24 October, Honiara – The 14 member states of the Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (OFMPII) gathered on Tuesday to plan for the final year of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) initiative. During the 7th Global Environment Facility (GEF) Steering Committee meeting, participants reflected on project’s achievements during the year and made plans for the future.
FFA representatives talked final targets for the OFMPII project before it wraps up in 2020. Next year, the project will focus on limits and allocations for tropical tuna on purse seine and longline vessels, longline electronic monitoring, and transhipment review.
Manager, Hugh Walton said one of the main concerns for the next phase of the
project was high seas management.
Fishing Nations (DWFNs), particularly China and Taiwan, want to retain that
right for the high seas transhipment.
“They have to
be able to prove economic disadvantage […] it’s not documented, and it’s not
tested, so it’s a huge loophole and we’re trying to close it.”
The Parties to
the Nauru Agreement Office CEO, Ludwig Kumoru, also emphasised that the project
could only move forward with long-term high seas allocations in place. Current
allocations ensure that available resources are equitably distributed between
fisheries who target the same species outside country Exclusive Economic Zones
Mere Lakeba, Director
of Fisheries, Fiji said that catering to countries’ individual needs was
important moving forward. Hugh Walton, OFMPII coordinator said that this would
be a priority.
the last proposal, the OMFP sent consultants to each country and produced a
template of situational analyses of what was going on in each country to identify
“There is no
one size fits all, and we would not aspire to a one size fits all approach,” Walton
Walton also spoke
of project successes including the Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) and
the resulting Strategic Action Programme (SAP) produced by Professor David
Vousden of Rhodes University.
The TDA and
SAP have shed light on the current challenges for the management of Pacific
EEZs, and presented Pacific countries with the steps that can be taken to
mitigate the issues.
The report put
root causes of current fisheries issues down to a lack of high seas compliance,
climate change impacts, and pollution from coastal and inland activities.
It also notes
a positive: migratory tuna stocks are currently at sustainable levels due to
the management and efforts of Pacific fisheries over the last 20 years.
All 14 member states have sent letters of
endorsement for the Project Implementation Form (PIF). The PIF was submitted to
the GEF on October 11, and outlines plans for continuing OFMPII activities. A
detailed proposal for the next phase of the project is planned for June 2020.
Longliners in the Solomon Islands. Photo: Francisco Blaha.
POHNPEI, 16 June 2019 – The 16th
Forum Fisheries Committee Ministerial meeting begins tomorrow in Pohnpei, the
capital of the Federated States of Micronesia, and will tackle a broad range of
issues aimed at protecting and securing the long term interests of Pacific
Island countries over the region’s valuable tuna resources.
and Central Pacific is home to the biggest tuna fishery in the world and 60
percent of the catch is taken from the waters of FFA member countries –
amounting to around 30 percent of global tuna catches. So this is a critical meeting for the region. Ministers recognise that we must ensure our
major offshore resource – tuna – is not only managed sustainably, but that we
increase the social and economic benefits that it provides for our Pacific
people,” said Dr. Manu Tupou-Roosen, Director General of the Pacific Islands
Forum Fisheries Agency.
which brings together Fisheries Ministers and high level delegates from across
the region is being hosted by the National Oceanic Resource Management
Authority (NORMA) and chaired by the Honourable Marion Henry, Secretary of the
Department of Resources and Development.
priorities that will be tabled are:
The new FFA
Strategic Plan 2020-2025 which will provide direction for the work of the FFA
and its Members over the coming five years
The impact of climate change on tuna fisheries and working in collaboration with
regional and international partners to help FFA Members mitigate and adapt to
Finalising a new Regional Longline Strategy to underpin strengthened management of
longline fisheries, particularly on the high seas, and improved profitability
for Pacific Island longline operations
human rights abuses and labour conditions for crew on fishing vessels to
ensure there is no place for modern slavery in Pacific tuna fisheries
Technology for Tuna Transparency (T3) Challenge
which looks at using electronic monitoring to tackle Illegal, Unreported and
Unregulated (IUU) fishing and improve transparency of tuna catches
The areas of ongoing work by the Secretariat and
Members to combat IUU fishing with a
particular focus on emerging technologies, electronic reporting and electronic
monitoring, Persons of Interest and the Regional Aerial Surveillance Programme.
to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission annual meeting in
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in December.
for the first time there will be an additional one-day meeting of Fisheries
Ministers to consider wider fisheries issues including coastal fisheries
management and the impacts of marine pollution.
