional database (see below for more info) assuring data interoperability and future potential interaction with whatever the EU comes up with for the promised upgrade of their the catch certification scheme. As well the International Trade Data System (ITDS), the U.S. government’s single-window data portal for all import and export reporting.

Obviously being the 1rst of the block they set the pace, but most importantly, being private company instead of an institution allows them to be product and results focused, without haven to depend on bureaucracy and budgeting authorization to get the results. On the other hand being a private company has issues concerning the ownership and controls of the information. (Another example of my favourite fisheries mantra “everything has advantages and disadvantages.”)

In any case, what they have done so far is beyond admirable, and I have not seen anything even remotely similar anywhere else in the world.

… Read the rest of the blog post here

Kiribati gains authorisation to access the EU market. What does it mean and how does it work?

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Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 26 June 2017

by Francisco Blaha


Since the 16 of June 2017 via Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2017/1089, Kiribati became the 4th country in the Pacific to be included in the list of third countries and territories from which imports of certain fishery products for human consumption are permitted. Yet, this does not mean that from now on fish caught by any Kiribati-flagged vessels can “instantly” access directly or indirectly the EU. It does not work just like that!

My post today is on how that process works and a bit of the inside story on how Kiribati got to be authorised from the sanitary side, yet the country still has a yellow card from the IUU side.

The EU’s Regulation (EC) 854/2004 provides that products of animal origin can only be imported into the EU from a third country (meaning non-EU countries) that appears on a list drawn up in accordance with this Regulation.  When drawing up such lists, an account is taken of EC controls in 3rd countries and guarantees provided by the Competent Authority (CA) of 3rd countries in regard to compliance or equivalence with the relevant EU (health) regulations.

If a country’s control systems are considered “equivalent”, then it is authorised for fishery products and added Annex II of Commission Decision 2006/766/EC. Then the CA of that country evaluates compliance against the EU regulations by their factories and vessels (they call then Food Business Operators – FBOs). If they are up to the standards and expected levels of compliances, it then lists them (by giving them an approval number) and sends them to the EU, to be added to the list approved establishments of that country.

At this stage, the 1st list of 5 vessels and one factory has been sent to the EU for the revision, and once this is done and the FBO would appear in the list, and from then on they can access the EU market.

This all process is quite complex, and it takes countries like Kiribati a long time and effort to get to this point.

The EU obliges compliance to its own requirements, and thus requires the 3rd country to prove that it operates a control structure applicable to its seafood exports that are equivalent to those existing in an EU member country, meaning than Kiribati has to prove that has systems and controls equivalent to those of Germany for example.

Yet many Small Island Developing States in the Pacific (SIDS) like Kiribati, remain in the category of Least Developed Countries (LDC) recognised by the UN. The 3 elements that define this status (poverty, human resource weakness and economic vulnerability) are at the same time key elements in the establishment and operation of a CA.

Until now, only three of Pacific Islands country members have been able to meet this requirement – PNG, Solomons and Fiji – all relatively large countries with substantial tuna processing industries. Even these countries face considerable challenges, both Fiji and PNG have been forced to suspend exports to the EU for a time in the last few years, and all of them continues to rely to a different extent on donor funding to maintain its CA.

For SIDS in the Pacific, the lack of EU sanitary authorization is a price disincentive for buyers of their fish caught in their waters, but not for same fish caught by vessels from EU authorised countries (like Taiwan, China or Korea) catching next to them, even if the inspectors of those flag states, may have never been on board! 

In principle, the processing countries can only provide “EU Health Certificates” for seafood products which are derived wholly or partly from raw materials products that:

  • Have originated from a third country eligible to export the animal product to the EU;
  • Have been derived from foreign premises eligible to export to the EU, (including vessels); and
  • Be eligible to be exported to the European Community;

This “eligibility” requirement, should be always applied, yet this is unfortunately no the case in all canning countries, in Thailand for example, this issue already got them into troubles with the EU.

