Current status of the DWFN Purse Seine Fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific by Francisco Blaha

I get asked a lot to "explain" in a training brief, "how" the tuna Purse Seine fishery operates in the Pacific...and in particular the Purse Seine one, I normally refer them to a 2015 blog entry I did on “the canned tuna industry in the pacific”, which was based on a excellent a great publication by my friends and colleges Hamilton, McCoy, Campling et all "Market and Industry Dynamics in the Global Tuna Supply Chain" published by FFA/DevFISH II in 2011. Now this publication by FFA has been updated (Market and Industry Dynamics: Western and Central Pacific Ocean Distant Water Tuna Purse Seine Fishery) by my friends and colleagues Dr. Elizabeth Havice, Mike A. McCoy and Dr. Antony Lewis (who recently wrote a similar work on the longline fishery).

I’m this tuna is going to be home before they get to go

I’m this tuna is going to be home before they get to go

I just quote below the executive summary, but this the type of publication people like me uses a lot as reference for years. Is compulsory reading, if you have any interest on the who does what in terms of DWFN Purse Seine in the region.

The purpose of this report is to provide industry and market intelligence to Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency members regarding the current status of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) distant water purse seine tuna fishing industry. This report largely focusses on six major distant water fishing nation (DWFN) purse seine fleets operating within the WCPO – Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, US and the Philippines. Cross-cutting and fleet-specific industry dynamics are identified, and where possible, implications for PICs are drawn out. 

WCPO Distant Water Purse Seine Fleet Overview 

The Japanese pioneered tropical purse seine fishing in the WCPO, developing a commercial fleet in the mid-late 1970s. Several US purse seiners operating in the EPO commenced experimental voyages into the US-Pacific Trust Territory in the mid 1970s; by the early 1980s, the US purse seine fleet had shifted to the WCPO. Around the same time, the Philippines, Taiwan and Korea commenced purse seine fishing in the WCPO. China was the last Asian distant water fleet to enter the WCPO purse seine fishery in 2001. 

From 1990-2006, the total number of purse seine vessels operating in the WCPO was relatively stable, ranging from 180-220 vessels. From 2007, vessel numbers increased gradually, when the vessel cap was replaced by a limit on fishing effort under PNA’s Purse Seine Vessel Day Scheme (VDS). In 2015, purse seine vessel numbers peaked at 308, but have since declined steadily to 271 vessels in 2018. The number of Pacific Island domestic vessels (i.e. Pacific Island-flagged, chartered and locally-based foreign vessels) has gradually increased since the mid-1980s, reaching 126 in 2018. 

In the mid-1980s, when the WCPO purse seine fishery was first developing, annual catch was 400,000- 450,000 mt, accounting for around 40% of total WCPO tuna catch. In 2018, total purse seine catch was 1,910,725mt, accounting for 70% of total WCPO tuna catch. The WCPO fishery is essentially a skipjack fishery, accounting for 65-77% of purse seine catch; yellowfin accounts for 20-30% and bigeye only 2-5%. 

WCPO purse seine vessels target skipjack and yellowfin in free-swimming schools and around man-made drifting fish-aggregation devices (FADs) and floating logs. There are long-standing concerns about high levels of incidental by-catch of juvenile bigeye and yellowfin by purse seiners fishing on FADs. While stock assessment results indicate both WCPO bigeye and yellowfin stocks remain healthy, the recommended scientific advice is that management measures which reduce fishing mortality of fisheries that take juveniles should continue to be considered. 

The majority of purse seine catch in the WCPO is supplied to canned tuna processors in Thailand. Raw material is also supplied to canned tuna and cooked loin processors in American Samoa, Central/ South America, Philippines, Korea, China, Vietnam and Japan. Around 100,000 mt/year is processed by plants based in PNG, Solomon Islands, and Marshall Islands. The largest markets for canned tuna remain the EU and US. Purse seine-caught skipjack from the WCPO is also used to produce the Japanese product, katsuobushi. Purse seine vessels with ultra-low temperature (-45 to -55°C) freezing capability also supply yellowfin for lower-grade sashimi products. 

There are a range of developments and key issues which have impacted the WCPO purse seine fleet – some have emerged in recent years, others are long-standing: fleet expansion, Pacific Island countries’ fleet development aspirations, FAD management, sustainability, traceability and labour requirements, fisheries access, market access, EU-IUU Fishing Regulation, fish and fuel price fluctuations and changes to fisheries management and regulation. 


The Taiwanese fleet and Taiwanese capital are major players in the WCPO. Since 2004, Taiwan Government has instituted a limit of 34 Taiwan-flag purse seine vessels. At the time of writing, there was also an estimated 29 Taiwanese beneficially-owned purse vessels operating under PIC flag (90% flagged to PNA countries), bringing the total fleet to 63 vessels. Fourteen vessels with significant Taiwanese investment also operate under US-flag. 

Taiwan’s purse seine vessel ownership is primarily family-based; most of the larger family-owned operations also own and operate vessels in other fisheries, notably, distant-water longline and squid/ saury fisheries. The purse seine fleet (Taiwan flag and beneficially-owned) is relatively young, with between 50-60% of vessels less than 10 years old, four of which were constructed in the past 2-3 years. 

In 2018, the Taiwan distant water purse seine fleet catch was around 193,000mt and ranged from 160,000-237,000 mt between 2013-2018. The majority of fishing takes place within PNA EEZs, with only 95 high seas days allocated to Taiwan flag vessels by WCPFC. Taiwan’s purse seine fleets, whether flagged in Taiwan or elsewhere, are essentially transhipment fleets that do not deliver directly to processors; the majority of catch is sold to global marine products trading company FCF and is delivered to Thailand or other major tuna processing centres for canning. 

Taiwan has faced considerable criticism from NGOs and others on the crewing conditions of its distant water fleets. Most of the criticism has focussed on distant water longliners, but the purse seine industry also feels some of that pressure. Some segments of the Taiwan fleet have sought commercial advantage by obtaining MSC certification. 


The Korean distant water purse seine fleet is modern, efficient and largely profitable; Korean vessels are the highliners of the WCPO purse seine fleet, with average annual catches of over 10,000 mt per vessel. Total catch by the Korean flag vessels ranged from 246,000 – 270,000 mt/year between 2014- 2018. The fleet fishes over a wide area of the WCPO, but with an increasing proportion of catch taken in eastern areas in recent years when El Niňo conditions have predominated. Fishing in high seas is restricted by the WCPFC to 207 days per year. 

In 2018, the Korean-flag fleet consisted of 27 vessels and has been relatively stable for some years. Since 2013, the number of beneficially-owned Korean vessels involved in PIC joint ventures has grown to 14 in four countries, taking the total Korean-owned fleet to 41 vessels. The re-flagged vessels have typically been replaced by newly constructed Korean-flag vessels. Korean onshore investment in PICs has been limited, despite proposals developed for PNG and Solomon Islands. For the Korean flag vessels, 17 of the 27 vessels (63%) are less than ten years old. By contrast, the PIC-flagged joint venture fleet is ageing, with 12 out of 14 vessels (85%) over 20 years old. 

With the exception of one vessel, the Korean flag vessels are all owned by three large companies; two of which are vertically integrated into processing, whereas the third supplies two separately owned Busan-based canneries under contract. All companies have diverse interests beyond tuna fisheries.

The fleet tranships nearly all of its purse seine catch in PIC ports. A portion of the transhipped catch is returned to Korean ports for delivery to five domestic canneries for processing (120,000-130,000 mt/year), with the balance (~ 170,000 mt) going to canneries in other countries, primarily Thailand, Vietnam and Ecuador. Most Korean purse seine companies are reported to now have at least some of their vessels fitted with PS-special ULT refrigeration capability to produce lower-end sashimi markets in Korea and Japan. 

Sustainability certification and ecolabelling have yet to gain much traction in the domestic processed fish market. However, there are some moves from fishing companies to obtain third-party sustainability certifications (MSC and Friend of the Sea) for export markets. 


The Japanese fleet, early pioneers of industrial purse seine fishing in the WCPO, is no longer a dominant fleet, but remains a stable presence. The Japanese fleet has been relatively stable in terms of vessel numbers in recent years, as a result of government restrictions on distant water vessel numbers (capped at 35 since 1997). The fleet is comprised of 28 Japanese-flagged vessels and five vessels operating in joint venture under the FSM flag; the majority of the vessels are older and smaller than competing fleets from China, Taiwan and Korea. Historically, the Japanese Government has strictly regulated the size of the vessels. However, this policy has been relaxed in recent years, allowing for several larger vessels to be constructed (1,800 GT). The Japanese purse seine fleet is an ageing one, with 17 of the 28 active DW vessels (61%) over 20 years of age. Ownership is quite diverse, with two companies owning five vessels each, and the remainder of the companies owning 1-3 vessels each. The Japanese distant water purse seine fleet continues to operate primarily in the western part of the WCPO; it only has 121 high seas fishing days. 

The Japanese tuna industry historically was involved in onshore investments in processing, founding two important Pacific Islands processing plants that are still operational today (though no longer with Japanese involvement): Soltuna in the Solomon Islands and PAFCO in Fiji. However, presently, those in the Japanese fleet have expressed little interest in either onshore investments or in further joint-venture operations. 

The Japanese fleet primarily returns to Japanese ports to offload, and as such, does not rely on PIC transhipment ports. Though the Japanese Government has relaxed requirements to compulsorily offload in Japan, the fleet largely retains the practice. The additional costs of returning to Japan ports to unload for most of the fleet are claimed to be partly offset by the reduced VDS access fees (fewer fishing days required), and access to better maintenance and repair facilities needed for the ageing fleet than available in Pacific Island ports. 

The Japanese-flag fleet caught 177,000mt in 2018. The fleet continues to supply the Japanese market, which includes a broader range of product types in comparison with other fleets. These include: katsuobushisashimi and canned tuna. All Japanese vessels now have varying levels of purse seine special capacity for storing a portion of catch for sale to higher value markets. No Japanese purse seine fisheries are known to be seeking MSC certification or participating in PNA’s MSC program, likely a reflection of limited domestic consumer interest in eco-labelled product.


Since the early 2000s, the Chinese purse seine fleet has grown considerably through a combination of new construction and acquisition of used vessels. Vessels are either wholly or substantially owned by large state-owned enterprises or by private sector companies. There are currently fifteen vessels in the China-flag fleet operating in the WCPO, and an additional six beneficially-owned Marshall Island flag vessels, three of which were constructed in 2019. Fourteen of the fifteen China-flag vessels are currently chartered to Kiribati. The six Marshall Islands-flag vessels are associated with the Pan Pacific Foods Ltd. loining plant in Majuro, Marshall Islands. The total catch of the Chinese-flag and beneficially-owned WCPO fleet could be in the order of 150,000 mt/year based on current vessel numbers. 

China government subsidies given to distant water tuna fisheries for operations (mainly fuel), replacement vessel construction and the building or expansion of overseas bases have encouraged increases in the fleet. As long as China requires a certain percentage of catch returned to China for processing by vessels receiving subsidies, and fishery access in PICs is available to Chinese purse seiners through bilateral agreements, joint fishing ventures and chartering, it is unlikely that Chinese firms engaged in the WCPO purse seine fishery will make any further large investments in processing in Pacific Island countries. The Chinese government’s financial support for the establishment of bases has been primarily taken up by its longline industry in FSM, Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Samoa. 

Recently, the fleet has been fishing mostly in eastern PNA EEZs - Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Nauru. China has only 26 high seas fishing days; however, the Marshall Islands-flagged vessels have unlimited high seas access. With the exception of small volumes delivered to Pan Pacific Foods in Majuro, catch is transhipped in PNA ports. The production of China’s purse seine fleet is closely linked to China’s tuna processing industry, which processes purse seine-caught tuna into loins for export and cans for both foreign and domestic markets. There is currently no production of ULT PS-special yellowfin within the fleet, although two vessels have ULT capability. The 10% tariff imposed by the US on loins imported from China was increased to 25% in May 2019. It is believed that the net result of these increases is greater export of Chinese purse seine-caught tuna to Thailand. So far, the domestic market in China for canned tuna has not taken off despite efforts to encourage growth. 

In recent years, China has been making a concerted effort to be seen as a law-abiding participant in the WCPO purse seine fishery. Harsh penalties have been instituted for infractions of China’s domestic laws, WCPFC management measures and other requirements. 


The US fleet has long been active in the WCPO. Since the 1980s, its fishing activities in the region have been facilitated by the US Multilateral Treaty, which provides the fleet with access to all FFA members’ EEZs for up to 40 vessels. Prior to the introduction of the VDS in 2007, the US fleet had declined from 40 vessels to around 12-14, largely due to increased competition from lower-cost Asian distant water fleets. 

As the VDS was designed to limit fishing effort and increase access fees for all distant fleets fishing in PNA EEZs, the US Treaty appeared to offer a refuge from uncertainty, as its terms continued to offer unlimited fishing access in all Pacific Island Party EEZs for pre-negotiated fishing license fees. To take advantage of this opportunity, owners of approximately 16 vessels – primarily from the Taiwan fleet – were added to the US flag in joint ventures with US citizens around 2010. This reinvestment, along with US flagged vessels that had previously left the WCPO and returned to the Treaty, revitalized the US fleet to 40 operational vessels. By 2017, however, that number declined with 34 US vessels active in the WCPO. In the coming licensing period, a total of 31 US flagged vessels are expected. Eight vessels have been recently announced as being sold, citing uncompetitive conditions operating under the US flag and a lack of support from the US Government. If the sales are concluded, the US fleet will be further reduced to around 23 vessels. Operators within the US fleet have developed several responses to cope with changing access conditions under the US Treaty – purchasing some bilateral days in favour of multilateral fishing days, maximising high seas and US EEZ fishing days, re-engaging in the EPO fishery and leaving the US flag (through vessel sales and/or re-flagging). However, the future of the US Treaty remains uncertain. The fleet’s total catch volume has steadily declined alongside vessel numbers – in 2014 total catch was almost 313,000 mt; by 2018 this had declined to 165,000 mt. 

The US fleet has two distinct operating models, with one segment of the fleet (the ‘old’ fleet) typically fishing further in the eastern portion of the WCPO to serve American Samoa’s processing sector (and for some, also EPO processors). The other segment (the ‘new’ fleet of Taiwan-built vessels) fishes throughout the WCPO and operates under a transhipment model, delivering to processing plants in Thailand and the rest of Asia and occasionally, Central/Latin America. The eastern high seas is a significant fishing ground, particularly for the ‘old fleet’, with 1,270 fishing days allocated. 

