One of the most important tools in understanding the biology and environment of tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is a bank.
This particular institution, the Pacific Marine Specimen Bank (PMSB), has been slowly building its revenue of research currency – muscle, organ and bone samples, stomach contents, photographs, and radiographic images – since 2000.
It also collects samples from other large, oceanic species such as marlin and swordfish that are also economically valuable.The PMSB is managed by scientists in the Oceanic Fisheries Programme of the Pacific Community (SPC). The datasets held in the bank help the scientists understand the world of tuna. Their knowledge forms part of SPC’s annual assessments of the state of health of tuna populations. In turn, the assessments are used to manage tuna fishing in the region.
Specimen banks are important because they throw light on our understanding of current situations – and because scientists in the future can use the same samples to find answers to new questions or to ask the same questions using new techniques or research tools.
One of the challenges the staff of PMSB face is ensuring that samples, which are collected all over the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, are kept in prime condition until they get to a permanent storage facility. Part of the scientists’ work is to prepare some samples to make it easier to transport them to analysis laboratories outside New Caledonia.
Much care goes into getting, storing, and transporting samples so they can be used for immediate research and analysis, and also in many years’ time.
This usually means that they have to be kept cold enough. Many samples can be kept at –20°C; however, those used in genetic analysis must be kept at –80°C. Freezers of the second kind are difficult to come by, and expensive to run.
Other tissue must be preserved in formalin and then transferred into ethanol.
The nine cubic metres of freezer space at the laboratory at SPC in Noumea is now too small to contain the growing collection. Although there are plans to enlarge it, research partners are also helping to house pieces of the collection in other parts of the region.
And SPC has funded the purchase of freezers in the main fishing ports in the region to that samples can be stored safely until they are transferred to their final destination.
In April, the PMSB contained nearly 120,000 samples collected from 34,000 specimens. Some national observer programs have participated in collecting samples for the bank since 2002.
Note: post updated 6 July 2020 to correct a spelling error.
SUVA, 16 June 2020 – A milestone has been reached by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the Pacific Community (SPC) following the successful completion of an agreement between the two organisations for the exchange of maritime boundaries data.
This milestone also represents the achievement of a key outcome under the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) programme to reduce Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing through enhanced Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (MCS) of oceanic and coastal fisheries.
It comes at an opportune time with the global focus of World Oceans Day on 8 June being “Innovation for a sustainable ocean. Together we can protect our home.”
FFA members had recognised the need to routinely update Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) maps when maritime boundaries were agreed, made publicly available and incorporated into national laws.
Acknowledging that it was crucial that stakeholders were all working from the same data, members authorised SPC to release its dataset to FFA, using the international standard format, to enable updating of the FFA VMS. Through an ongoing Service Level Agreement (SLA) between SPC and FFA, this has now been achieved and authoritative Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) data has been included and operationalised into the FFA VMS, which is used to track fishing fleets across the Pacific region.
When FFA developed the region’s state-of-the-art VMS, the only EEZ boundaries available were provisional lines developed from different sources under the Maritime Boundaries Project which was later transferred to SPC. As Pacific Island states and territories made progress in delimiting, negotiating, and declaring their maritime boundaries, more updated datasets were made available via open source platforms and this was used to update the VMS.
While expressing his congratulations, the Ambassador of the European Union for the Pacific, HE Sujiro Seam said, “The European Union is proud to have partnered with SPC and FFA in the operationalisation of such an awaited data sharing agreement.
“It reaffirms EU’s global commitment to promote the sustainable management of marine resources and the achievement of the SDG14 – Life below water. It recognises the importance of marine issues for the Small Island States of the Pacific, which are big Ocean States, in line with the ‘Strategy for a Blue Pacific Continent’ endorsed by the Pacific Island Forum Leaders at their meeting in Tuvalu in 2019. It adds value for the toolbox to fight IUU fishing and ensure a high level of maritime security in the region.”
FFA Director General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said FFA is happy with the continuous collaborative work with SPC, especially with regards to the Service Level Agreement on maritime boundaries.
“We are very pleased with the continued strong collaboration between FFA and SPC to support our Members in the sustainable utilisation of our valuable offshore fisheries resources. Specifically, the work on the delimitation of maritime boundaries is fundamental as has been underlined by our Pacific Island Forum Leaders.”
