Regional cooperation reduces illegal, unreported & unregulated tuna fishing in Pacific, but more needed

by FFA Media | 14 December 2021 | Media releases

HONIARA, 6 December 2021 – The annual volume of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Pacific has reduced over the past decade with only 5% due to illegal fishing of tuna, according to a FFA report released today.

The report estimated the total annual volume of tuna product harvested or transhipped in the Pacific involving IUU activity during 2017-19 to be 192,186 tonnes, worth some $333 million (ex-vessel value). This compares with a similar study conducted between 2010-15 where IUU was estimated at 306,440 tonnes, worth about $616 million.

“This result shows that the strong regional cooperation between FFA members on monitoring, control and surveillance is working,” says FFA’s Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen.

“The Pacific tuna fishery covers a large body of water and our island states have limited resources, but it reinforces that our strategies are having a profound impact on the volume and nature of IUU in the Pacific.”

Lead author of both studies, Duncan Souter from MRAG Asia Pacific agrees there are obvious and clear benefits from FFA’s regional cooperation.

“Our most recent study confirmed the results of the first study which shows that unlicensed fishing appears to be relatively well-controlled in the region, with estimates of IUU fishing dominated by the licensed fleet,” he said.

“This differs from some other parts of the world and reflects strategies in the Pacific like FFA’s Regional Vessel Register and Vessel Monitoring System, monitoring through the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre and coordinated regional surveillance operations.”

In the latest study (2017-19) misreporting of catch and harvest of tuna contributed an estimated 89% of the volume of IUU fishing. Only 5% of the total IUU volume was estimated to be due to various forms of unlicensed fishing. The rest was due to non-compliance of license conditions and post-harvest offences.

Mr Souter cautioned that when comparing the results of the 2016 and 2021 reports it was important to keep in mind that some of the data used were different. Changes in fishing effort, catch rates and fish prices since 2016 also influenced overall estimates.

“The 2016 exercise was the first attempt to quantify the nature and scale of IUU in the Pacific. It was very much a first cut, which could be updated over time as data improved and circumstances changed,” he said. “The 2020 study definitely had better data, but it’s the next evolution of an ongoing process.”

The study noted that while the purse seine fishery is subject to strong monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) arrangements, including 100% observer coverage and a requirement to tranship catch in port, equivalent measures are not in place for the longline fishery.

A higher proportion of longline fishing occurs on the high seas, where vessels can tranship catch, often with very limited monitoring in place.

Further strategies for validating the volume and species of tuna in longline fisheries include:

  • Strengthening the effectiveness of the transhipment observer program
  • Wider use of electronic reporting and monitoring
  • Developing a catch documentation scheme.

“FFA members are implementing stronger MCS measures for their domestic longline vessels, including a 10-fold increase in monitoring of longline fishing vessels unloading at FFA ports,” said Dr Tupou-Roosen.

“They are strongly advocating through the WCPFC for more effective monitoring of all longline fishing in the Convention Area, including on the high seas.”

Media are invited to attend an online briefing with Duncan Souter as well as Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen on Tuesday 14 December at 10am Honiara time.

Media are asked to contact  to RSVP to the media briefing and receive Zoom details to attend and a 2-page media summary of the report you can find at Observers and compliance — resources | SustainPacFish.

You might find this animation useful:

Media contact: Samantha Mattila, FFA Strategic Communications Manager,

About 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.  Find out more here