Foreign aid to the Pacific by Francisco Blaha

While I normally write and comment on fisheries issues, it would be naif to deny that in the Pacific, foreign aid and commercial fishing are closely linked, even if they are not always formally linked.

An ambassador comes down to see the real "well" of Pacific richness (to be fair he was really nice, down to earth and paying for training in a PIC that has no fleet from his country)

An ambassador comes down to see the real "well" of Pacific richness (to be fair he was really nice, down to earth and paying for training in a PIC that has no fleet from his country)

For some people, foreign aid is a curse for others a blessing, and this is always an interesting discussion (for me is both). So I found this paper quite interesting, don't know enough of the topic as to made value judgments, yet I put it out there for you to make your own opinion. I’ll quote below text of an article  (Foreign Aid to the Pacific: An Overview by Matthew DornanJonathan Pryke) from the blog about the quoted paper

How did foreign aid to the Pacific fare in the last decade?

ODA to Pacific island countries increased in the last decade by approximately one-third after a long period of relative stability, despite significant year-to-year variations (Figure 1). The increase in ODA coincided with high-level calls to ‘scale up’ aid to developing countries, discussed above, and with two major military interventions in the region.

Figure 1: Aid to the Pacific (including Timor-Leste)

Figure 1: Aid to the Pacific (including Timor-Leste)

Although significant, the increase in ODA to Pacific nations is modest when compared to the increase in ODA to sub-Saharan Africa, or indeed, to developing countries as a whole. Figure 2 illustrates the relative increase in ODA enjoyed by different regions since 1970. While aid to Pacific nations has remained relatively stable in real terms since 1970, increasing moderately in the last decade, it has increased more than six-fold in sub-Saharan Africa over the same period, and almost three-fold in other developing countries. ODA has remained stable, and more recently fallen, in Far East Asia owing to the strong economic growth enjoyed in that region. The divergence between regions is especially notable after 2000, or in the period of the scale-up. Whereas ODA to the Pacific increased by one-third since 2000, across all developing countries it doubled, and in sub-Saharan Africa, the increase was higher still, with ODA in 2014 230 percent what it was in 2000.

Figure 2: Official Development Assistance (Index, 1970 = 100

Figure 2: Official Development Assistance (Index, 1970 = 100

Changes in the allocation of foreign aid across Pacific island countries have not been linked to per capita income, or arguably by association, poverty reduction efforts. Countries with comparatively high per capita incomes such as Cook Islands, Niue, and Tonga have seen large increases in aid over the period of 2000-02 and 2012-14 (119, 93, and 116 percent respectively), whereas aid to the two Pacific island countries where poverty is concentrated, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste, grew 19 percent and fell 36 percent, respectively. The largest increase between over this period, interestingly, has been in ODA directed to regional initiatives and organisations. This now represents the third largest component of ODA to the Pacific.

When aid per capita is considered, its unequal distribution between Pacific island countries is even more evident. Aid per capita is particularly low in Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste (the two poorest countries in our sample), and has decreased in real terms since 2000-02 in both countries. Indeed, Figure 3 shows that aid per capita received by Timor-Leste, Fiji and Papua New Guinea sits close to the (unweighted) average for Far East Asia – far below that of the Pacific.

Figure 3: ODA per capita across Pacific island countries

Figure 3: ODA per capita across Pacific island countries

Where does this aid come from?

While much depends on how aid is measured, it is clear that Australia is the largest provider of development assistance in the region – though there is significant variation between Pacific island countries, with those in the North Pacific more reliant on Compact Funding from the United States (see Figure 4). Aid to the Pacific is also very concentrated. In no other region in the world does a single donor provide such a large share of total ODA as Australia (the United States in the Middle East comes close). The situation has not changed in light of the recent cuts to the Australian aid budget, with aid to Pacific island countries largely protected from reductions (although aid from Australia has declined in real terms).

Figure 4: Top 10 Pacific donors

Figure 4: Top 10 Pacific donors

Chinese aid is often highlighted as significant in the region (frequently as a cause for alarm, though we take a different view). Exaggeration of its importance is compounded by the fact that data for Chinese development assistance is poor, and not included in OECD figures (or in Figure 4). In our paper, we draw on an extensive Lowy Institute survey of Chinese assistance to Pacific island countries, based on information sourced from budget documents and other government sources, to compare China’s aid with that of OECD donors. These estimates are compared to OECD data for other donors in Figure 5 over the 2006-14 period (multi-year data are more reliable given challenges associated with calculating yearly expenditure of Chinese ODA-funded projects).

Figure 5: Top five sources of ODA to Pacific island countries, 2006-14 (current, USD billion)

Figure 5: Top five sources of ODA to Pacific island countries, 2006-14 (current, USD billion)

What the comparison suggests is that China has become the third most important source of ODA to the region, with a total of US$1.78 billion provided as development assistance between 2006 and 2016. This indicates that, while certainly significant, China remains a long way from becoming the most important donor to the region (despite common statements to this effect).

Having said that, China is an especially important donor in a handful of countries. It has provided over 50 percent of total ODA to Fiji between 2006 and 2013 (making it the largest donor), and close to 30 percent of ODA in Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, where it has become the second main source of development funding. Much of this (approximately 80 percent) takes the form of concessional loans.

So, what can we conclude?

Firstly, foreign aid to the region is not going away, nor is it becoming less important. Since the turn of the century, foreign aid as a percentage of gross national income has increased in almost half of all Pacific island economies – significantly so, in the case of Tuvalu, Kiribati and Solomon Islands. It has declined significantly in the case of the resource-rich economies of PNG and Timor-Leste (see our paper for data).
Secondly, aid to the region has increased over the period – in line with the international scale-up in foreign aid – but not to the extent it has in other regions, or in developing countries as a whole.
A third point to note is that foreign aid is distributed very unequally in the Pacific, with per capita aid to the poorest countries often quite limited. This is troubling from a poverty alleviation perspective.
Lastly, our analysis shows that while China has become an important donor, it is far from the dominant player in the region – despite alarmist reporting to that effect.

"Six Indonesian fishermen get imprisoned for killing their Chinese captain" by Francisco Blaha

In general terms, it takes a lot to piss me off. Yet this one really guts me… is easy to read "Six Indonesian fishermen get imprisoned in Vanuatu for killing their Chinese captain" without knowing much of what is the complex reality of these vessels and not mentioning till later that it was a Vanuatuan flagged longliner.

Bored crew hanging out on a Taiwanese longliner (not the one involved in this story) 

Bored crew hanging out on a Taiwanese longliner (not the one involved in this story) 

Of course, I don't advocate violence, much less killing anyone, let's be clear on that.

I’ve boarded over the years dozens (of the 3000 fishing in the Pacific) of Chinese and Taiwanese longliners that are flagged in quite a few nations besides their own, and the living conditions on board are appalling to me. Yet, I' aware to see this also as a cultural misperception, I grew up in different fishing culture with different boats. I worked a lot in Asia and is not hard to see parallels in between the crowded and limited conditions people conduct their normal lives there and the conditions on board, so fair enough till there.

Typically in these vessels, the skipper and sometimes the chief engineer is Chinese or Taiwanese and everyone else is either Indonesian, Philipino, Nepalese, Myanmarian, Laotian, or Cambodian.

But, it is by definition the responsibility of the flag state to regulate on anything that happens on board of its vessels, including labour and human rights conditions, irrelevant of the nationality of owners and crew. If I want to work in Vanuatu (or any country) I need a working permit, return tickets, etc. How come working in one of their flagged vessels is different?

