Mar 08, 2021 Last Updated 9:51 PM, Mar 7, 2021
By Victor Restrepo  
1 August 2016 
Throughout the world, advanced technology is increasingly used to provide solutions to the practical challenges of sustainable, modernfisheries management once thought insurmountable. From the eradicationof illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing to improved datacollection for better resource management overall, there _is_generally “an app for that.”
Consider electronic monitoring systems or EMS. In the world’slargest tuna fishing grounds — the Western and Central Pacific Ocean— the use of EMS is expanding. On board fishing vessels, EMS camerasand sensors can record fishing activities as well as collect andarchive accurate facts and figures. For purse seine vessels that catchtuna, EMS can provide reliable data on the details of each fishingactivity, including time, location, catch, discards and non-targetspecies caught. Ultimately, this kind of detailed information canchange how fisheries are monitored and managed for the better.
With these facts and features proven, thanks to many collaborativepilot projects in the Pacific and beyond, we are now at a crucialjuncture for EMS. Fisheries scientists and managers must consider howto get the most from this promising technology. And we can look topast experience to guide us. Parallels with human observer programs,created decades ago and still one of the best tools for modernfisheries monitoring, are instructive.
With human observer programs, the observers themselves are one of manyelements that comprise a successful program. As they established andthen evolved these tools, countries needed to set robust standards forhow those observers collected and debriefed data, generated reports,and created databases, as well as set national regulations for usingobserver-generated data for compliance and management. Likewise,developing consistent and universal standards and protocols for EMS isimperative for a fully realized program.
Speaking of human observers, we must acknowledge just how far thisworkforce and program has advanced science-based conservation effortsin the world’s tuna fisheries. These experts serve as eyes and earson the water, recording key information on fishing activitiesincluding data on catch, effort and bycatch, and assist withmonitoring compliance — keeping scientists, fisheries managers, flagstates, and coastal states in the know. Still, conditions for humanobservers are sometimes problematic. Limited space, safety and costconcerns, and logistical issues can make human observers less thanideal in some cases.
That’s why — while human observer coverage is 100 percent in sometuna fisheries — it can be as low as one-to-five percent in others,creating an urgent need for technology to fill data collection andmonitoring gaps. Electronic monitoring systems have the uniquecapability to monitor several areas of a vessel simultaneously and canrun all hours of the day if necessary. And because images and otherdata can be stored for an extended amount of time and reviewed againand again, the systems can serve as a vital complement to humanobserver programs.
The good news is that the Western and Central Pacific FisheriesCommission (WCPFC) — the management body with purview over tunaresources in the Western and Pacific Ocean — has established anElectronic Reporting and Electronic Monitoring Working Group [1] thatis creating standards for the use of EMS. With vessels from nearly 40countries operating in Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) tunafisheries, EMS programs must be consistent and compatible with oneanother so those essential data can be used by national scientists andmanagers, and in the WCPFC.
WCPFC is a leader among tuna RFMOs in adopting modern technologies toimprove fisheries monitoring. And, importantly, the Commission’sembrace of technology strengthens employment opportunities for humanobservers. The use of EMS can help maintain optimal levels offisheries monitoring, while creating a new need for trained andskilled employees to review data and generate reports on land — thatmeans additional jobs in fisheries management agencies throughout theregion.
With funding from and collaboration between ISSF and otherorganizations, EMS pilot projects taking the coordinated approach arebeing implemented on a small scale. And the true potential of EMS willbe realized as member states coordinate efforts and set standards.
It is imperative that WCPFC and its Electronic Monitoring andElectronic Reporting Working Group work with all stakeholders toensure that these technologies are well coordinated across fisheriesby ensuring that regional cooperation and standards are firmly inplace. As this group continues their work next month in Bali ahead ofthe WCPFC Science Committee meeting, we look forward to supportingtheir efforts to leverage technology for the long-term sustainablemanagement of one of the Pacific’s most important resources.

Victor Restrepo is Chair of the ISSF Scientific Advisory Committee. Previously, he worked with the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Dr. Restrepo holds a PhD in Population Dynamics from the University of Miami, as well as a BSc in Marine Science and Biology from the University of Miami.


World Bank eyes our tuna

Islands need to exploit resource to be key driver of economic growth

THE World Bank has just released a futuristic report on the tuna fishery of the Pacific Islands, only confirming what owners of the tuna stock in the islands have been harping about in the recent past. Authored by American researcher John Virdin of Duke University in North Carolina state, the report confirms that the Pacific Islands are owners of the only healthy stock of tuna remaining in the world, accounting, in his calculation, 34 per cent of world’s tuna catch every year, at an estimated value of US$3.4 billion.

