Having had nation-wide consultations in 2018 and 2019, the Tonga Ocean 7 team had hoped to finalise the plan in 2020.
But COVID-19 forced the delay as the Tongan government focused on keeping the kingdom free of the virus.
Environment Chief Executive Officer Paula Ma’u said the delay had given the team more time to review the plan and ensure everything was in place before it was submitted to cabinet.
Working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Waitt Institute and the Italian Ministry of Environment, the Tonga Ocean 7 team has been able to finalise finer details of the plan.
These include different maps showing zones that have been marked for specific activities such as the special management areas (SMAs), marine protected areas (MPAs) and no-take zones.
Included in the zoning as well are areas marked for tuna fisheries, tourism activities and special marine parks.
“These are important parts of the plan, which will become the ocean management plan once that is approved and then gazetted,” Mr Ma’u said.
Plan critical for protecting marine resources
The plan is critical for Tonga, especially in the face of losing marine resources for various reasons, including over-use and climate change.
Mr Ma’u is one of the three government chief executive officers who chair the Tonga Ocean 7 management committee.
The others are Dr Tu’ikolongahau Halafihi, of the Fisheries Ministry, and Ms Rosamond Bing, of the Ministry of Lands, Survey and Natural Resources.
A challenge to manage the fisheries for all
Dr Halafihi said his ministry had been in the forefront of finding solutions to Tonga’s fisheries problems, which included tuna fisheries.
Tuna fishing within the Tongan exclusive economic zone (EEZ) has been dominated by longlining since the 1950s.
He said tuna in the Tonga EEZ were fished mainly by the distant-water longline fleets of Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Before 2004, the longline fleet consisted of around 15–25 local and locally based foreign vessels. Following a moratorium on foreign fishing in 2004, the size of the fleet declined, and by the end of 2011 consisted of only 3 vessels.
Dr Halafihi said foreign tuna longliners had been allowed to fish in Tongan waters since 2011 as part of Tonga’s program to increase tuna fisheries production.
In 2014, 19 foreign-flagged longline vessels had valid licences to fish in Tongan waters. The vessels were from Chinese Taipei (14 longliners), China (3), and Fiji (2). Thirteen of those vessels were less than 100 gross registered tonnes (GRT), with one being larger than 200 GRT.
In the same year, the catch for the Tongan longline fleet was about 61% yellowfin, 8% albacore, and 7% bigeye. In previous years, albacore was targeted but the focus switched to the higher-value yellowfin and bigeye tuna for fresh fish export markets. Dolphin was presently the most common non-target species.
With this scenario in place, the Fisheries Ministry had worked tirelessly with the Tonga Ocean 7 team to ensure that the Ocean Plan was finalised and gazetted for use.
“This is going to be a comprehensive management plan,” Dr Halafihi said.
While the tuna fisheries are a major focus, communities around Tonga have also raised their concerns on what they believe is best for the country.
Some have asked that special areas be marked off so that they can fish and earn income from their own fisheries activities.
Others have voiced concern that “others” from outside their communities are accessing their fishing areas.
“So there has been a lot of give and take to make sure that everyone is on the same page,” Dr Halafihi said.
Policing the Ocean Plan the biggest challenge
Once the plan is gazetted and in use, the bigger challenge would be policing the legislation.
“That is going to be a major challenge,” Mr Ma’u said.
Part of the work so far has been looking at the legal aspects of the draft plan and getting experts also to work on how it will be monitored and policed.
That is why the Tonga Ocean 7 has worked with communities, civil societies, the private sector, government departments and the fisheries industry across the country.
“We will need everyone working on this together if it is going to be successful,” Mr Ma’u said.
The plan is expected to go to cabinet by mid-year and to be in place by the end of 2021.
FFA’s Moana Voices series on women shaping the future of oceanic fisheries is edited, researched and produced by Lisa Williams. This interview for Moana Voices 2021 edition is with Joyce Samuelu Ah-Leong from Samoa. She is a fisheries management adviser with FFA. The interview is published here to mark International Women’s Day.
I came into fisheries because my Dad thought I was playing too much rugby while my classmates were getting jobs. True story.
