A marine scientist who studies a common fishing device’s impact on the world’s oceans – and how to minimise that impact – and a fisheries policy expert urge immediate action to adopt proven innovations.
By Gala Moreno, Ph.D. and Claire van der Geest
About 60 per cent of the world’s canned tuna comes from the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. That means that the treaty-based organisation in charge of managing the world’s largest tuna fishery, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), has considerable responsibility when it comes to the sustainable harvesting of this living natural resource.
It is by no means an easy job to ensure that a highly migratory species like tuna is managed responsibly and with minimal ecosystem impact in the largest ocean region in the world. For the most part, WCPFC has been up to the task.
But the Commission has yet to adopt an innovative solution that research shows will significantly reduce the unwanted mortality of non-target species like sharks. One policy change—the adoption of a measure to require the use of what are termed “non-entangling fish aggregating device (FADs)”—could do just that. And, even better, such non-entangling designs do not adversely impact the success of fishing operations that rely on FADs to aggregate tunas.
The WCPFC has been a leader in tuna conservation for many years—from adopting 100% observer coverage for purse-seine vessels and a unique regional observer programme, to establishing a centralised vessel monitoring system (VMS). Its member states lead, too, such as the Pacific Islands Forum Fishing Agency (FFA) and Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) members, who have put in place innovative measures in their waters to control fishing effort, collect data, and manage FADs.
Now it is time for the WCPFC and its members to take a further step. WCPFC must follow the lead of three other Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) and adopt a measure at its annual meeting in December 2017 requiring the use of non-entangling FADs designs.
Understanding a Key Fishing Device
First, it is important to explain what a fish aggregating device, or FAD, is. FADs are floating objects at sea that vessels use to aggregate tuna. Over 40 per cent of the global tuna catch is made with FADs, which are in use by large-scale commercial fleets as well as in artisanal and sport fisheries as a way to improve efficiency.
A shark entangled in the netting of a traditional FAD.
But not all FADs are created equal. Though FAD designs vary greatly around the world, traditional man-made FADs have consisted of rafts and often-extensive underwater structures with netting and other materials. They can be anchored to the ocean floor or drifting. This design has created problems when the mesh size is too wide or when tears in netting create holes large enough to trap sharks and other marine animals.
Working Together to Address FAD Impacts
But there are always answers to these kinds of ecological problems if we look hard enough. That's why organisations like ISSF have devoted countless hours and resources to understanding and addressing FAD impacts. Through on-and off-the-water experiments and workshops with fishers and scientists, we've found many options that are increasingly embraced by the world's tuna fishing fleets.
There is a spectrum of designs for non-entangling FADs. The main qualifier for a non-entangling FAD versus a traditional FAD is that non-entangling FADs should have small-mesh netting or no netting at all on the raft and in the water beneath the raft. Instead, they should use materials like canvas, rope, bamboo or palm leaves. These FAD characteristics can significantly reduce the entanglement of non-target species like sharks and turtles.
Designs are constantly evolving and improving. The most ideal non-entangling FAD is also a biodegradable one, built with materials that are less likely to cause ecological damage. The materials used to build traditional FADs tend to be long-lasting and inorganic: nylon mesh, fishing nets and PVC pipes, which contribute to marine debris, reef damage and ocean pollution when they sink, disperse or wash ashore. Using ropes or cotton canvas instead of netting can reduce entanglement, and biodegradable materials like balsa wood instead of plastic PVC piping can prevent plastic marine pollution.
A summary of recommendations for FAD designs from the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF).
It’s important to note that research on biodegradable FADs is ongoing; this is not a call for WCPFC to adopt their use immediately or as urgently as non-entangling ones. But biodegradable designs are the next-and-near frontier in FAD design innovation—something we are working hard on with a diverse set of stakeholders, including industry, scientists, and fishers. Given their pollution-preventing potential, biodegradable FADs also are supported by the Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project, sponsored by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the European Union and others like the International Pole and Line Foundation, with whom ISSF is working on pilot projects. Rest assured, we’ll be calling for the adoption of biodegradable FAD measures, too, at WCFPC and every tuna RFMO in the very near future.
Action on a Widely Accepted Innovation
Our research about the feasibility, effectiveness and the need for widespread adoption of these new designs is extensive and supports the idea that an out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new position should be taken in all fisheries. Based on the research, non-entangling FADs are the best method we have for reducing entanglement or “ghost fishing”. And our research and consultation with numerous fleets and vessel captains around the world indicates that using these designs does not reduce how much tuna is aggregated beneath a FAD.
In fact, a growing number of fleets are already on board with the concept of non-entangling FADs. Skippers Workshops organised all over the world by ISSF have also shown that fishers, ship owners and skippers are not only not resistant to using non-entangling designs—they are already using them.
This chart shows the growing acceptance to use of non-entangling FADs among tuna fishing fleets.
We talked with fishers in nearly all major tuna purse-seine fleets, and based on their positive or negative comments, recorded an average acceptance level. The response to the use of non-entangling FADs in most recent surveys has been encouraging, to say the least.
The WCPFC is the biggest tuna fisheries management organisation in the world, and requiring the fleets of member nations to transition to non-entangling FAD designs would have far-reaching, positive impacts for the region. The Commission’s meeting this week is a perfect opportunity to do the right thing for the marine life and ecosystems upon which so many industries and coastal communities depend.
