24 Oct 2013

Tuna commission warns of new quotas and difficult decisions ahead of meeting

5:29 pm on 24 October 2013

The tuna industry in the Pacific is not meeting its target to reduce catches, and leaders say there must be an agreement this year on new quotas.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission is concerned about the lack of consensus, as more boats prepare to enter Pacific waters.

In the lead-up to a crucial meeting in December, the Commission says difficult decisions must be made in the interests of sustainability.

Alex Perrottet has more:

Bigeye tuna are being caught in record numbers, despite weight limits introduced in 2008 for longline fisheries. They caused the Honolulu fishery to close down its yearly catch early on two occasions, and it's warning it would almost halve its current catch and cause shutdowns as early as July, if proposed limits are set. Purse seine vessels have limits on the number of days they can fish, and a scientist advising the US pacific fisheries, Dr Charles Daxboeck, says they aren't restricted by weight and it's a double-standard.

"CHARLES DAXBOECK: Somehow we have to, down the road, figure out a way of getting catch in terms of the weight because it's calculated once it gets to the processor and therefore it's already too late."

The Hawai'i longline fishery has signalled it will not agree to recommendations from the Parties to the Nauru Agreement that their yearly catches be further cut. But the executive director of the Tuna Commission, Professor Glenn Hurry, says its one of several difficult demands to be met.

GLENN HURRY: It's going to be difficult. It will affect fleets, I mean, at the end of the day we've got to reduce the quota of bigeye and there'll be a lot of very big industry operators at the table who are going to be watching this and potentially concerned about how it develops.

But Dr Daxboeck says those over-using fish aggregation devices, or FADs, remove juvenile bigeye tuna at increasing rates, which endangers ongoing sustainability. He also says the Honolulu catch services a domestic market in Hawai'i, where a lot of its seafood is still imported. He says the Honolulu market is local, and shouldn't be seen as outside the Pacific.

CHARLES DAXBOECK: We still have to import almost 40 percent of our seafood products because of the demand. So it's a rather unique situation for Hawai'i.

But Professor Hurry says the science isn't settled. He says restrictions on adult catches is also important as they are the ones spawning the juvenile fish. He says member countries need to agree on new restrictions, as more boats are on their way.

GLENN HURRY: We've got too many boats in this purse seine fishery at the moment, and there's another 45 under construction in Asian shipyards at the moment and some of those will enter our fishery and we need some strong regulations in place before they do get in.

Others in the region support the argument that the US is in a unique position. Last month Dr John Hampton, the manager of the Oceanic Fisheries Programme at the SPC, said he commended the US for taking action against its own vessels when it issued fines for boats that overused FADs. And Dr Hampton said other countries don't live by the same standards.

JH: All credit to the US government for zealously following up reports of irregularities amongst its own fleet. They are particularly good at that and follow up these sorts of reports with a lot of vigour, and I think it would be great if other distant-water fishing nations followed suit.

Professor Hurry says another difficult challenge is to find ways of meeting the demand of Pacific nations that have asked for large compensation packages to replace their lost income when vessels are banned from fishing.