Worst than IUU fishing by Francisco Blaha

 One of my jobs is to help people deal with IUU fishing. Yet I can see how this fits the picture since crime is part of life and when you do the rules, desperate people will find the way around. Ergo I try to not only focus on how to control it but equally important, how to disincentivise it. Yet subsidies are my limit, stuff like the one publicised here does irk me deeply. Subsidies causes an equivalent amount of damage yet they are legal.

one can afford to abandon boats like this only if getting subsidies... (allegedly Bolivian Longliners abandoned in Phucket) 

one can afford to abandon boats like this only if getting subsidies... (allegedly Bolivian Longliners abandoned in Phucket) 

I wrote a lot about them over the years... but this article is just revolting to me.

One of China’s leading fishing companies has booked more than CNY 100 million (USD 15.1 million, EUR 12.8 million) in government subsidies for 2017. 
CNFC Overseas Fishery Co., Ltd announced to its shareholders that the payment was received and would have a “material effect” on the firm’s profits for the year.
CNFC badly needed a break after seeing the price of its shares collapse from CNY 14.00 (USD 2.11, EUR 1.80) in June to CNY 8 (USD 1.21, EUR 1.03) in July due to ongoing uncertainty over the risk posed to the company by a lawsuit filed against one of its subsidiaries. The company’s valuation dive also coincided with an ongoing examination of the company’s books by the Chinese stock market regulator. 
Government subsidies have become vital to the profitability of China’s large state-owned fishing firms, which also benefit from access to low fuel prices for their long-haul fishing operations in international waters. 
CNFC had a negative operating margin of 8.8% in 2016, but still managed to turn a profit margin of 5.27 %. 

You get the fact that if it wasn't for the subsidies they be out of business, does not occur to anyone that they are losing money because there is too much overcapacity for the available fish? That they consumers are paying twice for the same fish? That everyone loses in this game?

What can be done is totally out of my depth... China would rip apart in terms of trade any small or big country tackling them, but it may be done as a coalition of many good countries via WTO? Yet on the other side, who is clean? See this post on the subsidies of others 

I don't know....  But this shit cannot be going on. 


I love the readers of the blog! Gabriel Gomez (the GM of Marine Instruments) sent an image of Spanish newspaper reporting that the Chinese government has injected 13 million euros in a company above the 19 Million they put last year in its parent company Shangai Fisheries.

image1 copy.jpg

Yet we go more hard on skippers or crew members that earn very little for fisheries offences, while the processors and mother companies that should have ceased operation get handouts from the government. Not right.




Example of a transparency tool for the tuna value chain by Francisco Blaha

Solutions for transparency come in many different ways and shapes, furthermore while a nice idea, I don't think one unique system would do all the tricks. The people on the food safety side for years have applied what they call "Hurdle Technology" that usually works by combining more than one approach aimed to a simple outcome, and I always liked that idea.

Good idea and good design... what is not to be liked :-)

Good idea and good design... what is not to be liked :-)

In the last Pacific tuna forum, Thomas de Kock came to introduce itself, and we chatted a bit about his idea. He has an interesting background, originally from a fishing family, he went into business and IT and then mixing all of it into his present venture.

He came up with TunaSolutions, a global online B2B marketplace that brings buyers, traders, and suppliers in the tuna industry together on one platform. His objective is to create end-to-end transparency, visibility, and accessibility across the entire tuna supply chain.

His site read: “Our mission is to ensure that we realise the maximum value for every fish we extract from the ocean by connecting the right supply with the right demand"

This video is self-explanatory and very nicely done!

I always welcome new fresh thinking into fishing, it keeps you alert and looking forwards. I believe the sum of many tools is the best strategy that will bring necessary transparency into the fishing business.

I wish Thomas and his company the best of luck!


Thailand is passing the pressure by Francisco Blaha

As part of the many adjustments, Thailand had to make in the last few years since the EU increased their depth of controls on them (I wrote about it here and here). A key area has been the tuna processing from fish coming from other countries that are destined to the EU.

Captain's responsabilities increased

Captain's responsabilities increased

Reality is that if one makes the numbers, it seems hard to match the volumes caught by purse seiners from EU authorised countries (and specifically from the EU approved purse seiners flagged to these countries) in the WCPF area and the volumes being exported.

They in the EU have all the tools, list of vessels authorised to fish, the flag states, the list of vessels approved by them, the health certificates with the volumes exported and the catch certificates of the vessels or origin.

If the EU had a centralised Catch Certificates database, it would take any researcher minutes to see that the numbers in terms of eligibility didn't add up, otherwise it would take some time for some poor soul to go over tons of paper… which is I assume is the way it happens

In any case, the Thailand Department of Fisheries (DOF) has passed up the pressure on its providers by requiring additional attestations to be added to seafood certificates to Thailand where the final destination of the product, either as imported or after further processing, is the EU.