Now, is well known that a lot of Asian DWFN vessels are also flagged to countries with "open registries" (such as Vanuatu or the Marshall Islands) for lesser regulation in terms of taxes, safety, labour standards, etc. (Now if this outrages you, is no different to the practice of offshoring by companies for tax purposes). 

Taiwanese and Chinese boat owners do this reflagging business very well, and also flag their vessels in Pacific Island countries without “open registry” as a way to get over their own countries vessel number caps and obtain cheap access to fishing rights under the supposed benefits of supporting the local industry. Yet you get on board, and there is not even one Pacific Islander since the salary, working conditions and cramped space on board are not good.

These hard living conditions are part of the reason why we have less than 5% observer coverage on these vessels (there is no space and people just don’t wanna go) hence we are putting a lot of hope on electronic monitoring (video cameras) across the fleet.

In general terms (and speaking for my self) fishers are not at the apex of the educated and tolerant members of their respective societies. When you do the most dangerous job in the world, chances are you did not have many options to choose from.

Personally, I found in fishing a way up and out of a reality I wasn't comfortable with. I was (still are) socially awkward and wasn’t much a "law abiding" citizen, yet I got into fishing at the time where your earnings were good, and you could make a decent living. And in my case, pay for my education (other colleagues who didn't have the thrive of education in their family backgrounds did the usual stuff fisherman are well known for).

One also has to understand that a fishing boat is a really small place, and like a jail, you are "locked" for a good amount of time in hard labour, hence getting your place in the ranks and the respect (or fear) of others is key to making it safe out of there.

I’ve met very nice skippers on the longliners, but also some real assholes… If I was treated by someone, the way I’ve seen skippers treating their crew, I would have reacted badly. 

Yet, I had the chance to step off the boat and move on, the crew of these vessels don't. They are mostly uneducated, don't speak any English, they don't always have access to their passports, don't know anything about the rules and legal support structures of the flag state of the vessel (if they even exist). 

In the best case, they were recruited cheaply by agents that keep a retainer of their miserable wages under the condition of at least 2 years of a contract without getting back home, in the worst case are fully forced labour or modern slaves.

I have no idea what went on board this vessel, but not to be paid for a year plus ill treatment is as bad as it can get for a fisherman (but unfortunately not unusual). 

So now, where was the Vanuatu flag state responsibility for the rights of the crew who were “literally” working in a piece of Vanuatuan territory that happens to float around the Pacific? 

If you as a country choose to milk the economic benefits of having lax flag registration rules, they should be aware that regardless the arrangement, the flagging comes with unavoidable responsibilities that obviously weren't being upheld in this case.

So for the judge to say that these six guys were lucky to be prosecuted in Vanuatu as it did not have the death penalty is VERY rich and frankly upsetting... because they were VERY unlucky to have ever been sent to work in one of the 27 longliners flagged there or on any open registry/flag of convenience, in the first place

Furthermore, I suspect that if the captain had been Indonesian or Philippino, for example, the result would have been different, taking into account that China provides up to 30% of the Overseas Developing Assistance to Vanuatu, and has been promising to upgrade the decrepit SinoVan fish processing plant they build in the 90s

So, while these issues are a primary responsibility of the flag state, can coastal states (the countries with responsibility for the EEZ where these vessels fish) do something about this? 

Yes to a point… NZ manage to do it after being embarrassed internationally in the news. We had Korean flagged vessels fishing under joint ventures in NZ waters, their ill treatment and forced labour conditions of their Indonesian crews made the media, yet was little that could legally be done at the time. This brought into law the Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, requiring labour conditions similar to those expected for NZ nationals were imposed. (As a result, many vessels didn't come back)

So, potentially something similar could be done via the regional licensing and bilateral arrangements in between DWFN and countries in the Pacific. Yet this will require a close collaboration in between the fisheries and labour administrations in each country and no doubt, a serious upgrade on the employment laws and systems in each country that may not be up to date with the minimal stands by ILO (wrote about this here). 

Furthermore, a substantial strengthening of the monitoring control and surveillance capacities of the labour rules enforcement organisations in the Port States would be needed as well. Since as fisheries officer, I have no powers in that area. All this besides time will cost massive amounts of money. 

But then, it will be another area (just like in fisheries) where PICs are required to put costly enforcement and control measure over a problem that is “imported” and thrown upon them (even if some of this vessel are bogusly flagged to their jurisdiction), while most profits goes to the beneficial owners in Asia. 

I’m sure that we in the Pacific inspect more Taiwanese and Chinese vessels that their own fisheries inspectors… it would become the same for labour issues. 

And where is the support of the labour organization of the country of origin of these crew members?

And even if we managed to control this from a coastal perspective, we will have no jurisdiction over what happens in the High Seas… Hence all comes back to Flag State responsibility, which is the key issue in the IUU, Forced labour and transnational crime debate.

However what REALLY piss me off , is that the vessels owners say that is they pay more, fish would be more expensive and that is not good for business... yet their fleets get obscene amounts of subsidies by their countries… so f*ck you! 

Maybe fish should be more expensive then, and perhaps we should be out of business if that means that the fish I love and the sector that allows my family to have a dignified life is built on the miseries of other people who weren’t lucky to be born in countries with better protection systems.

The vessels owners from the DWFN in the aim to maximize profits are employing people from the most desperate backgrounds and nations to pay them less every year... this is for me the real “race to bottom” in fishing. If we are failing to look at the sustainability of our own at this really basic level, what hopes do we have for anything else, including our fishery? 

I don't know even the names of these guys in jail in Vanuatu, nor the circumstances the lead to their extreme action… Yet as a fellow fisher I like to apologise to them. Beyond your own collective responsibilities for what you have done, we as the fishing sector in the Pacific have failed you all, by allowing stuff like not being paid for a year to happen, without providing you with any support structure as to avoid shit like this.


Media Officer for Pacific Islands Fisheries Forum Agency by Francisco Blaha

Yes... there are plenty of bad news around fisheries, no doubt. Yet those are not the only news. There are a lot of people that are doing really good work and achieving quietly a lot of things in the region. And we need the good news to be out there as well. Here is an opportunity to work with a unique organisation in a unique place, that does a lot of good work in one of the most beautiful areas in the world.

FFA now has an exciting opportunity for an experienced Media Officer to join our team in Honiara, Solomon Islands. 

Reporting to the Director-General through the Deputy Director-General, the successful applicant will be responsible for stakeholder communication to enhance understanding and support of the work of the Forum Fisheries Agency and the implementation of the communications strategies of FFA. The successful applicant will also be responsible for the efficient management of the FFA's information dissemination and publication services. 

Some of the Key Result Areas for this position include, the review and implementation of FFA's Communication Strategy, providing technical advice in developing and implementing communication initiatives, writing and compiling content for FFA circulars, newsletters and media releases, preparing analytical news pieces on key issues and activities for improved public information and; assist with training of media personnel on fisheries issues. 

The successful applicant must possess a Degree in IT, Communication, Public Relations or Journalism and must have extensive experience in journalism, publication and/or public relations.

Interested candidates are encouraged to apply online through this link: is external)

Closing Date: 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Mercury levels of yellowfin tuna are associated with capture location by Francisco Blaha

One of the questions I get asked quite often refers to the “dangers” of mercury (Hg) when eating pelagic fish, particularly tuna. A lot has been commented on social media and the news, and it seems to be a topic that never ends. So I was interested to see this recent article that states in the title “Mercury levels of yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) are associated with capture location” so there is not much doubt about it!

