Dire warning for Pacific’s domestic albacore fishery

Categories @WCPFC14, NewsPosted on

The survival of the Pacific’s domestic tuna longline fishery is at stake without more effective management of fishing in the High Seas – those areas outside of the waters of the region’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones.

Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association (PITIA) Executive Officer John Maefiti says the fishery is a shadow of what was once a viable and attractive industry because the regional body that sets the rules for fishing has failed to control a “massive” increase in High Seas fishing by distant water fishing nations, especially by Taiwan and China.

“The industry has been trying to adapt to the tough conditions of the past few years. If we keep going this way, boats will be tied up and companies closed down,” he says.

PITIA Executive Officer John Maefiti at a briefing with the Pacific media team at the Philippine International Convention Center in Manila.

PITIA is supported by the GEF Oceanic Fisheries Management Project 2.

Maefiti presented the industry’s concerns to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), better known as the Tuna Commission, at its 14th annual meeting in Manila, Philippines today. The Commission brings together the resource owners – the Pacific Island states – with the distant water fishing nations to set rules, usually by consensus, that address the conservation and management of tuna fisheries. The differing interests of the parties make it hard to agree on effective measures. More than 60 per cent of the global catch of albacore, bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tunas come from the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). In 2015 the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) island nation’s longline fleets catch in the WCPO was worth around US$436 million.

Maefiti said the Commission continues to fail to respond to the dire conditions of the Southern longline fishery impacting the domestic fishing industry of the Pacific Island states.

“Nobody can deny the perilous commercial state of this fishery.  Catch rates simply cannot support current costs, leaving many companies just barely surviving,” he said at the Commission meeting.

The Southern longline fishery is the part of the fishery that is south of 10 degrees south of the equator in the WCPFC Convention Area.

Maefiti said the domestic industry generates critical revenue for Pacific Island states and employs thousands of people in the region.

PITIA’s position echoed Samoa’s statement at the opening of the week-long Commission meeting on Sunday. Samoa’s Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Lopao’o Natanielu Mu’a told the Commission that its domestic longline fleet has struggled to survive poor economic conditions as a result of prolonged reduction in catch rates for South Pacific Albacore.

“This deteriorating situation had resulted in the need to change the norms of operation for our tuna industry to mitigate the poor economic conditions or otherwise risk a shutdown altogether of our domestic tuna fishery.

“We have seen both a general decline in catch rates and vulnerable levels of spawning biomass for this stock over the years,” said Mu’a.

Samoa is concerned that the scientific assessment of South Pacific Albacore suggests stocks are declining and that there is a 17 per cent chance that stocks could drop below the critical 20 per cent of pre-fishing levels in the next 12 months.

“The deteriorating status of the South Pacific Albacore must not be allowed to continue and the Commission is obligated to implement management measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of this resource.”

Briefing Pacific Islands media in Manila, Maefiti said PITIA members are also calling for the Commission to come to an agreement on a harvest strategy for South Pacific Albacore, which will set a target reference point (TRP), and develop a harvest control rules to give effect to the strategy. The TRP is the optimal fish stock level for sustainable fishing.

“The catch rate is falling due mainly to the distant-water fishing nations fishing on the High Seas, especially Taiwan and China,” he says.

He told the Commission that its inability to control High Seas fishing effort is a sad indictment on its ability to manage the fisheries under its charge.

“This is a critically important fishery for our fishing industry and PITIA strongly urges the WCPFC to make a decision to ensure the long term commercial viability and sustainability of our Southern long line fishery.”

Representatives of Fiji’s and Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) domestic industry also shared their concern with Pacific media.

Fabian Chow, Treasurer of PNG’s Fishing Industry Association said the long-term vision for growing the domestic industry was being handicapped by changes in policies driven by fiscal pressures and short-term thinking.

“Our members are hurting out there. They are generating red ink.”

Chow said the industry has had its successes, and can grow if there is investment.

“You don’t imagine what a tuna cannery means to a small province, how it can transform the hopes and aspirations of those people,” said Chow.

In addition to concerns for the longline fishery, Maefiti said it was disappointing for PITIA and its members to see the Solomon Islands withdraw its support of the Tokelau Arrangement which aims to set limits for albacore catch in the region.