Several non-state regulatory issues – including eco-labels and shifts in design to non-entangling and biodegradable FADs – are now firmly on the radar of US vessel owners. Vessels in both the ‘old’ and ‘new’ fleet hold MSC certifications for free-school caught skipjack and yellowfin. Members of the US fleet are taking note that social responsibility, particularly concerns over labour standards are gaining attention, though formal regulation is still in its infancy. 


The Philippine tuna industry was among the first to develop on a large scale in the WCPO. Today, the beneficially-owned Philippines purse seine fleet of 91 vessels is collectively the largest in the WCPO in terms of vessel numbers, with a total annual catch of over 300,000 mt. It is comprised of domestic purse seine vessels which fish mostly within Philippines and High Seas Pocket 1, Philippines flag vessels fishing mostly in PNG under distant water or locally-based foreign access arrangements and PNG-flag vessels beneficially owned by Philippines companies operating under charter to PNG-based canneries. These vessels are owned by four Philippines companies. In general, the Philippines flagged fleet is comprised of older vessels which are relatively small in size in comparison with other fleets, making it a relatively less efficient fleet. 

Diverse Philippines tuna industry presence remains at the heart of the large PNG tuna sector, with around 60 locally-based foreign, PNG flag vessels and distant water purse seine vessels and ownership of four of the six operational canneries in the country. All of the fishing companies are key suppliers to canneries in the Philippines. Most of the plants in the PNG processing sector continue to operate well below capacity, despite the global sourcing component of the EU Rules of Origin, given that affiliated vessels export high volumes of catch to the Philippines. After several false starts and a crowded investment space, there seems little appetite to expand the Philippines involvement to other PICs, other than bilateral or multilateral fishing access. 

Whilst the Philippines distant water fleet has not made a concerted as yet to move towards MSC certification, Philippines PNG vessel owners as a group are moving towards certification, independent of the existing PNA/Pacifical MSC certification.

and you think you have hard job

and you think you have hard job

Implications for PICs 

Fleet dynamics have largely settled out following the significant increase in fisheries access prices associated with the PNA Vessel Day Scheme. Issues surrounding vessel day price and conditions vary fleet by fleet. High cost operators express concern about the increasing price of fishing days. Some lower cost operators note that fishing day prices have affected their bottom lines, but expressed more concern over consistent availability than price per se. There is continued concern about inconsistency on the definition of a fishing versus a non-fishing day. 

Increasing cooperation among PICs and the PNA, in particular, has generated impacts beyond the increases in access fees. First, it is evident that VDS is driving a continued need for improved efficiency in vessel design and fishing. This kind of capacity and effort creep is an expected outcome that PICs will continue to encounter as they work to collectively increase control of the fishery. 

A second is that recent years have also seen modifications in fishing access relationships and dynamics. The VDS and the FSMA are important examples of these, but additional innovations have emerged in turn. For instance, the US Treaty has created a wider range of geographically specific fishing day options and some vessels have begun to participate in new sub-regional pooling arrangements with PNA members and Tokelau. As the price of fishing access under the VDS continues to increase there are further opportunities for such innovations. Notably, fleets are also beginning to think ahead to the spatial changes to fish stock distribution expected to emerge as the effects of climate change continue to develop, which also might forge new access relationships relating to an increase of fish biomass in the eastern high seas areas. 

A third major dynamic that has emerged is growth in PIC-flagged and domestically registered vessels. This change has been driven by the potential opportunities for beneficial access relationships generally. More specifically, it also offers potentials for reduced fishing access prices compared to the VDS, other flexibilities such as exemptions from FAD closures and plays a role as an agent for the construction of new vessels for foreign states that otherwise have high seas effort limits and capacity limits on fleet size. Access relationships are influenced by considerations such as the prices and terms of access, as well as fish abundance and market access concerns.

The 15th meeting of the WCPFC Scientific Committee by Francisco Blaha

Every year the Scientific Committee of the WCPFC gets together for a few days where the delegates of each member country, get to review the latest science relevant to the management of migratory species in the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO), and make formal recommendations to the WCPFC meeting held in December each year.

This is the big meeting for my friends in the scientific team of the Oceanic Fisheries Programme (OFP) of the Pacific Community (SPC). OFP is the WCPFC’s scientific and data management services provider, as the reported in the latest SPC Fisheries Newsletter.

The OFP papers and presentations to this meeting provide the backbone for important discussions on scientific aspects of the largest tuna fishery in the world. It is also the key path­way through which OFP’s work translates into concrete outputs for Pacific Island communities. The OFP team was heavily involved in presentations and working groups for all four themes reviewed by the SC: data and statistics; stock status; manage­ment issues; and ecosystems and bycatch mitigation. 

SPC – in collaboration with FFS – provided the latest tuna catch information for the WCPO. The provisional tuna catch for 2018 was estimated at over 2.7 million tonnes, with a delivered value of just over USD 6 billion. This catch level was the second highest on record, and represented just over 80% of the to­tal Pacific Ocean catch and 55% of the global tuna catch.

Given the impact of our new knowledge on bigeye growth on the estimated status of this stock, there has been great interest in improving our understanding of the biology of all tuna stocks in the WCPO. The latest ageing results devel­oped in collaboration with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia for both bigeye and yellowfin tuna were presented to this meeting of the SC. While there is still more work to be done, this new information will feed into new assessments of both of these stocks that are scheduled for next year. 

This year, new stock assessments were presented by SPC for WCPO skipjack, southwest Pacific striped marlin, and WCPO oceanic whitetip shark. 

The skipjack assessment benefited from a new understand­ing of the stock’s biology that was provided by Japanese col­leagues. Similar to bigeye tuna last year, this changed our perception of the status of the stock slightly, but it contin­ues to be in the ‘green zone’ of our ‘Majuro plot’ (i.e. not overfished, and not subject to overfishing) (Fig. 1).

Screen Shot 2019-10-15 at 2.39.02 PM.png

This assessment will form the basis for further work in 2019 to inform the WCPFC as to whether the interim target refer­ence point for the stock (the level the stock should be at to achieve what managers want from the fishery) should be adjusted.

In the discussions on management issues, SPC scientists presented work to support the ‘harvest strategy’ approach to tuna stocks. This approach focuses on longer-term ob­jectives for fisheries and stocks, and aims to move away from annual short-term decision-making. This work is ongoing, and the latest developments in the framework for skipjack and South Pacific albacore were presented.

A key future development is a consideration of the con­sequences of managing the fisheries of one stock on other stocks caught in the WCPO. This ‘multispecies’ issue was the focus of two different SPC papers, which highlighted the interactions that need to be taken into account when developing both target reference points for bigeye and yel­lowfin tuna stocks, and when developing harvest strategies for these stocks and key fisheries.

Two SPC-led analyses related to fish aggregation devices (FADs) in the WCPO were presented.

The first, in col­laboration with the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), evaluated the latest information from the PNA FAD track­ing programme. It presented the spatial pattern of FADs, whether areas of higher FAD densities had different tuna catch rates, and the fate of FADs, particularly those that drifted outside the main fishing grounds of the companies that owned them and eventually beached on shorelines or coral reefs.

The second, in collaboration with industry partners Tri Marine and South Pacific Tuna Corporation, presented preliminary analyses of the patterns of tuna ag­gregation below FADs, as estimated by echosounders fitted to drifting FADs. Echosounder use on FADs is now wide­spread throughout the fishery, and has the potential to pro­vide novel and valuable information for scientific analyses. Insights into the pattern and rate at which tunas may aggre­gate around newly deployed FADs, trends just prior to fish­ing set events, and the spatial pattern of biomass estimates were presented for the first time. 

Ongoing tagging of tuna around FADs, to examine how long individuals remain around FADs and their behaviour while they remained there, has begun to identify some of these patterns in relation to factors that influence tuna aggregations such as local FAD density, moon phase and time of day at the FAD. This exciting work has already provided some interesting results that may help identify new mitigation measures for the catches of small bigeye and yellowfin in sets around FADs.

Finally, reflecting the fact that target tuna are not the only marine species caught during fishing operations, we developed estimates of annual seabird mortality using the latest information collected by regional observers. Bycatch estimates in the purse-seine fishery were very low (approximately one mortality per year). In longline fisheries, for which mortality estimates were higher, the spatial pattern of incidences was examined for the most recent years, where enough observer information was available. Increasing the coverage of observers on longline vessels would help improve these calculations and highlight approaches to further reduce impacts.

In addition to SPC’s work, contributions were also presented by our scientific colleagues who work across the Pacific, including an assessment for North Pacific striped marlin by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean, alternative assessment approaches for sharks by Dragonfly Consulting, es­timates of shark release mortality by the United States, and a report from a workshop on the issue by the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction project, work on biodegradable FAD designs and ecosystem indicators by the Eu­ropean Union, and safe release guide­lines for birds developed by New Zea­land scientists. 

Next year’s proposed assessments for SPC include bigeye and yellowfin tuna. Further work for OFP in 2019 includes the WCPFC’s Technical and Compliance Committee (TCC) meeting, and the WCPFC meeting to be held in Port Moresby in De­cember, where the SC’s and TCC’s recommendations are reviewed and translated into actual management measures and regulations. 

At personal level, I have known and respected immensely the work of my colleagues of SPC’s Oceanic Fisheries Programme (OFP) since I came to the Pacific, and when people read tuna doom news (saying more or less tuna is getting extinct!) and then ask me about it… I refer them to their work because is top class and unbiased.

To be clear, I’m not saying everything is perfect… far from it. But thanks to the work of A LOT of good people that are trying really hard, things are not doomed in the Pacific. And when I read those doom news like this one, I feel like they are spitting on the work of the best people we have

Help us find out how tuna age and how fast they grow and win USD 100 by Francisco Blaha

My Friend Caroline Sanchez at SPC is a remarkable woman in many aspects, yet this time I’ll focus other work with tagging as reported in the SPC Fisheries Newsletter.

Since 2006, the Pacific Tuna Tagging Programme, endorsed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and implemented by the Pacific Community (SPC), has been organising fish tagging events annually. On this year’s pole-and-line tagging cruise through Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Federated States of Micronesia, tunas labelled with conventional white tags also received an injection of strontium chloride to validate the deposition rate of the increment formations (often called growth rings) that are observed and counted in fish otoliths as a way to estimate fish age and growth.


Otoliths are small ‘ear stones’, calcium carbonate structures located on either side of the head. They allow fish to find their balance and perceive linear acceleration, both horizontally and vertically. As otoliths grow, they incorporate chemical ‘markers’ from the water (such as calcium, strontium, and other elements and stable isotopes). The concentrations of these markers reflect both the environment the fish swims through, and intrinsic processes such as physiology and metabolism. Once a marker is incorporated into a growth ring, it remains there permanently, providing a time-stamped chemical record of the fish’s experience. By counting the growth rings on otoliths, scientists can estimate the age of a fish; however, the periodicity of ring formation needs to be validated. The external application of chemical markers during tagging events has proved to be a useful method in this regard.

Strontium chloride (SrCl ) and oxytetracycline (OCT) 2 markers have been widely used to validate increment formation in tunas (Wild and Foreman 1980; Wexler 1993; Wild et al. 1995; Clear et al. 2000). SrCl2 is often preferred over OCT because of public health concerns; the United States Federal Drug Administration prohibits the use of OCT in wild fisheries, whereas SrCl2 is a mineral that occurs naturally in seawater, and is regarded as safe for human consumption (Sax and Lewis 1987). SrCl2 is even used in toothpaste to reduce dental hypersensitivity! Importantly, both strontium and chlorine are present naturally within otoliths, and previous studies using SrCl2 for mark-recapture experiments on tuna have shown that SrCl2 did not induce mortality (e.g. Clear and al. 2000).

Prior to the tagging cruise, a SrCl solution was prepared 2 at SPC’s laboratory. Onboard the tagging vessel, the injec- tion procedure is quite rapid. Following capture, the fish is placed on a tagging cradle and the scientists use a self-filling dosing syringe designed for continuous injection. To identify fish that have been injected with SrCl2, a white tag is placed behind the second dorsal fin. After injection in the muscle, the SrCl2 is then metabolised and incorporated into the otolith structure. The strontium readily substitutes for the calcium in the otolith matrix, and the SrCl2 injection leaves a distinct mark on the otoliths that is clearly visible under a scanning electron microscope. When a marked fish is recaptured, and knowing its time at liberty, the number of increments counted on the otolith after the mark can then be compared with the number of days since the fish was tagged, providing a validated increment deposition rate. This information can then be used to age other fish of the same species, thus providing crucial data on age structure of tuna populations, which is necessary to accurately estimate stock status through the assessment models.

At the end of August 2019, 215 skipjack and yellowfin tunas had been injected with SrCl2, and SPC is aiming to tag 1000 fish. To be able to extract and analyse otoliths from tagged and re-captured fish, SPC scientists will need the entire fish. This also provides scientists the opportunity to collect other biological samples: the stomach, muscle, liver, gonads and the dorsal spine. A full set of analyses can be undertaken on the same fish; for example, measuring mercury and/or isotope concentrations, and analysing stomach content and conducting genetic analyses. To preserve the quality of the samples, following capture onboard purse-seine and freezer longline vessels, SrCl2-injected fish must be kept frozen at all times, whereas fish from ‘fresh’ longliners can be sampled upon arrival at port. Since 2009, biological sampling training, including otolith extraction, has been provided by SPC, and in each major port, samples can be collected by observers, port samplers or fisheries officers.

If, by chance, you encounter a white tag on a tuna, please contact SPC directly. We need to maximise our chances of extracting as many sets of otoliths as possible. New posters, which have been translated into several languages, are now available at The finder of a fish carrying a white tag will be rewarded USD 100. In addition, the fish will be bought from the fishing vessel or the cannery where it was found at a price of USD 10/kg (weight of the whole fish, not gilled and gutted). And, finally, observers will be rewarded USD 50/fish to help in the coordination and collection of samples.

For more information:

Caroline Sanchez. Senior Fisheries Technician. (Tag Recovery and Biological Sampling), carolines(at)

Deconstructing the excuses that hinder an agreement to end harmful fisheries subsidies by Francisco Blaha

I know I rant a lot against subsidies… but a man has to have his principles, and I really despise subsidies… I would only consider them if they were use to supplement the exploitative wages that crew from developing countries get paid.. and even so I would need to think a lot about it.

Crews worldwide would love just to access a mere 1% of the estimated 34 billion USD a year their bosses get

Crews worldwide would love just to access a mere 1% of the estimated 34 billion USD a year their bosses get

In any case, my reference in terms of subsidies Rashid Sumaila (who is always very generous in sending me copies of the article) got another nice and short paper with Andres M. Cisneros-Montemayor as lead author. The deconstruct the key myths around subsidies, right in time for the WTO negotiations.