Before I dig into the article lets clear the basics; methyl mercury (MeHg - which is the way mostly found in organisms) is naturally occurring and is normally found in higher concentration in organisms originating from areas or volcanic origin, now on top of these baselines that change regionally, we have the one originating from contamination, that can come from various sources.

The key issue with Hg is that bio-accumulates, meaning that the older the individual and the higher in trophic chain (who eats who) the higher the potential levels to be found are, furthermore different groups of “fish” have different capacities to metabolize it (i.e. get rid of it naturally), sharks for example have a very low capacity to do this and being a apex (at the top) predator Hg is found in higher concentrations than in tuna for example, that has better ways to deal with it.

Furthermore, exposure plays a big role, in simpler words if you eat yourself a 100kg shark that has levels way above the maximum recommended by the regulators, not much would happen (beyond indigestion!) yet if you eat 200g every day for 20 years chances are you’ll be in problems.

The confirmation and quantification of the neurological impact of Hg were demonstrated by a severe case industrial pollution in Japan in the 1950’s. Effluent from an industrial plant in the Minamata Bay area contaminated the aquatic environment and local people whose diet was mostly based on seafood from these waters suffered severe health effects.

Yet this was an extreme case, most of the tuna we consume today is at the safe levels (because many of the big -ergo old- ones are been fished already, but that is a fisheries issue) and furthermore, our diet is not just based on tuna.

The demonstrated benefits of including seafood in the diet outweigh the potential risk associated with it. This was researched in huge study and consultation by FAO and WHO (World Health Organization) in 2010 (so is not a conspiracy of the seafood industry!).

One of my mentors in FAO, David James wrote this seminal book on this Risks and Benefits of Seafood Consumption (is not too big so you should read it). One of its conclusions was: 

that the benefits of seafood consumption vastly exceed the risks, except under extreme circumstances involving excessive consumption of a few species” and in particular for pregnant mothers: When comparing the benefits of LC ω-3 PUFAs (omega3 oils) with the risks of methylmercury among women of childbearing age, maternal fish consumption lowers the risk of suboptimal neurodevelopment in their offspring compared with the offspring of women not eating fish in most circumstances evaluated”

Now, back to the paper that I was talking at the beginning of this post, there is another reason to insist (and pay) for provenance and traceability. It looks like the base levels of MeHg from tuna caught in different parts of the world have different levels of methyl mercury, which in principle should be surprise since it levels above natural baselines (i.e. contamination) is associated with population and industrialization, of which we don't have much of both here in the Pacific.

Furthermore, as testing for Hg requires a very complex, regulated and independently certifiable structure of determinations, it is a HUGE expense for the Pacific countries since we have to send the samples either to AUS, NZ, Thailand or Singapore (hence think about the logistics to send frozen samples!). We had the lab capacity at USP in FIJI but the certifications costs were outrageous for the level of samples required.

This paper is good news, as gives us in the Pacific the chance to sustain something we knew, our fish has very low levels of Hg, but most importantly, could argue for the reduction in the frequency of sampling and therefore the costs for the battled seafood safety Competent Authorities in the region.

The paper highlights are:

  • Mercury levels of 117 wild yellowfin tuna, a commercially important species caught worldwide, were measured.
  • Fish were captured from 12 known locations around the globe, representing four major yellowfin stocks.
  • Geographic origin is an important factor that determines mercury levels in yellowfin of similar size.
  • Low mercury fish clusters were found and argue for traceability as a tool to reduce human mercury exposure.

And the abstract says: (unfortunately you have to pay for the paper, I hate that!)

Current fish consumption advisories focus on minimizing the risk posed by the species that are most likely to have high levels of mercury. Less accounted for is the variation within species and the potential role of the geographic origin of a fish in determining its mercury level. Here we surveyed the mercury levels in 117 yellowfin tuna caught from 12 different locations worldwide. Our results indicated significant variation in yellowfin tuna methylmercury load, with levels that ranged from 0.03 to 0.82 μg/g wet weight across individual fish. Mean mercury levels were only weakly associated with fish size (R2 < 0.1461) or lipid content (R2 < 0.00007) but varied significantly, by a factor of 8, between sites. The results indicate that the geographic origin of fish can govern mercury load, and argue for better traceability of fish to improve the accuracy of exposure risk predictions.

Microplastics in fisheries and aquaculture by Francisco Blaha

FAO just published a well documented technical document on this topic that has been deservingly on the news. It is sobering and I recommend you read it if you have the interest and the time to do it.

I just quote below the abstract as an intro.

Plastic production has increased exponentially since the early 1950s and reached 322 million tonnes in 2015, this figure does not include synthetic fibres which accounted for an additional 61 million tonnes in 2015. It is expected that production of plastics will continue to increase in the foreseeable future and production levels are likely to double by 2025. Inadequate management of plastic waste has led to increased contamination of freshwater, estuarine and marine environments. It has been estimated that in 2010 between 4.8 million to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste entered the oceans.

Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gears (ALDFG) are considered the main source of plastic waste by the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, but their relative contribution is not well known at regional and global levels.

Microplastics are usually defined as plastic items which measure less than 5 mm in their longest dimension, this definition includes also nanoplastics which are particles less than 100 nanometres (nm) in their longest dimension. Plastic items may be manufactured within this size range (primary micro- and nanoplastics) or result from the degradation and fragmentation of larger plastic items (secondary micro- and nanoplastics). Microplastics may enter aquatic environments through different pathways and they have been reported in all environmental matrices (beaches, sediments, surface waters and water column).

Ingestion of microplastics by aquatic organisms, including species of commercial importance for fisheries and aquaculture, has been documented in laboratory and field studies. In certain field studies it has been possible to source ingested microplastics to fisheries and aquaculture activities.

Microplastics contain a mixture of chemicals added during manufacture, the so-called additives, and efficiently sorb (adsorb or absorb) persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic contaminants (PBTs) from the environment. The ingestion of microplastics by aquatic organisms and the accumulation of PBTs have been central to the perceived hazard and risk of microplastics in the marine environment.

Adverse effects of microplastics ingestion have only been observed in aquatic organisms under laboratory conditions, usually at very high exposure concentrations that exceed present environmental concentrations by several orders of magnitude. In wild aquatic organisms microplastics have only been observed within the gastrointestinal tract, usually in small numbers, and at present, there is no evidence that microplasticsingestion has negative effects on populations of wild and farmed aquatic organisms.

In humans, the risk of microplastic ingestion is reduced by the removal of the gastrointestinal tract in most species of seafood consumed. However, most species of bivalves and several species of small fish are consumed whole, which may lead to microplastic exposure. A worst case estimate of exposure to microplastics after consumption of a portion of mussels (225 g) would lead to ingestion of 7 micrograms (μg) of plastic, which would have a negligible effect (less than 0.1 percent of total dietary intake) on chemical exposure to certain PBTs and plastic additives.

Microplastic contamination of aquatic environments will continue to increase in the foreseeable future and at present, there are significant knowledge gaps on the occurrence in aquatic environments and organisms of the smaller sized microplastics (less than 150 μm), and their possible effects on seafood safety. Currently there are no methods available for the observation and quantification of nanoplastics in aquatic environments and organisms.

Practical Training Courses on Ocean Acidification at USP in Fiji by Francisco Blaha

Here is an opportunity for two training courses at the University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji. These courses are part of a broad effort by The Ocean Foundation, through its International Ocean Acidification Initiative, to expand the capacity of scientists and resource managers around the world to monitor, understand, and respond to ocean acidification in their region.

