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.
conservation management measures (CMM) endorsed on the non-target species of mobulid rays and sharks
FFA summarises WCPFC16 outcomes for Pacific priorities
When Ms Jung-re Riley Kim, the Chair of the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), officially closed its 16th annual meeting on Wednesday, Pacific officials finally relaxed and allowed themselves muted celebrations for a job well done.
Praise for major decisions made by WCPFC16
The Chair of the Pacific’s Forum Fisheries Committee, Mr Eugene Pangelinan, told regional journalists at the final media conference, “This is a very successful WCPFC16, and wonderful hosting by the people and government of Papua New Guinea and the National Fisheries Agency.”
“There’s been some very good outcomes, and the first one is the adoption of the climate-change resolution. From the FFA members’ perspective, that is one of the key priorities we wanted to get out of this meeting, given that one of the things our ministers tasked us to advocate for at the WCPFC was to address climate-change issues in relation to fisheries.”
He said another great outcome was the continuation of the Compliance Monitoring Scheme (CMS) for the next two years.
“The compliance scheme ensures members are held accountable to their obligations and goes a long way to ensuring sustainable fisheries management for the region,” Mr Pangelinan said.
Mr Bubba Cook of the World Wildlife Fund paid tribute to Pacific leadership at the meeting.
He said that the climate resolution “demonstrates that in two consecutive years we have seen a measure that’s been passed – crew welfare in 2018 and now climate change – that is reflective of the leadership in the Pacific island members. The [show a] willingness to take on the tough and challenging issues and provide solutions to those issues, so we are very encouraged by that motivation.”
The Director-General for FFA, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, added and re-emphasised the importance of the climate decision. She pointed out its valuable role as a “starting point to increase the focus of the Commission in this critical space so we look forward to that active work in this area with all Commission members”.
She acknowledged the work by Pacific countries as well as other Commission members, “underlining that no one achieves anything alone. Our members have worked really hard including with all Commission members to get to the point we’re at tonight.”
Dr Tupou-Roosen also highlighted positive outcomes for other species that get caught up indirectly as fishers chase the tuna harvest.
But some FFA priorities did not progress as well as hoped
But there were also a number of priority issues that did not progress as well as they should.
Mr Pangelinan said, “We were not able to agree on how we are going to proceed with the discussions in terms of the high-seas allocations. That’s something that has been somewhat watered down and now we are going to tackle it at the next WCPFC meeting.”
Mr Glen Holmes, international fisheries officer with Pew Charitable Trusts, praised the success of the rays CMM, but said that work on harvest strategies didn’t go far enough.
“We are very happy with the adoption of the mantas CMM. We think that was a big win for the Commission,” he said.
“But I think there was a very big missed opportunity for the Commission to establish a dedicated meeting for scientists and managers to meet to discuss the issues around harvest-management strategies to further progress that part of the Commission that will lead to a more sustainable management of the stocks into the future.”
Mr Bubba Cook expanded on perceived missed opportunities.
“We think there was some significant progress around a number of issues at the meeting, specifically around harvest-strategy development, but we also remain concerned that some of the measures were not quite as robust as they could have been, particularly for the sharks CMM.
“We have one of the most endangered stock of sharks here in the Pacific with the oceanic whitetip and there were a couple of provisions that would have gone a long way to help with sharks and ensure the long-term sustainability of those stocks. But at the same time there was a great amount of effort that went into the CMM for sharks and it reflects a lot of willingness to compromise around the table, and I certainly would like to acknowledge that as well.
“The manta and mobulid [rays] CMM was also a big step and we are certainly happy to see that move forward.”
Although there was no movement in the skipjack target reference point (TRP) negotiations that are important to members to the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), there was no harm done, according to Chief Executive Officer for the PNA Office, Mr Ludwig Kumoru.
“Overall, we are happy with the outcome of this Commission meeting,” Mr Kumoru said.
“Our major objective was on the TRP. It may be seen as a push back, but for PNA it is still acceptable, we still have time to work on it. I think if we rushed it and got to a decision where we wouldn’t be comfortable then we would be in a very difficult position. So, we are comfortable with the outcome. The stock is not in the red; it is in the green we can still buy some time and look at ways to address it.”
Looking to the future
In summing up, Mr Pangelinan said, “The Commission has done very well in discussions about future tools that the Commission wants to use to improve monitoring. And two of those are electronic reporting and electronic monitoring. From the FFA perspective, these are important tools that will help fill the gaps in the data from fishing on the high seas in particular and the longline operations.