A further challenge for Pacific countries is that in many cases, they do not have processing sites in their territory (nor the physical area and cost effective geographical situation to develop them), or if they do, the operational focus targets more regional markets and not the EU. For these countries, the CA needs to be developed and operated in a “vessel only” oriented manner. This would potentially imply a CA with officers either travelling to the foreign landing ports and/or establishing MoUs with the CAs of the unloading countries.

… Read the rest of the blog post here

One Noro at a time

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Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 20 May 2017

by Francisco Blaha


For some reason, weekends are busy days in most fishing ports in the world; the cynic in me thinks it has to do with the fact that most fisheries administrations (as most non-emergency related public servants) work Monday to Friday. Not in Noro: the fisheries office here runs 7 days a week.

We have NFD‘s 6 Purese Seiners, two Pole & Line (all locally flagged and crewed) unloading exclusively for Soltuna cannery and then various Taiwanese Longliners that use NFD as an agent for unloading of targets species and the port facilities for transhipping of by-catch.

We had 4 Taiwanese longliners coming to Noro this Friday. They announce that on Wednesday, which gave us the time to cross-check via FFA VMS their tracks and compliance index, furthermore via FIMS we can verify the whereabouts since their last port of call. As many of them are using e-reporting, we get to see how much fish they have declared, plus the EEZ where they fished, as well as the licenses they hold.

Hence we have the tools to evaluate their activities prior arrival and approve their Port Entry and Port Use. We have been doing this with Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) in mind, either by direct signing or perhaps via a WCPFC CMM (now that Japan, who was the main antagonist, has ratified and this is BIG news). In any case, we been doing it for a while so is up to the bosses in Honiara to decide what and when.

We have a target of 100% inspection on foreign vessels,  we suspect something from the screening, we go on board to find answers. If not (as with this 4) we go to the clearing and to crosscheck the e-log with the log sheet as well as the logsheets’ consistency and format, besides making sure that the vessels are the one we have tracked via the markings and the serial numbers on the gear on board.

When (like on Friday) we had 4 Longliners in a row and all of different sizes, getting to the last one can be tricky. So my full respect to Jamie and John, but especially to Nesii, there are not many young female fisheries officers that would move so at ease like her.

Once is all good the vessels is cleared to unload, with they start doing immediately, mostly -35 to -50C YF. As you can see we (in this case Sandy) tally each fish individually, next to the buyer rep and the seller rep. The fish goes immediately into a -50C container that is aimed later to the Asian market.

While our targets for domestic vessels could be lower, we do the same procedure (vessels VMS check, e-log and in these cases many times e-observers as well), we go on board to look for issues if any, and then clear for unloading.

Have to say that NFD vessels are the best vessels I ever work with: super straight, clean, most of them only fish in archipelagic waters and they know compliance by heart. In fact, they are the only MSC certification for tuna I have personally agreed with… but that is a thorny topic for another blog!

Here in Noro for the last 3 years now, we have accounted for every kg of each species caught by the locally flagged fleet for every individual landing and we have accounted for every kg that has been exported in any shape or form to any market, plus what goes for domestic consumption.

We do a “mass balance reconciliation” prior every movement of fish out of establishments here in Noro. There is no way that “fish declared in is more than fish declared out” can happen. On a weekly basis, we audit a random landing of any of the seven vessels, and we check that “fish in = fish in storage + fish out”, just to make sure that we are doing the right job.

Thankfully NFD and Soltuna have the best inventory and process controls database that is have ever seen in the 52 countries I have worked so far. I have know Edmond, the database guru behind it, for years now and we have always interacted on what is expected of the system to do from the compliance side.

We (government and industry) can track and trace fish from any landing of any locally flagged boat from the moment it was fished to the container number in which it left Noro, and/or where in the coolstore is the balance… and we can do that without anyone getting crazy… because as I said, we do it on a weekly basis.

… Read the rest of the blog post here