For the first time, the volume and value of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing for tuna is being measured for the whole western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).

The first quantification of IUU fishing, done in 2016, was for the area covered by the members of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Commission (FFA). The current study will update 2016 estimates. 

Duncan Souter, of MRAG Asia Pacific, which is conducting the study, said the research team was investigating three tuna fisheries: purse seine, tropical longline, and southern longline fishing.

“We are expecting 2020 to give us a more accurate picture of both volume and value,” Mr Souter said. MRAG also conducted the 2016 study.

FFA will use the results of the study against the performance indicators of the Regional Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Strategy 2018–2023. Two key things they are interested in doing is focusing on risk mitigation for setting better benchmarks for operations that lessen IUU fishing and designing better methods of dealing with offenders.

Quantification is difficult to do but shows how to improve MCS

The quantification is complex work. To estimate volume and value of IUU fishing, the researchers must first differentiate between various types of IUU fishing. These may be as diverse as unlicenced fishing, misreporting by licenced fishers, a “whole range” of types of non-compliance with licence conditions, and post-harvest problems such as illegal transhipping.

Then the amount of IUU fishing in the various categories must be measured, and this requires using different tools for each kind so that they get useful information. Mr Souter said that in some areas, for example misreporting in logbooks of purse-seine vessels, there was quite good data. But data on some other types of IUU fishing activity was patchy.

Mr Souter said the 2016 study returned some interesting results.

“People conjure up pictures of vast fleets of pirate boats. In fact, unlicenced fishing contributed quite a small amount to volume and value. IUU fishing was dominated by licenced vessels not complying,” Mr Souter said.

“This has important implications: one of the biggest benefits of these sorts of studies is that it gives you a better idea of which kinds of IUU fishing are contributing the most. You can then look at it in a much more targeted way, because each kind of IUU fishing requires a different monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) approach.”

The benefit of having a second study was that FFA would be able to track changes in the kind of activity occurring. 

“The study is primarily to inform FFA on their MCS approaches. You can target MCS much better when you know the profile of IUU fishing in the region. You can also track whether previous investments have worked,” Mr Souter said.

Two officers check log sheets of a Taiwanese longliner in Solomon Islands photo Francisco Blaha
Officers check the logsheets of a Taiwanese longliner in Solomon Islands. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

Improve data and monitoring to improve compliance

There were other benefits.

“It’s not so much that you need to improve compliance, but that you need to improve data, improve monitoring,” Mr Souter said. 

In 2016, different data was collected on each risk. The research team made a best estimate, and came up with a minimum and maximum range of the probability of each risk occurring. Weak data gives a larger range and less confidence in knowledge about that risk.

By getting better data in 2020, Mr Souter said MRAG would be able to narrow the range values, which would give them more accurate estimates. Some ideas about where the worst problems were might change.

Better data and monitoring would allow FFA to identify risks better, and how to deal with them.

“Generally, FFA and their members do quite a good job of regional coordination of MCS. They’ve taken some strong and very coordinated measures that you don’t see in some other ocean basins. They work well together.”

He said that, overall, they had much better data this time round, particularly on illegal transhipping. 

“We’ve tried to take apples versus apples approach to the two studies, so you can make direct comparisons,” Mr Souter said.

A draft of the report will be discussed at the annual FFA MCS Woking Group meeting at the end of this month, with the final report to be presented to the annual meeting of the Forum Fisheries Committee in May.