The Ocean Foundation is coordinating blue carbon restoration in Fiji with support from the U.S. Department of State. The goal of this restoration is to create critical habitat, a carbon sink, and to test the ability of blue carbon to reduce the threat of ocean acidification at a local level. Selected scientists who participate in Courses I and II will receive stipends to allow them to conduct pre-restoration, during restoration, and post-restoration monitoring of the water chemistry. Detailed info is here, but I put an overview below.

Course I (30 October – 3 November): Introduction to Ocean Acidification Monitoring and Research
Purpose: This introductory course is for early-career scientists, researchers, technicians, and others employed in the study and/or management of marine resources from the Pacific Islands* to learn about the fundamentals of ocean acidification science and the methods and tools used to conduct chemical and biological monitoring of ocean acidification. The material taught in this course will provide an entry point for scientists interested in participating in, and contributing to, the global ocean acidification observing community and the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON). This course is designed for scientists who have relevant, but perhaps limited, experience working on ocean acidification. The course is open to delegates from Fiji, Indonesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, The Marshall Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. If you are based in a Pacific Islands country not listed, please contact Alexis Valauri-Orton at to inquire about eligibility.

Course II (6 November – 10 November): Applied Study of Monitoring and Research Techniques
Purpose: To provide hands-on training to scientists and researchers from the Pacific Islands** in specific methodologies to monitor ocean acidification. Participation in this course requires Course I (or a similar course approved by the workshop organizers) as a pre-requisite, and applicants may apply for both at the same time. All participating countries will receive a kit of sensor equipment – “GOA-ON in a Box” – which contains the necessary hardware (e.g. sensors, lab equipment) and software (e.g. methodologies, data input forms) required to collect data that meets the “weather quality” standards of GOA-ON, as outlined in its Requirements and Governance Plan. Participation: The course is open to delegates from Palau, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Fiji. If you are based in a Pacific Islands country not listed, please contact Alexis Valauri-Orton at to inquire about eligibility. Priority will be given to scientists or marine

In addition to the two courses advertised, The Ocean Foundation will host a separate meeting for policy makers, environmental resource managers and other stakeholders to discuss the potential ecological, social, and economic impacts of ocean acidification on their countries. Stakeholders at this meeting will also discuss examples of legislation that policy makers around the world have implemented to help their regions adapt and respond to ocean acidification, and how those examples might be adapted to fit local legal structures and needs. Although it is a separate initiative, this meeting will coincide with Course I and will be located in Suva, Fiji.

This meeting will be open to all countries in the South Pacific. Some financial assistance will be available. If you want to receive more information about this meeting please contact Alexis Valauri-Orton at

Jobs with SALT (Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability project) by Francisco Blaha

I have worked with the great crew of the Traceability Division of FishWise in some initiatives, I like them because they are genuinely nice people with great ideas yet with both feet on the firm on the grounds. They are currently hiring for three new positions within that Division. Two of these will staff a new Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability. 

The main goals of the Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability are to:

  • Expand accessible, interoperable, electronic catch documentation and traceability.
  • Increase source country capacities to apply electronic catch documentation and traceability to strengthen fisheries management and to verify fisheries data within these systems.
  • Increase incentives and capacities for industry to apply electronic traceability to ensure the legality of wild-caught fisheries products in their supply chains.

They are looking for candidates with:

  • Dedication and passion for the stewardship of the oceans, biodiversity, food security, and human rights
  • Advanced degree in related field and a minimum of 5 years experience OR Two plus years of relevant work experience and a Bachelors degree required; three years of experience and an advanced degree preferred 
  • Established network within the seafood industry, ocean conservation, or biodiversity fields preferred
  • An understanding of seafood stakeholder interests, concerns and motivations related to improving seafood traceability and addressing IUU fishing and human rights abuses

Full job descriptions are available on their website: 

If you would please share these opportunities with any qualified candidates I would greatly appreciate it. 

FADs and MARPOL by Francisco Blaha

Last year I wrote about Marine Pollution by Purseiners and Longliners (MARPOL) on an interesting report presented on the 2015 WCPFC TCC (Technical and Compliance Committee) and group of SPREP officers lead by Kelsey Richardson presented a report on the issue. The latest number of PNA Tuna Market Intelligence blog, reports that FADs violate MARPOL Conditions, which is a very interesting twist. I quote them below.

Hand crafted and jelouslly guarded MARPOL

Hand crafted and jelouslly guarded MARPOL

The PNAO presented at the Regional workshop on MARPOL (Marine Pollution) Annex V and Port Reception facilities held in the Marshall Islands, July 17-19, hosted by IMO, SPREP, and RMI. 

The focus of PNAO’s presentation was to address the question: Are the deployment of fish aggregating devices (FADs) a violation of MARPOL (marine pollution) V rules?

The MARPOL Convention was developed by the International Maritime Organization with aim to minimize the amount of all ships’ garbage being discharged into the ocean. 154 countries, the equivalent of 98.7% of the world’s shipping tonnage, are State parties to the convention. 

There are six annexes to MARPOL; Annex V, which addresses garbage, is technically optional, but many parties have signed in agreement with its requirements. 

By 2014 it was estimated there were roughly 50,000 fish aggregated devices deployed in PNA waters. If FADs are deployed, and it seems they are, with no intention to recover them due to loss of both time and fuel costs, then these devices are deployed in breach of MARPOL V. They are, in effect, marine garbage, left to drift in currents, become entangled in reefs, trap and kill marine life, and wash ashore on beaches. 

During the presentation, PNAO pointed out that current available data being quoted in the meeting for marine debris from fishing vessels, is not the full picture; the majority of the data available to SPC and SPREP is coming from PNA observers on about 260 purse seiners in PNA waters where there is 100% observer coverage.

It is worth noting this data represents less than 5% of the actual fishing vessels on the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commissions registry for vessels in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

Back to Majuro, my new "home" in the Pacific by Francisco Blaha

Last year I wrote an extensive post about Majuro in the Marshall Islands, with over 700 transhipments a year is a key player in the tuna world. Is a unique place for many reasons and it would be a big part of my life for the next couple of years. 

I'm on my way there now, as I was invited to be part of the team at the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) as their Offshore Fisheries Advisor, a position funded by New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I'm quite stoked about the prospect since I truly enjoy working there and the position is based on a long term involvement with the MIMRA team. I would work with them for 200 days, with 160 days based there in 8 blocks of 3 weeks each over the next 2 years.

Broadly, my job entitles the following:

  • Capacity development and institutional strengthening for an improved capacity of MIMRA staff in a strong, positive, and enabling environment for the development and sustainable use of fisheries resources;
  • Technical advice on the sustainable development and management of the offshore fishery to create improved livelihoods and economic benefits;
  • Technical advice on systems improvements to implement improved Port States Measures and traceability systems to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

But I what really dig about it, is that implies a long term commitment, which allows you to really be part of the organization I'll be working with, and in some way of the community, I'll be living in. And I'm really keen on that! 

As I said before, I work with the people that work with fish and to achieve results, to just do 1 week fly in, deliver some paper based training and head out, does not really cut the cake in most cases... at least for me. 

One of the reasons I love working in Noro (Solomons) is because I have been going there for a long time and that relationship and trust with the local crew is the one that allows us to move forwards and achieve things.

I like the people I'll be working with in Majuro, the chances to try new and better ways to do our job are fantastic, the ocean around the Marshalls has all the goods I love (sailing, spearfishing, surfing, etc.), the place has a fascinating and troubled story and the country is a the crossroads of many of the key issues of our time.

