Feb 27, 2021 Last Updated 4:38 AM, Feb 26, 2021

Tuna woes

FIJIAN operators are uncertain whether a recent proposal by the Forum Fisheries Agency to reduce Southern Pacific Albacore Tuna fishing by 40 per cent will actually happen. Pacific fishing countries want the reduction in order to maintain Albacore stocks at 45 per cent of pre-fishing levels.

This is what scientists generally agree is the required level to keep the species sustainable. At the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission 12th Regular session in Bali, FFA members made the proposal which has been rejected in the past by the United States, Japan and China. In order to keep Albacore sustainable, scientists say, there is no option but to reduce fishing by a massive 45 per cent.

Local businesses claim the multi-billion dollar industry is ailing due to overfishing and declining stocks, in turn threatening local businesses and their dependents – the employees. The FFA members’ proposal comes on the back of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s latest assessment of the South Pacific Albacore stock.

These findings were labelled as ‘not new’ by Fiji’s struggling tuna processing industry. General Manager of SOLANDER Pacific Ltd, Radhika Kumar, said the FFA’s demands were what Fiji’s domestic tuna industry had been saying for years.

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WHILE New Zealand promotes a new plan for tuna management in the region, the Forum Fisheries Agency pushes a fisheries road map, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) waffles on action to control fishing on the high seas, and the long-term U.S. Pacific fisheries treaty appears on the edge of collapse, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement continue expanding their control of the region’s tuna fishery.

PNA’s increasingly high profile—its management of the purse seine fishery has skyrocketed revenue to its eight members from US$60 million five years ago to US$350 million this year, and it is now moving to manage the longline industry in the same manner—ruffles feathers in the industry and sometimes among non-PNA islands, but it generates results.

PNA has learned it gets results from initiatives that force management requirements in the lucrative PNA fishing zones when regional initiatives die ‘in committee,’ as has been the case with the last several annual meetings of the WCPFC. Both FFA and PNA are pushing several key management and conservation measures at the November 30 to December 8 marathon annual meeting of the WCPFC in Bali.

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WITH Pacific eyes watching every move made by China in its slow, systemic advance into the region and its tightening grip on fisheries stocks, the latest threat has been largely overlooked. Coming out of the Indian Ocean, Spain’s super seiners have been decimating tuna across the Pacific from Papua New Guinea to Easter Island.

On each trip these behemoths of the tuna industry haul in 3000 tonnes – more than double the average annual catch of many Small Island Developing States. Greenpeace activist Lagi Toribau was blunt in his assessment of the situation. “Spain’s tuna interests is taking over the world – I think we should not allow them to come in,” Toribau said outside the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting here yesterday.

“On the basis of (Spain’s) capacity and the fact that they are highly dependent on Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) at a time when Bigeye (tuna) is at its lowest level of 16 per cent of unfished stocks, I think we should not allow them.” Bigeye stocks have fallen below 20 per cent – the level scientists believe is needed to keep the species safe.

This has happened despite repeated efforts by the Tuna Commission to improve conservation measures meant to protect them. Already Spain has control of the Indian Ocean tuna fisheries stocks. Its catch in the Pacific is skipjack from purse seiners with high levels of juvenile or baby bigeye normally offloaded in Kiribati and the Solomon Islands and destined for Europe.

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TUNA is not China’s only interest in the region. With mining and timber resources in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji, the Asian Dragon has its sights firmly set on the Pacific. There is also the possibility of extractive industry on the seabed in the not-too distant future. By setting up its tuna fleets in the Solomons, Fiji and Kiribati, China has signalled its intention to be a major player beyond the $7billion per annum fisheries industry. Analysts have long argued that the superpowers have started to jockey for position in the resource-rich reason which is also a strategic location for naval fleets.

But China has made no overt moves – apart from increased funding for military training for senior Fijian officers – to set up military facilities in the region. It does, however, use satellite tracking ships to conduct regular sweeps of the Pacific Ocean and pick up digital communications and other electronic intelligence. In fact China seems more interested in using the Pacific as a stepping stone for its growing economy which cannot continue to rely on rapidly diminishing resources.

Chinese businesspeople looking for opportunities are venturing beyond their borders and setting up in the Pacific from PNG in the west, through Melanesia and on to Tonga, Samoa before heading north-east to Tuvalu and Kiribati. Joint fishing ventures and small grocery stores have sprung up along this New Silk Road, gradually putting locals out of business. The Solomon Islands’ New Georgia Province, home to the fish processing site of Noro, has been overtaken by Chinese shops and businesses.

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A bull in the China shop

Spain and China: Rising threats to regional tuna stocks

THE harbour in Suva’s capital is dotted with boats – long line fishing vessels flying the Chinese flag – tied up for months, waiting for the right time. More than 50 boats at any one time are either berthed alongside the wharf in various stages of bunkering or lashed to each other off-shore awaiting the movement of tuna stocks or an upward shift in fish prices.

In effect this is a forward operating base of the Chinese fleet and the extension of China’s push into the region which it considers to be part of the New Silk Road. President Xi Jinping told Pacific leaders during a State visit to Fiji this year that his country recognised the abundance of resources in the region and how these could contribute to bilateral wealth.

This maritime road cuts from east to west from Papua New Guinea to the Cook Islands – a vast expanse of ocean from which the world’s fishing fleet pulls some three million tonnes of fish a year. Most Chinese boats receive government fuel subsidies, allowing them to operate more efficiently and with a huge advantage over their competitors.

Some of those vessels operate under the flags of small Pacific states but receive home subsidies in return for providing their catch to Chinese mother ships which process the fish on the high seas. Since 2012 it is estimated that China introduced more than 100 new boats into the Pacific albacore long line sector, posing a direct threat to local fleets and putting some out of business.

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