As usual read the original, i just quote here my favourite parts:

Globally, ~US$34 billion in subsidies are granted to marine fisheries,  and fully 64% of these are capacity-enhancing—otherwise known as “harmful”—subsidies including for fuel, vessel construction, and gear replacement. The most important effort to discipline these harmful subsidies is the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) commitment—mandated since 2001 and due December 2019, and reiterated in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6—to reach a multilateral and legally binding agreement to eliminate subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfished stocks, and to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fisheries . These may seem like logical and quite low bars, and yet the political, economic, and operational complexities of fisheries around the world do pose real challenges to plucking even these low hanging fruits.

To succeed, WTO negotiators, supported by their national experts, must resolve these challenges. Amidst these discussions, however, some points used to argue against reforms are questionable at best and myths otherwise. Here, we bust some of these myths with the aim of helping WTO negotiators and their ministries avoid such distractions so they can focus on the real issues which must be addressed. These include avoiding loopholes that would negate a truly effective agreement; highlighting types of beneficial subsidies that could be allowed and that could better support artisanal and subsistence fisheries; and the many synergistic relationships between fisheries subsidy disciplines and existing trade, environmental, social, and economic policies and legislation. The following are some particularly distracting arguments against subsidy disciplines that we have encountered, with concise rebuttals based on existing evidence.

Myth 1: Capacity-enhancing subsidies are needed to compete with large fishing nations
The top 5 subsidizing maritime countries provide an estimated $19.3 billion per year (including both beneficial and harmful subsidies) to their fisheries, four times the total amount budgeted by all of the lower income nations combined. Low-income developing countries simply cannot outspend major fishing nations to win a race to fish that only leads to the infamous Prisoner’s Dilemma outcome where everyone loses. To truly level the playing field, a subsidy discipline agreement is needed that curtails capacity-enhancing subsidies that cause overfishing, enable encroachment into other regions, and sustain fleets which would not otherwise be profitable.

Myth 2: Capacity-enhancing subsidies are important for alleviating poverty
Many governments argue that they need to provide capacity-enhancing subsidies to help poor fishers and thereby alleviate poverty.

This argument is self-defeating for several reasons. First, capacity-enhancing subsidies are known to deplete fish stocks, thereby eroding the resource base that coastal communities depend on, increasing poverty as a result. Second, fuel subsidies—the most common type of capacity-enhancing subsidy—are a highly inefficient form of support; for every dollar spent on fuel subsidies, there is only a 10-cent increase in income for fishers . Third, subsidies in all countries are mainly granted to the large-scale industrial sector, with 84% of total subsidies allocated to them instead of artisanal fisheries that support the vast majority of fishing livelihoods.

This means that removing and/or redirecting capacity-enhancing subsidies would support artisanal fisheries, improving their economic viability. Investments in infrastructure, public health, local governance, and alternative livelihoods would have added benefits across coastal regions, including for women, youth, and processing workers that benefit little or not at all from subsidies granted to fishing firms.

Myth 3: Assessing if overfishing is occurring should not be a condition for providing subsidies because there is limited capacity to manage or monitor stocks
Perhaps more importantly, any capacity-enhancing subsidy will have negative effects on fisheries and the environment if management and monitoring capacity are lacking, so this should perhaps preclude their use ex ante. That aside, there are multiple ways to assess the general state of stocks, some of which can be completed rapidly and with very little information (see, for example, Official and total estimated catch are also available for each of the world’s Exclusive Economic Zones, from 1950 to 2016, and can be freely downloaded at, and biological data for all species at

Myth 4: Overfishing only affects national interests, so an international agreement is unnecessary
Many fish stocks inhabit and move between multiple nations’ waters and/or the high seas; due to changing distributions as a result of climate change, new transboundary stocks are expected to be present in 35% of nations by 2100. International cooperation is thus essential for fisheries management, particularly when both marine species and fishers chasing them move across regions and jurisdictions. Beyond fish catch itself, legal or violent conflicts—including military actions—can be triggered by overfishing in neighboring regions and over 530 international conflicts over fisheries have been recorded since 1974; everyone has a stake in sustainable oceans.

Myth 5: A strong agreement is undesirable because subsidies may be needed for potential future expansions or fisheries development
Based on the history and current status of fish stocks , it is highly unlikely that there are significant unexploited stocks in most countries. Around the world, 33% of stocks are officially assessed as overexploited, 60% maximally exploited, and 7% in development. If a new, potentially profitable stock were found, investment should come from the fishing sector with the collaboration and oversight of management and monitoring institutions.

The fact that most stocks are now overexploited or maximally exploited is indeed in part due to large capacity-enhancing subsidies in previous decades that fostered overcapacity and contributed to overfishing and IUU fishing, with negative effects on the environment, fish production, and fishing incomes. While the harmful effects of capacity-enhancing subsidies are well known, they are often politically expedient and difficult to get away from even when fishing communities themselves recognize their negative impacts. And yet, there are many policy alternatives with better outcomes. These involve the decoupling of the goals of supporting coastal development and addressing poverty from outdated and harmful strategies to attempt to increase fish production; transparency and collaboration between policy planners and fishery stakeholders are key for success.

Far from constraining nations’ policy space, an agreement that limits the use of harmful subsidies can enable nations to design—in collaboration with the fishing sector—new forms of investment that can be actually beneficial for fishing communities, national economies, and marine ecosystems, both now and in the future. 

Back from another mission in Majuro by Francisco Blaha

Was a short but busy time in Majuro for my 3rd visit of the year under my position as Offshore Fisheries Advisor with MIMRA, a position I have since August 2017.

My much younger colleagues on all things boarding: Beau and Melvin. Awesome guys to work with.

My much younger colleagues on all things boarding: Beau and Melvin. Awesome guys to work with.

Is hard to misjudge how time consuming support to small fisheries organisations can be, as there are only a few people that pretty much need to do everything! Furthermore, insider knowledge from industry is hard to source to support fisheries authorities. So very few international organisations are in the position of NZMFAT with the vision and capacity to attach advisors in long term contracts with an organisation like MIMRA. I’m incredibly lucky to have the trust of my contractors and my local counterparts… working in Majuro is one of my most rewarding jobs as a consultant.

Anyway here is very short brief of what we did

Following on our Fisheries Port Operations Management strategy aimed to prepare our self for ratifying PSMA, we prepare the ToRs for the setting of a 2 new positions: a Port Operations Coordinator and Monitors and Data Entry Coordinator as well as a code of conduct for transhipments monitors.

We also started the testing of Hook Type Crane Scales with Wireless Remote Display for increasing the accuracy of our transhipment monitoring scheme, a video of the operations can be seen below.


I was ask by PEW to present and then be on a panel on PSM at the forthcoming Ministerial Conference on Fishing Vessel Safety and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, organised by IMO and the Government of Spain, Torremolinos, Málaga, Spain, 21-23 October 2019 to explain what we did in RMI as a model of the best practices for the region, and alternative to sign and then do... since we decided to do and then sign. 

While honoured, I don't think is right for a consultant to be representing the country he/she work with (even if invited by their counterparts). I'm all for supporting for behind... but talking for them is a big no in my book... So I facilitated my counterparts to go and present what has been done by themselves… I just helped a bit with some ideas.

I also prepared a self-assessment framework for assessment needs on MCS. The objective is to guide policy and training development for MIMRA on the MCS side, potentially supported by a MFAT OFA in the case of programme support renewal. 

I also further provided mentoring on Arriving Vessels Intelligence Analysis (AVIR) using VMS, FIMS and FFA data. The focus of the mentoring was on recognising vessel behaviours for FAD and non FAD sets, as a the mission took place during FAD closure  

A big part of my time there was taken on a topic I use to work a lot many years ago training people in the pacific: EU Market Access. I worked on the topic for over 10 years, wrote books about it! and trained many of my colleges here… so they are in charge now (it would be a very sad reflection of my training capabilities if I still work on the same area and do not step aside for my colleagues to take over). Yet what is do is to backstopping in case they need specific support, but I’m not doing the main job. 

So I been supporting my friend Aquina Rodgers, the former head of CA from PNG whom I trained 20 years ago when I’m started consulting, and we worked ever since. She is in charge of the incipient sanitary CA (Competent Authority), as we try to gain access to the EU market.

So I did and extensive review and critique of the 168 pages draft Industry Standards. And I drafted a contact letter to be sent to the EU to initiate the process to be included in the list of Commission Decision 2006/766/EC (Commission Decision of 6 November 2006 establishing the lists of third countries and territories from which imports of bivalve molluscs, echinoderms, tunicates, marine gastropods and fishery products are permitted) under section VIII: Fishery Products.

There are big hopes on this complex process.

I also provided support to mi colleagues to MIMRA for TCC and in particularly for the working group co-chaired in between RMI and US. My help focused was specific to the many various aspects of “Impracticability” as an exemption to the WCPFC’s Prohibition on Transhipment on the High Seas.

Outside work stuff it was my 2nd consecutive birthday that is spent in RMI, and my colleagues got a nice cake and made me feel like part of their work family… the human side of work is for me as important as the work one (or more)

You want a good MCS job in the Pacific? Compliance Policy Advisor for FFA by Francisco Blaha

Good jobs on the MCS area in the Pacific do not abound, so here is the opportunity to bring new thinking to the biggest fishery in the world as part of FFA, a very unique and world respected regional fisheries organisation.

You may help us to bring something like this to reality.

You may help us to bring something like this to reality.

The purpose for this role is to: "further the development of strategic fisheries compliance policies of FFA Members at regional, sub-regional and national level. A particular focus of the position is providing advice to Members on compliance and Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) issues in the context of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

And that is not small task, but you’ll be part of great group of people lead by really clever and switch on management. All what you need to know about this job is here, go for it… and see you soon somewhere.

The only negative that I can think about this job is that you may need to deal with me a few times over the year… and I’m not a pretty face (but I always travel with my coffee maker, and make the best -only- meeting espresso in the region)!

The set of minimum terms and conditions for crewing employment conditions in the Pacific by Francisco Blaha

I recently I posted about FFA’s groundbreaking move to add crewing and labour aspects to their harmonised conditions of licensing, and how an important this move is, since for 1st time access to fishing (normally just fisheries domain issue) is from now formally linked the crew rights and welfare.

This is a massive advance on this front, as it bring the legality of contracts and on board conditions to the forefront. It does nothing to what is think is the exploitation (the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work) of crew… what I mean here is that is great that the shit money they earn is legally protected, but does nothing to the fact they earn shit … but that would be a topic for another blog.

yei! our shit salaries are legally protected!  but this is great start!

yei! our shit salaries are legally protected! but this is great start!

In any case, James Sloan (whom we wrote this piece) and Kevin Chand wrote this excellent piece published on James’ bulletin that I’ll quote here, but please spend time exploring James’ work as it is top class.


Declining fish stocks result in increased fishing efforts to make up the shortfall of catches and this often leaves fishing vessels operating beyond economic and ecological sustainability. Subsidized fishing fleets often backed by national governments are one way to skirt this economic inconvenience.

Tragically, another alternative is cost-cutting on the human side of commercial fishing. This results in poor working conditions for fishing crew, forced labour, slavery and even human trafficking. This forms a hidden subsidy of sorts for IUU fishing that impacts those directly responsible for catching fish and tainting the seafood that is supplied globally. The Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) which was established with the mandate to assist Pacific Island Countries manage their fishery resources is taking measures to address this oft-neglected aspect of fisheries.

FFA members lay claim to some of the richest tuna stocks globally. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) states have sovereign rights to manage their 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This means that the right to issue licences and on what terms and conditions lies with these states and within their EEZ. In this legal bulletin we consider how the FFA is implementing a decision of its members to use licence conditions to better regulate working conditions on fishing vessels that operate in its waters.

What is forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking?

Under the Forced Labour Convention, forced or compulsory labour is defined as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.” This definition includes traditional practices of forced labour, such as vestiges of slavery or slave-like practices, and various forms of debt bondage, as well as new forms of forced labour, such as human trafficking.

In the fisheries sector, crew are particularly vulnerable to forced labour. This stems from a variety of reasons and include the remoteness of the work with fishing vessels being out at sea at sea and far from home for prolonged periods coupled with lax regulation and oversight by virtue of being flagged to a jurisdiction (Flag State) with poor employment regulations. This can further be exacerbated when the crew are migrant workers who may not speak the same language as their Captain and fellow crew. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) imposes a duty on all Flag States to effectively exercise their Flag State jurisdiction. This basically means that Flag States have an obligation to enforce the laws of their country on vessels flying their flag. Flag States who do not meet their obligations undermine international cooperation allowing these types of exploitative conditions to manifest, these States are often known as Flags of Convenience.

FFA’s Minimum Terms and Conditions in relation to crewing employment conditions 

Licensing terms and conditions are an important tool in regulating fishing in FFA member EEZs. The terms and conditions are standardised across the FFA member waters through the Harmonised Minimum Terms and Conditions (“MTCs”), providing an effective tool in regulating fishing access to their waters. They implement regional fisheries management requirements and set standards aimed at protecting fisheries resources and maximising benefits from these fisheries resources. MTCs generally cover monitoring, surveillance and control of fishing vessels and establishing fisheries management initiatives.

In May 2019, and following a FFA initiative to consider the specific issue of labour conditions on vessels fishing in its EEZs (which was also deterring Pacific governments encouraging greater employment of Pacific Islanders on fishing vessels), the Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC) adopted amendments to the MTCs. The amendments applied conditions to the employment of crew on foreign fishing vessels that are licenced to fish in the waters of FFA members. These amendments were derived from the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (No. 188) that aims to ensure decent conditions of work with regard to minimum requirements for work on board; conditions of service; accommodation and food; occupational safety and health protection; medical care and social security.