He just turned to me one day and said, “You better go find a job.” I went to the Public Service Commission office, keen to see if they had any work in the environment ministry. I remember the lady behind the desk telling me the environment jobs were all taken, looking at my study program at USP and saying how my marine biology degree program sounded like something related to fisheries. She gave me a letter and told me to head over to the fisheries ministry.
It was an eye-opening experience for me. My marine biology degree, which I had taken only through for my passion for the environment, suddenly made sense. The field work and my love for the sea, all in seven months of on-the-job experience – snorkelling doing coral reef monitoring, fish monitoring, invertebrate monitoring, fish-market surveys, fish-landing surveys – even a krill census! By the end of that seven-month experience, when I headed back to Fiji for my studies, I knew fisheries was where I wanted to be.
It was also good timing as Samoa Fisheries was undergoing a massive restructure and I was listed for a post on graduation. I came back with my degree and went straight into fisheries, and it’s been my passion ever since.
Right now, I’m a fisheries management adviser with the Forum Fisheries Agency in Honiara, working with our countries on fisheries policy, management systems and processes. This links to our regional voice at the Pacific Tuna Commission, or WCPFC. That’s a huge focus of my current work, supporting our Pacific nations in the technical meetings and annual Tuna Commission session, helping members to discuss and develop regional positions on the issues relating to management of the tuna fishery.
Fisheries management work in the Pacific is really living the dream for me. I can’t see myself doing anything else. I’m not really one for over-thinking things or wanting to know where I will be a decade from now. I am more an in-the-moment kind of person. And fisheries are such a critical part in our lives as Pacific people. As large ocean states, we depend on fisheries for livelihoods, income generation, economic benefits. Tuna fisheries are the economic core for many of the Pacific island states, particularly the small island states. It’s such an important field that for many Pacific nations you can just look around and say tuna money did that, license fees did that. It’s more than food: it affects how governments earn, and cover goods and services for their people. Then, of course, there is the private sector and employment benefits; the list goes on. That’s been part of the dynamics of tuna fisheries management in the region for many decades. It continues to evolve and shift.
With all the latest changes, science, and technologies to improve what our nations are doing, and how we work in this field, it’s exciting work. Even though it’s been my only career choice, I feel like there’s fresh directions every time I look. I don’t feel myself feeling tired and wondering what the next move will be. I just know that in less than a decade this sector is going to look different – an improved version of what we see now. In that sense, I want to continue to be the best that I can be in this role of service to the Pacific, with all its exciting challenges and opportunities.
Through all my meetings and travel to Honiara or around the region and beyond to represent Samoa Fisheries at the FFA level, I was inspired by the work here and had my sights set on eventually doing the same. Working at the regional level requires a step up in professional intensity and approach. It’s a chance for those who want to take national experience and career networking to the next level.
But whether you are national or regional, one thing doesn’t change: at the centre of all the work we do is the humble tuna fish, which feeds millions and millions of dollars into our Pacific nations and is eaten all over the world.
There have been many standout memories along the way. When Tokelau was chair of the Forum Fisheries [Committee], hosting the forum officials in Nukunonu and then the ministerial [meeting] in Atafu, it struck me how many fisheries officials and leaders were affected by the boat travel between Apia and Tokelau—talking about oceanic fisheries is one thing, and being out in the ocean habitat of the tuna was another!
A more solemn moment was the presentation of the Samoa Fisheries Management Bill to a parliamentary review committee, and with members of parliament invited to sit in. I was head of fisheries at the time, holding a bill with all its clauses in English and doing my translation and discussion in Samoan to the elected leaders. I thought of my parents and all they had done for me—especially my father and his “get a job” push for me, which started it all. It was a huge moment. The bill went through to its third and final reading with no changes, although it was almost 10 years of drafting before it made it to Parliament, and I don’t think there’s many women who’ve been able to have that memory of Parliament.