I'm really looking forwards to this opportunity, and I'm truly thankful to my colleagues in MIMRA and to NZ MFAT for trusting me with it.

Securing a sustainable future in the Pacific - A TED talk by Francisco Blaha

My colleague and friend David Power, a management advisor in FFA, told me a few months ago he was Invited to do a TED talk in Sydney, and wanted to catch up on how is to do one?  Since I have done one, yet in a much smaller venue, we had  good chat about it. For me doing a the TED talk was a really good experience, albeit quite sobering.  

While I talked about what I do, it made me think about why I do it. It is quite nerve wrecking, you talking about your work to a lot of people that may have preconceived ideas on fisheries issues, and you have 15' to explain your universe! 

So I feel for David when he says "it was the most nerve wracking experience he ever had with public speaking"! But he did a really good job as you can see or by pressing on the image above, he owned the stage!

David is a good man and I'm sure it was an honour for him to have the opportunity to talk about the great work that everyone is doing in the region and showcase the Pacific.

I think is great that the people working in the Pacific fisheries have more public profiles, as I always say; is about people, not just fish.

Good on you David! (and tank you for using some of my pictures and crediting them!)

The case of the Star Shrimper XXV by Francisco Blaha

Private sustainability endorsement may not always mean a lot (or even less legality). I think I been quite clear in the past on my views on eco-labels. I still believe that is better to support the responsible authorities in the Flag, Port and Coastal States than a private certification, which at the end of the day responds to a business model. 

The man with the gun seems to be the real "friend of the sea"...  (Image by Sea Shepherd

The man with the gun seems to be the real "friend of the sea"...  (Image by Sea Shepherd

Here is a Nigerian flagged shrimp vessel with Dutch beneficial ownership, arrested in Liberia for fishing without a license, not using turtle exclusion devices, and other charges. Yet is certified as "Sustainable Seafood" by "Friends of the Sea" an eco-label based in Italy, that claims in most tuna meetings I have been, they are the best... and invariably finish in a cat fight with MSC and others.

Furthermore, the vessels are authorised to export to the EU, so is to be assumed that catch certificates must be signed by the Nigerian Fisheries authority and the vessel is in compliance with EU seafood safety requirements, both requested by EU market access requirements.

Recently I voiced my concerns under the assumptions for Principle 3 in many of the tuna vessels under certification from MSC, which at least tackles the fishery as a whole and does not just provide certification to individual companies or vessels. 

But this case is blatantly wrong, and it amazes me that the company still certified as you can see in this page

We always hear when the authority of a least developed country does not have control, yet when there is a clear lack of oversight by this eco-label that charge a lot of money for their logo use, not much info goes around.

Remember this news when they want to sell you their certification.

Image by Sea Shepherd

Image by Sea Shepherd

Global analysis of depletion and recovery of seabed biota after bottom trawling disturbance by Francisco Blaha

A bulk of the criticism to commercial fisheries comes from the assumption that all fishing activities are based on trawling. The arguments are that all trawling caused an irreparable impact on the benthic communities, that trawlers are the "bulldozers or the sea", and so on. Of course, as with most things in life (including fisheries), nothing is totally dichotomic... while there is impact (as with any human activity) the extent depends on the specific benthos, the type of gear, the target species and so on.

Impacting the benthos on a trawler in late 80s/early 90s

Impacting the benthos on a trawler in late 80s/early 90s

While there is semi-pelagic trawling (meaning does not touch the bottom), this gear is not used for tuna, (not if you were to believe this terrible post!) Yet having started my fisheries life in trawlers in the south Atlantic, I was quite interested in reading this paper, as it will become the reference for any further studies or claims of the real impacts of trawling.  

Is a thorough job, done by a quite amazing number of very well know scientists from 10 different universities and organisations (including FAO). 

I quote the abstract here, but as always advised, go to the original! 

Bottom trawling is the most widespread human activity affecting seabed habitats. Here, we collate all available data for experimental and comparative studies of trawling impacts on whole communities of seabed macroinvertebrates on sedimentary habitats and develop widely applicable methods to estimate depletion and recovery rates of biota after trawling. Depletion of biota and trawl penetration into the seabed are highly correlated. Otter trawls caused the least depletion, removing 6% of biota per pass and penetrating the seabed on average down to 2.4 cm, whereas hydraulic dredges caused the most depletion, removing 41% of biota and penetrating the seabed on average 16.1 cm. Median recovery times post-trawling (from 50 to 95% of unimpacted biomass) ranged between 1.9 and 6.4 y. By accounting for the effects of penetration depth, environmental variation, and uncertainty, the models explained much of the variability of depletion and recovery estimates from single studies. Coupled with large-scale, high-resolution maps of trawling frequency and habitat, our estimates of depletion and recovery rates enable the assessment of trawling impacts on unprecedented spatial scales.

e-Pacific: the array of Apps for fisheries data acquisition we use in the WCPO by Francisco Blaha

For a part of the world that has had a lot of difficulties regarding connectivity due to its remoteness, low critical mass concerning population, expensive services and not a lot of money in the population. The Pacific has been a remarkable early adopter of mobile technologies and the development of Apps exclusively dedicated to fisheries data collection for science, management and increasingly, compliance purposes.

Happy to work with all of them, the guys catching fish and the ones catching data

Happy to work with all of them, the guys catching fish and the ones catching data

In the Apps developments and fisheries related data fields management there are 3 players in the Pacific: FIMS, SPC and FFA. As an independent contractor to all of them, I see my self as a very lucky man working (and more important having friends) with each group. In fact, the one above is a screenshot of my tablet with all the Apps presently being used in the region.

The 1st guys off the block were the iFIMS crew. When I meet Mark (a boss there) for first time many 6-7 years ago at a meeting where I was presenting on the need of data (“catch once use always” was the title) and he was introducing FIMS. The connection was immediately we both were thinking in very similar ways, yet coming from very different backgrounds. 

The FIMS project started as a PNG commissioned fisheries data management than the later was taken by PNA. The FIMS “constellation” is a product of Quick Access Computing and remains a privately own product and services provider. 

I liked that Mark and its crew were not “fisheries people” hence their thinking was fresh and original, I been collaborating with them since that first meeting and we have most of the tools needed for a full CDS system. Besides that Mark became a friend (a rare commodity in the consulting world), we stayed at each other houses, and we know each other families… which in my worldview means way more than having just business together only.

And while FIMS is an integrated database / universe that does a lot things, from assets management to the administration of the VDS, here I just gonna focus on the present Apps that integrate with their online platform and web interface.

At present they have 2 “products” that are used very extensively:

eForms, is an electronic logsheet application for PS and LL vessels, which is used by fishers, and data sent to the server either by the vessels internet or via an Iridium enabled two-way communication device. The App provides industry with a platform to manage and eLodge data near real time, hence Catch Reporting and other functions available for any country, its operation in all Purse Seine Vessels currently registered in PNA water and quite a few longliners in some of the countries

eObs, that is an Electronic observer data application for PS vessels and is used by observers, the data is uploaded to national and regional databases at SPC via an Iridium enabled two-way communication device (which provides additional observer safety measures). 

The Iridium based communication these Apps use, is enabled via the use two-way, satellite communicator devices are about the size and weight of a smartphone, which have bandwidth limited yet effective data transmission, and using that guaranteed independence and reliability 

The data sent has GPS marking included beyond the fact that overlaps with the VMS, so we know where the data was loaded and sent, and the systems have all sort of alarms and notifications included (EEZ and port entry/exit for example).