The amendments are made to two parts of the FFA MTCs Annexes. It amends Section 5.2 of Annex 4 Procedures for the Operation of the FFA Vessel Register as it relates to the criteria for withdrawal or suspension of “good standing”. Good standing on FFA’s Vessel Register is a requirement for foreign fishing vessels who wish to be issued with or hold a fishing licence. This amendment indicates that good standing may be suspended if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the vessel violated the terms and conditions of access, by failing to comply with license conditions regulating employment, vessel safety and crew numbers. It then proceeds to list these crew employment conditions. These conditions include obligations where the Operator shall:

  • be responsible for the health, welfare and safety of the crew for the duration of their contract

  • ensure that a written contract is signed with the crew prior to employment in accordance with the newly included Annex 6 which includes particulars of the crew agreement

  • Observe and respect basic human rights of the crew in line with international standards

  • Take all reasonable steps to ensure that the crew are not assaulted or subject to torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment and treat all crew with fairness and dignity

  • Be responsible for the provision of health protection and management for sickness, injury or death in a work-related capacity

  • In the event of a death notify the authorities, preserve the body for an autopsy and arrange for repatriation of the body to the nearest appropriate port

  • Notify the crew’s next of kin in the event of an emergency

  • Provide decent and regular remuneration to the crew

  • Provide repatriation of the crew to point of hire and all related costs

  • Ensure the crew is given regular periods of rest

  • Be responsible to ensure the vessel is safe in accordance with accepted international standards on vessel safety; the safety of the crew on board and the crew are trained in occupational safety and health awareness

  • Provide travel costs, insurance, safety equipment and tools, appropriate habitable accommodation, sanitary facilities and suitable food at no cost to the crew

  • Not deduct any crew wages for any expenses related to work

The second part of the MTC amendment adds Annex 6 Particulars of Crew Agreement and provides the minimum details required for crew employment contracts. This includes inter alia, details like the particulars of the crew (name, date of birth, birthplace), next of kin, name of fishing vessel, wages or share basis, benefits, terms for contract termination and rights of repatriation.

Case Study: Fuh Sheng 11

In May 2018, a Taiwanese vessel called the Fuh Sheng 11 became the first vessel apprehended under the ILO Work in Fishing Convention in Cape Town, South Africa. While initially detained because of signs the vessel was unseaworthy, upon inspection a long list of labour conditions on board were discovered and included a lack of documentation, poor accommodation, insufficient food, and poor safety and health conditions on board. Taiwanese authorities failed to sanction the vessel initially, however after further investigation by the Environmental Justice Foundation, where the crew reported physical abuse and shark finning, Taiwanese authorities eventually sanctioned the vessel. Subsequent investigations uncovered forced labour and other forms of illegal fishing include shark finning and killing of turtles and dolphins on other Taiwanese flagged vessels.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The above case is relevant because it shows the connection between forced labour, IUU fishing and vessel safety and the need for increased and harmonised port state control and inspection, and the effective exercise of Flag State responsibility to detect and enforce against IUU fishing and other related crimes. While this case study may feature foreign vessels, it is important to note that countries like Fiji are frequently visited by many of these foreign flagged vessels. In Fiji, for example, 94% of all foreign fishing fleets that visit our ports are either Chinese, Taiwanese or Korean. This exposure also increases the external risk of forced labour abuses happening in our waters. Without robust port measures geared towards identifying the signs of exploitative conditions much like those advocated by FFA MTCs, the chance of casting a blind eye to these offences happening so close to home are very likely.

Beyond this, there is more that we can do in terms of increasing transparency in the fisheries sector. This includes understanding who is ultimately responsible for IUU fishing and forced labour practices. Onshore Ultimate Beneficial Owners, or shareholders who hide behind multiple shell companies need to be identified and linked to the illegal activities that they perpetuate at sea through their investments and the profits that they reap. Flags of convenience and ports of convenience are another avenue through which bad faith operators engage and survive. The lack of regulation and enforcement creates a black hole for illegally caught fish and the associated crimes.

It is clear from the Fuh Sheng 11 case that instances of forced labour, IUU fishing and vessel safety are linked and this brings on a corresponding need for a multi-pronged effort that addresses this complex but intrinsically connected problem. There are three international instruments that address these three issues in the fisheries sector. For forced labour there is the ILO Work in Fishing Convention, for IUU fishing there is the Port States Measures Agreement, and for vessel safety there is the Cape Town Agreement.

The following is a table showing the state for ratification in the Pacific.


Note for the ILO Work in Fishing Convention and the Port State Measures Agreement, equivalent measures are currently being developed regionally via FFA. In the case of the former it is via the latest amendments to the MTC’s on crewing employment conditions. In the case of the latter, this will be done through the New Zealand Government funded Pacific Islands Port State Measures Project under which a regional port State measures framework was endorsed at the 110th Annual Officials Forum Fisheries Committee Meeting (FFC110) in May this year.

It should be further noted, that the cases of Australia and New Zealand are different because Australia’s fishing fleet capacity is such that it is not obliged to licence foreign vessels to fish in its EEZ, as it is able to capture up to its own Total Allowable Catch. In the case of New Zealand, it introduced legislation in 2014 requiring any foreign fishing vessel that wants a licence to fish in NZ’s EEZ to reflag its vessel to NZ thus submitting to the jurisdiction of NZ law, including labour conditions.

For the MTCs to work effectively it is necessary for a few things to happen, first, all FFA members have to implement the MTCs via local laws or as a condition of fishing licences. This is to ensure that they have the power to enforce any breach of nationally implemented licence conditions. As well as this there will need to be discussion and technical training across enforcement agencies and their regional partners to work together to enforce the MTCs. It is notable that FFA is providing assistance on training and implementation of MTCs in the region to support these efforts. Further, all FFA Member States must cooperate in sharing information particularly in identifying foreign vessels in breach of MTCs warranting a suspension of good standing 

Ecolabels... the french government has its own ideas by Francisco Blaha

I have made my views on ecolabels very public on this blog over the years, one of my key objection is that the have hijacked the retailers into the “need” of having a private certification that is to be paid by the producers, in the name of the consumer.


I’ll have no issues if the ecolabels would be supported by consumers, as most NGOs do, get their money via donations of concerned citizens and the offer their certification for free fo fisheries around the world.

I find it ironical, when the evaluators of the ecolabels com to the fisheries organisations i work with, for tons of data and information, when in reality the whole thing started by a combination of NGOs seeking to correct what in their view is ineffective state governance… exactly the ones the assessors are visiting all the time.

I wrote last year about a paper I read that articulated quite a few of my high level doubts in way i could have never written my self, the paper is called "Evolution and future of the sustainable seafood market",

The origin of ecolabels was based on two general assumptions:
1), that information is key in driving consumers to select environmentally sustainable sources of seafood, and 2) resulting shifts in demand will, when transmitted down the value chain to the production sector, provide an economic incentive for improved fishing practices and fisheries management.

The proliferation of these claims and ecolabels has now led the sustainable seafood movement to a crossroads. More than 30 seafood guides and certification programmes developed which contribute to a crowded ‘seascape’ of consumer facing advice with bring to over 120 certification for fisheries and aquaculture… This 2019 publication identifies and analyse over 120!

But there is in fact limited empirical evidence that substantial changes in consumer demand for sustainable seafood have occurred (see the bibliography of paper mentioned above). Producers are also directly affected because they incur the costs of complying with different seafood programmes aligned to different importing markets. Incentives for compliance also remain unclear, given there is little evidence that price signals are seen by producersor that any changes in demand have resulted in substantial environmental improvements.

In addition, the proliferation of sustainable seafood programmes appears to lead to a number of potential challenges that remain less clearly articulated in the literature. The effect depends on the degree of heterogeneity in the labels and the overall objectives of the schemes. For example, a previous study demonstrated that the presence of several standards initially can be beneficial as the scope of an environmental problem is unknown and public recognition is poor, but over time fewer labels are preferable as environmental performance improves. Others have shown that there can be virtuous competition or a ‘race to the top’ between schemes as they refine their claims and methodologies to be the best in class. Conversely, a ‘race to the bottom’ may ensue if schemes seek market share over performance, as to keeping them self with a job

The reliance on guides and ecolabels to provide a signal of ‘measurable’ sustainability and to alter consumer demand with a goal of changing producer behaviour highlights two interrelated coordination failures in the original theory behind this. First, a vast body of literature indicates consumers prefer and are willing to pay more for ecolabelled seafood in several rich countries’ markets. However, it is increasingly unclear whether consumers actually demand more, or drive retailers’ demand for sustainable seafood. Second, it is not clear that any existing retail-level price premium is transmitted through the supply chain to producers to create an incentive for environmental improvements.

The weak transmission of price premiums from retail to producers is further challenged by the highly international and complex nature of seafood supply chains. Overall, 37% of global seafood production enters international markets, and 78% is estimated to be exposed to trade competition. Moreover, although global shares of exports from developed and developing countries are approximately equal at about 50% each, import shares are highly skewed. Developing country imports only account for 22% of global seafood trade, whereas developed countries import 78%. In spite of apparent demand in developed countries for certified sustainable seafood, the weak transmission of price signals that underpin the market-based theory of change.

Furthermore, I see it as further imposition from rich countries (who are not much an example of good fisheries management - otherwise they would not be importing so much seafood) over poorer countries, which makes me feel like either hypocrisy or neo-colonialism.

Against this scenario, here come the French government, with a public ecolabel promoting sustainable fishing (peche durable), combining a high level of requirements environmental (resource and habitat), to ethical requirements and quality of product.

Their public ecolabel “Peche Durable" meets the wish of the fishing industry to have a sign of quality to promote sustainable fishing including environmental, economic and social requirements. In July 2019, a first French fishery, located in Sète (Hérault), was certified.

This ecolabel follows the guidelines of the FAO on the eco-labeling of fishery products, enriched with new criteria (social and quality criteria) in order to focus on all the pillars of sustainable development.

An eco-abel commission has met regularly since 2012 to define all the criteria of the ecolabel reference system and the control procedures. This benchmark has been put into public consultation, and takes into account the comments of environmental NGOs.

The repository primarily concerns the candidate fisheries, then the operators of the marketing chain, from the first sale to the consumer.

To be certified, fisheries must comply with 4 requirements of the eco-label, verified by a certification audit:

  • Ecosystem: Ensure that fishing activity does not significantly impact the ecosystem, ie the targeted resource but also the non-target species and the habitat in which the fishery is evolving.

  • Environment: Ensure that fishing activity has a limited impact on the environment. The criteria include the reduction of the use of fossil energy as well as the management of waste or the prevention of pollution.

  • Social: Ensuring a satisfactory level of living and working conditions on board ships for crews. Criteria include safety and crew training.

  • Quality: Ensure a high level of freshness of eco-labeled products.

the fisheries go trough an impartial and transparent certification system: control is carried out by certifying bodies accredited by COFRAC, (the national accreditation body), each of these bodies acting in total and impartiality, in accordance with international certification standards (ISO 17065).

And their label is open to the international community, although registered in the French law, this label could apply to fisheries candidates from all countries.

Requirements for candidate fisheries::

These prerequisites (PR) must be verified prior to any certification process by the auditee.

PR1: The exploitation rate of the target stock must correspond to the MSY

PR2: There is an international management framework to maintain the precautionary stock concerned by the request for eco-labeling.

PR3: Fishing activity does not jeopardize the populations of marine species affected other than the targeted stock.

PR4: The flag State of the ship is a signatory to the International Labor Organization (ILO) agreements concerning the working conditions of fishing vessels.

PR5: States implement a strategy to obtain a good environmental status of the environment by 2020.

PR6: The loss of fishing gear must be reported to a management authority as soon as it is noticed

The requirements are divided into 4 themes: Ecosystem, Environment, Social, Quality. Each theme is broken down into principles that are themselves broken down into criteria. In total, the repository includes 36 criteria.

If you practiced french have a look here into their conditions, and they totally makes sense… and if you have to have one, this one will be my bet.

And this, again, represents what i like the most of the french… they excel at doing their own thing.

Said so, still an ecolabel, and as the authors of the paper cited above… I firmly believe we need to move on from that

Fisheries related Marine Pollution consulting opportunity with us in the Marshalls by Francisco Blaha

Are you part of an organisation that has expertise on fisheries related pollution (focusing on plastics, water quality and management of fishing-related contamination)?. Come and do a project with us in the Marshalls, while getting paid by the World Bank

Your future workplace?

Your future workplace?

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) has received financing from the World Bank toward the Pacific Regional Oceanscape Program (“PROP”) and intends to apply part of the proceeds for a Marine Pollution Project under that Program. Associated consulting services are sought as described below. 

We need a: 

1. A comprehensive assessment of: 

  • the coastal fisheries pollution load (focusing on plastics, Majuro Lagoon water quality and management of fishing-related contamination). 

  • adverse impacts on fish health 

  • adverse impacts on human health from consumption of fish 

  • main pollution sources affecting coastal fisheries 

2. Recommendations for viable management solutions for addressing coastal fisheries pollution; 

3. Programme for rapid implementation of recommendations 

The outcomes fits Subcomponent 2.1 (f) of the RMI Pacific Islands Regional Oceanscape Programme (“PROP”): Development of a two-year coastal fisheries pollution management program comprising a comprehensive assessment of the pollution load, adverse impacts on fish health and humans as well as the main pollution sources affecting coastal fisheries; recommendations of viable solutions for halting coastal fisheries pollution; and begin implementation of these recommendations within MIMRA’s mandate and the budget envelope earmarked for this program. 

The documentation and ToRs are here:

The best qualified firm to carry out the services will be selected in accordance with the Consultant’s Qualifications Based Selection (CQS) method set out in the Regulations, and based on the following criteria: 

  • Demonstrable general experience in the past seven years of undertaking environmental assessments preferably in fisheries and water quality subject areas, in relation to small Pacific Island states, with a proven record of successful projects, following international good practice and internationally recognized methodologies.

  • Evidence of successfully undertaking assignments of a similar nature to the methodology described in the TOR.

  • Evidence of successfully undertaking similar assignments in the Pacific Region, preferably in the North Pacific.

  • Efficiency and effectiveness of methodology proposed to undertake project tasks set out in the TOR.

  • Management structure, including defined accountabilities, to ensure timely provision of deliverables in accordance with the TOR.

Expressions of interest must be delivered in a written form to the addresses below by email no later than 26 September 2019, 5:00 pm Majuro time

Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority 
Zheng Qing, PROP Deputy Project Coordinator 
Tel: +692 625 8262 

Division of International Development Assistance 
Garry Venus, Safeguards Specialist 
Tel: +692 625 5968 

And cc the following: 

Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority 
Yolanda Elanzo, PROP Project Manager 
Tel: +692 625 8262 

SALT's new website is full of good stuff by Francisco Blaha

I think that there are many interpretations of what traceability is as people that think about it… there are so many private and official initiatives that is hard to keep account. 

have some good SALT

have some good SALT

And many start partly from people trying to promote their view generally associated to some commercial objective like private certifications, or as part of NGOs or other organizations… as there is the view that the one mandate by food safety and or fisheries organizations in the countries of origin are not enough, but also that there is no connectivity among different players in the value chain

Under this scenario of hundreds of efforts around seafood traceability, many are not at all aware of each other, not interested or nor able to learn from one another. 