Fisheries is the same kind of space: more men than women across all senior levels, unless you are in the cannery or the market. But things are changing. I know when I started, I was one of a handful of women fisheries officers back then. There’s still an imbalance in the numbers, but the scale of our contribution is equal, and I think there’s a camaraderie and support which is above gender issues. I don’t think coming into a male-dominated environment bothered me that much. It helped strengthen relationships for us female colleagues; we were like sisters in fisheries, and it was the same at the regional meetings and networks, to this day. From the early days of my career, I brought an attitude with me which refuses to let gender be an issue for anything. I’ve always had that strong-headed approach to life, so if it was happening around me, I was probably a bit blind to it, to be honest.
Realistically, the future of fisheries will remain challenging. There have been so many changes, both natural and man-made, and it will continue to require all the demanding work to continue what those who’ve come before us in setting up arrangements and processes have started. I have faith in the Pacific way of producing solutions to fit our circumstances, even while we are nodding at everything that’s happening in the world around us. We’ve worked very hard over the years and put together many arrangements, systems and processes that allow us to work within ourselves to withstand our changing environment. It’s important to improve, to be ahead of the times, such as with technology.
Ten years ago, everything was a paper trail. Now we’re talking about electronic monitoring, electronic reporting, and that is making us look across at everything else we do – our systems and processes across the board. These also need to step up and maybe transform to another level of management where we’re no longer talking about just identifying risk, we are implementing risk management and improving systems for monitoring and evaluation in a timely way. It’s got to be a constant part of work because fisheries management is constantly changing, enforcement is always expanding, and change is a fact of everything we do.
Pacific nations are sovereign owners and responsible for the world’s largest ocean areas and EEZs [exclusive economic zones]. The management of the tuna resources is something that heads of fisheries and anyone who works or studies in this field takes so seriously, because the oceans are connected to everything else in our communities. That’s how engaged people are.
Acronyms are part of any regional organisation’s work. It’s not just in fisheries. I would say WCPFC is probably my favourite. I just like the way it sounds. But imagine having to say that whole Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission every time you talk about the Tuna Commission [laughs], so that’s a definite favourite, simply watching people trying to get through the mouthful. The least favourite depends on what pops up at any time. Right now, it’s the CMS, or catch management system, where the specifics of fisheries gear and species are so detailed and there’s so much data around each species, bycatch from fishing, and so on. [But it’s] an important part of keeping on top of fisheries licensing compliance and sustainable management.
Ten years down the track, I’d like to be in a role where I am providing experience and knowledge to those countries that need it in fisheries, maybe working for myself, if I am not still in regional service with FFA or from another corner of the region.
Advice to my younger self? I would say, take more risk, look beyond and outside of the box. When you’re young, you can take more risk and have a go. You don’t have to be the smartest in the room. You do have to work hard and be prepared for challenges and opportunities in equal measure. What I’ve seen is the ones who seem smartest are often just the best-prepared, and anyone can do that. I think strong work and team ethics go a long way in any career. For regional work, they are essential.
In this field, I have so many people that I look to for inspiration. They are too many to name. Of course, our Director-General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen. I’ve known her prior to that role, and seen the work she puts in. I’ve seen so many fellow friends and colleagues from my years in fisheries accept senior roles at national and regional levels, and they’ve all taught me something. They take the time for conversation, and it’s always the type of talk where you leave inspired and wanting to do better and work harder.
The wisdom I would share comes from my faith. One phrase I often pull out to gain strength or live by is that the will of God will not take you where the grace of God will not protect you. It really sums up everything for me, and the other comes from an economics teacher back in Samoa, who told me: if you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.
As a mum, I also believe in balance. My rule is never taking my work home. At home, there is a whole other set of commitments that kick in. In our family and communities, we all have cultural ties and obligations that you must balance. At the end of the day, keeping that balance is so important to being a better person, wherever you are.
The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) has failed to reach a consensus on the management of tropical tunas by one vote – with Colombia opposing the resolution – leaving tuna fisheries without any rules starting on 1 January.
The tropical tuna fishery – which includes bigeye, yellowfin, and skipjack tuna stocks – includes billions of dollars of catch. With the failure to reach a consensus – the first time in the IATTC’s history – the fishery is left without any form of management, including quotas, gear types, and more. While individual countries can choose to implement regulations matching the proposed IATTC resolution, region-wide rules will end.