Dr Tupou-Roosen also spoke highly of the PEUMP programme for supporting the milestone achievement, saying, “We are very appreciative of the collaborative approach that PEUMP is taking in implementation as a multi-partner programme which has resulted in these types of successful outcomes.”
SPC’s Director-General, Dr Stuart Minchin, said, “National fisheries officers can now respond to cases of illegal fishing within their maritime zones with confidence, knowing that the boundaries displayed are internationally recognised. Fisheries are a critical source of wealth for the peoples of the Pacific and strengthened monitoring and management of fisheries has exponential impacts on the sustainable development of our region.”
Pacific representatives participating in the region’s first virtual MCS Working Group Meeting in May congratulated the FFA and the SPC on reaching a critical milestone for fisheries management in the region.
Following several years of collaborative work, the two regional organisations completed Phase 1 of the SLA in April 2020, and the updated EEZ information has been on display since May.
All of the boundary data shared through this agreement has been collected, analysed, and catalogued through the Pacific Regional Maritime Boundaries project. The project was originally established to assist Pacific countries to obtain greater certainty in the limits of their EEZs to support fisheries management and enforcement, and it has supported the successful declaration of 19 shared boundaries between countries since 2001.
The project is coordinated by SPC and is supported by a consortium of partners, including the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat; Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner; FFA; the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT); Geoscience Australia; Attorney-General’s Department, Australia; University of Sydney; Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT); GRID-Arendal; Commonwealth Secretariat; as well as the European Union and Sweden through the PEUMP programme.
The Pacific Community (SPC) is the principal scientific and technical organisation in the Pacific region, proudly supporting development since 1947. Learn more at www.spc.int.
About the 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. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and www.ffa.int.
About the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) Programme
The Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) Programme addresses some of the most serious challenges faced by the pacific countries. Among these are the increasing depletion of coastal fisheries resources; the threats to marine biodiversity, including negative impacts of climate change and disasters; the uneven contribution of oceanic fisheries to national economic development; the need for improved education and training; and the need to mainstream a rights-based approach and to promote greater recognition of gender issues to ensure inclusiveness and positive changes for the Pacific island people. This five-year PEUMP programme is funded by the European Union (EUR 35 million) and the government of Sweden (EUR 10 million). It is implemented by the Pacific Community (SPC), the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the University of the South Pacific (USP) in close collaboration with Non-Government Organisations and the national authorities.
A small project to test four types of electronic crane scales may grow into a transhipping process that benefits crews, skippers, vessel managers, scientists and regulators, project members hope.
If their early experiments pay off, the accuracy of weighing catches during transhipment will improve.
After much testing for precision, robustness, ease of use, price, and a few other characteristics, the team has chosen the best performer. Team members need to develop standards that would be workable in the transhipment ports in Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu and Solomon Islands.
The team comprised people from Forum Fisheries Agency, the Pacific Community, and Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, led by fisheries consultant Francisco Blaha. They secured funding for the project from the Pacific–European Union Marine Partnership program.
The team hope this process to increase the accuracy of weight monitoring during the slow work of transhipment will become commonplace. If this happens, the people who monitor transhipments will be able to trust the weights as read by the scales, which will free them up to focus on the species composition of transfers.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Pacific Community have signed an agreement formalizing the Islands nations Country Programme for 2019-2022. The Programme provides a framework for work over the next 4 years and ensures that priorities identified by RMI as essential to achieving its development objectives and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The agreement was signed by the President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, HE Hilda Heine, and SPC’s Director-General, Dr. Colin Tukuitonga.
For the 2019-2022 Program, 7 priority areas have been identified; Statistics, BioSecurity, Food Security, Agriculture, Non-Communicable diseases, Gender, and Civil Registration/Vital Statistics. In addition, the Island Nation will continue to emphasise the ongoing projects in such areas as fisheries, education, disaster risk reduction, and climate change.
President Heine emphasised the importance of the agreement to the Marshall Islands, and the unique advantages that come from its membership in the Pacific Community, saying “This Country Programme lays out a clear path over the next 4 years on areas we want to do a deeper dive in, while continuing on-going projects with SPC. With the expert technical and scientific support from the Pacific Community, I am confident that we can reach our targets”.
