The Pacific Fisheries Sector


James Movick, Director-General, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency talks to Global Island News.

What can the Pacific fisheries sector teach the rest of the word in respect of collaboratively developing systems for Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS), pertaining to vast tracts of ocean?

In short: the importance of cooperation between member countries – sharing information and making the best use of surveillance assets; and to a lesser extent, the opportunities created by new technology.

Promoting cooperation between our members in MCS has always been a core function of FFA, and we see this as essential, given the international nature of the region’s tuna fisheries, the number of distant water vessels operating and the limited resources of individual countries. We were the first multi-country region to introduce a vessel monitoring system – in which all commercial fishing vessels are tracked by satellite. We have standard ‘minimum terms and conditions’ for access by foreign vessels covering reporting requirements, compliance, etc. – which are agreed between our members and insisted on by all of them in negotiations with all fishing operators. We also operate a regional register, which makes it possible to blacklist vessels in all member countries when they have committed an offence in one country and evaded prosecution. This has been very effective in bringing cases to justice.

Sharing of assets includes a regional fisheries observer programme – so observers from one country continue to work wherever a vessel is operating; endorsement of patrol boats and officers from one country undertaking surveillance operations in another; ship-rider agreements (in which an officer from one country may be carried on a patrol vessel of a third country to carry out boardings and make arrests) and so on.

We see no reason why small countries should be backward countries and technology cannot supplement limited financial resources.

In terms of new technology – we see no reason why small countries should be backward countries and technology cannot supplement limited financial resources. Real-time reporting of catches and fishing operations, satellite communication with observers placed on board vessels, and integrating data from different sources are playing an increasing role in combatting illegal fishing and ensuring that consumers can trace fish products back to when and where they were caught.

In terms of overcapacity in the industrial tuna fishing fleet, how can this best be addressed in a manner which is fair to all, yet acknowledges the rights of Pacific SIDS to determine the allocation of tuna fishing opportunities within their own EEZs?

Firstly, I would like to make the point that the problem of overcapacity in the Western and Central Pacific Tuna fishery is not comparable with the global average. In the rest of the world, we are told, many fish stocks are already overfished and there are around three times as many boats as there should be fishing for them. Here in our region, only one of the four main tuna stocks accounting for about 5% of the catch (Bigeye tuna), is overfished; and the size of the fishing fleets does not yet seem to be greatly excessive.

Of course one cannot be complacent – there are more vessels under construction, and the efficiency of both the new and existing vessels is increasing all the time. We also know that, in the Southern Albacore fishery, for example the growth in fishing effort is making it very difficult for domestic fishing fleets to make money. There can be economic overfishing, even when the stock is quite sustainable.

In terms of the solution, the normal measure to prevent overcapacity is to cap vessel numbers – no more boats. As your question suggests, this tends to benefit established (and in our region foreign) fishing fleets and does not allow development of SIDS domestic industry. Our approach is rather different: to set limits for each island country’s EEZ which are compatible with the stock status – which they can then allocate to domestic vessels if they want to develop domestic industry, or sell to the highest bidder if their priority is just to maximise rent from the fishery.

The best known example of this is the purse seine vessel day scheme, implemented by the nine parties to the Palau arrangement. The total number of fishing days has been set based on scientific advice, and is then allocated between the parties based on estimates of their share of the stock and fishing effort in each zone. The countries can then allocate days, as a priority, to domestic fleets; sell days to foreign vessels; and can also trade days among themselves. Provided it is adjusted for increases in efficiency of vessels (so called ‘effort creep’) it is an effective capacity measure which puts control of the fishery firmly in the hands of the SIDS.

There can be economic overfishing, even when the stock is quite sustainable.

Would you like to see the international drafting of conventions, procedures and requirements devolved to regional level to reduce the administrative and financial burden on SIDS? Alternatively, is the solution to make binding global regulation less complex and technical, yet still fit for purpose?

There is no doubt that participating in all the international processes can involve a heavy workload for small island administrations – frankly it is impossible to cover everything. Also, the product of these global initiatives is not always appropriate – often the process of reaching a global consensus results in an outcome that is not as hard-hitting as we would like. Sometimes the product is something that we do not feel is appropriate to our region, especially when imposing a large administrative burden on small administrations – an example is the FAO port state measures agreement – but we get caught up in an expectation that we will sign up as good global citizens.

