Moving to TAC system, Japanese fisheries managers get lessons from US experts

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Republished from Seafood Source, 25 March 2019

by Chris Loew

Japanese fisheries officials heard from their international counterparts about methods for incorporating more data into their fisheries science and management at a recent workshop in Tokyo.

The workshop,“New Resource Management Based on Data Innovation: Current State of the United States and Future Vision of Japan,” took place at the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries building on 7 March. The event was co-sponsored by the Fisheries Agency, the Fisheries Research and Education Organization, and the U.S.-based non-governmental organization Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Japan’s Fisheries Reform Act, the first major reform of Japan’s fishing laws in 70 years, was approved in the Diet at the end of last year. The law will move Japan from a total allowable effort (TAE) system – in which the number, size, and period of operation of fishing boats, and the types of gear allowed, are regulated – to a total allowable catch (TAC) system with vessel quotas for most species. 

In comparison with other countries, Japan has so far set a TAC for only a few species. Those include saury, Alaska pollock, sardines, mackerel, Southern mackerel, horse mackerel, squid, and snow crab – and recently for juvenile bluefin tuna. But with the reform, Japan will have to set TAC for many more species and fisheries, some of them data-poor, and also monitor and enforce the TACs. To accommodate the move, the government is planning an expansion of the country’s stock assessment system and an expansion of the use of data from fishing operations. 

Masanori Miyahara, president of the Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency (FRA), said under Japan’s current slow paper-based system, scientific assessments and quotas are made based on two or three-year old data. That leads to complaints from fishermen that stock assessments do not reflect what they are actually seeing when they fish. When a stock is recovering, this results in a TAC that is too low, and so it is bad for the fishermen. He also said that computerization of survey and landing data is becoming a global standard and may be required in future for sustainability certification schemes. Japan may find itself at a disadvantage in global markets if it cannot meet these standards, Miyahara said.

Guest speakers at the workshop included Dorothy Lowman and Shems Jud. Lowman is a U.S. commissioner of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), though she did not speak in that capacity at the meeting. In the past, she organized a national workshop on data modernization/electronic monitoring, and played a leadership role in the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s decision-making on groundfish. Her main activity now as part of the leadership team of the Net Gains Alliance, which is an initiative to support U.S. data modernization. Shems Jud is deputy director for the Pacific region for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), who was involved in changes to the management and data collection systems in the U.S. West Coast groundfish fishery.

Lowman explained the steps involved in setting up an electronic monitoring (EM) program, including a sample timeline, with special emphasis on involving all of the parties involved. For example, teaching some fishermen how to use the system, and then getting them to train others was effective. Lowman emphasized the benefit of not putting too much detail in the regulations, but rather referring to a vessel monitoring plan (VMP) for the details, in order to keep some flexibility. 

“It takes two years to change a regulation,” while a VMP can be changed more easily, she said.

Jud reviewed the experience of the U.S. West Coast groundfish fishery, which adopted an individual transferable quota (ITQ) system in 2011. This required shipboard monitors to enforce the quota and ensure operators were not discarding bycatch. But using shipboard monitors on all vessels was expensive and problematic, Jud said. For example, if observers were unavailable, the vessel could not fish. And if an observer was scheduled and paid for, operators felt pressure go out even if conditions became dangerous. For smaller vessels, the additional person meant the loss of space for a crewmember. As a result of these problems, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to allow camera-based electronic monitoring (EM) systems in some fisheries from 2017. Under the “optimized retention” approach adopted by the council, fishermen’s logbook entries are the primary data source, and they are checked against the videos by authorized third-parties. Jud noted that due to success in rebuilding stocks, environmental groups that were previously critical of the industry are now even involved in joint marketing. 

“That fishery is hard to attack now,” he said.

There has been movement toward utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) for reviewing of the footage and the Japanese would like to learn about and employ such systems. The Japanese side is also hoping to digitize stock assessment data, such as having fishermen enter the catch on a tablet computer on the trip to shore instead of a paper based system that is slowly compiled and assessed. The goal is to use electronic reporting (ER) to get stock assessments that reflect real-time conditions.

The panelists in the workshop faced audience questions over concerns regarding the confidentiality of data, since fishermen like to keep their favorite spots a secret. Additionally, there were many questions for Lowman from the Japanese side about who owns and has access to the data, especially from vessel monitoring systems (VMS) that show vessel movements.

As the average age of Japanese fishermen is over 60, many questioned whether they could master the input of catch data by tablet computers, due to the fact that many older Japanese have low computer literacy. Everyone had a laugh when a video that was to be played at the workshop could not be made to run due to technical issues. Complicated modern technology was blamed.

Japan does not support US big-eye proposal at Tuna Commission

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Japan believes that the US proposal to increase its bigeye catch limit is not fair.

The proposal would reward countries for better than minimum observer coverage on their longline vessels and for banning transshipment of fish. Transshipment is well-known as a key risk area for misreporting on fish catches and for potentially other illicit activities such as trafficking people or drugs.

FFA Members including Tonga have expressed strong concerns regarding the US proposal.

Head of Japan’s delegation to the Tuna Commission in Honolulu Mr Shingo Ota told Pacific Editors Japan does not like the US proposal as there are many other factors to be taken into account.