Immediately after the failure of the IATTC to continue its current management into 2021, multiple non-governmental organisations – such as the Pew Charitable Trusts and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) – sharply criticised the lack of action.
“For the first time in its 70-year history, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission has completely withdrawn from management of tropical tunas,” the Pew Charitable Trusts Director of International Fisheries, Amanda Nickson, said in a release.
The lack of management stems from the IATTC failing to enact resolution 17-02 for tropical tuna species.
“Despite the clear scientific advice to, at a minimum, keep these provisions intact, the objection of one party blocked their extension,” the ISSF said. “As a result, the sustainability of the region’s tropical tuna fisheries and marine ecosystems is now at risk.”
Meetings of all regional fishery management organisations (RFMOs) have had to be moved online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite the challenges, the IATTC managed to enact other management changes – specifically, a new resolution establishing minimum standards for electronic monitoring.
“IATTC was able to make critical progress towards electronic monitoring, a much-needed step to help improve oversight of fishing vessel activity – demonstrating that, even during virtual meetings, governments can reach important agreements,” Pew said in a statement.
With a failure to act on any management issue, the future of any Marine Stewardship Council-certified species in the region is “is now uncertain”, Pew Charitable Trusts said. It also brings into question the efficacy of RFMOs.
“It’s clear that business as usual is not working and that regional fisheries management organisations such as IATTC need to urgently modernise their approach to management. When meeting participants can’t reach consensus, the default should never be to simply suspend management of species,” Nickson said.
“The issues with RFMOs go beyond IATTC and stem from management approaches that aren’t robust enough to handle unexpected challenges.
“The need to responsibly manage fish stocks worldwide calls out for significant reforms in the predictability and stability of decision-making, including a modernised system of pre-agreed decision frameworks known as harvest strategies; enhanced transparency of vessel activity through expanded observer coverage and transhipment reform; and greater accountability by adopting measures to improve compliance with existing rules and to end and prevent illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.”
“If WCPFC also fails to reach consensus on a measure, tropical tunas in the entire Pacific Ocean basin would be left unmanaged, threatening the viability of these US$24 billion [€19.8 billion] fisheries and the already tenuous status of many vulnerable populations that are impacted by these fisheries.”
The technical manual covers standard designs for different kinds of anchored FADs, and some regional modifications of these. It also discusses technical considerations for the design of upper floatation devices, main lines, and anchors, and considers deployment location and techniques from different kinds of fishing vessels, and maintaining FADs.
The manual improves on a 2005 edition by drawing on the experience and lessons learned by users of FADs across the Pacific.
The manual is published by the Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (FAME) Division of the Pacific Community (SPC).
The new manual doesn’t replace the old ones, which FAME says still contains useful technical information. However, FAME said it became clear in 2016 that the older manual did need updating, when Pacific FAD users came together to share their knowledge and experiences in FAD design and innovation.
They said information that was still relevant in the 2005 edition had not been repeated in the new manual, but was referred to.
Market wharves of Honiara, Solomon Islands. Photo: Francisco Blaha
Solomon Islands, Tuesday 6 August 2019 –the Honourable Chief
Justice of the Solomon Islands Sir Albert Palmer and the Director-General of
the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen yesterday
opened the first Pacific regional judicial symposium on the theme “Responsibility
The judicial symposium is attended by members of the
judiciary from the Pacific Islands region, a judge of the International
Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and international law experts, and will
discuss in particular the responsibility of States, the responsibility of
international organisations, and the responsibility of persons, in the
governance of fisheries.
The Honourable Chief Justice said: “Globally, this
area of international law is relatively new and gaining prominence and it is
essential that members of the judiciary are appraised. This Symposium provides
an opportunity for our region to be a pioneer in considering the attribution of
responsibility in fisheries to States, international organisations, and
FFA Director-General said: “Fisheries plays a central
role for Pacific Islands people – in our culture, food security and economic
development. It is for these fundamental reasons that our FFA Members take
their responsibility in fisheries very seriously and continue to set
world-leading standards. This judicial symposium is significant – it is an
expression of that commitment. It is also important that the symposium is held in
the very week of our 40th anniversary. Our ongoing work honours the
visionary decision of our Leaders to establish FFA.”