Dr. Gala Moreno’s research focuses on the effects of fish aggregating devices (FADs) on tuna and their ecosystems, and on discovering ways to reduce FAD impacts. She has worked with purse-seine fishers from the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, absorbing their knowledge of tuna behavior and fishing strategies, for almost 20 years.
Claire van der Geest helps guide ISSF policy engagement in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. A marine ecologist and international development practitioner with almost 20 years’ experience, she is focused on fisheries policy and development of best practices, particularly related to minimising the impact of fishing on the marine ecosystem.
By NETANI RIKA, Pasay City, Philippines
DIRECT flights from Fiji to Japan are expected to boost sales of tuna from the Pacific and create larger profits for regional exporters
Fiji Airways is expected to announce the resumption of its Narita flights on Wednesday.
In 2009 Fiji’s national carrier withdrew its service to Japan, citing a downturn in the tourism market.
The news of the resumption was greeted with enthusiasm at the 14th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting today (Monday).
Fiji’s Permanent Secretary for Fisheries, Sanaila Naqali, described the Narita service – due to start in mid-2018 – as critical to the industry.
“Direct flights should translate into lower costs for Fijian exporters so that is good news,” Naqali said.
“Access – and we mean affordable access – to key markets is an absolute necessity for a successful export operation.
“There are a number of Pacific countries which will now be able to send their product through Fiji for transportation to Japan. So it’s good for the region as a whole.”
Naqali said new strategies – including transport links and cost-effective business plans were essential if the tuna industry for Fiji and the Pacific is to remain viable.
Until 2009 tuna loins were exported from Fiji on the (then) Air Pacific service to the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo.
When the service was withdrawn, most of the tuna export traffic was picked up by Air New Zealand which uplifts freight from Nadi and transfers it to Tokyo through its Auckland hub.
Since then Kiribati has brought its national processing plant on-line in Tarawa and exports loins to the European Union. Most of this product is flown by Solomon Airlines which recently introduced flights to Tarawa from Honiara with onward connections to Brisbane.
Last month Fiji Airways began a campaign in the Japanese tourism industry to create awareness of its plans to operate the Narita route.
The First Secretary of the Fiji Embassy in Japan, Isikeli Nadolo, said the airline held a seminar in Tokyo for industry representatives.
“This is in anticipation of the direct flight, creating awareness and making the necessary connections and network with the people in the travel and tourism industry,” he said.
Meanwhile, Japanese seafood imports declined in the first half of 2017 on the back of rising costs of the product.
In the first six months of 2017, Japan imported USD6.2 billion worth of seafood – an increase of eight per cent over the same period in 2016, according to International Trade Centre.
The decreased tonnage and increased value of imports has been due to rising cost of fishing licences in the Pacific.
BUMBLE Bee Foods veteran Walter Scott Cameron will likely see a prison term of at least 10 months, pay a $USD25,000 fine and agree to testify in tuna price-fixing investigation, following a plea deal with prosecutors. The US Department of Justice has recommended Cameron’s sentence will fall under level 12 of federal guidelines, which could mean at least a 10-to-16-month prison term.
It will also include the $25,000 fine and a $100 special assessment although he will not be asked to pay victim’s restitution due to the ongoing civil lawsuits, the agreement states. Bumble Bee is the major buyer of tuna loins from the Pacific Fishing Corporation based at Levuka, Fiji. PAFCO describes its core business as “loining of tuna (round fish) for Bumble Bee.
The secondary component of PAFCOs operations are canning, fishmeal production, and fish oil extraction by a third party.” PAFCO signed a seven-year tuna loining processing agreement in 2002 with Bumble Bee Foods LLP, following the successful operation of the initial loin processing agreement with Bumble Bee from 1998. The agreement has since been extended twice, with the current extension valid until 2017.
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CHINA has pledged to reduce its fleet of medium- and large-sized vessels by 8300, and its total fishing fleet by 20,000 vessels. The move comes after the announcement of a raft of policies aimed at controlling over-fishing. Late last year China came under fire at a meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fishing Commission at Denarau, Fiji for its failure to limit the extent of its operations in the region.
Similar sentiments were expressed 12 months earlier at Bali, Indonesia and were also aimed at Taiwan, Japan and the European Union. Small Pacific states have long argued that Distant Fishing Water Nations – basically the large countries which fish in the Pacific – have not done enough to ensure sustainable fisheries.
This means that they are an existential threat to regional economies, livelihoods and lifestyles. The large nations have consistently refused to acknowledge this. But a Chinese government document published by the Fisheries Department of China’s Ministry of Agriculture said the most recent policy was in response to “extensive problems due to exploitation of fisheries resources”.
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FIJIAN diplomats are making good progress on negotiations with Tuvalu and Kiribati for access to valuable fishing grounds in the Northern Pacific. A proposed three-phase plan includes a Fiji-based-and-owned long line fleet to boost supply to Fijian canneries and create employment at home and throughout the region.
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. “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.” Koroilavesau has laid the groundwork through his personal contacts with senior fisheries officials in Tuvalu and Kiribati. But it will be for foreign affairs officials from the three countries to put together agreements acceptable to their political masters.
It is understood that the Solomon Islands has been reluctant to allow access to Fiji-flagged long liners as it wants to protect supply to its cannery at Noro on New Georgia.
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