Dawn breaking over deck of a Korean longliner, the 'Shin Yung 51'. Yellow Fin and Big Eye tuna stocks are destined to be critically overfished within three years if the fishing of the two fish species continues unabated.
Effective fisheries management relies on up-to-date accurate
estimatesof the size of the target fish population, knowledge of
the fishesbiology, history of the fish stock and detailed knowledge
of thetechnology that has been used to find the fish. Only then
can thescientists model the fish population accurately and have a
chance ofestimating how many target fish can be caught.
Effective management and enforcement is key
In 2004 the first step in effective Pacific tuna fisheries
managementwas taken with the establishment of the Tuna Commission
(WCPFC). Tunafish are highly migratory, and obviously do not
restrict themselves tothe territorial waters of any one country.
The Tuna Commission isa step forward because they manage the tuna
as one fish stock eventhough it ranges over the territorial waters
of multiple countries and the HighSeas (the parts of the ocean
that are not under the jurisdiction of anycountry).
Aschool girl stands in front of the Tuna Commission building in Pohnpeiwith tins of Skipjack - the only tuna we could find on the island.
Prior to the Tuna Commission most countries licensedtheir waters
with no regard for the licensing arrangements of theirneighbours.
Many of the Pacific Island Countries were in factcompeting to
provide distant fishing nations with the cheapest possiblelicensing
agreements. Good for the distant fishing nations, badfor
sustainable fisheries management - and ultimately the PacificIsland
Countries relying on the tuna fishery.
On a practical level it is impossible for the Tuna Commission to
managethe fishery until it has accurate, timely data on the size
and healthof each tuna species' population. At the most basic
level alllicences should be based on tonnage of fish caught - not
time spent atsea, as was the case with the vessels we boarded.
Moreover,licences need to be strictly enforced. We came across
vesselswhose licences had lapsed - but these were renewed without
penalty via aphone call.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the vessels'
activities areonly partially regulated. The Vessel Monitoring
System (VMS) thatis required by all vessels fishing in the
territorial waters of TunaCommission's member countries proved to
be unreliable. Allvessels had the system installed but it did not
work consistently due toa
number of loopholes.
Bait and switch
A second problem in the regulation of fishing surrounds
thetransfer of fish to a larger factory vessel (reefer) - a process
calledtranshipping. When done in port or in a country's
waters(EEZ) transhipping requires a licence for each transhipment
and ismonitored. This enables the Commission to record how much
fish has beencaught. To avoid the licence costs and the costs
incurred ingoing to port many vessels tranship on the high seas.
Currently,for Longliners, this is NOT illegal.
Fixing these governance and legal loopholes is not
rocketscience. All that's needed is agreement from all members of
theTuna Commission and some money to set up and enforce the system.
Thenear empty hold of the Korean Longliner 'Dong Won 117'. The vessel hasbeen at sea for thirteen months without making any port calls, callinginto doubt the captains claims that the vessel has not made anytrans-shipments since it left its home port of Busan, Republic of Korea.
Transhipmentis further aided by lax regulations around
refuelling andresupplying (bunkering) at sea. Most Pacific Island
Countriesallow vessels to bunker in their territorial waters and
there is noregulation around bunkering on the high seas. If
bunkering at seais banned, vessels would need to go to port every
month - making iteasier for authorities to monitor their catches.
This would alsoprovide revenue for the host Pacific Island Country
in terms of portfees and resupply contracts. Currently this revenue
resides with thedistant fishing nations that supply the bunker
The costs of piracy and underpayment
Money would not be an issue if distant fishing nations
recognised thatlicence fees need to reflect both the market value
of the fish and thecost of protecting the fishery. When this is the
case Pacific IslandCountries, most of which rely heavily on fishing
licenses for revenue,can collectively demand fair license fees. At
the moment the licencefees reflect neither the value of the fish
nor the cost of protectingthe fishery. In the Pacific up to US$400
million worth of fish isstolen by pirate fishing each year, more
than 4 times what the regionearns in licences. This is much more a
reflection on the low costof licences that the extent of pirate
fishing in the region.
With these loopholes closed the reporting of all catch
figures(including all transhipments) and estimates of the size of
the tuna populationswill be greatly improved. This would allow the
Tuna Commission toset realistic catch quotas for the tuna stocks.
The quotas are likelyto be substantially lower than the
free-for-all allowed by the currenttime based licensing system.
However, if the Pacific tuna are to besaved from imminent
commercial extinction then this step must be taken.
In December Greenpeace will be taking the findings of this
expeditionto the Tuna Commission's annual meeting. We will be
recommendingmeasures that ensure all catch figures are reported,
that loopholes in the VMS are closed and that all transhipments and
bunkering atsea be outlawed.
Listen to 'Pirates of the Pacific' documentary - part 1 (5mins)
Listen to 'Pirates of the Pacific' documentary - part 2 (5mins)
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