Enter my friends form SALT (whom I worked in the past)… they are the: “Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability” (SALT). They are a global community of governments, the seafood industry, and non-governmental organisations working together to share ideas and collaborate on solutions for legal and sustainable seafood, with a particular focus on traceability–the ability to track the movement of seafood through supply chains.

SALT founding partners saw a need to bring people and ideas together since progress in this field had been thwarted by the disconnected endeavours. SALT’s goal is to gather these organizations into a cohesive community, working together to make seafood traceable.

They launched their new website with an amazing array of resources for people with interest in the topic to find what is going on, where and what resources are available.

This way SALT facilitates learning events for people to connect in person, and maintains this traceability website to encourage online connections. SALT believes that sharing traceability knowledge virtually and in-person will spark creative solutions.

I particularly like their dive “deeper section”where you can run queries on types of resources, regions and topics.

So yes dive deeper and spend some time there, is good stuff and they are lovely people.


The complex world of transshipment in the WCPFC Convention area by Francisco Blaha

After a substantial amount of work my friends at PEW published yesterday a very good report: Transshipment in the Western and Central Pacific - Greater understanding and transparency of carrier vessel fleet dynamics would help reform management”. This is very good insight (disclaimer I was honoured to be one of the external reviewers) on the realties and shortcomings of the longliners high seas transhipment management in the WCPFC.


And a usual, as this report proves, the main beneficiaries of the status quo are the ones opposing any changes every-time the issue of transhipment at sea is raised at the WCPFC meetings, because are the ones doing most of the transhipments: Taiwan, China, Panama, South Korea, Liberia and Vanuatu… being the last one very disappointing as it a member of FFA.

And while the knee jerk reaction is to blame RFMOs, reality is that the can only go as far as the members allow them too, so if you get upset by what you read here… act at your government level to put pressure during the meeting discussions, or just don’t buy fish caught by any operators related to those countries.

I just quote key parts of the report, and the well substantiated recommendations… yet have a go at the original as is very well illustrated and with rock solid references.

As a ex fisherman for big part of my life, I can tell you that as a regulator, if you don’t know the facts and figures… you can claim ignorance, but if you know the facts and then ignore them, then you are just incompetent.

The complex world of transshipment in the WCPFC Convention area

RFMOs are administrative bodies made up of governments that share interests in managing and conserving fish stocks in a region. These include coastal States, whose waters are home to the managed stocks, and “distant water fishing nations,” whose fishing fleets travel to areas where those stocks are found. At least 13 RFMOs actively manage fish stocks on the high seas, and some of their areas overlap. Of these, five (including the WCPFC) are tuna RFMOs, which manage fisheries for tuna and other large, tuna-like species such as swordfish and marlin. Together, these five manage fisheries in about 90 per cent of the Earth’s oceans.6 

The WCPFC is the largest tuna RFMO, covering about 20 per cent of the planet’s surface. It comprises 26 member governments, seven cooperating non-members and seven participating territories (collectively referred to as CCMs). Decisions are binding on the CCMs and require unanimous consent. Article 1(e) of the WCPFC Convention7 defines fishing vessels as “any vessel used or intended for use for the purpose of fishing … including carrier vessels.” Therefore, carrier vessels operating outside the jurisdiction of the nation whose flag they fly in the WCPFC Convention area must be authorized and listed on the WCPFC Record of Fishing Vessels (RFV). 

The WCPFC defines transshipment as “the unloading of all or any of the fish on board a fishing vessel to another fishing vessel either at sea or in port.” Notably, the Commission asked CCMs to encourage their vessels to transship in port. It then developed procedures for CCMs to obtain and verify data on the quantity and species transshipped both in port and at sea in the Convention area, and procedures to determine when transshipment covered by this Convention has been completed.


A large proportion of potential at-sea transshipment events appear to have taken place involving carrier vessels flagged to Panama. This was followed by South Korean-flagged carrier vessels. Chinese Taipei, Liberia, Vanuatu, and China also had carrier vessels that appeared to have been involved with at-sea transshipments. Five of these six flag States had carrier vessels that reported high seas transshipment events in 2016, with China the only CCM whose flagged carrier vessels did not report any. Unfortunately, China did not provide any information in its Annual Report Part 1 that could be used to corroborate the number of its carrier vessels involved with high seas transshipments.

Key findings 

This study found that the WCPFC’s management of transshipment in its Convention area is compromised by a lack of reported information on transshipment, coupled by non-compliance with reporting requirements and non-standardized reporting responses by CCMs on carrier vessels and their activities. This is exemplified by the following findings related to transshipment monitoring based on analysis of AIS data and publicly available reports: 

  • At least five times as many carrier vessels operated in WCPFC Convention area waters in 2016 than the 25 vessels that submitted high seas transshipment reports to the secretariat. Very little information is available on the remaining vessels’ activities. 

  • A strong possibility exists that more at-sea transshipments occurred than were reported to the WCPFC by carrier vessels themselves or relevant flag and coastal State authorities. 

  • Unauthorised carrier vessels probably carried out transshipment activities in WCPFC-managed waters that included, in part, the transfer of WCPFC-managed species. 

These findings are reinforced by the following findings related to transshipment reporting and data sharing: 

  • Data gaps, anomalies, and non-standardized responses by CCMs in their reports on transshipments by carrier vessels provided to the WCPFC impede accurate auditing, increasing the risk that transshipment activities go unreported and unverified. 

  • The WCPFC “fished/did not fish” reporting metric must be linked to and consistent with VMS data and verified by the WCPFC secretariat to provide any kind of reporting and auditing value.

  • Transshipment reporting requirements by the WCPFC, IATTC, and NPFC lack lack consistency and effectiveness, increasing the likelihood that this activity will not be reported and tracked. 

  • The absence of a data-sharing agreement between the WCPFC and the IATTC on transshipments by carrier vessels heightens the likelihood that unreported transshipments occur, especially by those operating in the IATTC/WCPFC overlap area or in both Convention areas during the same voyage. 

  • The lack of a data-sharing agreement between the WCPFC and the NPFC increases the risk that transshipments by carrier vessels authorized by both RFMOs may go unreported. This could cause both to inaccurately count species caught in waters they manage, affecting their stock assessments. 

As such, the entire regulatory framework requires significant strengthening, standardization, and harmonization, regardless of whether current reporting requirements are being complied with. 


This study identifies several pronounced monitoring and control issues associated with transshipments in the WCPFC Convention area. The Commission should prioritize addressing these findings to ensure that its management of these activities is not compromised. Given the gaps and anomalies in reports by the five fleets that conducted the most transshipments in WCPFC waters and their flag States—and the yellow cards the EU has issued to these States—the Commission should also consider implementing the best-practice guidelines below. 

Addressing these findings and implementing the guidelines would also help the WCPFC’s science provider, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, obtain more complete information on transshipments, which its members could use to improve fisheries management. The Commission should consider placing a ban, or at least a short moratorium, on transshipment at sea in WCPFC waters until it can take these actions. 

Best-practice guidelines for transshipment reporting 

To make transshipment reporting more complete and uniform, WCPFC and CCM national authorities should: 

  • Require all transshipments to be reported to the relevant flag State, coastal State, and port State, as well as the WCPFC secretariat, in a standardized format, using IMO numbers as each vessel’s primary identifier. 

  • Update WCPFC transshipment notification, declaration, and reporting forms to include the type and format of data in standards to be developed by the FAO. At a minimum, the WCPFC should require that reporting include details on the amount and type of by-catch that vessels transship, consistent with the information outlined in Annexes A and C of the FAO’s Port State Measures Agreement. 

  • Mandate that all WCPFC-authorized carrier vessels intending to transship in the Convention area provide electronic notification of their entry into WCPFC waters to the relevant flag State and the secretariat. That notification should include confirmation of the vessel’s compliance with near-real-time VMS reporting and observer requirements. 

  • Require that all authorized fishing vessels intending to transship—offloading as well as receiving vessels— submit electronic notifications at least 24 hours beforehand and that they post declarations within 24 hours after the event to the relevant flag State, port State and coastal State, and the RFMO secretariat. They should send the notification before reaching the first point of landing for the catch, regardless of where the transshipment occurred. 

  • Mandate that observers on board the offloading and receiving vessels submit electronic reporting forms to the relevant flag State, coastal State, and port State, and the RFMO secretariat within 24 hours after each transshipment.

  • Task the secretariat to conduct periodic audits of transshipment and carrier vessel activities, including CCM reporting, using a combination of the public and non-public data it holds. 

Best-practice guidelines for transshipment monitoring 

To make monitoring more effective, WCPFC and relevant CCM national authorities should: 

  • Require an observer (human, electronic or a combination) on board both the fishing vessel and the carrier vessel for all at-sea transshipments. Also, minimum standards must be set for what information the observer collects. 

  • Ensure that all carrier vessels authorized to transship in WCPFC waters have access to trained and certified carrier observers from either a national program of CCMs or the Pacific Islands Regional Fisheries Observer program. The WCPFC Regional Observer Program should certify these national carrier observer programs and give them a clear mandate to collect information and data for scientific and compliance purposes. 

  • Require that all vessels authorized to engage in transshipping activities have an operational VMS on board that relevant flag and coastal State authorities and the secretariat can use to monitor the vessel’s movements in near-real time. 

  • Mandate that carrier vessels have a backup VMS unit in case their primary VMS malfunctions or fails and require that vessels return to port immediately if the primary VMS unit continues to malfunction or has failed. 

  • Given the complexity of transshipments in the WCPFC Convention area, consider requiring that vessels use AIS as an additional monitoring tool, which would make their activities more transparent and close gaps in overall vessel monitoring. 

Best-practice guidelines for transshipment information sharing 

To ensure effective data sharing, the WCPFC should: 

  • Establish and harmonize transshipment data-sharing procedures among relevant flag, coastal and port States with the WCPFC secretariat. 

  • Revise information-sharing memorandums of understanding between the WCPFC and IATTC secretariats to require the sharing of all transshipment-related information, including declarations and carrier observer reports. The agreement should also allow the IATTC to send the WCPFC secretariat reports from IATTC observers on carrier vessels who witnessed transshipments on the high seas in the WCPFC Convention area involving WCPFC-managed and caught species. 

  • Establish an information-sharing memorandum of understanding with the NPFC secretariat to require the sharing of all transshipment-related information, including declarations and observer reports, especially when carrier vessels on a single voyage transship species managed by both organizations.


Transshipment of catch between vessels plays an enormous role in the WCPFC tuna fishery. As this study described, the WCPFC authorized 625 carrier vessels in 2016 to transship inside the Convention area. At least 140 carrier vessels—flagged to 11 different CCMs—operated in a manner consistent with taking on tuna and other catch from fishing vessels either in port or at sea. However, only 25 vessels reported this activity on the high seas in Convention waters. 

This discrepancy reflects insufficient reporting by carrier vessels, a problem that is exacerbated when data in vessel transshipment reports don’t match what is submitted by States. Not only is it likely that more at-sea transshipments occurred that year than authorized vessels or flag States and other CCMs reported to the WCPFC, but unauthorized carrier vessels also probably transshipped in the Convention area, taking on WCPFC-managed species. 

This finding, through Pew’s review of public WCPFC reports and AIS data, makes clear that the Commission’s monitoring of transshipments in its waters is inadequate, especially when they occur at sea. Improving this function of the Commission is critical: Misreporting or non-reporting catches results in the laundering of millions of dollars’ worth of illegally caught fish each year. 

Enhanced monitoring is also necessary to thwart the illegal activities associated with transshipment, including drug and human trafficking and violations of labour standards for fishing crews. Vessels that transship at sea often stay away from port for months, and their crews have reported substandard working conditions and even slavery. 

Establishing clear rules for transshipment in the Convention’s waters can help ensure a strong, legal, and verifiable seafood supply chain for the species it manages and reduce the likelihood that illicit activities will occur. Likewise, if all WCPFC flag, coastal and port States implement the best-practice guidelines, then all the Convention’s stakeholders—including the fishing industry and consumers—can be assured that transshipment is an effective and secure way to transfer fish from the sea to land. 

It is hoped this initial study represents just a starting point for making vessel operations in the WCPFC more transparent. With continued research, analysis, and action, the WCPFC could become a model for effective transshipment management for other regions of the globe.

Implications of climate-driven redistribution of tuna for Pacific Island economies by Francisco Blaha

I wrote before about the frontline work that my colleagues in SPC are doing on the present and future impacts of climate change on the fisheries of the Pacific islands… and is not a nice picture.

Pacific islands are the lesser contributors of greenhouse emissions in the world, yet are the ones paying the dearest consequences, not just on the terrible fact that their landmass are submerging but also their tuna fisheries (the lifeline of their economies) are moving further and further East. The injustice of this situation is overwhelming.

The projected eastward redistribution of skipjack and yellowfin tuna due to climate change is expected to reduce the total tuna catch within the combined EEZs of the 10 PICTs where most purse-seine occurs by approximately 10% by 2050. The projected decreases in purse-seine catches are likely to reduce the contributions that tuna fishing licence fees make to the government revenues of many of these PICTs. Identifying how to maintain the benefits from tuna in the face of the impacts of climate change is essential for Pacific Island economies.

SPC recently published a policy brief for its members that is a sobering reading, I quote it below.


The aims of this policy brief are to: 

  • summarise the latest projected effects of climate change on tuna caught by purse-seine in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs); and 

  • raise awareness of the implications of climate-driven movement of tuna for government revenues earned by PICTs from industrial tuna fishing, and for other socio- economic benefits derived from tuna. 

Economic importance of tuna fishing 

The economic development of PICTs depends heavily on the tuna resources of the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) and on purse-seine fishing. The WCPO tuna catch averaged 2.7 million tonnes per year between 2014 and 2018, with harvests from the EEZs of PICTs representing 58% of this catch. 

Purse-seine fishing produces an average of 70% of the WCPO tuna catch. The purse-seine catch is dominated by skipjack tuna (76%), with yellowfin and bigeye tuna comprising 20% and 4%, respectively. 

Licence fees from tuna fishing make extraordinary contributions to the government revenues of many PICTs. Purse-seine fishing provides the vast majority of these important national economic benefits.  Six PICTs derive approximately 30–100% of their government revenues from tuna fishing licence fees (Figure 1).  


Tuna fishing also makes significant contributions to the gross domestic product of Federated States of Micronesia and Marshall Islands. It also supports the employment of almost 25,000 people across the region, through jobs on fishing vessels, in fish processing operations, and in management of tuna fisheries. 

By 2035, 25% of all fish required for food security of Pacific Island people will need to be supplied by tuna. To meet this need, more than 85,000 tonnes of tuna and tuna-like species will be required annually for domestic consumption within the next 15 years. 