“So that is something that we also want to highlight: that adopting/agreeing to the objectives here, was a big step to progress the work of the Commission.”
FFA summary of WCPFC outcomes on Pacific priorities
Climate-change resolution – resolution adopted
WCPFC adopted a resolution on climate change based on the draft that was put forward by FFA members at the start of the meeting. This was a significant milestone for the Commission and a great success for FFA Members. The resolution responds to the call from Pacific Islands Forum leaders for increased attention, including in scientific research, to be placed on the impacts of climate change on the region’s highly migratory tuna stocks.
The non-binding resolution also looks at the links between fishing activity and climate change, and for the Commission to consider options to reduce the environmental impacts related to headquarters operations and meetings.
FFA members’ proposal to reform the WCPFC Compliance Monitoring Scheme was one of the hardest issues discussed at WCPFC16.
Cook Islands led the charge for FFA members and, after extensive negotiations, agreement was reached on the last day to a revised measure which focuses compliance monitoring on the implementation of measures by members rather than delving into the detail of individual cases involving fishing vessels that are the better dealt with through other mechanisms.
This was a significant achievement for FFA members, and should see the WCPFC compliance-monitoring process remain the strongest of all the tuna regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs). The measure agreed to applies for two years, giving time for additional work to take place on additional elements of the scheme including a refinement of audit points and the development of a risk-based framework.
South Pacific albacore – clear direction for roadmap in 2020
There were two informal meetings, chaired by Fiji, of the small working group to discuss the way forward for South Pacific albacore tuna.
The terms of reference and the work plan for the South Pacific albacore roadmap process were progressed, with a focus on rebuilding stock so that catch rates improve. This will assist in improving the economic viability of the fishery.
The roadmap group will hold two face-to-face meetings in 2020, in the margins of the Scientific Committee meeting in August and the Technical and Compliance Committee meeting in September. This should ensure good progress is made before the Commission considers a revised measure in December 2020.
High-seas limits and allocation – two extra days for WCPFC17
While there was general agreement to the proposal from FFA for the WCPFC to hold a two-day workshop to discuss high-seas limits and a framework for allocating those limits, agreement could not be reached on the terms of reference for a workshop. This highlighted how difficult it is going to be reach agreement on allocation within the Commission, especially since allocation decisions can only be taken by consensus. In the end, WCPFC16 agreed to extend the next annual meeting by two days so that time could be devoted to this issue.
Transhipment – slow progress in the intercessional working group
The Transhipment Intersessional Working Group (IWG), co-chaired by RMI and US, made some good progress, but further work remains to finalise the scope of work for a study to identify weaknesses in the existing measure.
A small number of fishing nations remained concerned about the information that would be made available to conduct the study, and this has unfortunately delayed the process. The IWG will continue its work electronically, with the aim of finalising the scope of work as soon as possible.
Mobulid rays conservation and management measure – new measure adopted
FFA members proposed the draft conservation and management measure (CMM) for mobulid rays (such as manta rays), and this was adopted by the Commission following constructive engagement by Commission members. The measure will come into effect in 2021, to allow Commission members time to promulgate the measure with their fishing industries.
Consolidated sharks CMM
After two years of lengthy negotiations, chaired by Japan, a comprehensive measure on sharks was finally agreed. The new measure rationalises and streamlines reporting that was previously spread across a number of different CMMs. There was also some strengthening of the standards around requirements that fins remain naturally attached to shark carcasses with simplification of alternative measures to ensure that they can be monitored and enforced.
PORT MORESBY – The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) took a major step in helping to protect “threatened” manta and other mobula rays on the final day of its annual meeting on Wednesday.
It adopted a resolution that requires fishers to immediately release any manta rays caught accidentally as “bycatch”.
An international fisheries officer of Pew Charitable Trusts, Glen Holmes, said the increased protection was one of the positive outcomes of the WCPFC meeting, which was held in Port Moresby.
Mr Holmes said the action is considered a “big win” from the commission meeting.
“WCPFC agreed to increase protections for threatened manta and mobula rays by banning purse-seine and longline vessels from keeping any caught in their nets and hooks. This is a positive step and helps remove the incentive for fishers to capture and keep these imperilled species,” Mr Holmes said.
Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) members were the proponents of the proposal for a new measure to prevent targeted fishing and retention of mobulid rays, and to promote their safe release, when they are caught in WCPFC convention area fisheries.
FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said that the protection of rays is one of the “excellent” outcomes of the WCPFC meeting.
