Diplomatic dance around Japanese delicacy

Categories @WCPFC15, FeaturesPosted on

IN the Japanese port of Ishigaki, the longline fleet has braced for the impact of the decision of a tiny Pacific state to ban fishing in its waters from January 1, 2020.

The fate of 20 small fishing vessels is hooked to this conservation move which Palau – once occupied by Japan – has deemed necessary to protect its coastal waters.

A ban will mean the Ishigaki fleet from Okinawa Island will no longer have access to the katsuo (bonito, also known as Skipjack) which is the ingredient for tataki – tuna seared very briefly over a hot flame or in a pan, and can be briefly marinated in vinegar, sliced thinly and seasoned with ginger.

And so, on the periphery of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries (Tuna) Commission in Hawaii this week, Japanese delegates approached the subject of research in Palau waters post 2019.

It’s a thinly veiled move to allow Ishigaki fishermen to cross into Palauan waters and fish for Skipjack under the guise of research while actually catering to the tataki tables of metropolitan Japan.

Japan’s Head of Delegation at the Tuna Commission, Shingo Ota, said Palau was concerned about the closure because of its impact on the Okinawa fleet of what he described at 20 small-scale longliners.

“If Palau is going to close the area those vessels have nowhere to go, “ Ota said.

“They have been dependent on the same fishing ground for many years and it’s very difficult for them to find alternative fishing grounds because they are accustomed to the Palau EEZ and maybe (it’s) easy for them to find fish.”

There has been no mention of the 2000 tonnes of Big Eye which the Okinawa fleet also catches each year off Palau.

Palau’s fishing grounds are closest to Okinawa and Ota acknowledged that the ease of access to the EEZ by the Japanese fleet was also related to proximity and, by extension, economic reasons including fuel and supplies.

While Ota acknowledged that Japan had approached Palau to make exceptions for the Okinawa-based fleet after the fishery closure, he would not be drawn into details of the request.

By small-scale, Ota means vessels with the capacity to catch no more than 20 tonnes compared to the large scale which is usually 400 tonnes gross tonnage.

When Palau closes its Exclusive Economic Zone, the area will effectively become a sanctuary in which fishing and mining is prohibited.

A dedicated 20 per cent of the EEZ will be accessible to domestic fishing fleets which will off-load in Palau in an effort to boost local industry and create employment.

President Tommy Remenegsau pushed for this measure, citing the need to restore the health of Palau’s ocean for future generations.

Under this initiative Remengasau hopes to increase fish stocks in the EEZ and encourage more diving tourism which has proved to be attractive to Asian visitors and lucrative for local tour operators.

But even before the sanctuary has been established, the Distant Water Fishing Nations – in this case Japan – have started not-too subtle attempts to unpick a landmark decision by a Small Island Developing State.

And Japan can wield influence over its tiny eastern neighbour.

Japan is one of Palau’s largest foreign donors, providing aid which has enabled the building roads, water improvement and, possible future funding for the expansion of the airport.

The Roman Tmetuchl International Airport development will allow for 200,000 visitors a year to access Palau.

How much influence Japan is willing to exert will depend ultimately on whether Remengasau’s government pushes back on the attempt to secure the future of the Okinawa fleet.

But in an attempt to bring Pacific islands to the table, Japan has used the region’s often-touted appeal for consideration of traditional practice as a trump card.

“In addition to (the impact of) distant water fishing fleets, some of the species are migrating into Japanese waters, particularly skipjack,” Ota said.

“(But) we have seen very poor migration of skipjack in recent years and so our coastal fishermen are very much concerned about skipjack.”

So what impact has this had on Japan’s coastal fisheries?

“They cannot catch skipjack, they have been traditionally catching skipjack in their coastal waters and I am telling other members that skipjack is not only important for economic objectives but also cultural objectives,” Ota said.

“Many of the coastal villages have a traditional celebration of the migration of the skipjack but recently because there is no skipjack coming to the Japanese coastal waters they often have to cancel the traditional activities.”

At the Tuna Commission in Hawaii, a group of Okinawan fishing industry representatives wearing “No Katsuo (Skipjack), No Life” shirts mingled with delegates to draw attention to their plight.

In the past Japan has used the research excuse to continue whaling activities despite an international moratorium.

Depending on Palau’s decision, the world will soon know whether Japan has been able to flout another international convention under the guise of contributing to science.


