Annual Forum Fisheries Ministerial meeting kicks off in Micronesia

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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.

“The Western 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.

The meeting 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.

Key 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 these impacts
  • 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
  • Addressing 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.
  • Agreed priorities to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission annual meeting in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in December.

In addition, 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 Tupou-Roosen.

##ENDS##

For more information and photos contact:

Donna Hoerder, FFA Media, +691 920 5332  donna.hoerder@ffa.int

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

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FFA launches fact sheets on tuna fishing basics

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The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) has published two fact sheets that define basic aspects of tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

One is on the four tuna species that are most important to Pacific Island economies. The fact sheet shows how to tell apart adult albacore, bigeye, skipjack, and yellowfin tuna. That’s easier than distinguishing the young, which look similar to each other.

The fact sheet also gives basic details about the life cycle of the four tuna, and outlines the main markets for each type of tuna.

The second fact sheet distinguishes the main features of purse-seine and longline fishing. These are the two most important industrial fishing methods in this part of the Pacific Ocean. 

It also describes simply how fish are caught using these methods.

Covers of two FFA fact sheets on four kinds of tuna, and on purse seine and longline fishing. Published May 2019.

New tuna longline FIPs have potential to turn the tide at RFMO negotiations

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Republished from Seafood Source, 29 January 2019

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.”

Author: Jason Holland

Pacific fisheries officials plan for sustainable and profitable longline fisheries

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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.

Fisheries Managers worked together to explore and develop strategies for overcoming the issues facing longline fisheries. Image: Jenni Metcalfe

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.

Fisheries Managers shared lessons learnt from successful initiatives and discussed strategies to overcome persisting challenges.
Photo: Jenni Metcalfe

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.”

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.”