New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister, Rt. Honourable Winston Peters and delegation. Photo: FFA.
HONIARA, 6 June, 2019 – The
Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) welcomed a high level delegation
led by the New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister, Rt. Honourable Winston Peters, on
Wednesday 5 June as part of their visit to Solomon Islands. Minister for Pacific Peoples, Hon Aupito William
Sio; Member of Parliament (and former Minister of Trade) Todd McClay; NZ High
Commissioner to the Solomon Islands Don Higgins; and senior government
officials from the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs including CEO Chris Seed,
were also in the delegation.
The delegation met with FFA Director General, Dr. Manu Tupou-Roosen and
Deputy Director General, Matt Hooper to discuss priority work areas for FFA including
initiatives to improve the economic returns to FFA member countries from their
tuna resources and the use of new technology in the ongoing battle against
illegal fishing. The new rules governing
labour conditions for crew on fishing vessels were also highlighted alongside
measures to improve the safety of Pacific Island observers working on foreign
The New Zealand delegation also visited the FFA Regional Fisheries
Surveillance Centre (RFSC). They were briefed on the critical role of the
Centre in monitoring, control and surveillance by FFA Director of Fisheries
Operations Allan Rahari and Lieutenant Commander Phil Rowe seconded to the RFSC
from the Royal New Zealand Navy.
New Zealand contributes around 40% of total donor funds to FFA, and its
annual support amounts to around USD $7.5 million.
In acknowledging the commitment from New Zealand, Dr. Tupou-Roosen said
“This visit was an opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to the Deputy
Prime Minister and the Government of New Zealand for their continued
significant support as a FFA member and key donor. It was also an opportunity to showcase FFA’s
work and its importance for the region in terms of securing long-term social
and economic benefits for our people.”
She added “We look forward to our continued work together with the
Government of New Zealand. As our FFA
Members have always maintained, it is cooperation that underpins our success.”
For more information
and photos contact Donna Hoerder, FFA Media, ph: +677 773 3097 email@example.com
About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries
its 17-member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall
within their 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise,
technical assistance and other support to its members who make sovereign
decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision
making on tuna management. www.ffa.int
Economic and climate resilience were key focus points of a meeting between the New Zealand and Cook Island government last week.
The 2019 Joint Ministerial Forum was held on Aitutaki and included Cook Island Prime Minister Henry Puna, his deputy Mark Brown and ministers Vaine Mokoroa and Robert Tapaitau.
The New Zealand delegation included deputy prime minister Winston Peters, cabinet minister Stuart Nash and foreign affairs undersecretary Fletcher Tabuteau.
Mr Tabuteau said the meeting focussed on a range of issues including infrastructure development, security, fisheries, the Pacific Islands Forum, climate change and health.
He said it was important for New Zealand to facilitate positive long-term outcomes in these areas.
“And actually part of the Pacific Reset conversation around the is how do we productively spend money now around resilience, sustainability , economic transformation so that in 10 years from now were not just spending another dollar on aid or recovery or things like that.”
Mr Tabuteau said there was also an emphasis on improving health support for Cook Islanders.
“How can we do more for you in terms of what do we do in New Zealand, and how can we extend that to the Cooks in a systematic way?”
It was the seventh time the meeting had been held between New Zealand the Cook Islands.
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”.
The time is ideal for the Western and Central Pacific region to put in measures to ensure robust tuna stocks for the future.
The most recent assessments on the tuna stocks in the region by the Pacific Community (SPC) show they are all in the green zone, with fishing activity at sustainable levels.
Bubba Cook, Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager at WWF (World Wide Fund), says taking the right measures will help the region address issues that other regions have failed to address, notably depleted stocks.
“We have a chance to get management right. The resources are robust and stock levels are in the green zone,” Cook says. “We don’t want to end up like other places around the world where they have seen the stock collapse and have to talk about recovery.
“These countries have seen the economic consequences. We are in a really good position to sort out problems other regions have not addressed successfully.”