In the case of Japan, he said, they have been providing catch support which is a fundamental basis of stock assessment, therefore this scientific contribution should be appreciated.

The view from Japan is US is picking up only limited factors which are in favour of their operations and it is unfair. The United States has acknowledged it will be the only country eligible to benefit.

Ota also denied suggestions made in the US proposal that observer coverage on the Japanese fleet has gone down in the past year. He said the US figures are misleading and wrong. Ota emphasised that Japan is actually implementing its requirement for a minimum of 5% coverage.

He said while some of the fleets had little bit less than 5%, others had more than 5%.

On observers, Japan said it had had some unfortunate incidents in the past. Sometimes observers get depressed and they really want to return to port. Therefore, the fishing vessel had to quit fishing operations. Ota said Japan is working on this issue and that’s why electronic monitoring would be one of the solutions.

Pacific countries have proposed that this year’s Tuna Commission pass a resolution in supporting better working conditions for crew and observers working in the tuna fleets of all member countries.

Ina letter to the Commission the FFA Chair, Tepaeru Herrmann said: “The issue of poor labour conditions and mistreatment of workers on fishing vessels is vitally important, both to the Pacific and across the globe. Not only is the reputation of the WCPO fishery threatened by this, but our own citizens are at risk of being subjected to deplorable working conditions,”.

Ota said while Japan was very much supportive of the idea it the questioned if the Tuna Commission is best placed to handle this issue.

“The International Labor Organisation has a convention which deals with exactly the same topic so I think it would be natural to ask the members to ratify the Convention rather than discussing this issue at WCPFC,” Ota said

Japan fears the resolution, which is non-binding, might lead on to a push for binding labour standards.

It is easier to accept if it is a non-binding resolution, but what comes next is the question,”  Ota said. ……ENDS

Japan seeks to continue fishing in Palau waters

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Japan stressed the importance of its relationship with the Pacific, with most of the big scale fishing by the Japanese being centered in Pacific nations’ water.

Head of Delegation for Japan Shingo Ota, speaking at the Tuna Commission meeting in Honolulu said they were concerned about 20 small-scale longliners from Okinawa prefecture operating in Palau’s exclusive economic zone.

Mr Ota said those boats fear losing their livelihood once the island nation transition’s 80 percent of its waters to a no-fishing zone.

He said Japan is currently in talks with Palau to allow Okinawa fishermen to continue to fish in Palau after 2020 or the implementation of the Palau Marine Sanctuary.

“We are very much concerned because this is the main fishing ground for those 20 small-scale longliners. If Palau is going to close the area those vessels have nowhere to go,” Ota said.

He said Japan is requesting Palau to find a way, maybe through research, to allow the fishermen from Okinawa to continue fishing.

Ota, however, declined to give further details on the request.

Japan is one of Palau’s top foreign donors and the aid provided by Tokyo has helped the island nation to build roads and infrastructure.

By 2020, Palau is set to designate 80 percent of the nation’s maritime territory as a fully protected marine reserve in which no fishing or mining, can take place. 

Twenty percent of Palau’s waters will become a domestic fishing zone reserved for local fishermen and small-scale commercial fisheries with limited exports.

The marine sanctuary is President Tommy Remenegsau’s signature policy saying, Palau wants to lead the way in restoring the health of the ocean for future generations.

Japan speaks out on ‘unfair’ US proposal

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Japan said that the United States proposal to that the Tuna Commission increase its catch-quota on for bigeye tuna is “unfair,”

“I think the US is picking up only limited factors which are in favour of their operations. So, I think it is unfair,” the Head of Delegation for Japan Shingo Ota told reporters at the Tuna Commission meeting.

Pacific nations and other members of the WCPFC are locked in tense discussions over the future of the tropical tuna fishery which includes bigeye tuna as well as skipjack and yellowfin.

WCPFC’s current members are Japan, Australia, China, Canada, Cook Islands, the European Community, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Japan, Kiribati,Korea, the Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Tonga, Tuvalu, the United States of America, and Vanuatu.

Ota was quick to criticise the US proposal, joining other Pacific nations in resisting any increase in the quota: “We don’t like it. 

“Their proposal is if a country has better observer coverage and does not conduct transshipment they can receive more allocation,” Ota said.

The US is seeking a higher catch limit for bigeye tuna by its Hawaii-based longline fishing fleet.

In its proposal, Washington highlights the significant levels of monitoring and control it maintains in the fishery, outperforming other members of the Commission.

The US points out that while large longline fleets are maintained by Japan, Korea and Taiwan have failed to meet the Commission’s minimum requirement of placing independent fisheries observers on 5 per cent of their vessels the Hawaii-based US fleet does better.

 Figures included in the proposal show the US fleet has achieved observer coverage of about 20 per cent in its deep-set fishery and 100% in its shallow-set fishery.

But Japan said the figures cited in the U.S proposal that suggest observer coverage on the Japanese fleet has gone down in the past year are “misleading.”

“Actually, the U.S figures are not correct and we are actually implementing 5% coverage. In some of the fleets a little bit less than 5% but some of the fleets are more than 5%,” Ota stated.