26 Aug 2013

Western Pacific tuna value spikes, record catch numbers

5:19 pm on 26 August 2013

The value of tuna spiked in the western Pacific last year, in concert with a record number of catches.

That's according to a report presented to the Scientific Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, otherwise known as the Tuna Commission.

But as Amelia Langford reports, not everyone is celebrating.

The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, which co-authored the report, says tuna prices are reaching the highest levels seen in a long time, particularly for skipjack tuna. But its deputy-director general, Wez Norris, says sustainable tuna fishing must remain a priority.

"WEZ NORRIS: The catch has been increasing and the value has been increasing. What we need to do is capitalise on that value to continue to get more money out of the fish without continuing to catch more of it."

Member nations of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, or PNA, are also seeing an increase in tuna values. It says in 2010, the amount of tuna caught by PNA nations was US$60 million. By 2012, that tripled to US$229 million. A PNA spokesperson, Maurice Brown-John, says tuna prices have been extremely healthy in the last three years.

MAURICE BROWN-JOHN: So, the price per tonne is well-up, the value of the fishery is well-up, and with these higher prices obviously the industry profits are much higher.

But Maurice Brown-John says there's still a long way to go before PNA nations see an equitable return for the harvest of their resources. He also holds fears for the sustainability of the bigeye tuna stock due to the influx of foreign fleets.

MAURICE BROWN-JOHN: The region has been calling on the large tuna fishers - Japan, Korea, and so on, and America - who fish the bigeye in the open ocean, to put in compatible measures to complement what the islands have done. It is them who are the beneficiary of that resource, not us.

The Marshall Islands is a member of the PNA. Its fisheries director, Glen Joseph, says he has mixed feelings about the record catches and is worried about the future of tuna fishing.

GLEN JOSEPH: I guess it is a success overall, yeah. Definitely in 2012 we see record catches, record revenues, record market prices as well. But then there is always the other side of the coin - what does it mean for 2013, for the future? And so there are some concerns right there.

Glen Joseph says higher catches could be the result of foreign fleets getting better at reporting data.

GLEN JOSEPH: It really is dependant on the stock assessment and there are uncertainties in there, certainly. There are concerns of date that are not being provided to provide a holistic stock assessment, yeah.

Glen Joseph says whatever the case, the number of tuna being caught paints an alarming picture.