“We were putting our hopes on the Pacific Island states to fight in solidarity for the fishery. Its not looking good for the industry,” he said.

“We have to stay together so that we can have more leverage in these negotiations. The sustainability of this resource is very important for the Pacific Island states. We have to show the world that we are together in this.”

Maefiti said more transparency around the Commission meeting is needed to ensure that the people of the region know what decisions are being made. He said it was up to civil society organisations and the media to help the people of the Pacific understand the challenges and the potential benefits of sustainable fishing for their economic development and future generations.

Maefiti says he was encouraged by the coverage provided by the PACNEWS/Forum Fisheries Agency Pacific media team.

“We need to inform our people about what’s happening in there. All the policies we put in place should benefit the people. This is a publicly-owned resource.”

The Vietnamese ‘blue boats’ sneaking into the Central and South Pacific

Categories Op-Eds: Tuna newsbeat insightsPosted on

Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 16 January 2017

by Francisco Blaha


Lots of info in the news on the so-called “Blue Boats” invasion, since they have been found in have been found in Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and as far south as Australia and New Caledonia. And is true, most come from Vietnam… but then that is part of the problem.

Most of the boats apprehended have Vietnamese citizens on board and many come from Vietnamese ports but Vu Duyen Hai the head of Vietnamese delegation to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission which met in Nadi recently, denies Vietnam is responsible.

“Some other countries have informed us that Vietnamese boats also come to other countries like Palau or Micronesia to poach but Vietnam is not so sure that these are Vietnamese vessels.”

He accepted that some fishing vessels stray outside Vietnam’s 200-miles Exclusive Economic Zone but he said this is because they “follow the fish” and most do not have equipment to tell them if they mistakenly enter other countries’ EEZ.

He said the Vietnamese government has tried to advise them not to go to other countries’ EEZ to poach because that would be illegal fishing, and that Vietnamese fisheries authorities also check local fishing vessels but “sometimes, fishing vessels go out, switch off their communication equipment and authorities could not locate them and this becomes a problem and now they are also against this and it has very heavy penalties including removal of licenses for ever”

And that is perhaps the most telling issue, obviously if these guys head off from Vietnam into a REALLY long trip for a long time, is not because hey are interested in keeping their local fishing license impeccable!

They make it all the way into these countries knowing that coming back may not be an option, but still good business.

FSM authorities assessed that the price for one of the small boats which can handle 10 to 13 crew members is about 300 million Vietnamese Dong, approximately $12,000. The small boats carry 25,000 liters of fuel when they leave port in Vietnam. They return to port when the fuel gets down to 10 or 15 thousand liters of fuel.

The big blue boats which can carry 16 to 17 crew members cost around 600,000,000 Dong, approximately $24,000. The bigger boats carry approximately 35,000 liters of fuel and return to port when the fuel has reached 15,000 liters.

The price for diesel fuel in Vietnam has only changed negligibly in the last few months. On September 5, the price per liter was 50 cents USD. At that price, it costs about $12,500 to fuel an extended journey on one of the bigger boats. The journeys are intended to last two to three months and they bring enough food for that period of time.

The other option, and one does not have to be a fisheries mastermind, is to asume that there must be a logistic arrangement behind them, with carriers to pick up catch and provide fuel, otherwise they will run out of fuel ( and storage space even if they dry all the fish on board. So they must have a fleet of carriers accompanying the foray, ergo radio and GPS on board are required.

In any case, the vessels are very basic so their cost is not a disincentive in the case of being detained, add to that the massive overcapacity and subsidies that the Vietnamese government provides its fleet, and the present scenario is not surprising.

The previous and ongoing Vietnamese fisheries subsidies policies on fuel and vessels renewal, upgrading, infrastructure etc, offsets any damages from loosing the boat if they are captured. Moreover, in relation to fisheries management, open access to fisheries is the main problem, and is in fact a lack of management leading to overfishing and over-capacity. Overexploited resources and over-capacity, in turn, lead to boats ready to head off into far and more productive shores, even if it is illegal

Official figures put the Vietnamese offshore fleet at approximately 20000 vessels, almost all of them made of wood. Most vessels are equipped with second-hand truck engines. Among these, 6675 vessels are fitted with engines of 90 hp or above, but who really know what the reality is.

… read the rest of the blog here.