It is anticipated that the discussions will be robust
and delegates will gain an enhanced recognition and understanding of their role
in attributing responsibility under international law vis-à-vis the
responsibility of: States in their capacity as flag States, coastal States,
port and market States; international organisations including regional
fisheries management organisations and advisory agencies; and persons. The judicial symposium will be held from 5 –
8 August 2019 at the FFA Conference Centre in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries
assists 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
Japan is giving Solomon Islands aid to support its fisheries development programmes.
In an agreement signed on Monday, Japan is providing $US1.76 million so the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources can buy equipment to support development of fisheries and the management of coastal resources.
Under the Solomons National Development Scheme, fisheries is recognised as a key sector for food security and economic development.
The aid will also help the country deal with threats from over-fishing and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.
Purse seine fishing vessels have crowded Majuro’s lagoon since late May as low world market prices and over-stocks of tuna at Bangkok canneries have slowed the transshipment process. Majuro has been the world’s busiest tuna transshipment port for the past several years.
Photo: Marianas Variety/Garry Venus,Francisco Blaha
MAJURO — The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority or MIMRA is engaged in updating its strategic and tuna management plans, said Director Glen Joseph Thursday.
“Tuna is the number one driver of the economy here,” said Joseph. “We’ve had tuna management plans over the years. We’re revising it now so it caters to our regional and international obligations and development of the vessel day scheme.”
Majuro has developed into the world’s busiest tuna transshipment port, with 400-500 purse seine vessel transshipments annually. In 2017, 423 purse seiners transshipped nearly 300,000 tons of tuna in Majuro that were delivered to off-shore canneries by tuna carrier vessels, according to MIMRA.
In addition, revenue generated from the tuna fishery has skyrocketed since 2010 under the management of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement’s vessel day scheme. Marshall Islands is one of nine islands that implements PNA’s VDS to manage purse seine fishing in the region. Tuna revenue hovered around $3 million annually in the early 2000s. In 2017, a new record was set in Marshall Islands with over $33 million generated from the commercial tuna industry.
During the past month, over 30 purse seiners and carrier vessels have been anchored in Majuro’s lagoon awaiting transshipment as low world market prices and a glut of tuna in Bangkok have slowed the transshipment process.
MIMRA’s Oceanic Division is engaged in developing the new management plan with the assistant of two Fisheries New Zealand representatives. Dr. Aimee Komugabe-Dixson, a Pacific Fisheries Advisor, and Hilary Ayrton, a Fisheries Analyst with the Highly Migratory Species Team, have been working since last week with MIMRA’s team at the fisheries department’s Majuro headquarters.
They’ve been meeting daily with Oceanic Division staff since June 3 to put the new plan together.
Komugabe-Dixson made it clear that, “We don’t write plans.” The tuna management plan now in preparation is being developed by MIMRA staff with advice and support of the Fisheries New Zealand team. “We provide structure and guidance,” she said, adding the aim is to “develop a plan that is useable.”
Fisheries New Zealand comes under the Ministry of Primary Industries and the two visiting fisheries advisors are part of a program that is called “Te Pātuitanga Ahumoana a Kiwa” (Partnerships in Pacific Fisheries). It works with government organizations that administer fisheries in Pacific island countries and territories.
Komugabe-Dixson said their program works to build capacity in the Pacific region by developing partnerships and relationships with fisheries staff in each island. MIMRA staff are driving the process for developing the new plan, she said.
Offshore Fisheries Advisor Francisco Blaha, who is based in Majuro and focuses his work with MIMRA staff in tuna transshipment and other tuna-related work, said Fisheries New Zealand takes a long-term view toward developing partnerships in the region that lead to improvements in management of the fishery.
Global fish stocks are in decline, but a new tuna management scheme by the Federated States of Micronesia offers a blueprint for recovery. By working to manage half of the world’s skipjack tuna stocks sustainably, Pacific Islanders are leading the way in ensuring that fish, and people, are protected for generations to come.