These two tools provide the regulators at port with the opportunity to assess a lot of info (volumes per species, effort per day, zones fished, observer notes, etc.) before the vessels arriving in port, allowing then the Port state to decide the level of inspection needed. Furthermore, both Apps become the basis of not only PSM but also the CDS.

There are other Apps on the pipeline such as Factory eForms, landing/transhipment monitoring forms as well as online modules (eCDS and port) just to name a few (but can say too much yet)

Their database connects to TUFMAN2 the SPC regional database (see below for more info) assuring data interoperability and future potential interaction with whatever the EU comes up with for the promised upgrade of their the catch certification scheme. As well the International Trade Data System (ITDS), the U.S. government’s single-window data portal for all import and export reporting.

Obviously being the 1rst of the block they set the pace, but most importantly, being private company instead of an institution allows them to be product and results focused, without haven to depend on bureaucracy and budgeting authorization to get the results. On the other hand being a private company has issues concerning the ownership and controls of the information. (Another example of my favourite fisheries mantra “everything has advantages and disadvantages.”)

In any case, what they have done so far is beyond admirable, and I have not seen anything even remotely similar anywhere else in the world.

The other crew that has been long in the database game yet a bit newer in the App game is the data management section in the Oceanic Fisheries Programme of SPC (Secretariat of the Pacific Community) based out of Noumea in New Caledonia.

Their main focus for many years now has been data acquisition and management from a science perspective (they had a small compliance sector too) and the evolution from their TUFMAN (Tuna Fisheries Database Management System) to TUFMAN2 to the expansion to TUFMAN “family” has been fantastic, gaining strengths and flexibility over the time.

It deals with Logsheet, Unloadings, Port sampling, Artisanal fisheries and other bits and pieces, is a data, receiving and checking tool. Is a Web-based hosted at SPC. Private, secure and powerful (you still own your data), Connected to OFP with centralised credentials platform. Low bandwidth requirement (if you can send an email, you can use TUFMAN2). And as they have been spearheading issues around video on board (aka e-monitoring)  then e-reporting capabilities was a logic consequence. 

And they have come up with two very cool Apps:
OnBoard, which is an Electronic logsheet application for collecting Catch and Effort Data and is to be used by fishers on longliners . It has a dynamic user interface and data validation capabilities (range checks and the lot). It does upload directly to TUFMAN2 and to DORADO, which is a data reporting module.

Tails, which is a Fisheries monitoring application for collecting: Commercial LongLining Port Sampling Data and Artisanal Fisheries Data and is used to be used by national fisheries staff (officers, unloading monitors, port samplers, etc)

And as On Board It does upload directly to TUFMAN2 and to DORADO for reporting.

Both are operational, and they have an observer App on the pipeline as well.

Their data streams while oriented for fisheries science cover most of what you need for anything in fisheries, and with a bit of tweaking via an external module that integrates with TUFMAN2 (and becomes part of the TUFMAN family) it could easily run a CDS. 

Over the years I have dealt with various aspects of their work and had very good rapport with many in the data team, such as Malo, Bruno and Andrew, while they are much younger than me, thankfully the relationship goes beyond work, as they are really cool and clever people.

FFA (Pacific Islands Fisheries Forum Agency) is the most recent App provider, has been as well in the database and information management game for a while since the regional tools such as the VMS, the vessels compliance index, the vessels in good standing list just to name few, rely on data management capabilities. 

Their RIMF (Regional Information Management Facility) App integrates with the countries IMS portal, and offers the Boarding Officer’s Job Aid Kit (BOJAK), with access to Vessel Monitoring, Reference List, License List, Transshipment Monitoring Checklist and Departure Clearance.


The App provides a visual indication of many of the parameters colour coded icons (as you can see below) which facilitate the user interaction.

The users of the App are the fisheries officers in the FFA member countries that choose to use it and are testing them as we speak

Luckily again, I go beyond just work with  Ano and Kenneth the key data guys at FFA.

All these Apps from my perspective is fantastic, since data is the basis of a CDS.

The issue with CDS is that brings in one compliance (PSM, VMS, VCI, etc) and volumes (per species and areas of capture), but the 1st is the realm of FFA and the 2nd of SPC, even if there is complementarity in many of data fields that are collected by both.

In many cases, the compliance elements and in particular issues around “fish laundering” are just the need of “time” and “key traceable elements” markers in the data streams entering TUFMAN2 and added to that is an extension of the “mass balance capabilities” already existing there 

SPC and FFA work collaboratively in many areas and they will keep doing so, yet SPC has much bigger data team and more acquainted to the volumes calculations that FFA.

In my ideal world, there should be an FFA compliance module working integrated to the SPC TUFMAN2 “Family” that nourishes itself of the necessary fields out of TUFMAN and integrates the necessary elements outs of the present FFA capabilities (while protecting some of the sensitive bits) 

Of course, such an action needs to be supported by all members and be part of the mandate of both organisations.

Surely the question at this stage is why we are in some way duplicating efforts… as said there are issues around the ownership of data, as well as that the capabilities and interest of the mostly Purseiners countries are different to the mostly longliners ones.

For me, is up to each country to pick and choose what works for them, all the systems at this stage “talk” to each other and can do so further, the result is what matter most, not the method 

There is only an limited amount of data fields that can be extracted from fisheries operations that are aimed at all possible uses in fisheries management, science and compliance. How we deal with the ownership and extraction of that data can always be arranged. The results are vital for having as a sustainable and legal fishery.

All this is admittedly ambitious, but the reality is that getting to this point was already a long road, so what is left, in comparison is so much less… The aim would be to have almost real time access to what and how the fishery is doing and what anyone in the fishery is doing at any moment in time. The whole set of data capabilities we have in the region is a full credit to the developers and to some very forwards thinking leadership in the countries and the institutions, and my full respect to all of them for that. I wish fish were like data… capture it once and use it for ever.

Criminalising IUU Fishing by Francisco Blaha

I have posted before about the work of my colleague Mercedes Rosello. She is working on the international law side of IUU fishing. This is a vital area since in many cases IUU fishing, particularly in the high seas, falls in between the cracks of flag, coastal, and port states.

Her recent contribution to the British International Studies Association’s annual conference makes good reading for those with an interest in this topic.

I paste below the content from her blog about the topic.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has been associated with human security concerns. Domestically, security concerns may be addressed through the prescription and enforcement of criminal law provisions. However, prescribing and enforcing criminal law in regard to activities occurring in distant water areas, where IUU risks endure, is less straightforward. This conference presentation argued that the interests of flag and coastal States in the criminalisation of IUU fishing and related activities as a response to security concerns differ, and outlined possible avenues for legal development.

According to the relevant literature, IUU fishing and activities commonly associated with it have been linked to human security concerns. IUU fishing has been argued to have food and work security implications for vulnerable populations, and to enhance the vulnerability to crime of persons involved in the industry. The human security narratives encapsulated in the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development largely capture these human security concerns. By contrast, more traditional security conceptualisations, underpinned by territorial perspectives, may be less responsive to the type of risks posed by  IUU fishing.

In this presentation, she argued that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, conceived on a territorial jurisdictional blueprint, disincentivises but does not ultimately preclude criminalisation as a State response to undesirable fishing activities. However, analysis of international law and policy materials suggests that divergent interests in criminalisation as a tool to address human security are identifiable in regard to flag and coastal States. Two case studies were relied on for analysis. The first one concerns Spain, a distant water fishing State where one of the country’s highest courts withheld jurisdiction in respect of alleged acts of criminality by Spanish nationals in the context of high seas IUU fishing. The second one concerns Fiji, an archipelagic State where intensive tuna fishing by unidentified foreign industrial fishing vessels around the outer borders of the State’s exclusive economic zone was reported in 2014 to have caused problems that could be characterised as possessing a human security dimension.