To many island nations such as Palau and FSM, manta-ray watching is a big tourism draw. There is also global plea to protect rays, which not only get tangled in nets and fishing lines but are also targeted for their meat and gill plates.
Under the measure, purse seiners are required to release rays while they are still swimming freely, with rays that are too large to be lifted safely by hand to be brailed out of the net and released using a purpose-built large-mesh cargo net, or canvas sling or similar device.
Purse seiners and longliners are also banned from dragging, carrying, lifting or pulling a ray by its “cephalic lobes” or tail or by inserting hooks or hands.
Bubba Cook, the head of WWF’s delegation to the WCPFC16, said WWF was happy to see that the manta rays measure move forward.
Short-tailed albatross with chicks … one of many species of albatross that face extinction, partly from getting hooked on fishing lines when following fishing vessels. Photo by Jlfutari at Wikipedia (English language version) [CC BY-SA 3.0].
PORT MORESBY, 10 December 2019 – The Western and Central Pacific Commission (WCPFC) on Monday adopted safe handling guidelines for seabirds, a measure that will help protect seabirds from dying when they are accidentally caught during fishing.
The Seabird Conservation and Management Measure that was adopted in 2018 (CMM 2018-03) was further supported with the Tuna Commission adopting supplementary non-binding guidelines for the safe handling and release of seabirds caught during fishing (known as bycatch).
According to WWF, bycatch in tuna longline fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) is one of the greatest threats to seabirds, particularly to albatrosses and petrels.
Although there is has been a conservation and management measure for seabirds since 2006, it is estimated that between 13,000 and 19,000 seabirds continue to be caught a year.
The guidelines received unanimous support from member and non-member states attending the 16th annual WCPFC meeting in Port Moresby.
The head of the New Zealand delegation to WCPFC16, Ms Heather Ward, told Pacific reporters here that the protection of seabirds is a priority for NZ, given the diversity of seabirds, particularly albatross and petrel species, around New Zealand in the area south of 25°S.
“New Zealand has the highest global diversity of albatross and petrel species in the world, with several species assessed as being at high or very high risk from commercial fisheries bycatch,” Ms Ward said.
“This is why the protection of seabirds is of great importance to New Zealand.”
She thanked the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) for its support in the adoption of the measure.
The measure is aimed at meeting the requirements of paragraph 11 of CMM 2018-03: to ensure that seabirds captured alive are released alive. When safe handling procedures are implemented, seabirds are more likely to survive.
Ms Ward said the advice has been tailored for the crews of fishing vessel and is available free in multiple languages. The guidelines are simple to follow, and the materials required to safely release seabirds (i.e. a towel or blanket, pliers, net, a box or bin, and gloves) are likely to be available on most longline vessels.
“We hope it will be possible for the WCPFC to adopt these guidelines under Agenda Item 8 as a further step towards the protection of vulnerable seabirds affected by longline fishing,” Ms Ward said.
WWF’s head of delegation to the WCPFC16, Mr Bubba Cook, noted in a media release that the adoption of the guidelines on how to remove hooks from seabirds, developed by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), would lead to less harm to seabirds, especially at the southern end of the WCPO region across all WCPFC longline and other hook fisheries.
“While we are pleased that the WCPFC has taken the important step to implement these voluntary guidelines, we believe that they should be mandatory and subject to clear monitoring and compliance review,” he said.
This message was further enforced by the executive secretary of ACAP, Dr Christine Bogle, who noted that now that the measure is in place, the challenge will be to ensure compliance. ACAP has presented an observer statement to WCPFC16 (WCPFC16–2019–OP08).
“Arguably, the single most important action to reduce bycatch is to increase compliance in the proper use of existing seabird bycatch regulations, such as this CMM 2018-03,” Dr Bogle said.
Oceanic whitetip shark … the species is threatened with extinction. Photo by Johan Lantz, CC BY-SA 3.0.
PORT MORESBY, 10 December 2019 – Fishing nations must adopt a suite of measures to reduce deaths of oceanic whitetip sharks, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Pew is one of a host of countries and organisations attending the most important fishing talks of the year, the 16th annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
Fishing gear such as wire leaders and shark lines must be banned, safe-handling techniques used to return snared sharks to the wild must be improved, and coverage of independent observers tasked with data collection must be increased, PEW says.
The 2019 stock assessment commissioned by the WCPFC, a multi-national regulatory body, indicates that oceanic whitetip sharks are in peril and will become extinct if overfishing continues.
The WCPFC is holding its week-long annual session in Port Moresby Papua New Guinea until 11 December.
