Fishing in the pacific is, quite simply put, unfair. Pacific island countries receive a paltry 5-6% of the value of the catch as access fees, from a sector that makes around $US 7 billion dollars annually.
The recent meetings of the technical scientific committees of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) revealed a very worrying picture of the Pacific’s tuna fishery. A fishery that our small island economies are dependent on. Not only is fishing inequitable; it is becoming grossly unsustainable!
The region's bigeye tuna is being overfished and is on the decline as industrial fishing both in the purse seine and longline sectors go on unrestrained. There has been a surge in foreign vessel numbers operating particularly on the high seas, which is leading to more overfishing and suspected illegal fishing activities and creating economic conditions that are barely viable for unsubsidised Pacific domestic tuna operators in the albacore fishery.
Over 2 million tonnes of tuna was taken from the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) last year. A record high.
There are now over 3000 longline vessels and almost 300 purse seine vessels in the region. Also a record high. Another 45 vessels are now earmarked or under construction in Asian ship yards and destined for the Pacific.
This is now leading to what many experts believe is an overcapacity of fishing fleets in the Western and Central Pacific. Simply put, there are now too many (and too large) boats chasing too few fish in the pacific.
The WCPFC must ACT NOW to address this growing problem before it is too late.
The recently released report, Fewer boats, more fish: Towards comprehensive fishing capacity management in the Western and Central Pacific Tuna Fisheries – spells out what type of action is needed to be taken to address the problem of too many boats in the Pacific.
In order to begin addressing overcapacity and to prevent the situation from getting any worse, the WCPFC should urgently cap the number of longline and purse seine vessels in the fishery and at some point I think there should at least be a freeze to new vessels altogether even when older vessels become obsolete.
It goes without saying that a plan is needed to tackle this over the next year or two, but really, the sooner the better.
When deciding on which boats should stay or go to boat heaven (or hell depending on how bad they are) a transparent criteria is needed…one that takes into account more than just boat numbers or ability to catch fish; but rather takes into account social and other environmental impacts in order to determine the most appropriate fishing vessels to enter the region – ocean and social friendly fishing boats.
These criteria should include:
Bycatch levels: ensure that only selective fishing techniques are allowed in so boats are not catching whales, sharks and turtles.
Environmental Impact: ensure that vessels are not dredging up our reefs or spewing oil into the ocean
Energy Consumption: no fuel guzzlers please!
Employment and Working Conditions: there is a need to have an appropriate working environment and conditions including appropriate wages.
Location of socio economic benefits: ensure that benefits are actually flowing back into the small island economies of the Pacific.
Product quality: ensure that fish caught is fit for human consumption and not cat meal.
Compliance history: all too often vessels with a record of illegal fishing are still allowed to carry on business as usual. This must stop and only compliant vessels encouraged into the fishery.
By putting in place these recommendations and using this criteria we can hope to attain not only an appropriate number and capacity of boats in the region, but also fishing vessels that are both environmentally and socially better. This is extremely important and we look forward to the Commission considering these recommendations at its 10th Annual Session in Cairns next month.