28 Nov 2013

Pacific fishing fleets will be pushed to agree on new regulations on catches

2:02 pm on 28 November 2013

A regional meeting on Pacific fisheries starting on Monday will debate restrictions on tuna catches.

In the lead-up to the meeting, major stakeholders have argued there needs to be more consideration of different fishing methods.

Scientists say big-eye tuna stocks are at record-low levels, while some fisheries say there is no way they will cave in to demands to further limit their hauls.

Alex Perrottet reports:

Despite restrictions in tuna catches introduced in 2008, scientists and other groups say the population of big-eye tuna in the Pacific is at record lows. The Pacific Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace, Duncan Williams, says it's getting out of hand.

"DUNCAN WILLIAMS: Last year alone there were over two million tonnes of tuna fished out of the Pacific and there were 3,600 long-line vessels registered to fish in the Pacific - over half of the global long-line fleet. This is hugely concerning for us. In addition to that, there are also 297 purse seine vessels and these are large-scale industrial vessels. This is a record for the Pacific."

Duncan Williams says there's another 45 boats being built in Asian shipyards. The executive director of the Tuna Commission Professory Glenn Hurry admits it's a problem that there are too many purse seine boats, but he says this can be worked out by appealing to the distant water nations' economic goals.

GLENN HURRY: The benefit to the distant water fleets to industry and to the Pacific is to have profitable fleets, and you don't have profitable fleets if you have too many boats in there.

The Hawai'i longline fleet says it operates mostly on the high seas and fishes in areas 10 degrees north of the equator, where there's less adult big-eye mortality. They say there's no way they will accept a recent proposal to further limit their catch, as it may force the fishery to close by July. A scientist with the Honolulu fishery, Paul Dalzell, says the regulations are blunt and the real impact of each method of fishing must be compared.

PAUL DALZELL: We know that fishing mortality is low in this segment of the stock. The biomass remains unchanged over a very long period of time with or without fishing. So just these simply blunt-instrument type management measures are not going to cut it. You need to have measures that also include a spatial element that recognises that fishing mortality everywhere is not the same.

But while Professor Hurry agrees nuanced regulations are needed, he says the Honolulu fishery has far too much attention for its size.

GLENN HURRY: When you look at the reality of that fishery it's four and a half thousand tonnes of catch and last year we took one hundred and fifty one thousand tonnes of big-eye so this problem that we've got with big-eye needs to be put into perspective.

Greenpeace's Duncan Williams says it's the distant water fishing nations like China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan who have vetoed efforts to conserve fish stocks and it's now time for them to come to the table.

DUNCAN WILLIAMS: These countries have simply vetoed sensible measures and have thrown all sorts of technicalities to render these measures either as ineffective or very hard to implement at the technical level. The outlook for that meeting looks rather grim.

The Deputy Director General of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, Wez Norris, says the scientific advice is clear and reductions are desperately needed.

WEZ NORRIS: Management measures need to apply across all facets of the fishery. So it needs to apply to the purse-seine fishery, which is taking juvenile fish as a bycatch. It also needs to apply to the long-line fishery which is targeting adult fish.

Professory Hurry says the purse seiners will have to agree on limiting the use of fish aggregation devices, which is the cause of the incidental catch of juvenile big-eye. But Duncan Williams says this is not just about conservation, and the parties need to look long term for their own economic sustainability.

DUNCAN WILLIAMS: There won't be a market, there won't be demand, or there wont' even be an economy for tuna fisheries if there's' no tuna in the first place. So I think first and foremost there needs to be a real, committed, genuine, political will by all members to push past this stalemate and arrive at a compromised position come December in Cairns.

But Paul Dalzell says it's a tough job for the commission, with big and small players at the same table.

PAUL DALZELL: The problem is you've got a commission that contains tiny wee states like Tuvalu and Nauru to economic powerhouses like China Japan and the US and everything else in between. So trying to find something that suits all people is difficult.

Professory Hurry says the Commission may look at voting measures if member countries can't agree, which would be a new step to ensure a result comes out of the meeting. The Commission will meet at the Cairns Convention Centre from Monday to Friday next week.