Global fish stocks are in decline, but a new tuna management scheme by the Federated States of Micronesia offers a blueprint for recovery. By working to manage half of the world’s skipjack tuna stocks sustainably, Pacific Islanders are leading the way in ensuring that fish, and people, are protected for generations to come.
A cluster of small Pacific islands is poised to make history in the management of global fish stocks. This week, when conservationists from around the world gathered at the fifth annual Our Ocean Conference in Bali, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) unveiled a bold promise and issued an even bolder challenge: full transparency in tuna fishing by 2023.
If FSM’s commitment is replicated, citizens of the Pacific could reclaim control over a natural resource that forms the backbone of the region’s economies. And it would promote future prosperity by helping to ensure that tuna stocks are fished sustainably, and that foreign vessels fishing in these waters do not take more than is permitted by law.
The mechanism that FSM and The Nature Conservancy will present this week is called the Technology for Tuna Transparency Challenge, a combination of monitoring and regional pacts aimed at improving fishing oversight. The initiative represents the first time a developing country has committed to 100% transparency in its fishery operations; if it succeeds, it could trigger a transformation of how seafood is managed worldwide.
FSM and the seven other island states that make up the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) may look like dots on the map, but they command an expanse of ocean greater than the size of Europe and are global powerhouses when it comes to fish. With control over half of the world’s supply of skipjack tuna and about a third of tuna stocks globally, the PNA is a veritable OPEC of the sea.
In FSM, efforts are already underway to use this market position as a force for good. Fish like tuna are important global commodities, but the industry is in steep decline worldwide. By committing to full transparency and pushing private partners to do the same, FSM will send a powerful signal that sustainable fishing practices are urgently needed to protect these crucial species.
But the real motivation behind FSM’s pledge lies closer to home. Tuna is more than a commodity here; it is what builds schools, pays teachers’ salaries, paves roads, and keeps hospitals open. It is the socioeconomic foundation of communities on the frontlines of climate change and rising sea levels. In other words, this is an existential fight – for the wellbeing of people today and the survival of island societies in the future.
FSM’s rich tuna fishery already provides half of the country’s income, but it could deliver even more. That is because too much of the value of tuna caught in local waters is being captured by foreign fishing fleets. Transparency is the key to bringing more of this wealth home. With electronic and human monitoring, we can stop illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, which robs the region of more than $600 million a year. Contrary to popular belief, most poaching is not the work of pirate operators; the major culprits are licensed foreign vessels that underreport or deliberately misreport their catch.
State-of-the-art electronic monitoring will also help ensure the sustainability of fish stocks and the communities they support. Currently, a lack of reliable monitoring data makes it difficult to establish protective fishing limits, and even harder to enforce them.
To remedy this, FSM plans to deploy remote sensors, GPS systems, cameras, and tracking devices on every longline vessel in its waters within five years. This will enable the collection of information such as catch composition, discards, and bycatch, which in turn will help minimize the accidental capture of sharks, turtles, and marine mammals. Crucially, these tools will also give authorities the data to manage ocean resources in real time. By joining FSM in these efforts, the PNA could raise the bar for transparency and set a new standard for fisheries management.
We already know that cooperation and conservation can reap big rewards. For example, since PNA-member states launched the Vessel Day Scheme in 2007 – which sets limits on fishing by foreign fleets – their annual tuna earnings have increased from about $60 million to more than $500 million. Pacific fisheries ministers are hoping to raise revenue even more by working with The Nature Conservancy to co-implement a system similar to one used in western Alaska, where the Community Development Quota Program (CDQ) has helped poor communities generate income by investing in fisheries-related businesses.
The commitment to full transparency and the launch of a CDQ-type initiative for PNA states are intended to keep more tuna wealth in the Pacific. By promoting better fishing practices, we can increase regional revenue flows to rebuild and restore fisheries, boost food and job security, and strengthen resilience to climate change.
We believe that fish, marine ecosystems, and people can coexist and thrive, and that the road to sustainability runs through community empowerment. We hope this vision will be shared by FSM’s Pacific neighbors, consumer advocates, and fishing partners gathered in Bali this week. Protecting a third of the world’s tuna stocks could be just the start of the global transparency revolution needed to protect our oceans – and our future.
After a few consecutive months of increases coinciding with the western central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) ban on fish aggregating devices (FADs), skipjack tuna prices for delivery in Bangkok, Thailand, have started “leveling off”, industry sources told Undercurrent News.
