Marine pollution originating from purse seine and longline fishing vessels

Categories Op-Eds: Tuna newsbeat insightsPosted on

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.

The tuna transhipment hub of Majuro

Categories News, Op-Eds: Tuna newsbeat insightsPosted on

Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 29 October 2016

by Francisco Blaha


Very little is known about the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI), even if they are at the crossroads of many of the developed world consequences… 4 colonial masters in less than 100 years (Spanish, Germans, Japanese and the US), then 2nd WW hotspot, followed by American imperialism, then nuclear tests and fallout, set up as tax heavens, FoCs (flag of convenience organizations), sea levels rising and climate change, airlines duopoly squeezing fortunes of them, just to name a few…

However, its location and magnificent protected lagoon make it a fantastic transshipment hub for the Pacific tuna trade.

Last year they had 704 transshipments involving nearly 450,000 tonnes of tuna, which at the tuna prices on the Bangkok market (that have started to weaken) to$1400/mt are worth 630 million USD, which is ridiculous when you consider that RMI annual budget is 90 millon (U.S. aid and reparations accounted for 60% of it).

So every day millions of dollars worth of tuna are transhipped in the Majuro lagoon, while most Majuro’s inhabitants live in tough conditions and the remoteness of the outer atolls makes mostly accessible only by boat, even if at any time they would be several helicopters on top of the purse seiners transhipping.

From the fisheries compliance perspective, their role is fundamental and is entrusted to the Oceanic Division of the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA). I have been their guest for this week.

The key issue is that for biggest part of the purseine tuna, this is the last stop before they leave the region forever, and by the nature of fishing, the verified weights (hence how much fish was actually caught) is only known at the dockside on the processing states, where the fish is weight in for payments and prior to processing. The rest is all estimates.

And as the processing nations for most of the WC Pacific Tuna (Thailand, Philippines and increasingly Ecuador) don’t communicate back the weights per vessels, the transshipment weight estimations are our best opportunity to know how much was caught.

Furthermore, fish does not become illegal at the factories, it is caught and unloaded illegally. And as all these movements occur here, RMI needs to be a responsible port state. Let me use my standard explanation: “A” steals a stereo from “B”, and then it goes to “C” house and sells it… “A” is a criminal and “C” is an accomplice, and “B” is the accuser. Pass this to the IUU fish world, “A” is responsibility from the Flag State, “B” is the Coastal State where the IUU fishing occurs and “C” is the Port State.

And while there is solid argument on question why a country with such a limited resources as RMI, is to take responsibility of controlling the operations of vessels from DWFN that ridiculously subsidize their industry and have an abysmal level of compliance (Taiwan – 400millon US/year, China around 2 billons, including 1 million fuel subsidies per Purse Seiner).Taiwan – 400millon US/year, China around 2 billons, including 1 million fuel subsidies per Purse Seiner).

Well… that is a big topic… one that deserves its own discussion (not today). The reality is that many of the PICs do take the responsibility as fish is one of the few sources of revenue they have, and then the pressure from civil society and the EU that will point fingers and shame them with labels of non-cooperating countries, or pirate ports or whatever.

And, since all vessels come and go from here, is a hub for the Fisheries Observers (in no many places in the world you will see guys with fisheries observer t-shirts in shops, walking the streets and so on). Hence the place is at the forefront of what we try to do regarding tuna fisheries in the Pacific. Not in vain, the PNA Office is based there.

Needleless to say MIMRA has only limited resources available, but very good people! Therefore in many ways RMI is a great place to test run the Unloading Authorization Code model, integrated into FIMS (wrote about this in the past), so I came here to scope the system design… and it has been great.

… Read the rest of the blog post here