The Country Program for RMI was one of the first developed for a Pacific Community member with the original Joint Country Strategy introduced in 2008. Since that time, RMI and SPC have worked closely on a variety of key development projects, which have brought positive change to the Marshallese.
Director-General Tukuitonga praised the ambitious targets of the Country Programme and highlighted the Programme as an example of how the Pacific is taking a leading role in taking action on sustainable development priorities. “This Country Programme is not just a statement of principles, it provides specific, measurable and achievable actions that will have a dramatic impact on the future of RMI. SPC is proud to be a partner in this effort and we look forward to working closely with President Heine and her team.”
The Republic of the Marshall Islands has been a member of the Pacific Community since 1983. In 2017, SPC and RMI worked together on 10 country specific and 31 regional development activities.
The Western and Central Pacific tuna stocks are all in healthy condition, according to scientists with the Pacific Community (SPC) at the recently concluded Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) officials’ annual meeting in Palau.
“This is in part due to strong long-term management of the tuna fishery in PNA waters through the purse seine vessel day scheme (VDS),” said PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru. He pointed to fish aggregating device (FAD) closures, limits on fishing days, and other PNA conservation measures that have contributed to the overall sustainability of the tuna fishery.
“In comparison to tuna stocks in other oceans, the Pacific tuna stocks are doing well,” he said. Bigeye, yellowfin, albacore, and skipjack are all said to be in healthy condition in this region, according to the SPC stock assessment for 2017.
Over the past several years, PNA has maintained the same level of fishing days without increase and this has shown in relatively stable catch tonnage in both the purse seine and longline industries.
In addition to a “Status of Stocks” report from SPC, the annual officials meeting in Palau dealt with numerous management issues, ranging from an economic overview of the fishery and VDS administration, to updates on harvest control rules for skipjack fisheries and the fisheries information management system.
PNA officials discussed options for increased participation in the fishery and diversifying revenue streams through various initiatives, all of which are made possible by VDS management of the fishery, it said.
The Parties continued to discuss options for increasing the value of the VDS, including options for investing revenue. A presentation was provided by an investment fund manager active in the region during the meeting, which “continued the process of exposing PNA members to options for consideration”.
On 1 November 2018, the 20,000th fishing trip logsheet was uploaded using the Tails data entry app, marking a significant milestone for tablet-based, small-scale fisheries data collection in the Pacific Islands region. In a serendipitous twist of fate, the same data collector who uploaded the 20,000th logsheet also uploaded the very first Tails logsheet back in 2016 during the first field trials. Looking back over the last few years, there has been significant progress in the region towards improved small-scale fisheries data collection, and a push from Pacific Island countries and territories to use these data for decision- making within fisheries management.
Fisheries data management staff at the Pacific Community (SPC) had been running some routine reports and noticed that the number of logsheet uploads via Tails was approaching 20,000. Who would submit the 20,000th logsheet? Would it be sent from a community-based fisheries manager in remote Vanuatu, entering caught yellowfin tuna from a locally designed and built ‘vatuika’ fish aggregation device? Would it be submitted from the wharf in Rarotonga, with a fisheries officer sampling a few mahi mahi caught by tourists from Auckland as part of the island’s thriving tourist industry? Or could the logsheet be submitted from a data collector in Tonga, entering a catch of wahoo from the local small-scale troll fishery?
As it turned out, the 20,000th logsheet was submitted by Slade Benjamin, a fisheries data collector with Nauru fisheries who assisted with the very first version of Tails, and collected the very first Tails logsheet from a local fisher who had caught a wahoo and snapper while fishing from of a small boat before work. Slade was instrumental in the early testing of Tails and in providing feedback on the first designs and ideas in order to get Tails to where it is today. Looking back at several years of data collection, and those 20,000 logsheets, gives perspective to the rapid uptake and effort that Pacific fisheries offices have invested into this kind of data collection.
These logsheets contain a huge amount of small-scale fisheries data, made possible by the many thousands of hours that data collectors spend waiting at landing sites to collect data, interview fishers and measure catches. An impressive amount of data collection for a tool that was only first tested in 2016.
As the data collection programme matures, and the time series of data increases, these data become more and more useful for fisheries and social purposes. These data inform the coastal fisheries report card, are used to report total removals of tuna to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, and in some cases the collection of reef species has helped inform local fisheries management decisions.