We also face problems with regulations that are introduced unilaterally, but with global reach. Meeting market access requirements for fisheries products into the European Union is something that is really tough for our members. So yes – regulation that is less complex would certainly be welcome. Certainly, all such measures must take account of the impact on SIDS administration and provide real financial and technical assistance, not just rhetoric, to enable these small countries to develop and support such processes. I think there is also scope for more of a risk-based approach – which can match the solution to an assessment of the scale of the problem – rather than trying to roll out a completely uniform set of detailed regulations in countries and regions that are very different.

What more can be done to ensure a greater proportion of tuna caught in the Pacific finds its way into local diets, thereby enhancing nutritional intake and reducing the incidence of non-communicable diseases amongst these populations?

This is an important issue, which risks being forgotten in the drive to increase the collection of access fees from foreign fleets. At present, most of the fish consumed in Pacific Island countries comes from inshore areas, but the production of inshore fisheries is limited and the populations of the larger Pacific Island countries are growing quite rapidly, particularly in urban areas. Projections suggest we will face a shortfall of around 100,000 tonnes per year of inshore fish across the region by 2050. Fortunately we have a tuna resource which, if managed sustainably, yields over a million tonnes a year from our EEZs – so it is a case of seeing that more of this comes onto the local market. There are three main opportunities for this, all of which are already happening to some extent:

1) In the atoll countries that already have to address the problem of limited inshore fish resources, there is a long tradition of small scale fishing for tuna. These small scale fishing methods can be protected by excluding industrial vessels from the area close to shore where they operate; and their efficiency can be improved with nearshore anchored fish aggregation devices which allow them to catch more fish with less fuel. This can boost affordable tuna supplies.

2) The requirement for purse-seine fishing vessels to tranship in port means that a lot more fish is passing through some of the major towns near the fishing grounds. These are some of the urban areas with the greatest unsatisfied demand for fish. At the moment some of this finds its way onto the local market through informal channels – but there is scope for improved distribution and marketing. For example there is around 20,000 tonnes a year of by-catch (species like rainbow runner) which cannot be sold to the canneries but are quite good eating, although we also need to encourage the fishing vessels to handle this by-catch in a more sanitary manner, as well as to utilise alternative freezing methods with no, or more limited salt content. Incidentally, this technological development would also assist purse seiners to position some of their catch toward the higher value fresh-frozen products market.

3) The development of domestic tuna fishing and processing industries provides many opportunities from the sale of sashimi grade longline caught tuna to local restaurants, as well as the production of low-cost canned products like dark meat (bloodline) tuna (which is very popular here in Solomons Islands). So, as well as developing export industries, we see a lot more fish coming onto the local market. Sometimes this may need to be managed to protect local small scale fisheries – but typically the products are very different and large ocean-caught fish do not compete directly with small reef fish caught by the latter.

Participating in all the international processes can involve a heavy workload for small island administrations.

What would you describe as the FFA’s flagship achievements to date, in respect of furthering the cause of sustainable development?

The Agency is an advisory body, so while we have designed, encouraged and supported many initiatives, the credit for implementation rests with our member countries. I have mentioned some of the highlights in response to earlier questions on MCS. Certainly, the strong advocacy and maintenance of national and cooperative Zone rights based management practices is the cornerstone to PIC management effectiveness. The most successful such arrangement, the Vessel Day Scheme, now managed by the PNA Office, was designed and supported by FFA staff. We hope to implement very soon a harvest strategy which will take a similar approach of zone-based limits for the southern albacore fishery. Meanwhile, we are supporting work on harvest control rules for all of the four tuna species, to set targets and limits for sustainable management of the stocks across their range.

Overall, we aim to be responsive to the needs of our members and undertake a lot of work in support of their own sustainable development goals. This can range from facilitation of new investment and helping to meet market access requirements; to advising on limits on fishing opportunities under their national tuna management plans and supporting the training of fisheries observers. We have a wide range of work in management, development and MCS. The continued and enhanced role of the FFA as a regional secretariat is testimony to the on-going effectiveness of its role.

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