Earlier this year, the Scientific Committee of the WCPFC, at its meeting SC15, recommended actions to lessen the numbers of sharks that are caught, and to improve safe handling and release practices.
“Prohibiting the use of wire leaders and shark lines would cut fishing-related mortality,” Pew said in a statement.
“Better safe-handling techniques, such as cutting the trailing gear as close to the hook as possible and keeping the shark in the water alongside the vessel, are also needed to further reduce mortality.”
The latest science showed that the population of oceanic whitetips has declined by around 95%, according to environmental organisation WWF.
The analysis commissioned by WCPFCC “concluded that oceanic whitetips would go extinct in this vast expanse of the Pacific in the long-term at the current levels of fishing”.
The leader of Oceans section of WWF International, John Tanzer, said, “It is unbelievable that a species that could be counted in the millions in the past is now facing extinction in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, an area covering almost 20% of the Earth’s surface.
“Urgent action is required to start rebuilding the oceanic whitetip population and to ensure that no other open ocean shark or ray ends up in such a disastrous position in the first place.”
Meanwhile, Indonesia has proposed a measure to improve data collection for sharks as bycatch in tuna fisheries.
The proposal notes that the commission needs to improve:
data collection on annual national catches estimate, to include catch estimate of sharks by gear and by species
training in shark identification for enumerators
the providing of shark identification cards to enumerators
data collection from port sampling data so as to include bycatch landed at port, including bycatch of key shark species
the implementation of fishing log books on shark-catch data, and the collection of observer data that includes released and discarded catches
the involvement of surveillance officers in monitoring catches at sea.
The Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager at WWF, Bubba Cook, said he is optimistic that with several members of the Tuna Commission pushing for comprehensive shark-management measures, there is indication that a policy will be put in place in this year’s fisheries meeting.
Tropical tuna are one of the few wild animals we still hunt in large numbers, but finding them in the vast Pacific ocean can be tremendously difficult. However, fishers have long known that tuna are attracted to, and will aggregate around, floating objects such as logs.
In the past, people used bamboo rafts to attract tuna, fishing them while they were gathered underneath. Today, the modern equivalent – called fish aggregating devices, or FADs – usually contain high-tech equipment that tell fishers where they are and how many fish have accumulated nearby.
It’s estimated that between 30,000 and 65,000 man-made FADs are deployed annually and drift through the Western and Central Pacific Ocean to be fished on by industrial fishers. Pacific island countries are reporting a growing number of FADs washing up on their beaches, damaging coral reefs and potentially altering the distribution of tuna.
Our research in two papers, one of which was published today in Scientific Reports, looks for the first time at where ocean currents take these FADs and where they wash up on coastlines in the Pacific.
Attracting fish and funds
We do not fully understand why some fish and other marine creatures aggregate around floating objects, but they are a source of attraction for many species. FADs are commonly made of a raft with 30-80m of old ropes or nets hanging below. Modern FADs are attached to high-tech buoys with solar-powered electronics.
The buoys record a FAD’s position as it drifts slowly across the Pacific, scanning the water below to measure tuna numbers with echo-sounders and transmitting this valuable information to fishing vessels by satellite.
Throughout their lifetimes FADs may be exchanged between vessels, recovered and redeployed, or fished and simply left to drift with their buoy to further aggregate tuna. Fishers may then abandon them and remotely deactivate the buoys’ satellite transmission when the FAD leaves the fishing area.
Fishing licence fees can provide up to 98% of government revenue for some Pacific Island countries and territories. These countries balance the need to sustainably manage and harvest one of the only renewable resources they have, while often having a limited capacity to fish at an industrial scale themselves.
FADs help stabilise catch rates and make fishing fleets more profitable, which in turn generate revenue for these nations.
The abandonment or loss of FADs adds to the growing mass of marine debris floating in the ocean, and they increasingly damage coral as they are dragged and get caught on reefs.
Perhaps most importantly, we don’t know how the distribution of FADs affects fishing effort in the region. Given that each fleet and fishing company has their own strategy for using FADs, understanding how the total number of FADs drifting in one area increases the catch of tuna is crucial for sustainably managing these valuable species.
Where do FADs end up?
Our research, published in Environmental Research Communications and Scientific Reports, used a regional FAD tracking program and fishing data submitted by Pacific countries, in combination with numerical ocean models and simulations of virtual FADs, to work out how FADs travel on ocean currents during and after their use.
In general, FADs are first deployed by fishers in the eastern and central Pacific. They then drift west with the prevailing currents into the core industrial tropical tuna fishing zones along the equator.