“This is an exciting development and will ensure greater cooperation by
all regional agencies working on fisheries and ensure Ministers are able to
provide effective oversight of all fisheries issues in the region” said Dr
About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)
FFA 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 decisions about their tuna resources
and participate in regional decision making on tuna management. www.ffa.int
Tuna longlining’s sustainability credentials can take a big step forward through the two supply chain-supported improvement projects announced this month for albacore fisheries in the Indian Ocean and Western and Central Pacific Ocean, according to NGO project leader Ocean Outcomes (O2).
The Indian Ocean albacore and South Pacific albacore and yellowfin fisheries supply Bumble Bee with around 50,000 metric tons (MT) of tuna, which the North American seafood brand sources through Taiwanese fresh and frozen tuna trader FCF Fishery Company Ltd.
“As we procure a significant amount of albacore tuna annually to meet demand for our products, we are in a unique position to help ensure the long term sustainability of longline albacore fisheries,” Bumble Bee Vice President of Sustainability Mike Kraft said. “All of that tuna comes from healthy stocks. This initiative will launch two fishery improvement projects [FIPs] to help ensure those stocks remain healthy, while working to close identified gaps between current fishery operations and other [Marine Stewardship Council] principles.”
Daniel Suddaby, vice president of strategy and impact at O2, told SeafoodSource that the aim of the FIPs is to bring the fisheries up to a level of best-practice where they can be entered into full assessment according to the MSC standard within five years without any conditions.
Being longline fisheries, one of the inherent challenges will be generating data, and in particular understanding what the vessels are catching and what they are discarding. Once that information is established, the true impact of the fisheries can be better understood and it can be determined if this is acceptable within the MSC guidelines, and if not, that improvements are made to the operations.
This is one of the key areas that O2 expects to see some important progress, Suddaby said.
As for the best approach for the fisheries to address these information gaps, he said it’s likely that some form of onboard observation – most likely electronic – will bring about data improvements across the fleets. This will lead to a better understanding of the fisheries’ current impacts and the necessary mitigation to reduce these to a sustainable level.
Another central focus is in regard to stock management and the requirement of most MSC fisheries to have effective harvest control rules (HCRs) that can adjust the catch size in relation to the population levels of the target stock.
“Bumble Bee has been forward-thinking in the area of ecosystem impacts. They have already trialed some electronic observers on a number of their vessels and they’re getting that data back. These efforts are at the cutting-edge of transparency and understanding what’s on-board and also where the boats go,” Suddaby said.
He also acknowledged that having the engagement and buy-in from a key industry player is critical to the success of FIPs such as these, as it generates the necessary incentive for the supply chain to adopt change.
“Of course, there are other ways of going about a fishery improvement project – a small-scale community-based FIP, for example, might be working bottom-up with the fishers and then identifying partners as part of that fishery improvement process,” Suddaby said. “But in this case, the tuna fisheries are quite well developed with globally traded products, so you need that buyer commitment up front.”
As such, and beyond achieving MSC accreditation, Suddaby said these new FIPs have the “bigger-picture” potential to connect catching fleets that have so far skirted around committing to robust sustainability plans. This is particularly the case among Northeast Asian longliners.
“I have been working at a tuna RFMO level for some eight years and often one of the key challenges has been engagement at meetings of the Northeast Asian states such as Korea, China, and Japan. These national delegations are not [as good at] working together on the sustainability agenda as those other nations that have much more structured sustainability markets,” Suddaby said. “I think this project is a really great way of engaging those fleets and through that engagement getting much more cohesive and constructive dialogue at the RFMO meetings. This will hopefully drive better management for the fisheries as a whole.”