As fishing with FADs restarts in the WCPO, prices might even fall further, according to sources. The FAD ban, established by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, runs from July 1 for three months for the majority of the fishing fleet in the WCPO. It will remain in place for some countries in the region also during October.
“My impression is that the skipjack market in Thailand is starting to level off now. Western Pacific fish is selling at around $1,650 per metric ton still, with Indian Ocean fish fetching up to $1,700/t CFR,” one US-based trader told Undercurrent.
“This is a normal differential between the two sources due to the EU or ACP [African, Caribbean or Pacific] credentials of the Indian Ocean fish as well as reputedly slightly better yields claimed by some canners over Western Pacific fish,” he added.
“Bangkok [skipjack prices] increased to $1,700/t during the last days of September; at the beginning of October, however, there has been a slightly declining trade,” a second source at a European fishing firm told Undercurrent, pointing to prices in the range of $1,660-1,670/t.
Thai Union Group indicated skipjack tuna raw material in September averaged $1,650/t (see graph above).
“Boats in the WCPO are fishing back on FADs, so catching generally should improve, and I think a number of canners are tempted to back off buying aggressively to see if the market will stabilize and perhaps even fall off from its current level,” the first source added.
“There are some in Asia that foresee a rapid drop in price, but that’s not evident today. If that does happen, we will be back in a pattern of wild price swings yet again, which serves very little purpose and makes fishermen, canners and finished goods buyers’ lives more difficult,” he also said.
Meanwhile, a source in Ecuador pointed out that about half of the local fleet, which is the largest in the region, stayed in port during the 72-day “veda” fishing ban effective from July 29. Catches are going well and prices also, he also noted, pointing to skipjack prices at about $100/t above Bangkok level, which Undercurrent indicated at $1,650/t.
FAO: Global trade in the first quarter of 2018
Global imports of canned tuna were below last year’s in most leading markets during the first quarter of 2018, with the exception of the US, according to a new report produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Demand improved since April/May, FAO said in the report, which analyzed global tuna trade in the first quarter of 2018.
International trade of canned tuna remained weak worldwide during the first quarter of 2018, according to FAO. Consumer demand remained low and many markets were holding sufficient stocks imported last year.
Following a weaker demand, particularly for conventional canned tuna in brine or in oil, in most of the markets, exports declined from the top two suppliers — Thailand and Ecuador — during the first three months of 2018, FAO said.
The increased exports from Indonesia during the reporting period was a result of higher exports of cooked loins to Thailand, the US, and Italy and also higher exports of canned tuna to North America, Europe and Middle East markets. Exports of cooked loins increased from Indonesia and China to Thailand and Europe, FAO said.
The US and Japanese markets registered positive import growth for the first quarter of 2018, compared with the same period a year ago, according to FAO analysis.
Improved consumer demand for higher value canned tuna seemed to be the supporting factor in the US. The lull in the substantial Middle Eastern market persisted, particularly in the large market of Egypt where demand recovery has been slow, indicating the availability of good stocks. Imports from Southeast Asia increased marginally in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Yemen during the review period. There were higher imports in many East Asian markets, FAO also pointed out.
At the beginning of 2018, one of the top three US canned tuna brands introduced a new range of gourmet tuna products (ready to eat yellowfin tuna slices) suitable for delis and restaurants. In May, at the Infofish Tuna 2018, leading US marketers reaffirmed the positive demand trend for similar types of processed higher value tuna with convenient packaging (in pouch or ready to eat kits) among the middle and higher income younger population group in North American markets emphasizing that “currently they are the smallest but the fastest growing household consumers in the US”, FAO said. The import increase of higher value canned albacore and tuna in pouch in the US during the review period is a reflection of this development, FAO also said.
There was no improvement in the Canadian canned tuna trade, where imports declined by 27% during the first half of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017, with falling exports from the top suppliers, namely Thailand, the Philippines, Italy, and Vietnam, but increased from Indonesia.
In Latin America, demand for canned tuna increased during the first quarter of 2018. There were two-digit import growths in Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and Uruguay during the review period.
Canned tuna imports into the EU remained weak during the first quarter of 2018, as the market had unsold stocks from last year’s imports, FAO said. Another reason for the drop in supplies was the high raw material price in 2018. Imports of both canned tuna and cooked loins declined by 9% during this period compared with the same period in 2017. Cooked loins represented 30%, 52,000t of the total processed tuna imports in the EU28, according to FAO.