Shark fins worse than their bite at tuna talks

Categories @WCPFC15, FeaturesPosted on

AS Pacific nations gathered at Waikiki to talk about fisheries conservation methods last week, Japanese fishermen were charged with trafficking shark fins in and out of Hawaii.

Sharks have in the past been targeted by long-line fishing fleets in the Western and Central Pacific due to their high value in the Asian market.

But a crackdown by regional governments through implementation of Commission Management Measures of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (CMMs)  in the last 10 years have seen a reduction in shark finning.

In Honolulu Harbour the Kyoshin Maru No 20 was seized with 96 shark fins on board and its Captain, Hiroyuki Kasagami, Fishing Master, Toshiyuki Komatsu and Chief Engineer, Hiroshi Chiba, were charged with 11 counts related to trafficking shark fin.

The fishing boat is owned by Hamada Sulsan and operated by JF Zengyoren, a Japanese cooperative.

Each of the officers faces personal fines of up to $USD2.7million and jail terms of five to 20 years.

As the men headed on pre-trial release, another push was being made at the Tuna Commission (WCPFC) for an agreement on a comprehensive shark management measure. There are already a number of CMMs relating to sharks and the intention is to consolidate these in to a single measure.

Sharks are usually an incidental catch in the tuna industry but there are specific rules against targeting the species which can happen by deliberately setting hooks from longliners at certain depths.

But finning sharks is controlled and restricted under the licence agreements of fishing boats operating the WCPFC waters.

Around 100 million sharks died in 2000 as a result of fishing, according to a 2013 study by Social Development Direct, a UK based research group.

A 2015 study showed that deep-sea longline fishing vessels and coastal trawlers had the largest total of shark and ray by-catch.

There are no exact figures for shark deaths in the Pacific, but outgoing WCPFC Chairperson, Rhea Moss-Christian, told reporters Saturday that a shark management measure would be a priority this year.

Any shark management measure will need WCPFC members, cooperating non-Members and participating territories to prohibit the removal of shark fins at sea.

Associated with the measure will be a ban on trans-shipment, on-board retention of sharks and the landing of shark fins.

Longline boats deploy miles of baited hooks that accidentally snare sharks, among other unintended targets.

Within the FFA, strict Port State Measures offer a raft of compliance checks local authorities can make on fishing vessels according to the perceived threat posed by the boat.

This is another tool available within the Pacific to ensure the reduction of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fisheries, including catching and finning of sharks.

There is a fear, however, that some fleets are fishing for sharks on the high seas and transshipping fins to huge carrier ships which are involved in other illegal activities.

The presence of these large ocean-going carriers has caused Pacific countries to call for on-board observers on the vessels to report illegal activities.

Federated States of Micronesia National Oceanic resource Management Authority Executive Director, Eugene Pangelinan, said electronic monitoring was critical to conservation and management on the high seas.

“Electronic monitoring is more about supplementing and improving the compliance of longliners that are operating in the Exclusive Economic Zone or High Seas where current commission coverage is five per cent observer coverage,” Pangelinan said.

“We think the electronic monitoring offers an alternative – not to human observers – but more to increase the validation and compliance mechanism.

“It also offers an opportunity to improve our data collection and improvement in statistics gathering for other species of special interest such as sea turtles, non-target species sharks and so forth.

“I think electronic monitoring offers much more better eyes whereas observers are not capable of being physically accommodated on long-liners.”

Many of the fisheries with the largest by-catch of cartilaginous species like sharks and rays operate over vast areas of ocean and often in international waters, where fishing rules are weaker.

The measure before WCPFC15 would encourage research to identify ways to make fishing gear more selective and provide relevant information to the WCPFC Scientific Committee.

The WCPFC has the mandate to conserve and manage nearly 60 per cent of the global tuna catch, equivalent to 2.9 million tons of tuna, valued at over $5 billion.

It is also responsible for managing and conserving other migratory fish such as sharks and manta rays.

Conservation groups at the WCPFC have called for be a firm commitment, to conduct assessments on shark stocks.

Dave Gershman of PEW Charitable Trust said sharks were important to the ecosystem and as the top predators they kept the balance in the oceans.

“PEW is keen to see action for sharks before their numbers crash,” Gershman said.

“Negotiations for new rules on sharks have to take into account the widely differing interests of fishing nations and more conservation-minded resource-owning nations.”

While the Pacific negotiates the complexities of shark conservation measures behind closed doors, the US authorities have signalled that they will take no nonsense from fleets which target shark fins.

And in Honolulu Harbour there is one crew which has found out to its cost that with supportive laws, a dead shark can have a terrible bite.