The presentation concluded with a reflection on the necessity for international consensus, particularly amongst coastal States involved in regional fisheries arrangements and institutions, in order to develop domestic as well as international frameworks that secure appropriate responses to the risks posed by IUU fishing.

What to Make of Recent Data Showing 10% of Fish are Discarded at Sea? by Francisco Blaha

I have quoted work from the CFOOD crew before. While some in the fisheries world may not like their messages, one has to admit that they always have a point, and are good at driving it. As in the case of their post from the title.

Always be careful whom you point fingers .

Always be careful whom you point fingers .

Not going to copy and paste their words, read them here, but just bring a bit of perspective and the brilliant graph they rescued. Obviously, we are still terrible at handling all foods, so some work there will have equal or more impact than the one needed for diminishing discards. 

A paper published last week titled, Global marine fisheries discards: A synthesis of reconstructed dataconcludes that commercial fishermen have thrown away (discarded) about 10% of catch over the past decade. Researchers, led by Dirk Zeller, used catch reconstructions – estimates of how many fish were caught – to approximate that around 10 million tons of fish are discarded at sea per year. This number is down from a high of 18 million tons in the 1990s. For context, here is a figure put together by Dana Gunders at the National Resources Defense Council in the 2012 report, Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. Fishing discards are considered “Production Losses.”

Zeller et al. 2017suggest that the decline in discards are a result of declining fish stocks, though they acknowledge that gear and management improvements could also play a role. Indeed, worldwide fish stocks have remained relatively stable since 1990s, indicating that perhaps management and gear technology have played a larger role in reducing discards than researchers propose.

Model Catch Certificate for the US Seafood Import Monitoring Program by Francisco Blaha

I have been keeping updates on the conditions that US Seafood Import Monitoring Program establishes for imports of certain seafood products for a while now. The aim of the programme is to tackle the reporting and recordkeeping requirements needed to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU)-caught and/or misrepresented seafood from entering U.S. commerce.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 6.06.44 PM.png

NOAA Fisheries published the final rule establishing the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) on December 9, 2016.   This is the first-phase of a risk-based traceability program—requiring the importer of record to provide and report key data—from the point of harvest to the point of entry into U.S. commerce—on an initial list of imported fish and fish products identified as particularly vulnerable to IUU fishing and/or seafood fraud.  

Now that legal challenge that some US based operators had is dismissed, January 1 2018 still is the mandatory compliance date for this rule. 

The US importer is the central actor responsible for data collection, management, input and storage under SIMP and has ultimate responsibility for compliance. The importer of record – who must be a US citizen – is required to apply for and maintain an International Fisheries Trade Permit (IFTP), which can be purchased and issued immediately for US$30.[1]

The importer will be required to keep records regarding the chain of custody of the fish or fish product from harvest to point of entry into the US and to have these data available in the event of an audit, even if the importer of record works with a customs broker in order to submit required data into the ITDS. 

NOAA has just published some model forms (something I didn't expect them to do!) on top of the Q&A guidance document I quoted before. The model forms are: 

The Catch Certificate, (also in SpanishPortugueseFrenchMandarin ChineseTagalogIndonesianVietnamese) and the Aggregated Catch Certificate, (also in SpanishPortugueseFrenchMandarin ChineseTagalogIndonesianVietnamese)

The usual advice applies, the earlier your sort yourself out for this the better, yet be ready for a lot of problems to appear, if something we learned from the EU one is that there will be 10000 scenarios that are not covered and we (in the exporting countries) will have to improvise...  

[1] IFTP information and application is available at:

FFA has published a briefing and analysis of the regulation, very nicely written by Elizabeth Havice. It can be downloaded from here 

Alcohol claims another life, this time a fisheries observer. by Francisco Blaha

I have written before about how difficult is the closure for the family when an observer (or a crew member) is lost at sea and the dangerous nature of fishing jobs. This week, unfortunately, we mourn the death of another fisheries observer.


The observer (a PNG citizen) was reported missing around 2 am on Wednesday last week, from the Feng Xiang 818, a Chinese-flagged Purseiner, while in the Nauruan EEZ. The vessel then followed all the proper procedures and went to Nauru where it was boarded by the police. 

It was reported initially here, without many details, which made many people (including me) jump into suspicions of foul play, based on the prior suspicious disappearances of other observers.

I wondered if the vessels had cameras on board, and renewed my calls for this technology to be compulsory. 

The Feng Xiang 818 had cameras on board and the event was all recorded. Unfortunately, alcohol was involved.  I have heard this from one of the most trusted sources I know.

Being drunk is dangerous, and much so when on board a fishing vessel.

And perhaps this opens (or confirms) a completely different discussion, which is the hypocrisy in regards alcohol in our society in general and in our industry in particular.

Somehow the drug that causes most deaths, family and personal damage in the world, in not only legal but socially glorified. 

I always have supported "dry" (no alcohol)  boats, "be as stupid as you like when you are on land, but at sea, no way" I was told... and it always made sense to me.  

Having been beaten up as a child by drunk adults has made me very wary of alcohol... but what is even worst... has made many of my colleagues distrustful of me, when I say: "No thanks, I don't  drink". Almost like saying to me "what is wrong with you? It always seem to me that we have more respect for a ex alcoholic than for a non drinker.

In any case, we all know about alcohol, and this post wasn't about it, even if it has claimed another victim.

As a former deck officer, I feel sorry for the officer in charge of the Feng Xiang 818, no one wants to loose a crew member overboard. 

But most of all, I feel sorry for the observer's family, since it seems that it was an avoidable death. 

Fisheries management impacts on target species status by Francisco Blaha

Never shy of putting their views across, Ray Hillborn and a group of his colleges published recently a paper “Fisheries management impacts on target species status” on the PNAS Journal, that as usual has polarised some of the also well-known scientists at other ends of the fisheries discussion. Yet for me, the key finding (in bold italics below) is what we informally knew were the keys, but now is been scientifically proven are the keys, and I like that.

Summarized survey answers by dimension and country.

Summarized survey answers by dimension and country.

I will (as usual) quote some of the elements in the paper I find significant, yet I encourage you to read the original and see what the others are saying (the easiest place to do that is at his tweeter handle)

Interestingly the paper has a section I have not seen in many others:

There is broad public interest in the health of our oceans and marine life at local, national, and international levels. In recent years there has been increasing concern about whether our fisheries can sustainably provide seafood without overfishing fish stocks.

Several papers have described the global status of fish populations (i.e., their abundance and exploitation rates) and have hypothesized influences of fisheries management, but this report is unique in being a comprehensive analysis of how specific management attributes (which are numerous and operate simultaneously) affect population status across oceans, countries, and taxonomic groups.

Our report integrates management policies and population ecology to assess sustainable harvesting outcomes of target species in marine fisheries; results have important global food security implications.

Fisheries management systems around the world are highly diverse in their design, operation, and effectiveness at meeting objectives. A variety of management institutions, strategies, and tactics are used across disparate regions, fishing fleets, and taxonomic groups.

At a global level, it is unclear which particular management attributes have greatest influence on the status of fished populations, and also unclear which external factors affect the overall success of fisheries management systems. We used expert surveys to characterise the management systems by species of 28 major fishing nations and examined influences of economic, geographic, and fishery-related factors.

