The Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association (PITIA) stood up for the struggling Tongan fishing industry today when it urged the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC15) to make a decision on Target Reference Point and a Harvest Control Rule for Southern Albacore tuna.
The most recent assessment of fish numbers in the southern albacore found albacore is not over fished or experiencing over fishing.
But Executive Officer of PITIA, John Maefiti told commission members, including the powerful fishing nations, that nobody can deny the perilous state of this fishery.
Maefiti said catch rates simply cannot support current costs, leaving many companies on the brink of financial failure.
Maefiti expressed a deep concern for their member countries over the continuous failure of the Tuna Commission in its mandate to respond effectively to dire conditions in the South Pacific Albacore fishery.
PITIA strongly encouraged WCPFC 15 to come to agreement on the harvest strategy elements that WCPFC committed to in its Harvest Strategy Workplan in 2014.
He said it is fortunate that the Southern Pacific Albacore is biologically healthy, but the key to economic viability of a fishery is the catch per unit of effort. PITIA has observed a continually declining catch per unit effort over several years, diminishing what was once a robust and attractive fishery to a shadow of itself.
PITIA told delegates that the inability of the WCPFC to control a massive increase in High Seas fishing effort is a sad indictment about the Commission’s ability to manage the fisheries under its charge. According to Maefiti, WCPFC must take heed of the Management advice and implications contained in recommendations from the Commission’s recent Scientific Committee meeting.
The PITIA told the Commission Southern Pacific albacore is a critical fishery for the Pacific nations, their fishing industry,their communities, their people and their livelihoods and well-being.
The call by PITIA for WCPFC to make a decision in its Honolulu meeting to ensure the long-term commercial viability and sustainability of the southern longline fishery was also emphasised by Tonga’s Fisheries Minister.
Honourable Semisi Fakahau in his statement delivered yesterday made a call for WCPFC to agree at this meeting for a stronger and more effective fisheries management arrangements for migratory tuna stocks and other species as Tonga wants to see an adoption of the Target Reference Point for South Pacific Albacore in Honolulu……..ENDS
Honolulu… It is Tonga’s sincerest wish that the Pacific tuna fishery remains sustainable The Hon. Minister of Fisheries Semisi Fakahau told the opening session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in Honolulu yesterday.
Tonga’s priorities include important commercial species of tuna including albacore, bigeye yellowfin and skipjack.
Fakahau told the Commission the recent drop in catch rates in the albacore fishery in Tonga’s national waters has hampered the local fishing industry, affecting exports and the amount of fish available for local consumption.
The Minister emphasised that in order to maintain the long-term sustainability and economic viability of the tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, and to secure livelihoods for local fisherman, it is important that stronger and more effective fisheries management arrangements for migratory tuna and other species are agreed at the Honolulu meeting.
He highlighted priorities and issues that are important in the overall sustainable management of national and regional tuna fisheries. They include establishing of Target Reference Point for South Pacific Albacore, Management of the High Seas Fisheries and strengthening the Compliance Monitoring Scheme.
“South Pacific albacore is the most important target species for many island countries in the region, including Tonga. While the overall stock status is healthy, catch rates of the portion of the stock harvested by longline fishing is being reduced due to excessive fishing effort. This is severely undermining the viability of Pacific Island countries’ domestic tuna longline fishing fleets,” he said.
A target reference point refers to the ideal size of the stock fisheries managers would like to achieve. Once a target reference point has been decided more rules can be added to the management regime to ensure stocks do not fall too far below that level.
Last year the Central and Western Pacific Fisheries Commission failed to set a target reference point for albacore, despite its being under discussion since 2012.
After last year’s failed talks the Commission promised it would set a TRP for albacore this year.
Fakahau said Tonga would like to work collaboratively with all members of the Commission, including fishing partners, to adopt a Target Reference Point for South Pacific Albacore during this week’s meeting, and to advance the progress on management of this fishery for the benefit of all members as he further elaborates more on other priorities for Tonga.
“The commitment at WCPFC 14 to establish hard limits for catch and effort on the high seas, and framework for allocation of those limits between WCPFC CCMs in CMM 2017-01, is a step forward in improving management of fishing on the high seas,” said the Minister. “This has been a priority of FFA members for a number of years. We continue to support current and future work to implement this commitment”.
Fakahau thanked everyone at the WCPFC 15 who has either led or participated in the hard work and effort put in to progressing the development of a new Compliance Monitoring Scheme measure for the Commission’s consideration.
“Tonga continues to support the view of FFA member countries, on the need to ensure that the scheme is effective, efficient, and with fair implementation procedures. A new scheme must produce fair outcomes for CCMs as well as promote and improve compliance. It is also vital that the processes and tools supporting the Scheme recognise the special requirement of SIDS. This includes by streaming processes, strengthening capacity and requiring a widely consulted and well informed 2013-06 SIDS impact assessment before a measure is adopted and used in the CMS”.
On the Tropical Tuna Measure Fakahau said Tonga supports FFA members’ position to retain bigeye longline catch limits, to retain current purse seine effort limits on high seas and to retain additional high seas FAD closure.
Fakahau concluded his statement with a commitment to continue to work together with all parties to address these issues during this Commission’s meeting.
Economic benefits can come in different forms: royalty returns from selling fishing rights to foreign nations, and providing fish for the domestic market at a time when food security is an issue.
