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

The Pacific bigeye problem

State of Tuna Report 2015 – Special Feature

While researchers test promising technical solutions at sea, decisive action to end the overfishing of bigeye tuna in the Pacific is a must.

ONE of the most adaptable species of tuna – in what are the most abundant tuna fishing grounds in the world – is being steadily overfished and is now at a very low level of abundance. And the most worrying part? The overfishing situation will continue into the future unless the body charged with that stock’s management and protection takes decisive action.

The stock in question is, once again, bigeye in the Western and Central Pacific. And the reason this isn’t the first article pointing to the issue is because our organisation and most anyone who cares about the health of tuna stocks were talking about this one last year, too… and the year before that, and the year before that. Yet the relevant regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO), the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), has been unable to agree to measures that put an end to the overfishing of bigeye thus far.

As we ready for the WCPFC Science Committee meeting next week, we expect to confirm once more that the status of the bigeye stock in the Western and Central Pacific is not getting any better. In response, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) is again issuing a strong appeal for swift action at the RFMO level.

But we’re not stopping there. ISSF is also leading at-sea experiments and research on working tuna fishing vessels aimed at identifying technical solutions to the challenge of overfishing of biegye. Much of this work involves fish aggregating devices or FADs. That’s because purse seine vessel catches, primarily on floating objects or FADs, tend to contain small bigeye.

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SUSTAINABILITY will be key as Director General of the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency James Movick secures his second and final three year term as Director General of the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency. With the Ministers of Fisheries in the Pacific endorsing the sustainable Pacific fisheries roadmap, Movick said his final term will be all about driving resource sustainability and economic development objectives of FFA-member nations.

“That will require commitment and engagement by a broad range of stakeholders but as DG I will be particularly focused on two strategic aspects: (i) strengthening fundamental regional unity and cooperation, highlighting in particular the promotion and creative application of zone based rights management frameworks that are the fundamental basis of FFA member success in tuna fisheries management and development opportunities over the past 35 years, and (ii) enhancing and coordinating effective management of the distinct fisheries of common interest and other sub regional cooperative arrangement (such as PNA, Tokelau Arrangement, TVM and MSG FTAC) within the overall regional collaborative framework.

“Continuing to assist FFA members to strengthen their national capacity in all aspects of fisheries management and development, in particular increasing professionalization of fisheries personnel, upgrading legal and analytical frameworks and promoting integrated multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder approaches to fisheries management and development, but also looking at creative and practical regional supplementation of national capacity such as the establishment of the newly approved Regional Competent Authority Service (RECAS).

“Strengthening the FFA secretariat to be oriented toward the future needs of members within a more stable financing basis including through more effective use of service fees and broadening the donor and partnership base, while driving improved internal service, costefficiency and transparency.

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State of Tuna Report 2015 – Special Feature

TUNA owning islands of the Pacific still want to see increasing returns from their fishery by increasing the value of tuna rather than volume of tuna fished or sold to distant water fishing nations.Strategies of achieving this was discussed at great lengths at the July 11th meeting of Pacific Fisheries Ministers Meeting that Tuvalu hosted in its capital Funafuti under the support of the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).

More job creation initiatives, regional cost sharing ideas, canvassing the support of Pacific leaders and tuna management measures also ranked high in the number of issues Ministers and their officials discussed during their three day annual conference. “It is vital that the Pacific work on ways to achieve more value from the amount of fish caught, rather than to rely on simply catching more,” the FFA told this magazine at the end of the meeting.

“A number of strategic avenues to achieve this will become more easily available with high-level support for the Future of Fisheries Roadmap. “These include options such as securing better access to the world’s key tuna markets and promoting higher value products.

“Realigning key fisheries management measures so that FFA members have greater control over the management and harvest of resources is another option before leaders that adds value to members by reducing the prevalence of currently unrestricted fishing on the high seas.“In addition, there is the universal challenge for this region-- creating economies of scale to reduce the comparative disadvantages that Pacific Island Countries currently face, such as the tyranny of distance to markets and high energy costs.

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State of Tuna Report 2015 – Special Feature

EXPECT the Pacific’s work on managing its lucrative tuna resource to get better and smarter as the region comes under increasing pressure from foreign multinationals with the backing of their equally powerful governments.

Strong decisions and new initiatives were announced over the past months by the two leading fisheries organisations in the Pacific; the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) based in Honiara, Solomon Islands, and the very influential Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) which is headquartered in Majuro in the Marshall Islands.

All eight members of the PNA – Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu – are also members of the FFA, but are considered very influential as most of the Pacific’s tuna stocks are found in their waters.

Frustrated by the inability of the United Nations’ body, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, to control fishing in the high seas, which are bodies of international waters found in between their national waters, the PNA decided in their June meeting in Micronesia to enforce its own controls on fishing boats that want to fish for tuna in their waters and buy fishing days in their trail blazing Vessel Day Scheme.

Total allowed effort of fishing days for 2016 will be reduced by over 700 days to 45,881, and a fee of US$1000 per VDS day will be imposed for the use of FADs (Fish Aggregate Devices). In addition, longliners will be for the first time brought into the VDS in an attempt to assert some control in what officials say has been an out of control industry.

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SPC and partners work to rebuild green snail fishery in Vanuatu

Human activity has had profound effects on the productivity of fisheries resources. In the future, climate change could have similarly devastating impacts on some fisheries, including the coastal fisheries many Pacific Island communities rely on for food and livelihoods. Resources that have limited geographical presence, and stocks that have been fished to near local extinction, stand a much higher chance of early disappearance. One such resource is the great green turban shell, Turbo marmoratus, commonly known as green snail in the Pacific Islands.

Green snail can grow to over 20 cm and weigh up to 3 kg in live weight. Adults live in shallow waters and can be easily caught by free diving and hand picking. The mottled green outer shell and silver pearly interior makes great inlay decoration, buttons, jewellery and souvenir products popular in Asian markets. In the 1970s and 1980s, 80 to 100 tonnes of green snail were exported annually from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. However, the fishery has now collapsed. Assessments conducted across the Pacific Islands by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and others since 2003 have located living specimens only in Vanuatu and French Polynesia.

The collapse of the green snail fishery can fairly be blamed on lack of management. High prices – US$ 40–50 per piece for whole shell and US$ 20–25 per kilo of processed shell – contributed to its demise, as did several other factors. Green snail does not occur in the same high numbers as other large shellfish. Only one in every hundred juvenile green snails grows to adult size, so it is highly vulnerable to breeding failure when stocks fall too low. This is exactly what happened in the Pacific Islands – with overfishing of adult stocks in the 1970s, reproduction failed and the resource could not recover.

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