Less than three years after the first Tails logsheet was developed, there are now close to 100 data collectors operating in 10 Pacific Island countries and territories, with 451 unique species logged, and 564,092 kg of fish recorded. These data have been used for important management decisions, as well as tracking nearshore the effectiveness of fish aggregation devices, and reporting small-scale tuna catches to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
For more information: contact Andrew Hunt, Data analyst – Trainer, FAME, SPC.
Four key regional agencies have signed a deal with the European Union to help promote sustainable management and sound ocean governance in the Pacific.
The agencies, the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Pacific Community, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme and the University of the South Pacific, have signed the deal this week in Nauru.
Called, the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership Programme, it will address, among other things, the depletion of fish resources and the threat to marine biodiversity, including climate change and disasters.
EU representative Jean-Louis Ville said there was an urgent need to act.
“We trust that we are now at the right time to form a joint alliance and coalition on issues related to international ocean governance for which the Pacific European programme will form a very solid foundation,” he said.
The five year programme is funded by the European Union providing $US40.5 million ($NZ61.8 million) and the government of Sweden $US11.6m ($NZ17.7m).
It will be used to support regional and national level activities in the Pacific.
US extends military spending in Pacific
The United States said it planned to give $US7m in military spending to Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga.
Speaking in Nauru, US Secretary for Interior Ryan Zinke said the money would support training equipment and other security co-operation priorities identified by these Pacific nations.
In addition, the US will provide $US750,000 a year in international military exercise and training to PNG, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to support training for military and police forces.
The US will also assist PNG with harbour security during APEC in Port Moresby in November.
It is part of the $US290m commitment by the US to support foreign militaries in the Indo-Pacific region.
Following concerns raised by the Pacific Islands Forum last year, the US offered to support Pacific Islands countries implement the United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea.
Australia offers new assistance to Nauru
Australia has announced new assistance to Nauru to help fight disease, empower women and support next year’s elections.
Canberra’s providing an extra $US1.01m to help fight non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Another $US720,000 will go towards supporting women’s empowerment over the next three years.
Nearly half a million will go towards building up the Nauru Electoral Office in a programme which New Zealand is also funding.
Australia said the plan was to create a better-informed electorate and implement more transparent and inclusive electoral processes.
The extra assistance was announced on the sidelines of the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Nauru.
All up, Australia’s planning to spend more than $US18.6m to support Nauru in the coming year.
New Zealand and Japan are to work together to ensure the success of the Pacific Climate Change Centre in Samoa.
New Zealand foreign minister Winston Peters says New Zealand is committed to supporting climate change action across the Pacific and it sees the Pacific Climate Change Centre as a key regional institution.
He says the Climate Change Centre will help Pacific nations combat the impacts of climate change over the coming decades.
The centre is already under construction at the Apia campus of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community Environment Programme in Apia and expected to open in the middle of next year.
Mr Peters says New Zealand is putting up US$1.96 million dollars for the centre.
Every year, the Pacific government fisheries agencies have to provide a report to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). This information is included in data summaries at the annual WCPFC Scientific Committee meeting.
It’s a big job, and to help countries put together these reports, the Pacific Community (SPC) has developed a set of Country Web Pages for each member country. The main focus of the pages is on producing graphics for inclusion in reports and presentations.
Steven Hare of SPC’s Oceanic Fisheries Program provides data and information for the Country Web Pages (CWPs) through his role with the Oceanic and Fisheries Management Project (OFMP2).
He says they give countries easy access to nicely formatted graphics that they can use for reports and take to meetings. Access is guarded by a password, so confidential information is carefully protected.
“The web site has dedicated pages, one per country,” Dr Hare says. “Each one includes all the commercial catch data, all the observer data and it’s properly formatted and displayed in a variety of readable and simple graphs.
“It simplifies the whole job of producing colourful, accurate and attractive reports.”
Each of the member countries has a password-protected unique portal accessible only to their country’s data and plots. The focus of the CWPs is on producing graphics for inclusion in reports and presentations, but the data for many of the plots can also be exported as spreadsheets (.csv files). The data and plots are updated roughly four times per year.
In addition to the plots and data, the CWPs provide access to many country-relevant reports produced at SPC over the years (e.g., on FAD-closures, oceanographic effects, bycatch value and seasonality).