To support its Northeast Asian tuna fishery improvement work and ramping up the engagement of the region’s longline fleets, O2 has received funding from the U.S.-based Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
“The FIPs with Bumble Bee really are the flagship of this improvement work,” Suddaby said. “We believe that the conservation community as a whole can use these FIPs as a vehicle to engage governments in positive change at the RFMOs.”
Given time, these and other similar efforts could put tuna longlining on a similar sustainability path now seen in the purse-seine sector, Suddaby said.
“I have seen the purse-seine sector make great strides along the road to sustainability. I also think tuna longlining could be on a similar trajectory, but it’s earlier in the process,” he said. “It’s exciting that we might be seeing a shift with the sector, which is traditionally more challenging, particularly with its larger bycatch.”
While tuna longlining is a lot less centralized than purse-seining and traditionally the investment in boats and the involvement from big brands is not at the same level, Suddaby said there are early signs of change, and the engagement of both Bumble Bee and FCF could be considered something of a game-changer.
“It’s starting; some of the interest in improvement and leverage is beginning to be there,” he said. “In getting these companies engaged with our project, I’m hopeful that the outreach and engagement from other longliners will increase and that will accelerate the movement towards better sustainability. This is what we’ve seen in other catching sectors, including purse-seine.”
Fisheries Managers from across the Pacific met in Honiara last week to discuss strategies for ensuring sustainable and profitable longline fisheries in the Pacific.
Although scientists currently rate the southern longline fishery, primarily targeting southern albacore tuna, as biologically sustainable with no overfishing, there is concern about the economic viability of this fishery.
This fishery is currently affected by poor economic conditions, due to the relatively low value of the fish, the relatively high costs of Pacific island based fishing operations, and declining catch rates. This is of concern given that many Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) have domestic longline fisheries.
Low profitability is also an issue in the tropical longline fishery, which limits the economic benefits that Pacific island coastal States can get from their longline resources.
Last week’s workshop, facilitated by Alice McDonald, consultant at NRE People, sought to explore the issues facing longline fisheries, and develop some strategies for overcoming these issues.
The Oceanic Fisheries Management project (OFMP2) supported the workshop, which aims to have a regional longline strategy ready to present to the Forum Fisheries Committee in July next year.
Participants in the workshop identified the following key objectives:
Avoiding a collapse in the target tuna fish stocks
Ensuring economic sustainability – employment and livelihoods
Minimising environmental impacts
Respecting human rights, including safety of observers on boats
Improving monitoring, surveillance and compliance, especially given the uncertainty of data about Illegal, Unreported or Unregulated (IUU) fishing
A MRAG study into longline fishing of tropical tuna species indicates that the two biggest IUU risks are from misreporting or non-reporting of catches (49%), followed by post harvest activities (39%), including illegal transhipment of fish at sea. Only about 3% of IUU is likely due to unauthorised or illegal fishing.
Derek Ta’uika Tagosia, e-Reporting and Monitoring Coordinator for the Solomon Islands Ministry of Fisheries & Marine Resources, reported on the success of their e-reporting, now installed and operational on over 100 locally based fishing vessels.
“Electronic reporting is entering and sending of catch and other data from the vessel to the office via satellite devices,” he said. “Before that we were using manual reporting where a log sheet is handed out to the captains and they fill it in manually using pens or pencils and we found a lot of challenges – handwriting is not clear, some missing fields, some missing pages, some using dialects.
“One of the biggest problems we had with manual logsheets was the delay in receiving those logsheets; we received them weeks late, or even months. But moving into e-reporting we managed to receive those logsheets – in just a click of a button.
“You can have the catch record for that day and the data for that catch, for that day.”
Experiences with longline fisheries in Samoa and Papua New Guinea were also presented, providing an opportunity for participants to share lessons learnt from successful initiatives and discuss strategies to overcome persisting challenges.