The tuna stocks that provide these economic and social benefits are in a healthy condition (i.e., none of the tropical tuna species are overfished and overfishing is not occurring), due largely to strong management of purse-seine fishing in the EEZs of PICTs, particularly in the waters of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). 

The Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Pacific Fisheries, endorsed by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in 2015, recognises the deep dependence of PICTs on tuna, and outlines plans to maximise the sustainable economic and social benefits derived from this valuable natural resource. However, a key question is, ‘Will climate change disrupt the goals of the Roadmap?’ 

Projected changes in distribution of tuna 

The most recent modelling of projected changes to the biomass of tuna in the EEZs of PICTs, and high-seas areas (Figure 2), indicates that continued high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are very likely to alter the distribution of skipjack and yellowfin tuna. Both species are expected to shift progressively to the east, and to subtropical areas, by 2050 (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Projected distributions of skipjack and yellowfin tuna biomass in the Pacific Ocean in 2005, and in 2050 under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario

Figure 2. Projected distributions of skipjack and yellowfin tuna biomass in the Pacific Ocean in 2005, and in 2050 under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario

In contrast, the redistribution of bigeye tuna due to climate change is expected to be modest (Table 1). 

Figure 3. High-seas areas in the western and Central Pacific Ocean and eastern Pacific Ocean used to estimate changes in biomass of tuna.

Figure 3. High-seas areas in the western and Central Pacific Ocean and eastern Pacific Ocean used to estimate changes in biomass of tuna.

In general, climate-driven movements of skipjack and yellowfin tuna are expected to decrease the biomass of both species in the EEZs of PICTs west of 170°E, and to increase their biomass in the EEZs of PICTs east of 170°E and in subtropical waters (Table 1).

The biomass of skipjack and yellowfin tuna is also projected to increase in most high-seas areas because these areas occur mainly east of 170°E or in subtropical regions. The equatorial high-seas pockets (I1, I2, I3 and H4 in Figure 3) are the exception – the biomass of skipjack and/or yellowfin tuna is projected to decrease in those areas (Table 1).

Table 1. Projected changes (%) in biomass of skipjack (SKJ), yellowfin (YFT) and bigeye (BET) tuna by 2050 under a high emissions scenario in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the 10 Pacific Island countries and territories where most purse-seine fishing occurs, and in the high-seas areas shown in Figure 3.

Table 1. Projected changes (%) in biomass of skipjack (SKJ), yellowfin (YFT) and bigeye (BET) tuna by 2050 under a high emissions scenario in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the 10 Pacific Island countries and territories where most purse-seine fishing occurs, and in the high-seas areas shown in Figure 3.

Implications for Pacific Island economies 

Based on the assumption that there is a direct relationship between the amount of tuna caught within an EEZ and the fishing licence fees paid to a PICT, the progressive eastward movement of tuna is expected to reduce total government revenue in the majority of the 10 PICTs where most purse-seine fishing occurs. 

By 2050, under a high GHG emissions scenario, movement of a greater proportion of the tuna caught by purse-seine into high-seas areas (where industrial fishing fleets do not have to pay for fishing access) could reduce total government revenue in many PICTs by up to 15% (Table 2). 

Climate-driven redistribution of tuna could reduce the combined annual fishing licence revenues received by the 10 PICTs by more than USD 60 million at today’s values (Table 2). 

However, the estimated percentage changes in total government revenues for each PICT (Table 2) need to be treated with caution. At present, these estimates do not account for i) management responses; ii) effects of changes in tuna biomass on catch and effort, and therefore the value of access to particular EEZs; and iii) the impact of tuna redistribution on the degree of control that PICTs exert over fisheries targeting tuna. For example, movement of more tuna from the EEZs of PNA countries into high-seas areas would be expected to reduce the effectiveness of the PNA Vessel Day Scheme to some extent.

Table 2. Tuna licence fees earned by 10 Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) in 2016, and projected changes in licence fees and total government revenue by 2050 due to redistribution of tuna. Projected changes in tuna biomass are averages for skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna (Table 1), weighted by 76%, 20% and 4%, respectively.

Table 2. Tuna licence fees earned by 10 Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) in 2016, and projected changes in licence fees and total government revenue by 2050 due to redistribution of tuna. Projected changes in tuna biomass are averages for skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna (Table 1), weighted by 76%, 20% and 4%, respectively.

Policy considerations

The projected loss of government revenue by tuna-dependent Pacific Island economies, which produce a trivial percentage of global GHG emissions, positions PICTs to negotiate to retain the important socio-economic benefits they receive from tuna, regardless of climate-driven redistribution of tuna resources.

To strengthen such negotiations, the uncertainty associated with the modelling and preliminary economic analyses described above needs to be reduced. Some of this uncertainty arises because the climate modelling assumes that skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna resources in the Pacific Ocean are each comprised of a single mixed stock. Preliminary genetic research indicates that this is unlikely to be the case.

To reduce uncertainty and enable PICTs to assess climate-driven losses in government revenues and related economic benefits from tuna fishing with confidence, investments are needed to:

  • identify the structure of Pacific tuna stocks; i.e., the number of self-replenishing populations (‘stocks’) within the range of each tuna species;

  • model the response of each stock under both high- and low-GHG emissions scenarios; and

  • compile integrated maps of the expected redistribution of each tuna species within its range under different GHG emissions scenarios.

These investments will enable PICTs to identify future changes in tuna revenue with greater certainty, and to negotiate arrangements to retain the present benefits they receive from tuna, regardless of the impacts of ocean warming on the tuna resources currently within their EEZs.

Do you have something constructive to says about EM of fisheries in the Pacific?  by Francisco Blaha

I been writing at different times on the advances of Electronic Monitoring (EM) in our region and the realities (and limitations) of the use of cameras on board.


There have been several initiatives by different players. FFA, SPC and PNAO have been variously working on aspects of EM since 2015 with FFA looking at an EM framework, PNAO developing an EM program and SPC looking at EM in the context of scientific data and the minimum data standards of the WCPFC Observer Programme. The task now is to consolidate the work to date into a comprehensive policy framework that can be commonly and widely adopted by the FFA membership. 

For that FFA, SPC and PNAO have developed a consolidated agenda for a member and stakeholder workshop to progress the development of the policy. 

This workshop will take place at the FFA Conference Room at their headquarters in Honiara, the 16 to the 18 October.

While FFA members are included by principle, the workshop is open to all interested stakeholders.


Progress towards the establishment of a regional and national Longline EM framework based on recent governance/policy and technological advancements to ensure compatibility with agreed national, sub regional and regional data requirements and collection strategies. 


To progress towards the adoption of an agreed EM framework and standards at the WCPFC level for the loogline fishery on the high seas and in EEZs, that is appropriate and cost-effective to members


This workshop focusses on £-Monitoring for the Longline fishing operation only, acknowledging that EM has the potential to be used in other operations (e.g. end-of-trip longline transhipment) and other fisheries, which will be addressed at a later date.

  1.      Opening address and objectives of the workshop

  2.      Recent governance/policy developments regarding Longline EM in the region

  3.      Potential scientific and compliance use of Longline EM records and data

  4.      Objectives for Longline EM

  5.      Approaches/Protocols for Longline EM implementation

  6.     Current issues in Longline EM implementation by PIC countries

  7.      Recent and future technical developments in Longline EM

  8.     Transition from Longline EM data process standards to the WCPFC Project 93

  9.     Longline EM framework- next steps ...

  10.     Adoption of workshop outcomes

For technical enquiries, please contact Hugh Walton ( or Viv Fernandes ( For participant nominations, please contact Sireta Laore (

The FFA Tuna Fishery Report Card 2019 by Francisco Blaha

As Part of the Pacific Forum that juts took place in Tuvalu, FFA and SPC released they Tuna fishery Report Card on the the Tuna fishery in the region that is key to the economies and wellbeing of the Pacific Islands. I quote the whole document here

Frozen wealth

Frozen wealth


This Tuna Fishery Report Card provides high-level advice on the current status of Pacific tuna fisheries in relation to the goals, indicators and strategies adopted by Forum Leaders in 2015 in the Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Pacific Fisheries. The report card takes account of the work of the Taskforce on Increasing Economic Returns from Fisheries, which was established by the Forum Leaders to develop a programme that will deliver real results within 5 years. Economic indicators reflect Taskforce-agreed targets. 

The information provided below indicates there has been continuing progress towards the achievement of these goals and targets.

Goal 1 – Sustainability

The Roadmap provides a 3-year timeframe for the agreement of Target Reference Points (TRPs) for key tuna stocks and a 10-year timeframe for the implementation of management measures to achieve these TRPs in order to support economically viable fisheries. Three years into implementation interim TRPs have been agreed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) for skipjack and albacore. 

Picture 1.png

The ‘Majuro’ plot (on the right) shows the relative status of each of the main stocks against biological reference points (black lines). The traffic light colouring provides a rapid indication of the biological ‘health’ of each stock, with the overall intention to stay in the green and avoid the red. Following more positive scientific advice on the status of the bigeye stock in 2017/2018, all four major tuna stocks are now in the green “healthy” area.  However, there is no room for complacency with the biomass of most stocks continuing to decline and a need to address weaknesses and gaps in the management measures currently in place. 

Target Species
Skipjack tuna,
according to the latest (2016) stock assessment, is not overfished and overfishing is not occurringand the stock is above the Target Reference Point. A new assessment will be considered at the 15thmeeting of the WCPFC Scientific Committee (SC15) in August 2019. 

South Pacific albacore tuna is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. A Target Reference Point for this stock was agreed in December 2018. While economic conditions improved in recent years, the longevity of these improvements is unlikely without the implementation of measures to reduce overall effort/catch in the fishery. 

Yellowfin tuna, according to the 2017 assessment, is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. Work on a Target Reference Point for this stock will be considered at SC15. 

Bigeye tuna, according to the latest assessment undertaken in 2017/2018, is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. The change in stock status is a result of the incorporation of new biological information into the scientific model, fisheries management measures and favourable biological recruitment of new fish into the stock. Work on a Target Reference Point for this stock will also be considered at WCPFC SC15.

Other commercial species

Other commercially important stocks that have been assessed and that require further management includesouthwest Pacific striped marlin andwestern and central North Pacific striped marlin.  

This Report Card does not cover Pacific bluefin tuna as that stock is rarely caught by FFA fleets or in FFA EEZs. As such FFA members have no real control over its exploitation and limited influence on the design of management measures.

Picture 2.png

Nominal longline (excluding shark-targeting longline fisheries) bycatch rates of sharks in FFA members’ EEZs were relatively stable from 2012 to 2018 (see graph). It is not clear to what extent the apparent decrease in bycatch rates from 2011 to 2012 is driven by available observer coverage. Observed captures of marine mammals, seabirds and sea turtles are insufficient to explore temporal trends.

Goal 2 – Value

Increasing the share of the catch value taken by FFA fleets by 25% over 5 years is the agreed Taskforce objective, both to increase economic returns and to strengthen coastal State control of the fishery. 

Picture 3.png

The share taken by FFA fleets (includes flagged and chartered vessels) has increased significantly in recent years, with the value share rising from 31% in 2013 to 49% in 2018 to exceed the 2020 target.In 2018 the proportions of the value of the catch taken by FFA longline and purse seine fleets were 56% and 47% respectively. If the recent trend continues the value of the catch taken by FFA fleets will exceed that of foreign fleets for the first time in 2019.

Economic returns
Economic returns to FFA member countries are measured through two components: government revenues from license and access fees and the contribution of the harvest sector to GDP. The 5-year goal is to increase each factor by 25% from 2015 levels.

Picture 4.png

License and access fee revenue: The figure at right shows very large growth in the overall value of license and access fee revenue. Under the current trend the 25% increase is likely to be achieved before 2020. However, this growth has been achieved from purse seine vessels operating under the Vessel Day Scheme and this has slowed in recent years. The stagnant and low level of returns from the longline fishery indicates the challenges faced in achieving the economic potential of this sector. 

Picture 5.png

 Contribution to GDP (value added): The contribution to GDP of the tuna fishery harvest sector (that is, fishing by domestic and locally-based fleets in all waters), after falling between 2012 and 2015 due to declines in fish prices, has since rebounded. Preliminary estimates indicate that in2018 the contribution of the harvest sector to GDP of FFA members reached record highs with the year on year increase reflecting an increase in the value of the catch taken by FFA fleets in both the longline and purse seine fisheries.

Goal 3 – Employment

Total direct employment in the fishing industry (FFA Pacific Island members’ public and private sectors) continues to grow, providing around 22,500 jobs in 2017 – an increase of around 7,000 since 2013. The Roadmap anticipated an increase of 18,000 jobs from the 2013 total, with 9,000 new jobs created in the first 5 years, and the current trends indicate that these targets remain achievable. Importantly, the Roadmap also focuses on ways to increase the spread of employment across FFA members, noting that it is very concentrated at present around the processing industry in Melanesia. 

There has been some growth in crew employment and new initiatives will seek to build on this trend.

Picture 6.png

Trade and Investment
The Taskforce proposed new initiatives to stimulate trade in tuna products and investment. It suggested that growth in export values could be used to measure progress. Estimates of export values from FFA member countries are based on import data from the major export destinations for tuna from the region and exports to other areas provided in the UN Comtrade database. 

Following substantial growth from 2010 to 2012, values fell each year up to 2014 as prices fell. In 2016 and 2017 export values rose as fish prices recovered and volumes rose. In 2018 values continued to increase driven by higher volumes.  The target for 2020 for an increase of 25% from 2015 levels was exceeded in 2017. Further diversification of export markets is proposed.

Goal 4 – Food security

The Roadmap lays out a challenge to ensure an additional 40,000 tonnes of tuna will be available for regional consumption in 10 years. There have been a number of initiatives to increase supplies of tuna to local markets. These include increasing landings from commercial tuna fleets, with several countries requiring licensed vessels to land to onshore bases with by-catch going to the local market. A recent study estimated that in 2016 around 29,000mt of the catch of locally based fleets in the region entered local markets which is equivalent toonly 0.8 % of the total catch taken by these vessels. However, for some FFA members a significant proportion of the catch of locally based commercial fleets is supplied to local markets. For example, in 2016, this proportion was estimated at 95% forthe Cook Islands, 33% for Samoa, 25% for Tonga, and 8% for Palau. In addition, many countries have programmes to increase tuna catches by artisanal fleets (mainly by provision of anchored Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs)). Catch of tuna and tuna-like species by artisanal fleets was estimated in 2016 to be around 17,500mt. Another recent study has shown the importance of canned tuna to local markets, with annual consumption in the region’s three largest countries ranging from 2,600 tonnes (Fiji), through to 3,000 tonnes (Solomon Islands) to 3,300 tonnes (PNG) – equivalent to 22,000 tonnes of whole tuna in total. 