The main source of information for the CWPs is the commercial data from the main fisheries: purse seine, longline, and pole and line. The site provides a summary of statistics of each of these different fisheries.
Dr Hare says the data is regularly updated and displayed spatially so that fishing nations can see not just the catch data but also useful information such as data from observers and the fishing hotspots.
“Having data from different sources gives us a check on the commercial data and provides additional information not included in information from the commercial vessels. The vessels tend to report only the catches of the important tuna species,” he says.
The observer data provides bycatch information as well as information on the species of special interest, the SSIs, like turtles and sharks and seabirds caught in fishing operations.
“Because the commercial vessels don’t retain these species of special interest they don’t report them, but there’s a lot of interest in the catch of these other species by non-government organisations. And it’s important to fishing nations if they want certification as a sustainable fishery, something many buyers are looking for,” Dr Hare says.
The Country Web Pages give Pacific countries immediate access to information that they need in advance of them pursuing marine stewardship certification.
“It gives them a handle on what’s actually going on. They can already access a lot of this data through our other databases but some of our summaries are pretty complex and it’s not so easy to read. The Country Web Pages give them easy access to nicely formatted graphics that they can use for reports and scientific meetings,” he says.
But given the ease of access and the amount of useful information they contain, Dr Hare is surprised fishing nations do not make more use of the Country Web Pages.
“I think they’re under-used, considering the amount of work that goes into them and the value of the data,” he says.
“There have been cases where people have come to us and asked if we can give them information on fishing matters, and we’ll show them the access to their webpages. They’re pleasantly surprised at the amount of information that’s already there.”
He says people forget how good the pages are. This might be a consequence of staff turnover, and passwords that get lost as people move on.
“These Country Web Pages do provide a one-stop shopping experience for all the fishery data that’s been collected for individual countries,” he says. “They are a great help when countries are preparing what’s called a Part 1 report for the annual Western Central Pacific Fishery Commission meetings, because they summarise the catch and the bycatch of SSIs and the amount of fishing effort taking place in their zone”.
Steven says that countries have an obligation to provide these reports for the WCPFC meetings.
“They can get all that information directly from the Country Web Pages we provide if they choose to do so. The other option is for them to make their own summaries, obtain the data if they wish, but we’ve actually provided them with the tools to go right directly to the Country Web Pages and get everything that they need.”
He says he hopes countries will make more use of the Country Webpages. To encourage wider use, SPC have begun to include a training session on them in their stock assessment workshops.
The data available on the individual country pages varies from country to country and depends on what is available but might include up to 60 different categories. Below is a sample of 10 of these categories:
Total catch of target species by gear
Total catch of target species (all catch within EEZ and national catch outside EEZ)
Total catch by target species (all catch within EEZ)
Longline fishing effort (aggregated by decade) (within EEZ)
Purse seine fishing effort (aggregated by decade) (within EEZ)
Pole and line fishing effort (aggregated by decade) (within EEZ)
Longline fishing effort – within EEZ by each flag, by year
Longline fishing effort – total aggregated within EEZ, by year
Purse seine fishing effort – within EEZ by each flag, by year
Purse seine fishing effort – total aggregated within EEZ, by year
Pole and line fishing effort – within EEZ by each flag, by year
An online reporting tool for fisheries management is gaining popularity in the Pacific, the Pacific Community (SPC) says.
OnBoard is free software developed by SPC which works on smart phones and tablets.
It improves the speed and accuracy with which boat captains can record their daily catch and upload data for fisheries managers to access.
SPC data analyst Andrew Hunt said traditional paper recording, which was still widely used, took a lot of time to process and was prone to errors.
Since OnBoard’s release last year there had been growing interest from Pacific countries for it be used on boats operating in their waters, Mr Hunt said.
“We have had nearly a hundred trips that have been reported electronically. Which is quite a good amount considering how difficult it is to get these tablets onto the boats,” he said.
“When we look at the data I think some of the positional information is more accurate because it can use the GPS onboard the tablet. And we have less problems with log sheets that can’t be interpreted.”
OnBoard was being used on boats in New Caledonia, Fiji, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia, Mr Hunt said.
The SPC was also working on translating the interface, currently available in English and French, into Chinese and other languages.