The workshop group listed the most urgent actions they thought needed to be taken in the regions longline fisheries including:
Strengthening MCS for longline fisheries, including increased implementation of electronic reporting and electronic monitoring
Promoting zone-based management
Locking in high seas allocations
Tightening transhipment measures, especially in the high seas
Specifying sovereign fishing rights
Gaining agreement on target reference points
Working towards a harvest strategy that recognises existing zone-based management measures
Developing management approaches that increase economic revenue and benefits
Understanding the stocks and linking scientific research to Monitoring, Compliance and Surveillance (MCS) needs
Defining and protecting maritime boundaries and baselines
Getting stronger agreement about crew welfare, perhaps through a Resolution at the next Tuna Commission (WCPFC) meeting in December.
Chair of the meeting, FFA’s Deputy Director General, Matt Hooper said that resource owners, the PICTs, were currently paying for most of the costs of managing the longline fishery but were not enjoying a share of the economic returns.
“We need to look at ways to improve the economic rents from tuna fisheries, and if we are successful in that endeavour we may be in a position to recoup some of the management costs from industry.”
The time is ideal for the Western and Central Pacific region to put in measures to ensure robust tuna stocks for the future.
The most recent assessments on the tuna stocks in the region by the Pacific Community (SPC) show they are all in the green zone, with fishing activity at sustainable levels.
Bubba Cook, Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager at WWF (World Wide Fund), says taking the right measures will help the region address issues that other regions have failed to address, notably depleted stocks.
“We have a chance to get management right. The resources are robust and stock levels are in the green zone,” Cook says. “We don’t want to end up like other places around the world where they have seen the stock collapse and have to talk about recovery.
“These countries have seen the economic consequences. We are in a really good position to sort out problems other regions have not addressed successfully.”
The state of tuna stocks
Assessments of the four major tuna stocks have been completed recently: yellowfin and bigeye tuna in 2017, skipjack in 2016 and albacore in 2015.
Dr John Hampton, chief scientist and deputy director of SPC’s Division of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (FAME), says they usually assess the stock level of at least one species every three years in order to evaluate different management strategies.
According to the assessment, skipjack tuna stock stands at 58 per cent, yellowfin at 33 per cent, albacore at 40 per cent and bigeye tuna at 32 per cent. Pacific bluefin is at historic low at 2.6 per cent.
“When we say the stock level is at 40 per cent for albacore, it means fish are at a level 40 per cent of what the stock would have been if we never had any fishing,” he says.
“At the moment, skipjack tuna, yellowfin and bigeye are not overfished, and nor is overfishing occurring.”
A new understanding of the growth rates of bigeye tuna meant that the scientific assessment of these stocks changed last year. The assessment of bigeye tuna was amended from ‘overfished’ to ‘not being overfished’.
“It’s quite a big level of depletion before we say it’s overfished, which means that these stocks are pretty resilient,” he says. “A stock is not classified as ‘overfished’ until the spawning population is reduced to less than 20 per cent of the unfished level.”
A rebuilding plan for Pacific Bluefin has been implemented by the Northern Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). The initial target is to increase the spawning biomass to the 20% level. This has involved catch restrictions particularly on those fisheries catching very small Pacific bluefin tuna (PBF). The International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-Like Species in the North Pacific Ocean has responsibility for assessments of PBF.
Future forecast on tuna stock
In Dr Hampton’s view, the main scientific advice and current management aims to keep things stable at current levels. In case of albacore, he says they would like to increase the size of the stock “a bit”.
And in order to achieve that, the catch has to be reduced. Finding agreement is a difficult issue for the FFA and the member countries.
“The problem with the albacore fishery is an economic problem rather than a biological problem”, he says. “They are sustainable as a stock in the long term”.
Some of the longline boats based in Pacific island countries face difficulty in being profitable at the current catch rates and economic conditions that prevail in the fishery.
Costs are high, but prices are low and so are catch rates. The poor catch rates are a consequence of the larger fish being depleted and they are the ones normally caught by longline fishers.
To make the fishery more profitable, fishing nations would have to allow the larger fish time to develop and that means reducing current catch rates. It has proved difficult to reach agreement on this.
“But if you get a better price for the albacore than is currently being paid there is less of a need to reduce current levels of catch,” Dr Hampton says.
“The problem with albacore is that fish are sold to canneries at $2.50 to $3 a kilo, whereas if fishers sell it at a fresh fish market they get three times the (cannery) price. These markets do exist in places like New Caledonia and Tahiti, and so the longline fisheries based there can make a good profit.”