The state of tuna stocks
Assessments of the four major tuna stocks have been completed recently: yellowfin and bigeye tuna in 2017, skipjack in 2016 and albacore in 2015.
Dr John Hampton, chief scientist and deputy director of SPC’s Division of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (FAME), says they usually assess the stock level of at least one species every three years in order to evaluate different management strategies.
According to the assessment, skipjack tuna stock stands at 58 per cent, yellowfin at 33 per cent, albacore at 40 per cent and bigeye tuna at 32 per cent. Pacific bluefin is at historic low at 2.6 per cent.
“When we say the stock level is at 40 per cent for albacore, it means fish are at a level 40 per cent of what the stock would have been if we never had any fishing,” he says.
“At the moment, skipjack tuna, yellowfin and bigeye are not overfished, and nor is overfishing occurring.”
A new understanding of the growth rates of bigeye tuna meant that the scientific assessment of these stocks changed last year. The assessment of bigeye tuna was amended from ‘overfished’ to ‘not being overfished’.
“It’s quite a big level of depletion before we say it’s overfished, which means that these stocks are pretty resilient,” he says. “A stock is not classified as ‘overfished’ until the spawning population is reduced to less than 20 per cent of the unfished level.”
A rebuilding plan for Pacific Bluefin has been implemented by the Northern Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). The initial target is to increase the spawning biomass to the 20% level. This has involved catch restrictions particularly on those fisheries catching very small Pacific bluefin tuna (PBF). The International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-Like Species in the North Pacific Ocean has responsibility for assessments of PBF.
Future forecast on tuna stock
In Dr Hampton’s view, the main scientific advice and current management aims to keep things stable at current levels. In case of albacore, he says they would like to increase the size of the stock “a bit”.
And in order to achieve that, the catch has to be reduced. Finding agreement is a difficult issue for the FFA and the member countries.
“The problem with the albacore fishery is an economic problem rather than a biological problem”, he says. “They are sustainable as a stock in the long term”.
Some of the longline boats based in Pacific island countries face difficulty in being profitable at the current catch rates and economic conditions that prevail in the fishery.
Costs are high, but prices are low and so are catch rates. The poor catch rates are a consequence of the larger fish being depleted and they are the ones normally caught by longline fishers.
To make the fishery more profitable, fishing nations would have to allow the larger fish time to develop and that means reducing current catch rates. It has proved difficult to reach agreement on this.
“But if you get a better price for the albacore than is currently being paid there is less of a need to reduce current levels of catch,” Dr Hampton says.
“The problem with albacore is that fish are sold to canneries at $2.50 to $3 a kilo, whereas if fishers sell it at a fresh fish market they get three times the (cannery) price. These markets do exist in places like New Caledonia and Tahiti, and so the longline fisheries based there can make a good profit.”
Politics sometimes clashes with good management
Bubba Cook says it is important to keep politics out of management measures if tuna stock are going to remain sustainable in the future.
“The use of harvest strategies or harvest control rules based on a particular benchmark takes politics out of the issue,” he says. “It allows science and actual policy and management perspectives to set the limits.”
This will give the region a process that actually responds to the biological and economic conditions in fisheries.
“When you get some of the politics out of fisheries, you can actually see better management of our fisheries,” Cook says.
Data gathered by the FFA shows that economic conditions in the South Pacific long-line fishery is on a downward trend, with no signs it is likely to return to the profitability of previous years.
Dr Chris Reid, Chief Economist for the Forum Fisheries Agency, says that the fishing in the Pacific has always been subject to variability.
“The profitability of the long-line industry is determined by a number of factors: catch rates, fishing costs and the market price for fish,” he says. “When fuel costs are low and prices are good, most fishers have a smile on their face – as long as they are catching enough fish.”
There are a number of factors in play. There are good seasons and bad seasons, and the industry has natural fluctuations, up and down.