This report was produced by the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) in collaboration with the Pacific Community (SPC). Estimates for 2018, where provided, are preliminary.    

Back to Mozambique working on PSMA by Francisco Blaha

I’m on my long way to Mozambique, a country that for various reasons is close to my soul. I lived there with my family in 2002, on one of my first pure MCS jobs after fishing. After that I been back few times on shorter missions. I make a point of doing a few jobs outside the Pacific every year, as to maintain perspective and have the opportunity to learn and pass some of the lessons learned on my usual grounds.

Fishers fixing their boat in Beira

Fishers fixing their boat in Beira

Speaking Portuguese (I learned it as child listening to the radio as I grow up close not only to the border with Paraguay but also with Brazil) is fundamental to work here. 

Mozambique has fascinating story with a lot of struggles during colonial times and independence for independence, is worth reading the wikipedia page if interested.

I bring in my know how on PSM practices to support the PSM-SIF project, that is being implemented by my friends Stop Illegal Fishing (SIF) with support from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in partnership with the Mozambique government.

My work is intended to be mainly on-the-job capacity building supported by desk or theoretical explanations and work as required. This will be determined in cooperation with the Heads of MCS in the ports of Beira and Nacala

This is pretty much what I have been doing in Marshalls, PNG, Kiribati and Tuvalu, yet with lesser availability of regional tools.

Hence the intelligence work is a bit more “loose” yet there are modern tools we can use instead of the VMS, and then we need to spend more time on board.

Mozambique is a signatory of FAO PSMA, yet is a big step in between signing PSMA and doing PSMA… for that one need to understand fishing vessels behaviour, operational realities and it helps a lot to “think” like a fisherman, and that is my job. 

As I always say “you cannot regulate what your don't understand” and this is usually the challenge. Furthermore, I’m always very keen to pass the message that officer’s don't need to prove that vessel has done “wrong”… the burden of proof is on the vessel management to prove they have done right… and only when that is done… port use is authorised

So yeah… very much looking forwards to work the next two weeks there.

The importance of inland waters fisheries by Francisco Blaha

The best resource at the present on this topic is a 2018 publication by my friend Simon Funge-Smith (from FAO): Review of the state of world fishery resources: inland fisheries

I tend to live oblivious to the importance of inland fisheries, since most of my work happens at oceanic and industrial level, but a trip back to the northern corner of Argentina along the Parana River, to be “home” for my dad’s 80th birthday, put me back in the environment where I actually is started fishing as a kid.

Fishing gauchos

Fishing gauchos

The impact of inland capture fisheries may be focused in specific areas of a country. In Argentina, for example, the national average consumption of freshwater fish (from inland capture fisheries and freshwater aquaculture) rather low <1kg per capita per year, but in the flood plains of the Parana river (where my family lives now), per capita inland captured fish consumption by riverine communities may close to 100 kg per capita per year. This imply a substantial daily harvests that maintain many families and businesses, yet with very little exposure and MCS.

Worldwide, capture fisheries in the world’s inland waters produced 11.6 million tonnes in 2016, representing 12.8 % of total marine and inland catches. And while the 2016 global catch from inland waters showed an increase of 2.0 % over the previous year and of 10.5 % in comparison to the 2005– 2014 average, but this result may be misleading as some of the increase can be attributed to improved data collection and assessment at the country level. Sixteen countries produced almost 80 % of the inland fishery catch, mostly in Asia, where inland catches provide a key food source for many local communities. Inland catches are also an important food source for several countries in Africa, which accounts for 25%t of global inland catches.

In at least 11 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, 20% or more of the people working in capture fisheries work in inland fisheries, although inland fisheries constitute only 3% of catches in the region.

Not really fishing boats

Not really fishing boats

The continuously increasing trend of inland fisheries production may be misleading, however, as some of the increase can be attributed to improved reporting and assessment at the country level and may not be entirely due to increased production. The improvement in reporting may also mask trends in individual countries where fisheries are declining.

Inland capture fisheries are important as a source of direct employment and income to an estimated 16.8 million to 20.7 million people globally, particularly in developing countries. It has been conjectured that more than twice as many people may be involved along the supply chain, including women. Most inland fisheries are small in scale. Small-scale fisheries create employment several times greater than large- scale fishing, as the lesser mechanization of the fishing operations typically requires greater human input.

Local Fish Shop

Local Fish Shop

FAO is currently evaluating options for establishing an approach to inland fishery assessment that would enable member countries to track key fisheries, which would assist in global monitoring of inland fishery resources as well as in the development of appropriate national policy and management measures. 

As inland capture fisheries production is often under-reported, its importance as a source of food, income and livelihood in many developing countries and food-insecure areas may be even larger than these figures imply.

The contribution of inland fisheries has often been overlooked in policy discussion, mainly because of lack of awareness of the real contribution of inland fisheries and the ecosystems that support them. In addition, inland fisheries are dispersed and not generally associated with intensive yields or taxable revenue. In many developing countries inland fisheries, the people that depend on them and the ecosystems that support them are extremely vulnerable to impacts of ill-advised development, poor labour practices, pollution, habitat loss and climate change.

Furthermore, at present, most inland fisheries are poorly managed or not managed at all, and post-harvest losses may be substantial.

My dad and my brother…

My dad and my brother…

Ecology and behaviour of tuna and non-tuna species at DFADs by Francisco Blaha

I been very vocal on my interest on FADs and the fact that they are both a treat and an opportunity. Their numbers (and impact) on the fishery are staggering. Yet on the other side, one could see it as the potential of having 65000 echo sunders providing is with an unprecedented level of understanding of the stock status in the Pacific, because the information is being collected as we speak… yet we are not there yet.

Tuna captain’s best friend but maybe there is chance for scientist too.

Tuna captain’s best friend but maybe there is chance for scientist too.

In the meantime, to use FAD data to better understand the ecology and behaviour of the “ecosystem” that ensembles underneath… and that VERY complex task is exactly what Blanca Orúe Montaner did for her PhD thesis working with AZTI and the Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea/University of the Basque Country. She recently defended her work and is available here:  Ecology and behavior of tuna and non-tuna species at drifting fish aggregating devices (DFADs) in the Indian Ocean using fishers’ echo-sounder buoys 

I highly recommend you read the original , I will just quote part of the intro and the conclusions here, but I will also go into some specifics chapters over the next months as they are a wealth of info.

She was very clear on her task ahead:

The aim of this thesis is to describe the aggregation process, investigate the spatio-temporal distribution and environment preferences of tuna and non-tuna species aggregated with DFADs, using acoustic data provided by fishers´ echo-sounder buoys. This will contribute to the assessment and management of tropical tunas in the Western Indian Ocean as the will require knowledge about the ecology and behavior of tuna and non-tuna species associated with DFADs.

For achieving the aim of this PhD, acoustic data provided by more than 7500 echo-sounder buoys used by fishers in the Indian Ocean was collected, processed and analyzed for 2012-2015.

Conclusions and thesis

The conclusion of the first chapter with the aim “to establish standardized protocols to process fishers echo-sounders´ acoustic raw biomass estimates in order to use them for scientific purposes” is:

1. The implementation of the proposed standardized protocol eliminates errors and false positives found in data provided by fishers’ echo-sounder buoys and allows the collection of clean acoustic data useful for scientific purposes.

The conclusion of the second chapter with the aim “to progress towards improved remote biomass estimates by the echo-sounders equipping DFADs, following previous analysis proposed in the field, based on existing knowledge of the vertical distribution of non-tuna and tuna species at DFADs and mixed species target strengths (TS) and weights” is:

2. Although the application of behavior/size-based model improves acoustic biomass estimates provided originally by manufacturers, the improvement of the biomass estimates is not as large as expected; which suggest that a single model to convert acoustic signal into biomass is not enough to explain the large variability in these data and further improvements are needed.

The conclusions of the third chapter with the aim “to investigate the aggregation process of virgin (i.e. newly deployed) DFADs in the Western Indian Ocean using the acoustic records provided by fishers’ echo-sounder buoys, determining the first detection day of tuna and non-tuna species at DFAD and identifying the potential differences in the spatio-temporal dynamics of the aggregations” are:

3. The average period for the arrival of fishes to the DFADs (i.e. first day that the echo-sounder detected biomass) is 13.5±8.4 days for tuna and 21.7±15.1 days for non-tuna species; which indicates that tuna arrive at DFADs before non-tuna species.

4. The analysis shows a significant relationship between DFAD depth and detection time of tuna, suggesting a faster tuna colonization for deeper objects. For non-tuna species this relationship appears to be not significant. The influence of underwater structure on the aggregation process may be related to the vertical distribution of the species under DFADs.

5. The aggregation dynamics differ between area and monsoon periods in both tuna and non-tuna species. These differences could be explained by changes in the biophysical environment associated with seasonality, although there may be other social factors affecting the aggregation process of tuna and non-tuna species at DFADs, such as the density and abundance of the local tuna population or DFADs.

6. The results of this research could be used as a tool to assist on the sustainability of tuna fisheries, helping to design conservation measures for tuna and non-tuna species management, such as reducing the undesired catch.

The conclusions of the fourth chapter with the aim “to investigate the habitat preferences and distribution of tuna and non-tuna species associated with DFADs and environmental conditions in the Indian Ocean implementing Bayesian Hierarchical spatial models” are:

7. Results highlight species-specific spatial and temporal distributions as well as different relevant environmental factors for tuna and non-tuna species presence associated with DFADs, which suggest that both species group may have different habitat preferences.

8. The highest probabilities for tuna presence are found in warmer waters, with larger sea surface height and low eddy kinetic energy. In the case of non-tuna species presence on DFADs, the highest probabilities are found in colder and productive waters. For both groups, days at sea is relevant, with a higher probability of tuna and non-tuna presence on DFADS when the object stays longer at sea.

9. The relevance of buoy random effect and the spatial effect could indicate that there must be other ecological processes behind this associative behavior of tuna and non-tuna species at DFADs that are not being taken into account in this study (e.g. social behavior of tuna at DFADs or DFAD densities in the area).

10. The results of his study could contribute to design spatio-temporal conservation management measures (e.g. dynamic area closures) for both target and non-target species, using near real-time habitat predictions based on acoustic data provided by fishers’ echo-sounders and remote sensing systems. 

The conclusions of the fifth chapter with the aim “to compare the spatio-temporal distribution of tuna in the Western Indian Ocean resulted from both fisheries-dependent (i.e. nominal catch data) and independent (i.e. acoustic data from fishers´ echo-sounder buoys) data using spatially-explicit Bayesian Hierarchical spatial models” are:

11. The predicted probability of occurrence for tuna developed using fisheries-dependent and fisheries-independent data show, in general, similar areas of tuna presence under the DFADs, however, some fine-scale differences are observed. The good level of overlap in the predictions indicate by the similarity statistics, considering the low correlation values, are most likely due to the fact that the large-scale habitat preference predictions considered in this study have very low probabilities outside the main fishing area, which may result in misleading similarity statistics. 

12. The maps obtained with acoustic data allow identifying areas of high probability of tuna presence at DFADs with greater precision, whereas the maps derived from catch data do not indicate any variation of tuna distribution on a finer scale. 

13. Results of monthly specific tuna distribution patterns under DFADs suggest that tuna species may have different habitat preferences depending on the season. 

14. The results of this research highlight the great potential fishers´ echo-sounder buoys have for addressing key scientific questions on tuna ecology and behavior. Furthermore, these data could significantly contribute to the development of possible management measures, for example time–area closures, in which, by having greater precision in the spatio-temporal distribution of tuna associated with DFADs, management measures could be more efficient. 

Finally, considering all these conclusions, the working hypothesis has been confirmed: 

Results on the aggregation process, spatio-temporal distribution and environmental preferences of species associated with DFADs in the Indian Ocean, using acoustic data provided by fishers’ echo-sounder buoys, contribute to increase the knowledge of ecology and behavior of tuna and non-tuna species associated with DFADs, which could advice the scientific basis for DFAD fishery management, supporting tuna RFMOs in decision-making for a more sustainable management of the species and the fishery.



Opportunities to improve fisheries management through innovative technology and advanced data systems   by Francisco Blaha

I have in the past blogged about other Ghoti papers, is that I enjoy them because they are challenging in terms of their concepts yet accessible in terms of their language. And this one by Bradley et all, is no different.

Data overload is a thing…

Data overload is a thing…

I like to point that fisheries related data management should be learning a lot from banking, where information is shared and the technology is constantly updated. I can take money from my accounts in Majuro and transfer in to my dad’s account in Argentina from my phone while in small village in Mozambique in between several currencies… yet we struggle to organize ourselves on multi-jurisdictional fisheries management 

While of course future realities are never as easy as presented in a paper, some guidelines and pointers can be used.

As usual read the original, particularly if you are interested in the state of play around electronic monitoring (EM), reporting (ER), but not so much on mobile computing (our Pacific FIMS and the SPC driven ones are not even mentioned)… In any case I just quote the abstract and conclusions which are good thinking suff.

Fishery-dependent data are integral to sustainable fisheries management. A paucity of fishery data leads to uncertainty about stock status, which may compromise and threaten the economic and food security of the users dependent upon that stock and increase the chances of overfishing. Recent developments in the technology available to collect, manage and analyse fishery- relevant data provide a suite of possible solutions to update and modernize fisheries data systems and greatly expand data collection and analysis. Yet, despite the proliferation of relevant consumer technology, integration of technologically advanced data systems into fisheries management re-mains the exception rather than the rule. In this study, we describe the current status, challenges and future directions of high-tech data systems in fisheries management in order to understand what has limited their adoption. By reviewing the application of fishery-dependent data technology in multiple fisheries sectors globally, we show that innovation is stagnating as a result of lack of trust and cooperation between fishers and managers. We propose a solution based on a transdisciplinary approach to fishery management that emphasizes the need for collaborative problem-solving among stakeholders. In our proposed system, data feedbacks are a key component to effective fishery data systems, ensuring that fishers and managers collect, have access to and benefit from fisheries data as they work towards a mutually agreed-upon goal. A new approach to fisheries data systems will promote innovation to increase data coverage, accuracy and resolution, while reducing costs and allowing adaptive, responsive, near real-time management decision- making to improve fisheries outcomes.