Politics sometimes clashes with good management
Bubba Cook says it is important to keep politics out of management measures if tuna stock are going to remain sustainable in the future.
“The use of harvest strategies or harvest control rules based on a particular benchmark takes politics out of the issue,” he says. “It allows science and actual policy and management perspectives to set the limits.”
This will give the region a process that actually responds to the biological and economic conditions in fisheries.
“When you get some of the politics out of fisheries, you can actually see better management of our fisheries,” Cook says.
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.
“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?“
MANILA, 05 DECEMBER 2017 (PACNEWS) —-The Pacific has called for the control of longline fishing on the high seas at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) currently underway in Manila.
The Western and Central Pacific Ocean is the source of about 2.8 million metric tons of tuna valued at US$5.3 billion, representing 79 percent of the aggregate catch in the entire Pacific Ocean and 56 percent of the global tuna catch.
WCPFC is a regional fisheries-management organisation that governs fishing activities, particularly of tuna, in the high seas or waters that do not belong to any country.
Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Director General, James Movick says although there has been an improvement in the data that has been collected from vessels operating in the High Seas there clearly is not sufficient or robust controls over the High Seas longline fleet activity.
“The other aspects of High seas that need to be considered carefully is the control of Longline fishing on the High Seas which is a flag-based measure (one that is based around rights of the nationality of the fishing vessel)at the present time. And although there has been an improvement in the data that has been collected from vessels operating in the High Seas there clearly is not sufficient or robust controls over the High Seas longline fleet activity.
“And it is important as the Longline fleet is the major source of bigeye (tuna) mortality,” Movick said
“Whereas on the purse seine side we’re able to have 100% observer coverage, much more verification of catches etc…Unfortunately at the present time we don’t have a similarly high degree of confidence in the data we’re receiving from High Seas activities targeting the big bigeye tuna and the longline fishery.
There needs to be better control over the Longline fishery in the High Seas,” Movick told regional journalists in a media briefing in Manila.
Although it has been difficult getting data off longline boats and putting independent fisheries observers on board, Movick said the task is possible to achieve.
“I think we can achieve it. We’re experimenting. We have trials underway and the commission itself is seeking to develop standards for e-monitoring and e-reporting and work quite well in other fisheries around the world,” Movick said.
“So we’re looking to see how we can adapt those for operating conditions in the Pacific so we should see a higher degree of monitoring capability for these boats. I don’t think it is an impossible task.
Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA) CEO, Ludwig Kumoru said, with the way PNA is implementing the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) for the longline fleet, having reliable data will be achievable within 5-years.
“First of all we need to get it done within our (200-mile exclusive economic) zones, then and only then can we look to extend it to the High Seas. But again, when it comes to the High Seas we’ll going to need the whole grouping – but its easier to do it within zones. And that’s the importance of ‘zone-based management’ because we can make the decision and just carry on,” said Kumoru.
Movick said: “The point is, we’ve always taken the principle in the Pacific that this resource belongs primarily to us – the countries from whose EEZs the vast bulk of this fish is caught.
“And with all our management responsibilities, we should also be able to have a degree of management say in the High Seas as well.
“So as a matter of equity, right from the very beginning we’ve always said that countries of the Pacific, SIDS, should also be able to benefit from the entire fishery and participate in the entire fishery given their development aspirations, given their different geographical placement etc, relative to where the main fishing activity takes place. But that’s not been something that this commission has been able to address up until now.
“What we’re saying is this aspect of the commission does need to be addressed because this resource is one that is being taken care of by all the Pacific island countries who have worked strenuously over the last 30+ years since the establishment of the 3rd Law of the Sea (Conference), working collectively to ensure that this resource is the most robust and well managed tuna fishery in the world. It’s a burden that’s been placed on all of us so we need to recognise that, and give shape to everybody’s different aspirations, rights and everything to the resource,” said Movick.
The WCPFC’s annual meetings are aimed at protecting highly migratory fish stocks with rules known as conservation and management measures. …..PACNEWS
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.
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.”