We found equatorial countries such as Kiribati have a high number of FADs moving through their waters, with a significant amount washing up on their shores. Our research showed these high numbers are primarily due to the locations in which FADs are deployed by fishing companies.
In contrast, Tuvalu, which is situated on the edge of the equatorial current divergence zone, also sees a high density of FADs and beaching. But this appears to be an area that generally aggregates FADs regardless of where they are deployed.
Unsurprisingly, many FADs end up beaching in countries at the western edge of the core fishing grounds, having drifted from different areas of the Pacific as far away as Ecuador. This concentration in the west means reefs along the edge of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea are particularly vulnerable, with currents apparently forcing FADs towards these coasts more than other countries in the region.
Overall, our studies estimate that between 1,500 and 2,200 FADs drifting through the Western and Central Pacific Ocean wash up on beaches each year. This is likely to be an underestimate, as the tracking devices on many FADs are remotely deactivated as they leave fishing zones.
Using computer simulations, we also found that a significant number of FADs are deployed in the eastern Pacific Ocean, left to drift so they have time to aggregate tuna, and subsequently fished on in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. This complicates matters as the eastern Pacific is managed by an entirely different fishery Commission with its own set of fisheries management strategies and programmes.
Growing human populations and climate change are increasing pressure on small island nations. FAD fishing is very important to their economic and food security, allowing access to the wealth of the ocean’s abundance.
We need to safeguard these resources, with effective management around the number and location of FAD deployments, more research on their impact on tuna and bycatch populations, the use of biodegradable FADs, or effective recovery programs to remove old FADs from the ocean at the end of their slow journeys across the Pacific.
An adult shortfin mako shark entangled in fishing rope. Photograph: Daniel Cartamil/PA
Researchers call for urgent action to protect large species in international waters
Australian Associated Press, The Guardian – 25 July 2019
The world’s shark populations are at increasing risk
of becoming bycatch of international fishing fleets, which harvest them in open
oceans where no legal protections exist, Australian researchers have said.
Rob Harcourt, from Macquarie University, said large sharks were more vulnerable
to longline fishing and called for urgent action to protect them by
implementing management strategies on the high seas.
Harcourt joined colleagues from
Australia and 25 other countries to collect and collate data from nearly 2,000
sharks tracked using satellite transmitter tags.
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.”
Member countries and territories of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) have agreed to adopt measures to conserve stocks of tropical tuna even as conservation groups criticised the decision to increase the catch limit of bigeye tuna.According to consensus reached at the 14th regular session of the commission which concluded on 8 December in Manila, the “bridging measures”, such as regulating and monitoring the use of fish aggregating device (FAD) and long lines of baited hooks, will be in place for three years while WCPFC members prepare a comprehensive tuna harvest strategy covering catch limits and spawn stocks.“Conservation and management measures shall ensure, at a minimum, that stocks are maintained at levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield, pending agreement on target reference points as part of the harvest strategy approach,” said the draft agreement (7 December).
The 26-member WCPFC, the governing body for international agreement on migratory fish in the Pacific, are composed mostly of small island states in the Pacific but also include developed countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States.
The WCPFC said the use of FADs will be prohibited for three months in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and two months in the high seas. Exempted are Kiribati-flagged vessels operating in the high seas adjacent to Kiribati’s EEZ and Philippine vessels fishing in corresponding situations.
FADs are semi-permanent floating structure made from any materials used to lure fish such as tuna. But FADs end up trapping other marine animals like sharks, sea turtles and dolphins, and also catch young tuna, precluding them from breeding.
Conservation and public interest groups welcomed the measures, but were critical of the commission’s decision to increase the catch limit of bigeye tuna by nearly 10 per cent. Critics have pointed out that the Commission misinterpreted the Scientific Committee’s report in August as suggesting that the bigeye is not overfished.
Holly Koehler, vice-president, International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Washington, explains the scientific committee of the WCPFC had referred to uncertainty in the bigeye stock status and recommended to maintain the current level so as not to decrease biomass.
“That’s why we asked that fishing mortality on bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks not increase from current levels to maintain current or increased spawning levels until the commission can agree on appropriate target reference points,” Koehler tells SciDev.Net.
Amanda Nickson, a director at Pew Charitable Trusts, says raising the catch limit will weigh on the bigeye’s biomass. “Commission members should ensure negotiations start immediately toward a stronger measure next year, to ensure precautionary, science-based management of its fisheries,” she says.
The western and central Pacific Ocean accounted for nearly 60 per cent of the global tuna catch in 2016, worth over US$ five billion.