A cluster of small Pacific islands is poised to make history in the management of global fish stocks. This week, when conservationists from around the world gathered at the fifth annual Our Ocean Conference in Bali, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) unveiled a bold promise and issued an even bolder challenge: full transparency in tuna fishing by 2023.
If FSM’s commitment is replicated, citizens of the Pacific could reclaim control over a natural resource that forms the backbone of the region’s economies. And it would promote future prosperity by helping to ensure that tuna stocks are fished sustainably, and that foreign vessels fishing in these waters do not take more than is permitted by law.
The mechanism that FSM and The Nature Conservancy will present this week is called the Technology for Tuna Transparency Challenge, a combination of monitoring and regional pacts aimed at improving fishing oversight. The initiative represents the first time a developing country has committed to 100% transparency in its fishery operations; if it succeeds, it could trigger a transformation of how seafood is managed worldwide.
FSM and the seven other island states that make up the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) may look like dots on the map, but they command an expanse of ocean greater than the size of Europe and are global powerhouses when it comes to fish. With control over half of the world’s supply of skipjack tuna and about a third of tuna stocks globally, the PNA is a veritable OPEC of the sea.
In FSM, efforts are already underway to use this market position as a force for good. Fish like tuna are important global commodities, but the industry is in steep decline worldwide. By committing to full transparency and pushing private partners to do the same, FSM will send a powerful signal that sustainable fishing practices are urgently needed to protect these crucial species.
But the real motivation behind FSM’s pledge lies closer to home. Tuna is more than a commodity here; it is what builds schools, pays teachers’ salaries, paves roads, and keeps hospitals open. It is the socioeconomic foundation of communities on the frontlines of climate change and rising sea levels. In other words, this is an existential fight – for the wellbeing of people today and the survival of island societies in the future.
FSM’s rich tuna fishery already provides half of the country’s income, but it could deliver even more. That is because too much of the value of tuna caught in local waters is being captured by foreign fishing fleets. Transparency is the key to bringing more of this wealth home. With electronic and human monitoring, we can stop illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, which robs the region of more than $600 million a year. Contrary to popular belief, most poaching is not the work of pirate operators; the major culprits are licensed foreign vessels that underreport or deliberately misreport their catch.
State-of-the-art electronic monitoring will also help ensure the sustainability of fish stocks and the communities they support. Currently, a lack of reliable monitoring data makes it difficult to establish protective fishing limits, and even harder to enforce them.
To remedy this, FSM plans to deploy remote sensors, GPS systems, cameras, and tracking devices on every longline vessel in its waters within five years. This will enable the collection of information such as catch composition, discards, and bycatch, which in turn will help minimize the accidental capture of sharks, turtles, and marine mammals. Crucially, these tools will also give authorities the data to manage ocean resources in real time. By joining FSM in these efforts, the PNA could raise the bar for transparency and set a new standard for fisheries management.
We already know that cooperation and conservation can reap big rewards. For example, since PNA-member states launched the Vessel Day Scheme in 2007 – which sets limits on fishing by foreign fleets – their annual tuna earnings have increased from about $60 million to more than $500 million. Pacific fisheries ministers are hoping to raise revenue even more by working with The Nature Conservancy to co-implement a system similar to one used in western Alaska, where the Community Development Quota Program (CDQ) has helped poor communities generate income by investing in fisheries-related businesses.
The commitment to full transparency and the launch of a CDQ-type initiative for PNA states are intended to keep more tuna wealth in the Pacific. By promoting better fishing practices, we can increase regional revenue flows to rebuild and restore fisheries, boost food and job security, and strengthen resilience to climate change.
We believe that fish, marine ecosystems, and people can coexist and thrive, and that the road to sustainability runs through community empowerment. We hope this vision will be shared by FSM’s Pacific neighbors, consumer advocates, and fishing partners gathered in Bali this week. Protecting a third of the world’s tuna stocks could be just the start of the global transparency revolution needed to protect our oceans – and our future.
