2020 tuna research at sea conducted, but cut back to follow COVID-19 rules

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Two important tuna research trips have gone ahead in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) this year, although the research programs and the routes had to be curtailed dramatically.

Both programs, which are run by the Pacific Community (SPC), were cut back to comply with regional practices put in place to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

For the Pacific Tuna Tagging Programme, scientists continued routine tagging of tuna and tested new sampling methods that will help scientists analyse the structure and behaviour of tuna populations. 

The research was conducted in the high seas and the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Kiribati groups of Line Islands and Phoenix Islands. 

This year’s cruise was originally to have focused on understanding more about the habit of tuna to gather around drifting fish-aggregating devices (FADs). It was to have been conducted in waters around Tuvalu, which have one of the highest densities of drifting FADs in the WCPO.

Three men on deck of research vessel Gutsy Lady 4 being prepared at Kewalo Basin, Honolulu, for the tuna tagging cruise in the central Pacific. Photo SPC.
Research vessel Gutsy Lady 4 being prepared at Kewalo Basin, Honolulu, for the tuna tagging cruise in the central Pacific. Photo: SPC.

SPC research scientists Bruno Leroy and Valérie Allain reported on this year’s tuna tagging cruise in issue 162 of SPC’s Fisheries Newsletter.

The tagging cruise left from Honolulu, Hawaii, in mid-August, and returned to the same port in early October, staying clear of any other ports. Mr Leroy and Dr Allain said that protocols to protect Pacific Islands people from COVID-19 meant that, before the research vessels could depart, the crew and scientists had to stay isolated for 14 days and return negative test results to the disease.

Mr Leroy said that, since the Pacific Tuna Tagging Programme began in 2006, about 455,000 tuna had been tagged. If SPC tagging campaigns carried out since the end of the 1970s were included, the number was more than 800,000. On the 2019 cruise, researchers tagged nearly 17,000 tuna.

Second study to develop better ways to sample small marine animals 

Bruno Leroy and Valérie Allain also reported on a second SPC research cruise, which was also curtailed to comply with COVID-19 rules. 

The SPC’s scientific team conducted a four-day trial to develop a new sampling method to collect micronekton from the surface of the ocean to a depth of 600 m. (Micronekton are marine animals such as fish, crustaceans, jellies and squids that measure 2–20 cm in length. They are the main source of food for seabirds, tuna and marine mammals.)

As the research vessel Alis is based in New Caledonia, the trial was conducted inside the country’s EEZ.

The original cruise planned for this year in the waters of New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Federated States of Micronesia has been postponed until 2021. It is part of a long-term program to study the ecosystem of the open oceans in the Western and Central Pacific. 

Crew on the research vessel Alis haul in a net full of micronekton during the 2020 research cruise in New Caledonian waters. Photo: Valérie Allain, SPC.
Crew on the research vessel Alis haul in a net full of micronekton during the 2020 research cruise in New Caledonian waters. Photo: Valérie Allain, SPC.

Pacific push for Albacore measures at WCPFC meeting in Hawaii: Preview

Categories @WCPFC15, News, NewsPosted on

HONOLULU, 07 DECEMBER 2018 (PACNEWS)—- Proposals on important measures for albacore tuna – the most important tuna for temperate Pacific countries – are expected to be prioritised by Pacific nations at this year’s Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii in December next week.

Last year the meeting in Manila, Philippines, failed to reach agreement on Albacore tuna.

Albacore is vital to countries such as Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga and other members of the Tokelau Arrangement.

Because large quantities of albacore are also caught in international waters, the Pacific fishing industry will only be profitable if the WCPFC sets strong fishing rules.

A target reference point (TRP)- an ideal stock level from which future decision-making takes its cue – is the starting point for all rule-making.

The WCPFC has committed to set a TRP for Albacore at this meeting.

Tropical tuna species – skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye – will also be high on the agenda.

The 26 nations that govern the world’s biggest fishery left it to the last minute to agree to new rules for the three economically crucial tropical tuna species at last year’s WCPFC meeting.

The adoption of a new Tropical Tuna Bridging Measure was designed to ensure skipjack, bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks are maintained at recent average levels and capable of producing maximum sustainable yield.

The Tropical Tuna Measure, which regulates a catch worth billions of dollars, is a three-year agreement but some of its provisions are due to expire this year.

With the latest science easing concern about fish numbers there is expected to be a push by distant water fishing nations to increase their catch.

Pacific nations are also expected to step up the fight against Illegal Unreported Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

WCPFC has committed to approve a new conservation measure to protect sharks.

After last year’s tense late night meeting the WCPFC praised the 27 nations for staying the course to agree on the Tropical Tuna Measure and the highlighted the role of Japan, in particular to broker deals and work in the margins to reach consensus at last year’s meeting in Manila.

Commission Chair Rhea Moss-Christian started looking to the future.

“My goals for 2018 are to secure the south pacific albacore management framework including the target reference point, which is important to a number of the South Pacific, members, and to give a comprehensive management plan in place for sharks and manta rays,” she said in late 2017  ….PACNEWS