“From this endowment, PICs (Pacific Island Countries) received net economic benefits on the order of US$500 million in 2013, majority of which came from the purse seine fishery in the waters of countries near the equator,” Virdin said in the summary of the World Bankcommissioned report.

“While not distributed evenly, these benefits have been significant for some PICs, for example with public revenues estimated to be equivalent to 36 per cent of GDP in Tuvalu, 32 per cent in Kiribati, and 10 per cent in FSM, and constituting a much higher proportion of the total public budget (e.g. 63 per cent in Kiribati in 2012).”

The exponential growth in the number of foreign and local fishing boats being allowed to fish in PIC waters was again underscored by the report. In 1980, there were 34 purse seine boats fishing in the Pacific, which jumped to 180 in 1990, 220 in 2006 and 344 in 2014. From a total catch of 100,000 metric tons of tuna in 1980, these boats were catching over 2 million tons 34 years later, in 2014. read more buy your personal copy at

IN the far west of the northern Pacific, a single patrol boat stands against the waves of Distant Water Fishing Nation vessels which threaten the region’s fish stocks. Outnumbered and outgunned, the President Remelik will soon be replaced by a state of the art Australian ship complemented by a Japanese patrol vessel. But coming out of the west every day are fishing boats from as far afield as Myanmar and Vietnam who pillage the waters of the northern and south-western Pacific. Conservative estimates place the losses to the region through illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing at 306,440 tonnes worth anywhere between US$152.67million and US$616m. Palau’s Fisheries Minister, Urich Sengebau, says pirate vessels take four-five per cent of this catch – that is 11,000 tonnes worth about $20m.

The northern Pacific republic punches well above its weight in terms of ocean security and conservation. In October 2015, Palau passed a law converting 80 per cent of its territorial waters into a marine sanctuary, prohibiting commercial fishing, oil drilling, and seabed mining. “To provide alternative livelihoods for affected households, the government will promote ecotourism,” Sengebau said. “And we will charge a new environmental impact fee to replace lost revenues from banning commercial fishing in Palau.” Every traveller through Palau’s airports and wharves is charged $20 upon departure and this is channelled to government revenue. The country was forced to take the action after the Asian Development Bank projected that fishing licenses in Palau would decline by 8.5 per cent with the creation of the country’s Marine Sanctuary. read more buy your personal copy at

It’s TUNA stocktake time

ON the docks of San Diego, Pacific fishing crews stand idle, their million dollar boats have nowhere to go. To the east the once accessible tuna grounds still teem with fish but the billion dollar catch will not make it to any US port in 2016. For once the Pacific has dared to stand up to the bullying tactics of industry by demanding that large fishing fleets honour the terms of their licences.

In January the US Tuna Boat Association – after months of testing the waters – refused to pay around $USD60 million in licences for its long line vessels. Pleading inability to pay because of increased business costs – including fuel prices – the association first attempted to give back 2000 fishing days which it had earlier wanted. The Pacific nations had sold the days – worth an estimated $USD20million – and knew they would lose millions of dollars if the deal did not go through.

Taking back the days would have forced the cost of a single fishing day – the unit by which licences sown across the board and had major repercussions on the industry and national economies. Taking the moral high ground, the Pacific declared that the licences to take tuna had been formalised in a contract and the US must pay at the agreed rate. read more buy your personal copy at


Boats, payments in limbo

THE U.S. government officially announced in mid-January that it is pulling out of the U.S. Pacific islands fisheries treaty, a move that starts a 12-month clock ticking to terminate the nearly 30-year-old agreement that has given 40 American tuna boats unfettered access to the region’s lucrative fishing zones. This follows the U.S. industry default on January 1 on its quarterly payment of US$17 million that left the entire fleet without licenses to fish for the first time since the late 1980s.

The Forum Fisheries Agency has called a meeting in Nadi the first week of February to address the U.S. treaty withdrawal and its financial impact on the 17 island FFA members. A State Department official said the U.S. remains open to discussing restructuring of the treaty, which could prevent its demise. But the real problem to maintaining the treaty may simply be that it is not a ‘simple’ negotiation between two sides.

Within each side are two or more competing interests: On the island team, there is the ‘Big Eight’ plus Tokelau, where most of the tuna is caught and where most of the U.S. fishing revenue goes, and there are the less important islands in terms of fishing that benefit from the over US$600,000 annual payment the treaty has provided annually to each of the 17 FFA members regardless of where tuna is caught. read more buy your personal copy at

We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential for the operation of the site, while others help us to improve this site and the user experience (tracking cookies). You can decide for yourself whether you want to allow cookies or not. Please note that if you reject them, you may not be able to use all the functionalities of the site.