But the last five or so years have given poor returns to fishers, both domestic fleets and foreign vessels. The normal variability between good seasons and poorer seasons has been replaced by a trend downwards. These years have been marked by higher costs and a lower CPUE – catch per unit effort.
“The main thing about catch rates since 2011 is that they’ve consistently been lower than the average,” Dr Reid says.
The graph illustrates his point. The figures for 2011, the start of the downward trend, show high prices for fish but are offset by high costs and a bad CPUE. The black line shows very poor overall economic conditions in the industry.
“It has got to the stage that a good year today is what an average year looked like 10 years ago, and today’s average year is like a poor year then. If we have a bad year now, it’s going to be absolutely terrible,” says Dr Reid.
In 2013, some fleets withdrew and in the last couple of years there appears to have been a significant drop-off in effort. Dr Reid says this is just simple economics.
“It’s like a classic open access fishery. Everybody floods in, then catch rates drop off and people withdraw. Catch rates might come back a bit but unless there’s a management regime in place, you just return back to this situation so the fishery will always just bump along the bottom,” he says.
“It’s economic over-fishing.”
He contrasts the economic notion of sustainability with a scientific stock assessment, which says the stock is biologically healthy. The long-line industry, though, targets the bigger fish and many of these have already been caught.
“The fish that are susceptible to being taken by long liners are the older fish, for example, for albacore it is those fish that are around five years and older that are susceptible. So the size of this segment of exploitable fish keeps shrinking even though the stock remains in a biologically healthy state,” he says.
“When you put out a line, instead of pulling in 40 kilograms for every 100 hooks you’re now pulling in 20, and it cost you the same amount of money to put the line out so your revenue is cut in half while your expenses aren’t.”
Dr Reid says that if fishing activity was reduced the bigger fish would likely come through again and catch rates increase. But because the scientific stock assessment shows over-fishing is not occurring, some members of the Western and Central Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) are reluctant to take action. Nonetheless, being conscious of the fall in catch rates, the Scientific Committee of the WCPFC has recommended that there be no further increase in fishing mortality on albacore to ensure the economic sustainability of the fishery.
He says the domestic fleets are affected more than the foreign fleets.
“If they do keep driving down the catch rates and boats stay there, the ones that are more likely to leave are the domestic boats because they don’t have the subsidies, they tend to have a higher cost structure and they have less ability just to move elsewhere. So they’re the ones that typically tie up,” he says.
“And you can only tie up for a certain period of time. The decision then becomes, if I have to have a major refit of the boat or I need a new boat, am I going to re-invest in this industry? I expect that they would be the ones who would get out.
“In recent times, the Fijian, Samoan and American Samoa fleets have all tied up at various times and there were stories of many operators trying to sell out. There were certainly examples of domestic fleets tying up whereas there was no indication of the Chinese or Taiwanese tying up.”
According to the scientists, things are going to get worse before they get better. They claim that if the fishing effort is maintained at current levels then the stock will keep falling in size until it stabilises at a lower level.
“A further decline in catch rates of seven per cent or so will obviously make the long-line fishery even less profitable. Half the problem with it being unprofitable is that nobody makes money so what’s the point in having a fishery out there? It could mean withdrawals of more domestic fleets,” Dr Reid says.
There is pressure within the Commission to include economics in the decision-making process, so that target points for albacore should not just be made on a biological basis. Many of the members of the WCPFC including both coastal states and fishing nations recognise that economics is important, and the decision-making processes have moved a long way from being biologically focused to include economic implications.
“At the national level we’ve seen Fiji cut their licenses because they had issues about catch rates in decline within their own national waters. They reduced the number of licenses to mitigate that effect. But it’s very hard if you’re in a zone to do something that is going to make any difference when everybody outside is continuing to fish. Often it can make some difference, but without necessarily bringing it back to where you used to be,” Dr Reid says.
“It’s all about creation of wealth. There’s a fish stock out there, it’s in my waters. I can try to extract as much wealth from that as possible, now how do I do that?“