Fiji fleet hopes to fish in Tuvalu, Kiribati

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By NETANI RIKA – Islands Business magazine

FIJI has started negotiations with Tuvalu and Kiribati for access to valuable fishing grounds in the Northern Pacific.

It is the first part of a three-phase plan which includes a Fiji-based and owned long line fleet to boost supply to Fijian canneries and create employment.

Fisheries Minister, Commander Semi Koroilavesau, confirmed he had held discussions with senior officials in Kiribati, Tuvalu and Wallis and Futuna.

“We want to follow the tuna on its migratory route for six months of the year,” Koroilavesau told Islands Business at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s 13th Regular Session.

“To do that Fiji will need access to the north – through Wallis, up to Tuvalu and Kiribati and we’ll also need access to the west near the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.”

It is understood that the Solomon Islands has been reluctant to allow access to Fiji-flagged longliners as it wants to protect supply to its cannery at Noro on New Georgia.

But Fiji’s discussions with Vanuatu have had better results.

Koroilavesau said a vibrant Fijian longline fisheries sector would benefit Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Melanesian Spearhead Group members.

“There is no reason our longline vessels cannot supply neighbouring countries and help create employment on shore as well as on the boats,” he said.

“Hopefully we can bring in investment – even from locals – to create a Fiji fleet.”

Fiji had a successful pole and line industry in the 1970s and early 1980s but this was put out of business by South Korean and later Chinese-flagged longline fleets based in Suva.

Today Chinese companies operate longline vessels out of Suva and into the Pacific.

Koroilavesau said local fleet ownership was an important step towards sustainability of the industry and growth of Pacific economies.

These sentiments were echoed by Morris Brownjohn, Commercial Manager of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement – an alliance of eight Pacific countries plus Tokelau which as PNA control around 50 per cent of the global supply of skipjack tuna.

Brownjohn suggested that Pacific nations must look at ownership or renting of fishing boats as an option to the current system of selling licences.



Vietnam must do more on its blue boats in Pacific

Categories @WCPFC13, FFA Media Fellows past eventsPosted on

By NETANI RIKA, Pacific Media@WCPFC13

VIETNAM must take responsibility for the poaching activities of its fleet in Pacific waters.

Ludwig Kumoro, CEO of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement said Vietnam’s denial of illegal activities in the Pacific was unacceptable.

“They should not come and deny (poaching) at this forum, Kumoru said at the 13th Regular Session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

“They need to take responsibility. Vietnam’s reaction was they would set up a complaints hot line – I thought they were joking. I’m definitely not happy with their response.”

Vietnam’s denial followed increased complaints of poaching by Blue Boats near Palau, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Some of these boats have been reported in New Caledonian waters.

Vu Duyen Hai, head of the Vietnamese Fisheries Ministry refused to accept responsibility for the Blue Boats – typically small, wooden vessels with a 10-man crew used to gather sea cucumber and other marine resources.

Hai said the boats were neither registered nor flagged in Vietnam.

Boat seized by Indonesia and Palau maritime surveillance authorities have been crewed by Vietnamese sailors and have been tracked from ports in Vietnam.

The cost of accommodating and transporting the crew of the seized vessels has fallen to Palau after Vietnam refused to acknowledge the men were citizens of that country.

Forum Fisheries Agency CEO, James Movick, supported Kumoru’s stand on the Blue Boats.

“Vietnam cannot be absolved of its responsibility in this area,” he said.

“We’ve raised this issue in the commission and believe that the home states of these illegal boats must take more concrete steps towards control of their activities.”

Kumoru said the fishing industry had the potential to make positive changes in the lives of Pacific people as a source of employment and for governments as a revenue stream.

“Fisheries is everybody’s business,” Kumoru said.

“Everybody should help sustain the resource. We all need to work together.”

He said monitoring of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing – which costs the Pacific around $USD152 million in lost revenues annually – where joint action was needed.

Movick acknowledged the threat of the Blue Boats to regional economies and noted the difficulty in tracking the vessels.

“Typically they are small, low in the water, difficult to detect and they don’t have tracking devices,” Movick said.

More than 90 per cent of illegal activity in the Pacific, however, is conducted by licensed vessels.

Movick said monitoring, surveillance and compliance would need to be increased to protect and conserve regional fish stocks.

“It won’t be easy, we’ll need more inspectors and to identify what ports are used for monitoring activities,” he said.

“The PNA is looking at trials for electronic reporting devices which would help monitors and there has been good progress in this area.”