The third possibility is jobs in the fishing industry. UN figures show unemployment rates in the Pacific can run as high as 60% in the worst affected countries, with women and youth being the hardest hit.
Dr Tu’ikolongahau Halafihi, Chief Executive Officer at Tonga’s Ministry of Fisheries, outlined a new approach his country is taking, to increase employment by encouraging local operators into longline fishing.
“We need to manage and develop the local industry, and shift our reliance away from foreign vessels,” he said. “Currently we have about 70 locals employed in fisheries. A new approach could boost the employment of marine engineers, crew, fishermen, and observers.”
“There will also be new opportunities for women, in marketing and administration.”
Dr Halafihi (also known as Hau) said that Tonga currently has only one local longline operator and seven foreign vessels, and their new plans provide for 20 licenses, 10 each for foreign vessels and locals.
Employment is the major benefit, but one side effect of a stronger domestic fishing fleet will be to increase compliance and reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. This is a significant because Tonga does not have the capacity to enforce laws with foreign fleets.
Hau mapped out the steps Tonga will take: controlling of licences, incorporating the new measures in law, increasing the number of local operators using bareboat charters, seeking out donors to provide vessels, and training.
The Solomon Islands are planning a similar approach. Ferral Lasi, Undersecretary Technical at the Ministry of Fisheries & Marine Resources, says the main idea is not to issue licenses to foreign vessels for fishing or export.
“We want to cut foreign longlining. At the moment, we have 91 longliner foreign vessels licensed but no domestic operators,” he says. “We hope to sign an MOU this year to start the 5-year process of changing the face of our fishing industry.”
He expects the benefits will be considerable.
“Local owners will make money, stimulating business. Employment will be boosted on vessels and in processing centres. We are looking at bringing $200-300 million into the economy of the Solomon Islands,” he says.
Ferral puts the current value of longlining at about $900 million, with license fees amounting to $20-40 million.
“It will all be linked to a national fisheries hub. For some fish (like bigeye) the value is higher if we manage the process of export ourselves, so we plan to handle, process, and export fish like this. There will be many people employed in the hub,” he says.
He says training programs are part of the plan, and also jobs for women.
“Our cannery employs a lot of women, and this will happen in the Hub. We are about to finalise a policy about gender and it will relate to all our activities,” he says.
This will be a total change for the Solomon Islands and will need a lot of work involving willing partners.
“We need to develop the concept, and a plan. The whole project will be handled by Solomon Islanders and phased in over a transition period. It involves Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Pacific Community (SPC) and donor partners (including Conservation International). The memorandum of understanding (MOU) will spell out who will do what,” Ferral says.
Changes are also coming to the Cook Islands, as they move swiftly to adopt a new e-reporting system developed by SPC.
Marino Wichman, Data Manager at the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR), has been tasked with implementing a new electronic reporting system to manage the longline quota management system approved in 2016-17.
“The Ministry works closely with SPC and FFA to ensure our information management systems are at optimal operational standards for both our data technicians and industry operators. E-reporting is of particular interest, as the Ministry has now introduced longline quota for albacore and bigeye tuna.
“It can be quite tricky on the reporting side of things,” he says. “The old system of recording catches and entering fish data into the data bases was cumbersome. Paper sheets got lost, some data had to be re-entered up to seven different times, and delays meant accurate up-to-date information was difficult.”
Now SPC has made available a new app called Onboard.
Andrew Hunt, of SPC’s Oceanic Fisheries Programme, says Onboard helps captains of longline boats to complete their log sheets.
“Instead of filling out a paper-based form, captains submit the information electronically. Onboard has features like GPS and the camera to improve data quality, and captains can submit new reports while they are still at sea, providing daily updates of their data,” he says.
“It’s on an Android Tablet, and loaded up and given to captains of commercial vessels. Each day they’ll log their fishing activity into the tablet, recording what kind of hooks they’re using, and how many, and the types and weights of fish they catch.”
“And then when they’re finished they submit the data straight into the database.”
MMR has been trialling the system for its Cook Islands flagged vessels operating out of America Samoa and Rarotonga.
Mr Wichman says, “We found that captains liked the concept and took on board the onus of keeping records in a safe place to keep them updated, but they don’t like tablets, and want to use laptops.”
After discussion with MMR earlier in the year, SPC has now provided a PC version of Onboard for use on shipboard laptops and computers, which will enable the app to tie into existing satellite data feeds onboard vessels.
MMR Director Offshore Tim Costelloe says: “With the large size of our EEZ and the need to tie e-reporting verifications into weekly and daily reporting for our Quota Management System, we found that an app using a handheld device did not fit the needs and requirements of our legal framework. This latest PC version greatly improves the standard of delivery and will benefit all stakeholders with more timely reporting and better monitoring of catches.”
The Cook Islands licenses 54 longline vessels, of which 26 are Cook Islands flagged. The remainder of the longline fleet are charter vessels flagged to China under access agreements with the Cook Islands Government. MMR is aiming to have 100 per cent e-reporting coverage on all licenced longliners by the end of 2019.
“We still have some way to go, as it is new technology and we need to work out the kinks, but the end result will include up to date info sharing, better monitoring, and greater control of catch limits,” Mr Costelloe says.