South Pacific longline fisheries declining due to economics

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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 The normal variability between good seasons and poorer seasons has been replaced by a trend downwards.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.

Graph showing
Index of economic conditions in the south Pacific longline fishery. Source: Terawasi, P. and Reid, C. 2018, Economic and Development Indicators and Statistics: Tuna Fisheries of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean 2017, Forum Fisheries Agency. Note: Based on the longline fishery south of 10⁰S within the WPCFC Convention Area.

“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?“

Dire warning for Pacific’s domestic albacore fishery

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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.”

Marine pollution originating from purse seine and longline fishing vessels

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Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 4 November 2016

by Francisco Blaha

 

Once in while we get in the news that some companies are fined for illegal waste dumping. In the pacific to my recollection is always in Pango Pango (American Samoa) last week an American based company was fined 1.6 millon USD, a few years ago NZ based Sanford endured the same issue in the same place.

Marine Pollution issues are “governed” by MARPOL 73/78 is the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973 as modified by the Protocol of 1978. (“MARPOL” is short for marine pollution and 73/78 short for the years 1973 and 1978.)

It was developed by the International Maritime Organization in an effort to minimize pollution of the oceans and seas, including dumping, oil and air pollution. The objective of this convention is to preserve the marine environment in an attempt to completely eliminate pollution by oil and other harmful substances and to minimize accidental spillage of such substances.

From my time in Fishing Boats and from the workbooks I see from SPC/FFA fisheries observers that include a Regional Observer Pollution Report Form GEN-6 (See at the end of the post for an example). I assumed the issue must be substantial, even if nothing gets done with the findings (a bit like compliance issues). And unfortunately… I wasn’t wrong.

At last years WCPFC TCC(Technical and Compliance Committee) and group of SPREP lead by Kelsey Richardson presented a report on the issue. I quote it in the post.

The report examines more than ten years of collected data on more than 10,000 pollution incidents by purse seine vessels and more than 200 pollution incidents by longline vessels within the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of 25 Pacific countries and territories, and in international waters. The report finds that 71% of the reported purse seine pollution incidents related to Waste Dumped Overboard; 16% to Oil Spillages and Leakages; and 13% to Abandoned, Lost, or Dumped Fishing Gear.

When the category “Waste Dumped” was examined further, Plastics were found to make up the largest portion of total purse seine pollution incidents (37%). Only 4% of the incidents occurred in International Waters, while the rest occurred in the EEZs of Papua New Guinea (44%), Kiribati (13%), the Federated States of Micronesia (12%), Solomon Islands (7%), Marshall Islands (6%), Nauru (6%), and 19 other countries and territories in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

While based on limited data, the report finds evidence that pollution from fishing vessels, particularly purse seine vessels, in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is a serious problem and highlights the need for three initiatives:

  1. increased monitoring, reporting, and enforcement of pollution violations by all types of fishing vessels, especially longliners, which currently have a very low (5%) mandatoryobserver coverage;
  2. a regional outreach and compliance assistance programme on marine pollution prevention for fishing vessel crews, business operators and managers; and
  3. improvements in Pacific port waste reception facilities to enable them to receive fishing vessel wastes on shore.

This report provides the first consistent and substantive documented evidence about the nature and extent of ocean-based marine pollution in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. These incidents were all reported by regional fisheries observers through use of the Secretariat of the Pacific Commission/Pacific Islands Foreign Fisheries Agency (SPC/FFA) Regional Observer Pollution Report Form GEN-6.

The pollution reports are overwhelmingly biased to the purse seine fishery, due to high levels of observer coverage in the fishery, which is mandated by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). Prior to 2009, observer coverage for the purse seine fishery was around 5-8%, increased to 20% in 2009, and to 100% required coverage from 2010 to the present (P. Williams, personal communication, March 18, 2015, WCPFC, 2009). By contrast, observer coverage of the approximately 3,000 longline vessels operating in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is only 5% for the entire fishery as of 2012 (WCPFC, 2014).

There is also likely to be some bias in observer reporting particularly through some observers not reporting MARPOL issues, although the extent of this bias is not yet known.

 … Read the rest of the blog post here.