A Fisheries Management Index, which integrated research, management, enforcement, and socioeconomic attributes, showed wide variation among countries and was strongly affected by per capita gross domestic product (positively) and capacity-enhancing subsidies (negatively).

Among 13 management attributes considered, three were particularly influential in whether stock size and fishing mortality are currently in or trending toward desirable states: extensiveness of stock assessments, strength of fishing pressure limits, and comprehensiveness of enforcement programs. (surprise surprise!)

These results support arguments that the key to successful fisheries management is the implementation and enforcement of science-based catch or effort limits, and that monetary investment into fisheries can help achieve management objectives if used to limit fishing pressure rather than enhance fishing capacity.

Countries with currently less-effective management systems have the greatest potential for improving long-term stock status outcomes and should be the focus of efforts to improve fisheries management globally.

A simple truth by Francisco Blaha

"Everything has its advantages and disadvantages"


Was my dad's advice when I told him that I was getting married...

And that is perhaps the biggest truth in fisheries...  and a quote I use constantly in my work!  


Kiribati gains authorisation to access the EU market. What does it means and how it works? by Francisco Blaha

Since the 16 of June 2017 via Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2017/1089, Kiribati became the 4th country in the Pacific to be included in the list of third countries and territories from which imports of certain fishery products for human consumption are permitted. Yet, this does not mean that from now on fish caught by any Kiribati-flagged vessels can “instantly” access directly or indirectly the EU. It does not work just like that!

are you EU elegible?

are you EU elegible?

My post today is on how that process works and a bit of the inside story on how Kiribati got to be authorised from the sanitary side, yet the country still with a yellow card from the IUU side.

The EU’s Regulation (EC) 854/2004 provides that products of animal origin can only be imported into the EU from a third country (meaning non-EU countries) that appears on a list drawn up in accordance with this Regulation.  When drawing up such lists, an account is taken of EC controls in 3rd countries and guarantees provided by the Competent Authority (CA) of 3rd countries in regard to compliance or equivalence with the relevant EU (health) regulations.

If a country’s control systems are considered “equivalent”, then it is authorised for fishery products and added Annex II of Commission Decision 2006/766/EC. Then the CA of that country evaluates compliance against the EU regulations by their factories and vessels (they call then Food Business Operators - FBOs). If they are up to the standards and expected levels of compliances, it then lists them (by giving them an approval number) and sends them to the EU, to be added to the list approved establishments of that country.

At this stage, the 1st list of 5 vessels and one factory has been sent to the EU for the revision, and once this is done and the FBO would appear in the list, and from then on they can access the EU market.

This all process is quite complex, and it takes countries like Kiribati a long time and effort to get to this point.

The EU obliges compliance to its own requirements, and thus requires the 3rd country to prove that it operates a control structure applicable to its seafood exports that are equivalent to those existing in an EU member country, meaning than Kiribati has to prove that has systems and controls equivalent to those of Germany for example.

Yet many Small Island Developing States in the Pacific (SIDS) like Kiribati, remain in the category of Least Developed Countries (LDC) recognised by the UN. The 3 elements that define this status (poverty, human resource weakness and economic vulnerability) are at the same time key elements in the establishment and operation of a CA. 

Until now, only three of Pacific Islands country members have been able to meet this requirement – PNG, Solomons and Fiji – all relatively large countries with substantial tuna processing industries. Even these countries face considerable challenges, both Fiji and PNG have been forced to suspend exports to the EU for a time in the last few years, and all of them continues to rely to a different extent on donor funding to maintain its CA.

For SIDS in the Pacific, the lack of EU sanitary authorization is a price disincentive for buyers of their fish caught in their waters, but not for same fish caught by vessels from EU authorised countries (like Taiwan, China or Korea) catching next to them, even if the inspectors of those flag states, may have never been on board!  

In principle, the processing countries can only provide “EU Health Certificates” for seafood products which are derived wholly or partly from raw materials products that:

  • Have originated from a third country eligible to export the animal product to the EU;
  • Have been derived from foreign premises eligible to export to the EU, (including vessels); and
  • Be eligible to be exported to the European Community;

This “eligibility” requirement, should be always applied, yet this is unfortunately no the case in all canning countries, in Thailand for example, this issue already got them into troubles with the EU

A further challenge for Pacific countries is that in many cases, they do not have processing sites in their territory (nor the physical area and cost effective geographical situation to develop them), or if they do, the operational focus targets more regional markets and not the EU. For these countries, the CA needs to be developed and operated in a “vessel only” oriented manner. This would potentially imply a CA with officers either travelling to the foreign landing ports and/or establishing MoUs with the CAs of the unloading countries.

And to make things more complicated we have to add the fact is that in many SIDS, there are a growing number of foreign-owned but locally flagged vessels (as to get cheaper access) that operate in their own economic zones and regional waters. And while these vessels unload locally or in other 3rd countries for processing or shipment to processing facilities with the potential to export to EU markets, there is normally no one on board that has real link to the flagging state, or even speak and read the countries language or English, hence they are not particularly keen to have HACCP plans on board, records, train crew, and have inspectors coming to check their records.

Until now, much of the SIDS effort to gain or sustain EU Market access has been supported in one way or another by FFA and SPC, particularly in the areas of training, legislation updates, reciprocal inspections, institutional strengthening, laboratories and control systems development (in many cases funded with EU support).

These inputs have been instrumental in getting Kiribati to this stage. The process was initiated s back in 2012 under the EU funded/FFA managed DevFish II Programme. For that, w adapted the National Control Plan (NCP) that Francisco “invented” for Ecuador in 2007 and then we used to help Fiji back into the EU.

We went through a process of "reverse engineering" of all the relevant EU regulations and put the requirements in a document in the way the inspectors would like to see them and the country could comply with them.

The NCP set up the rules in which the country “EU system” is to based, as to provide the “official assurances” the EU requires and become the basis on which to judge equivalence, and that way gain/maintain market access. All methods, procedures and regulatory instruments to be used for conformity assessment, regulatory verification and official guarantees, are presented in the NCP, which in turn is presented to the EU as per their requirements.

The idea is that exporting to the EU is a voluntary act on the part of a few processors; so the recognised CA can impose the NCP only for these factories and vessels. In this way, the CA can provide “official assurances” only for those establishments and supply vessels that want to be engaged in trade with Europe.

The operators on their side recognise that maintaining approval and certification privileges, as part of the listing of companies allowed to provide raw material or to export directly to the EU, is dependent on regulatory compliance.  If an establishment is not in compliance with the requirements, then their market privileges are suspended or removed as necessary. 

We believed that this approach has the advantage of being cost effectively implemented while upholding the level of compliance required for meaningful official assurances. And it worked! Ecuador maintained its market access till today, so did Fiji and Solomons, and now Kiribati got the OK, only based on the written documentation :-)

Since 2014 FFA has taken the lead by employing Jope Tamai and contracting Cushla Hogart a very experienced consultant from NZ and both enhanced the NCP approach and with the local support of Terere, Tebeio from the Kiribati Seafood Verification Authority (KSVA) and now Saurara a former CA officer from Fiji that is based supporting this process under funding from NZ MFAT have done the massive groundwork that took them up to the present.

The reality is that getting to this point was already a long road. Yet, as in many other areas, it takes an equal amount to effort maintain your self at the top spot, than what it took you to get there, so the real work load just started for Kiribati.

Finally be aware that all this has no relationship to Kiribati still on "yellow card" for IUU related matters... that is a whole different EU topic.