Screen Shot 2019-07-19 at 5.21.50 PM.png

As a growing human population continues to drive up demand for seafood  (Hall, Hilborn,  Andrew, & Allison, 2013), it will become increasingly imperative to achieve sustainable resource use in all sectors of capture fisheries to safeguard food and livelihood security, and to maintain the ecological integrity of the ocean. There is an exciting opportunity to use technology to vastly improve fishery data systems. New tools can expand data collection, analysis and distribution to achieve more sustainable resource use by empowering fisheries stakeholders with data that are spatially and tempo-rally relevant for fishing and fisheries management. Existing uses of technology in fisheries highlight the vast potential of technology to improve fisheries outcomes across fishing sectors; yet, the relative paucity of innovation and adoption of new technologies suggests that significant challenges have limited support for new technologies in much of the world's fisheries. We suggest transdisciplinary fisheries management as a pathway towards achieving greater buy-in and ultimately uptake of new fishery-dependent data technologies. By working together towards a shared goal, fisheries managers can use fishery-dependent data technology as a value proposition to fishers: by employing tools that streamlines and/or automates data col-lection and analysis, and returns information to users about where and how to best fish and/or improve market access, the adoption of innovative data systems can improve fishery outcomes for multiple stakeholders. There is often a steep learning curve associated with the adoption of new technology. Developing and synthesizing information from fishery data systems designed to meet global challenges including rapidly changing ocean conditions due to anthropogenic climate change and natural climate variability may therefore necessitate expanded public/private partnerships to leverage external expertise that may not exist within either management agencies or the fishing industry. At the same time, management institutions need to support the uptake of new and improved data streams. For example, an important advantage of a high-tech fishery data systems is the shortened time lag between data collection and action (i.e., management intervention, chosen fishing location) for fishers and managers alike, which can be institutionalized if embedded in an adaptive management framework. We acknowledge that once established, improved data streams may come with associated challenges such as general information overload and overconfidence in models and resulting analytics. Data alone will not result in more sustainable fisheries, and data itself do not lead to better decision-making, but it is a key component to effective management, no matter the fishing sector or type of management institution. Ultimately, embracing technological advancements in fishery data systems can lead to win–win scenarios in which managers and harvesters experience improved fishery outcomes through better data.

IUU fishing and management failures… yes definitively… but there is a much bigger issue by Francisco Blaha

No doubt IUU is a big issue with many facets… and it fits in the bigger picture of better fisheries management. And a lot of scorn is given to these doing it, but also to those that are working against it for not for not being good enough, fast enough, or for being political and industry puppets, and so on… 

we all keep looking down and not taking action

we all keep looking down and not taking action

And most of the criticism comes from surely well intended folks that are very fast at pointing fingers, but may not know how technical the issue can get particular when adding other elements around subsidies, social responsibility and the economical vulnerability of the nations that have the fish against the DWFN that catch it.

Yet, people keep pointing the finger at these issues, while forgetting that there is a topic where we all need to have a much bigger impacts ourselves… this recent paper by Lotze et al. 2019 (Global ensemble projections reveal trophic amplification of ocean biomass declines with climate change - I never read a paper with so many authors!), is a groundbreaking study predicts that life in the ocean will decrease by about 5% per degree of global warming. 

Climate change studies and the gloomy figures they produce can be discouraging, but the figure here can be interpreted positively: Reducing warming by any amount will move up the scale and prevent the deaths of countless marine animals, where we can work better on IUU and management.

Predicted changes in ocean biomass under different emissions scenarios and temperature changes.

Predicted changes in ocean biomass under different emissions scenarios and temperature changes.

Lotze and his co authors from across the world incorporated climate models into ecosystem models to determine how rising global and ocean temperatures (and their associated impacts) will affect animal populations over time.

There are two major takeaways concerning fisheries:

1.     The composition of fish in the ocean will change dramatically and

2.     Fishing has very little impact on what will happen.

Large marine animals higher in the food chain will suffer disproportionately to animals lower in the food chain. Climate change effects will start low in the food chain and amplify through the food web, leaving higher trophic level animals most vulnerable—a phenomenon known as trophic amplification.

According to the models, much of the biomass lost in the ocean will be due to a sharp decrease in organisms larger than 30cm. This has obvious implications for fishermen and women and seafood consumers.

Fishing impact is virtually non-existent

According to the study’s models, fishing had no impact on future biomass in the ocean:

The three boxes per color represent, from left to right, total biomass, biomass &gt;10cm and biomass &gt;30cm. You can see slightly higher total biomass in the fished models, though the errors bars are much higher in the unfished scenarios.

The three boxes per color represent, from left to right, total biomass, biomass >10cm and biomass >30cm. You can see slightly higher total biomass in the fished models, though the errors bars are much higher in the unfished scenarios.

“The fact that the estimated climate-change impacts are independent of fishing provides an added incentive to develop sustainable and adaptive fishing, responsive to climate change, which we need to feed a world of 9 billion humans” says co-author Manuel Barange, Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

However, the fished and unfished scenarios used in the models were basic—the next step in this analysis is to incorporate more realistic fishing scenarios.

In any case the conclusion is quite “conclusive”: 

Our ensemble projections demonstrate that global ocean animal biomass consistently declines with climate change, and that impacts are amplified at higher trophic levels. Our hindcasts support recent empirical work that shows ongoing climate impacts on fish biomass and project elevated climate-driven declines in ocean ecosystems, with magnitudes dependent on emission pathways. Amplification of biomass declines for higher trophic levels represents a particular challenge for human society, including meeting the SDGs for food security (SDG2), livelihoods (SDG1), and well-being (SDG3) for a growing human population while also sustaining life below water (SDG14).

Our ensemble projections indicate the largest decreases in animal biomass at middle to low latitudes, where many nations depend on seafood and fisheries, and where marine biodiversity is already threatened by multiple human activities. In turn, the largest increases are projected at high latitudes, highlighting new opportunities for—and potential conflict over—resource use, but also an urgent need for protecting sensitive species and rapidly changing ecosystems. Overall, our results clearly highlight the benefits to be gained from climate change mitigation, as all impacts were substantially reduced under a strong mitigation (RCP2.6) compared with the business-as-usual (RCP8.5) scenario.

More simply, the conclusion remains that reducing emissions is the most important thing society can do to protect the ocean.

The costs and benefits of being a flag State by Francisco Blaha

I been looking to work with my friends from Stop Illegal Fishing for a while and it just happen, so we will be heading to Mozambique in August to be working on PSM and using my Portuguese that has been dormant for a while. I like Mozambique and lived there for a while in 2003.

Yet this blogpost is not about that, but about a little publication (The costs and benefits of being a flag State) they did a while ago and that has been in my back-burner for a while, since in the Pacific we have many small nations that get enticed by DWFN with the idea of flagging their vessels with the excuse of domestication and the “mana” attached to be a flag state, yet I suspect that is for cheaper access to the resource or to get over the vessel cap in numbers that their countries of origin may have. 

the Tiara lives far from “home” a place she may never been too

the Tiara lives far from “home” a place she may never been too

But as my dad told me when I was getting married: everything has advantages and disadvantages… hence with flagging a FV a lot of responsibilities come that some countries may not have the resources to deal with… and it gets more complex when they also are a tax heaven.

Not surprisingly this is also an issue in the Indian Ocean where they operates and this publication detailing the pros and cons is simple, short and to the point (the way i like things), and the findings are totally transferable to the Pacific and other areas.

I quote the parts I like the most, but as I always recommend: read the original

While all the coastal States of the region have a history of fishing, none has developed home grown industrial fishing fleets. However, recent interest in cheaper access ton the resource has encouraged operators and DWFN to engage with some countries authorities authorities to embark on a route of fleet development through the flagging of foreign-owned or controlled fishing vessels. 

What are the costs and benefits of being a flag State?

While the benefits of flagging fishing vessels are easy to understand the costs are often overlooked or are felt by those who do not have control over the vessel registration process.

In accordance with the ‘FAO Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas’, no State should authorise any fishing vessel to fly its flag unless it is satisfied that it is able to effectively exercise its responsibilities under the Agreement in respect of that fishing vessel. The flag State is required to exercise effective control over their vessels to ensure that they operate legally, both within their national jurisdiction and in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

To achieve this, the flag State should: for all areas where the vessel sails, require licences and authorisations, information, records, reports and compliance with legislation and/or international conservation and management measures.

Countries that operate an open registry, that permit registration of foreign-owned and operated vessels where the vessel owners do not have assets in the flag State are especially attractive to illegal operators as the flag State holds no effective means of recovering costs or applying sanctions.  

I co wrote an FAO document what is the minimal set of MCS requirements for flag state, and made a blog post here.

Direct Revenue Benefits

  • Registration fee, paid by the vessel owners to register their fishing vessel with the flag State.

  • Authorisation to fish/operate fee, paid by the vessel owners to obtain an authorisation for a fishing vessel to fish/operate outside of national waters.

  • Fishing licence fee, paid by the vessel owners if they wish to obtain a fishing licence to fish within the waters of the flag State.

  • Other income may include profit  haring with the flag State, additional taxes or fees, for example associated with mandatory vessel monitoring  systems (VMS) or logbook  submissions.

Other potential benefits

  • Employment of national crews aboard fishing vessels may be required, possibly with associated training provided by the operators/owners to ensure the necessary pool of qualified/skilled nationals are available. (This is a big issue in the pacific… I have been to PI flagged vessels that had only 2 nationals of the flag state on board… but then there  half the US flagged Purse Seiners fleet is Taiwanese owned and have only one American citizen on board, the paper captain, that basically fill the logbook -not even the logsheet- that is it)

  • Increased demand for port services such as maintenance, repairs, and supplies may benefit the local economy, some flag States make it a requirement for fishing vessels to call to port a certain number of times per year to increase their ability to monitor the vessels and to increase revenue. (This may be part of the deal, but is not really happening in most cases, for various reasons)

  • Increased landings and processing may result from requirements to land and/or process a certain percentage or amount of fish annually. This requirement may exist to increase local employment opportunities and increase input of fish to the local economy and for local consumption. (As in the bullet before, this hardly happens in most countries)

  • Increased historical catch in support of future catch share allocation. The quantity of catch reported by a State’s national-flagged fishing vessels over time establishes their historical catch and thus, the possible assurance of future bigger catch share. (Not totally the situation here, but definitively one that may be coming)

  • Increased information for fisheries management as more detailed reporting and observer information may contribute to improve management of the fisheries.

  • Options for joint venture arrangements between local companies and the foreign operators generated from flagging vessels may provide benefits to the local partner company in terms of income and capacity development. (Or as in the case in many PICs part of the geopolitical game in between Taiwan and China)

Direct Costs

  • Implementing effective monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) to ensure compliance, a flag State must implement comprehensive and effective MCS measures, including VMS, patrols, boarding and inspections, investigations. 

  • Working with internationally based agents/representatives involves communication to ensure that they act in compliance with procedural requirements and legislation. The costs for communications, interpretation and translation are likely to be higher when a vessel is fully or partially foreign owned. (Massive issue in the Pacific)

  • Flag State reporting/information sharing requirements include providing information on national fishing vessels and catches to regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) and coastal, port and market States, can be costly and may require: certifying that the catch has been caught legally; reporting the quantities of catch by species and/or vessel; and sharing vessel recorded movements or logbook entries.

  • Strengthened legislation and policies will be required to incorporate new measures and address gaps in national legislation, such as RFMO Resolutions that impact flag States. This requires resources for development, implementation and capacity development.  

  • Investigation and enforcement actions must be undertaken to ensure compliance by fishing vessels with national law, RFMO conservation and management measures, and applicable laws of other coastal States, these activities will have financial costs. 

  • Coordination among all relevant authorities with responsibility over flagged fishing vessels e.g. fisheries, port, maritime administration, navy, maritime police to effectively control their flagged fishing vessels. 

  • Flag States are encouraged to participate in RFMOs that govern areas where their vessels operate, and such participation – or even cooperating non-membership – will require financial contributions that will increase with the number of vessels.

Potential costs of non compliance

  • Sanctions may result from a failure to comply with obligations. RFMOs, market States or a regional economic integration organisation such as the European Union (EU) could enforce sanctions. For example, the European Commission can issue formal warnings (yellow card) or bans on market access for fish into the EU and a ban on EU flagged vessels fishing in the flag States’ waters (red card) if that State cannot or does not control its fishing fleet.

  • Loss of reputation from having non-compliant fishing vessels can negatively affect the regional and international community’s perception of the flag State. 

  • Expenses incurred when illegal operators actively avoid sanctions or penalties. This can result in abandoned crew or vessels, which can be costly for the flag State. If the identity of the owner or operator is hidden behind shell companies then there is little chance of penalties being successfully applied. 

But where you “really” come from? (I get asked that when I say I’m from NZ)

But where you “really” come from? (I get asked that when I say I’m from NZ)

How to be a responsible flag State?

The role and responsibilities of flag States are established in various legally binding international agreements and form the basis of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Flag State Performance, that while it recognises the special interests of developing States, in particular the least developed among them and small island developing States, as to cooperate to enhance their abilities as flag States including through capacity development, still require the flag State to:

  • Act in accordance with international law with respect to flag State duties

  • Respect national sovereignty and coastal State rights

  • Prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing or fishing related activities in support of such fishing

  • Effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control over vessels flying its flag

  • Take measures to ensure that persons subject to its jurisdiction, including owners and operators of vessels flying its flag, do not support or engage in IUU fishing or fishing related activities in support of such fishing

  • Ensure the conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources

  • Take effective action against non-compliance by vessels flying its flag

  • Discharge its duty to cooperate in accordance with international law

  • Exchange information and coordinate activities among relevant national agencies

  • Exchange information with other States and give mutual legal assistance in investigation and judicial proceedings, as required by their respective international obligations

Additionally, the Guidelines have two Schedules, the first details possible conditions for authorisation such as mandatory VMS, catch reporting and observer coverage, and the second covers the various ways the flag State may conduct MCS.

And then you have the RFMO type Obligations, such as (not all exhaustive list):

  • Monitoring vessels using a VMS

  • Reporting catch data

  • Investigating and taking enforcement action against IUU activity, reporting compliance

  • Ensuring that vessel owners are citizens or legal entities within the flag State so that any control or punitive actions can be effectively taken against them

  • Investigating reports of IUU fishing and taking enforcement action

  • Denying licences to vessels involved in IUU fishing activities

  • Complying with specific regulations relating to sharks, cetaceans, turtles, seabirds, etc.

So yes… being a flag state is enticing but difficult to implement and regulate, particularly when the registry of the vessels is privatised and offshore, and then fisheries (which is normally under resourced) has to deal with all sort of problems. Since literally (and I unfortunately have experienced examples of this) there is no one in the country, that is able to respond for what these “allegedly” national vessels are doing.