Managers of the world’s largest tuna fishery—in the western and central Pacific Ocean—have a chance this year to improve the sustainability of how those fish are caught and should seize that opportunity.
At issue are fish aggregating devices (FADs), which are man-made rafts deployed by purse seine vessels to attract fish. For years, fishermen have observed that tunas gather under floating objects like seaweed or logs. Starting in the 1990s, fishing crews began making their own buoyant objects and deployed them in ever-increasing numbers. For purse seiners, which encircle schools of tunas within enormous nets, FADs have increased fishing efficiency and the amount of tuna caught. Today most FADs in the region are man-made and include plastics and other synthetic materials, with buoys that transmit location and, increasingly, the amount of tuna underneath a FAD.
Fifty-four percent of the tunas caught worldwide is from waters managed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), and much of that catch comes from the exclusive economic zones of eight Pacific island countries—which are also home to 90 percent of the FAD fishing within the WCPFC. Those nations are members of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which has strengthened fisheries management across the members’ collective waters.
To that end, PNA member countries have been at the forefront of efforts to better understand FAD fishing by collecting data from the transmissions of FAD buoys. According to a new analysis made possible by those efforts and prepared for the WCPFC’s Scientific Committee, an estimated 44,700 to 64,900 FADs are deployed within the WCPFC area, likely more than in any other ocean region.
The purse seine vessels using FADs primarily fish for skipjack tuna, the most common species used for canned tuna. But too few regulations are in place to ensure appropriate use of FADs, and their deployment can come at a cost to other species of tuna: Juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tunas, which also gather under FADs, can be caught before they reach reproductive age.
Juvenile catch isn’t the only concern: The webbing, nets, and ropes that make up FADs also entangle and kill sharks and turtles, and fishermen are not required to recover their FADs from the water.
A second recent scientific analysis, also made possible by the PNA data collection efforts and presented to the Scientific Committee, has estimated that at least 5 percent of deployed FADs wash ashore, and at least 26 percent of FADs could be considered “lost.”
A WCPFC working group is set to discuss FAD numbers, design, and possible management solutions on 3 October. Below are four recommendations the working group should send to the full Commission, which will decide at its annual meeting in December whether to increase regulation of FADs:
Decrease the limit on the number of FADs a vessel can deploy. Current rules prohibit a vessel from having more than 350 FADs in the water at any time, but that number is far too high to improve sustainability of the region’s tuna fishery.
Require that FADs be built in a way that results in a lowest risk of entanglement of marine animals to minimize the deaths of sharks and turtles. Such designs are being used with success in other ocean areas without affecting catches of targeted tunas.
Require that natural and biodegradable materials be used in the construction of rafts and FAD appendages (the material hanging below each device), and prioritize work to identify solutions to prevent FAD buoys from becoming marine debris.
Recommend extending the working group’s agenda to next year to investigate policies to better control and retrieve FADs, as well as alternative options to manage tuna catch in the purse seine fishery.
Taking these steps would be in line with the WCPFC Scientific Committee’s advice. In August, scientists on that committee expressed concern about the number of beached and lost FADs, and the potential impacts of high device densities on tuna populations. The committee recommended fewer deployments; use of biodegradable, non-entangling, and environmentally friendly designs; and better measures for control and retrieval.
Although fisheries managers worldwide have been slow to act, momentum is growing. Last year, representatives of FAD working groups from the Atlantic, eastern Pacific, and Indian oceans met to spark the beginnings of joint action. Their discussion was preceded by a meeting of a Global FAD Science Symposium, which included participants with expertise in WCPFC fisheries and identified proven and promising mitigation strategies, some of which the WCPFC working group is considering.
It is now up to the entire Commission to heed the advice of its own scientists, recognize the identified best practices, and adopt strategies appropriate to the western and central Pacific. Compared to some of the other tuna regional fisheries management organizations, the WCPFC lags in the adoption of strategies to mitigate some of the impacts of FADs. Given the significance and size of its fisheries, the WCPFC has a chance to set a new standard for safeguarding the health and sustainability of tunas and the greater marine ecosystem.
Dave Gershman is an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ global tuna conservation program.