The EU28 canned tuna market was largely supplied by external sources, which accounted for 73% of supply, or 127,800t.
Ecuadorean supply was down 17.6% to 26,100t, China up 62% to 16,500t, the Philippines up 10% to 12,700t, Mauritius down 21% to 10,500t and Indonesia up 67% to 9,100t.
There were higher imports of canned tuna by Russia, which rose 8% to 762t.
Although Japanese imports of fresh and frozen seafood were 6% lower in the first quarter of 2018 than a year ago, consumer demand for canned tuna continued to rise during this period, with imports up by 1.7% to 13,800t. Thailand, the leading supplier to Japan, managed to hold its position with a marginal increase in supply, while China and Vietnam increased exports by 70% and 30% respectively.
Australia is traditionally a market for high value canned tuna but, during the first three months of 2018, imports from the main supplier Thailand dropped by 24% to 9,600t. In contrast, imports of cheaper product (canned tuna in brine and others) increased from Indonesia (+26%, 1,500t) and from Vietnam (+175%, 80t). Overall, canned tuna imports in Australia declined by 19% during the review period, according to FAO.
Imports have increased also in Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, and South Korea during the first three months of 2018, compared with the same period a year ago. In an effort to capture the high-end seafood market in east Asia, tuna packers in the Philippines launched higher value canned tuna (yellowfin tuna chunks in lemon and pepper, in herb and garlic, in mild Indian curry, packed in 90g cans). Reportedly, the products launched early this year were met with positive consumer acceptance in Southeast Asian markets.
This year’s introduction of value-added tuna products in the US and Southeast Asian markets is expected to induce consumer demand for processed tuna, particularly in Asian markets, FAO said.
The US market for non-canned tuna products continues to show strong demand, particularly for the frozen category. Market penetration for tasteless smoke and carbon monoxide treaded products has increased in retail and restaurant chain outlets, with rising prices in recent years, FAO said.
During the first three months of 2018, US imports of frozen fillet steaks increased by 13% to 8,100t, in comparison with imports during the same period in 2017. A large share of these imports consisted of treated products in general. The main suppliers were Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand FAO said.
Meanwhile, demand for sashimi tuna in Japan was high during the Spring festival celebrations in April and May 2018, but slowed down afterward. Imports of both fresh and frozen tuna were negative during the first quarter of 2018. Throughout the peak consumption season of April and May, the market sourced more local fresh tuna, supported by the Japanese government’s policy to increase self-sufficiency in food fish supply, FAO said.
Skipjack tuna prices for delivery to Bangkok, Thailand during August are increasing again, after hitting a two year-record low last month, industry sources told Undercurrent News.
“The lowest price recorded was around $1,210 per-metric-ton,” one US-based source told Undercurrent, pointing out that western Pacific Ocean boat owners have “reacted to even lower FOB price demands from traders”.
As a result, “the traders started shorting canneries and talked of a fish shortage, the [price] tendency reversed, and now it’s possible the price may well sail through $1,300/t on its way towards $1,350/t or $1,400/t in the near term”, the US source said.
The skipjack raw material price closed at $1,300/t in July 2018, Thai Union Group pointed out in its quarterly results published on Aug. 6. During the second quarter, the average price was $1,667/t, down 5.4% year but 5.7% up quarter on quarter, the Thai group also said.
Commenting on the price rebound, some sources questioned why “did prices ever get up as high as $1,800/t in April”.
“There is no sense to what the way the market has been moving,” one said. But other sources stressed that the rebound was expected, as prices tend to increase in correspondence of the “veda” closures in the western and central Pacific in July and in the eastern Pacific at the end of July.
An independent adjudicator in New York has dismissed an objection to the re-certification of sustainable tuna fisheries controlled by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, or PNA.
Its eight member nations control about half the global supply of skipjack tuna, the most commonly canned variety.
The objection was lodged by the International Pole and Line Foundation whose members are thought to dominate tuna supply to the United Kingdom.
The PNA’s commercial manager, Maurice Brownjohn, said the objection appeared to have been supported by donors in the UK.
“And this is a market where we are increasingly getting market share because of the ability of this region to provide independently certified and high quality chain of custody for validating certification claims of the products that come from this region”
Maurice Brownjohn said the objection was led by a Queen’s Counsel and a team of barristers exposing it as the action of commercial interests and not fishermen.
The re-certification was granted by the Marine Stewardship Council for the PNA’s skipjack and yellowfin fisheries and now covers waters belonging to the territory of Tokelau, which is not a PNA member.