An adult shortfin mako shark entangled in fishing rope. Photograph: Daniel Cartamil/PA
Researchers call for urgent action to protect large species in international waters
Australian Associated Press, The Guardian – 25 July 2019
The world’s shark populations are at increasing risk
of becoming bycatch of international fishing fleets, which harvest them in open
oceans where no legal protections exist, Australian researchers have said.
Rob Harcourt, from Macquarie University, said large sharks were more vulnerable
to longline fishing and called for urgent action to protect them by
implementing management strategies on the high seas.
Harcourt joined colleagues from
Australia and 25 other countries to collect and collate data from nearly 2,000
sharks tracked using satellite transmitter tags.
A new five year strategic plan has been endorsed by fisheries ministers from across the Pacific region that will prove critical to protecting Australia’s interests and directly support profitable tuna fisheries in our waters.
Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries, Senator Jonathon Duniam, said the strategic plan will help guide the actions of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).
“The new plan sets out the priorities for action across the seventeen member countries of the FFA,” Minister Duniam said.
“As a region, we will be implementing harvest strategies, improving working conditions for crew of fishing vessels in the region and reforming management of longline fisheries.
“Australia can take a leadership role in many of these areas, which are vital to the success of Pacific fisheries and our regional prosperity.
“This agreement follows forty years of cooperative management of tuna fisheries—an outstanding achievement that continues to drive strong management of sustainable tuna fisheries across the region.”
Ministers also convened the first Special Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting which gave delegates the opportunity to discuss broader regional fisheries issues.
“The challenges that regional fisheries face—particularly supporting sustainable coastal fisheries and addressing marine pollution—will benefit from having a strong ministerial body to guide action,” said Minister Duniam.
“I look forward to continuing to work with my Pacific colleagues to achieve positive outcomes for the region.”
Reaping greater economic benefit from regional fisheries is expected to be high on the agenda at the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit in Nauru this week.
Increasing the yield of the Western and Central Pacific tuna fishery shows the greatest potential for growth.
The Pacific tuna fishery provides 60 percent of the global catch with around two-thirds of it coming from Forum countries’ waters.
The Forum Fisheries Agency, or FFA, reports positive economic growth figures within these fisheries.
However, Pacific stakeholders say more can be done.
FFA figures show two-thirds of the catch is taken by foreign vessels and as much as 90 percent of the fish is processed overseas.
A joint regional taskforce has been set up to tackle these areas and extract more value through longline fishery reform and value chain participation.
Increasing ways to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing will also be a focus and one that underpins the new regional security framework, the Biketawa Plus, which may be ratified on Nauru.
Leaders of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) said last week they will seek to move longline vessels fishing in its waters into a management format currently in place for tuna purse-seiners.
Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority Director Glen Joseph, who chairs the PNA, which is composed of eight Pacific Island nations that jointly run a zone-based fishery management area, said implementation of a longline vessel day scheme will increase oversight of the fishing industry operating in PNA waters.
“PNA’s management scheme – the VDS – has served us well. We see value in expanding it to longliners,” Joseph said in the PNA’s monthly newsletter. “We recognize it is a different fishery, but it has been left unmanaged for too long.”
The PNA’s VDS for purse-seiners sets a limit on the number of fishing days allowed in the region, requires an independent fisheries observer on board and the collection of detailed catch data, and includes an annual three-month moratorium on the use of fish-aggregating devices (FADs) and in-port transshipment for further monitoring.
Currently, longliners operating in PNA waters are not required to have full observer coverage and do not collect or report adequate data on catch tonnage, bycatch amounts, and transshipment, Joseph said.
“These are the reasons it is urgently needed for the longline industry, particularly on the high seas where there is almost no verification of catches by independent observers or other management systems,” he said.
Joseph said the PNA was beginning the process of seeking support from the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to implement a VDS for the longliners. Joseph added that the PNA has heard interest from other island nations outside of the PNA who are interested in joining the PNA’s longline management scheme. Furthermore, he dismissed the possibility that the PNA would move to flag state fishing rights in the Western and Central Pacific.
“PNA members agree on the principle of zone-based management,” Joseph said. “Flag state rights are not appropriate or effective as a management tool in the western and central Pacific fishery. The VDS is effective in both conservation and economic development.”
Another reason the group is pushing for a longliner VDS is its economic benefit, PNA Chief Executive Officer Ludwig Kumoru said in the newsletter. Revenue to PNA countries has risen from USD 60 million (EUR 50.7 million) to nearly USD 500 million (EUR 422.7 million) in 2016 as a result of implementing the VDS, he said. Secondary economic benefits have included fishery training, the construction of new airports and air routes, wharfs, and fleet service facilities.
“Domestic development of the fishery is a catalyst for economic development,” Kumoru said.
Kumoru added that one of PNA’s primary goals “is to make sure our people are involved in the fishery, not spectators,” and that the group will pursue efforts to increase the capacity of the local fleet.
“If we have an opportunity to exploit our fishery, we’ll do it,” Kumoru said. “Right now, we license distant-water fishing nations, giving them opportunity to fish in our waters, because coastal states haven’t yet built the capacity to fish. There will come a time when the islands have the capacity to expand fishing in their own zones, and others must be prepared to give way.”
The PNA’s strategy of seeking to grow the domestic commercial tuna fishery may create tensions between the current overseas fleets fishing in PNA waters, “but it’s a matter of survival for the islands,” Joseph said.
“From the increasing revenue, hospitals are being built, roads are being paved, government operations are being funded,” he said. “It’s not about cutting out the distant-water fishing nations. It’s about developing the capacity of our islands to fish our own waters and process the catch.”