They want the verified weight in the EU catch certificates and a “Model of health certificate signed by the captain of the freezer vessel” that contains almost all of the attestations of the EU Health certificate but written in an easier way:

I, the undersigned, declare that
  • the vessel appears on the Approved EU list
  • the vessel has a programme based on the HACCP principles in order to control hazards;
  • the part of the vessel where fishery products are handled, equipment, containers and the cold storage for fishery products are kept clean and maintained in good repair and condition;
  • the fishery products have been protected from contamination and from the effects of the sun or any other source of heat as soon as possible after they have been taken on board, and that they have been handled in a way that prevents bruising and other damage;
  • the fishery products have not been contaminated by fuel, bilge water or pests;
  • the slaughter, bleeding, heading, gutting, removing fins, have been carried out hygienically as soon as possible after capture, and the products have been washed immediately and thoroughly. Viscera and parts that may constitute a danger to public· health has been removed as soon as possible and kept apart from products intended for human consumption;
  •  only clean seawater has been used as alternative to potable water for the handling and washing of the fishery product;
  • the fishery products have been subjected to a visual examination for the purpose of detecting visible parasites, and fishery products that are obviously contaminated with parasites are not placed on the market for human consumption;
  • freezing has been carried out hygienically as soon as possible after capture;
  • frozen fishery products have been kept at a temperature of not more than - 18°C in all parts of the product, except whole fish initially frozen in brine intended for the manufacture of canned food may be kept at a temperature of not more than - 9°C;
  • frozen blocks have been hygienically and adequately wrapped before landing;
  •  the packages have been marked with an identification mark indicating the approval number of the freezer vessel and the flag state;
  • the wrapping material is not a source of contamination and has been stored in such a manner that it has not been exposed to a risk of contamination.

This is an astute move since they are showing “due diligence”. Now if the captains of most purse seiners can really assure this and if the EU will accept it is a different issue.

The economic value of tuna catches in the Western Pacific by Francisco Blaha

As said many times before, I'm not only blown away by the number of readers* (see below) of this humble blog, but as well by the caliber and expertise of many of them. This is evidently when I get clarifications on stuff I published by totally disinterested contributions from some of the top experts in the tuna world. When I posted about the 2017 Pacific Tuna Forum, I quoted some figures for the economic value of the catches. Les Clark (a key advisor to PNA) very kindly provided me some further figures, that reflect more accurately the situation for the PICs. I quote them below:

Tuna caught on a PNG flagged vessel, then transhipped in Majuro being unloaded in Bangkok (I been lucky to be in the 3 events!)

Tuna caught on a PNG flagged vessel, then transhipped in Majuro being unloaded in Bangkok (I been lucky to be in the 3 events!)

The economic value of catches in 2016 was: USD 5.28 billion (PS: $2.84 billion and LL: $1.48 billion). Yet this is the value of the catch in the whole Western and Central Pacific Ocean.  So it includes the value of catches in the waters of Indonesia and Philippines and the high seas as well catches in the waters of Japan and other countries in the WCPO.  

The value of catches in the waters of the Pacific Islands FFA members (i.e.FFA waters excluding Australia and New Zealand) is estimated at $2.59 billion. This data, including the estimate of $5.28 billion for the WCPO comes from the very useful Value of WCPO tuna fisheries 2017 Excel files produced by Peter Terawasi from FFA and (available at https://www.ffa.int/node/425)

The $500 million that stays in the Pacific (that I quoted in the Tuna Forum post), is only for the government revenue from foreign vessels. On top of that, there are the broader economic benefits from domestic vessel operations including crew earnings, profits and various payments to government, provisionally estimated at around $350m for 2016.

So that means about $850m is retained of the $2.59b earned by vessels in Pacific Island waters – much of the rest is payments for fuel etc.  This also doesn’t include the economic benefits from onshore processing, local purchases by vessels, etc.

Hence, in reality, the full picture of the benefits for the Pacific Island Countries is better than the one I portrayed. If all included we could be at a 30% retention of the total value, now if that is sufficient and fair is the kind of discussions I love to hear. 

Fisheries Economics is a specialised topic I don't know much about, hence I have lots of respect for my colleagues in that area, and I follow their work with deep interest. At the end of the day, commercial fisheries are about money, and money decides fisheries politics.



* 17400 individual visitors in the last calendar year(4/10/16 to 4/10/17!!

from the analytics page of my hosting provider

from the analytics page of my hosting provider

Overfishing: Moving beyond Malthus for effective and equitable solutions by Francisco Blaha

Papers on overfishing abound, but papers on the roots of what we consider overfishing are rare, so I loved this in particular one from first glance "Reconstructing overfishing: Moving beyond Malthus for effective and equitable solutions". It comes from a source I always liked, the “Ghoti* papers” that are innovative and have a perspective that may lead to fresh and productive insight of concepts, issues and research agendas in fisheries.

Examples of drivers mediating and expanding the relationship between population growth and fishing effort

Examples of drivers mediating and expanding the relationship between population growth and fishing effort

The paper resonates very well with my experience in the Pacific (an area with very little population and a lot of fish) by questioning into the “Malthusian overfishing narrative” that suggests that overfishing is driven by too many fishers chasing too few fish and that fishing effort grows proportionately to human population growth, requiring policy interventions that reduce fisher access, the number of fishers, or the human population. By neglecting other drivers of overfishing that may be more directly related to fishing pressure and provide more tangible policy levers for achieving fisheries sustainability, Malthusian overfishing relegates blame to regions of the world with high population growth rates, while consumers, corporations and political systems responsible for these other mediating drivers remain unexamined.

While social–ecological systems literature has provided alternatives to the Malthusian paradigm, its focus on institutions and organized social units often fails to address fundamental issues of power and politics that have inhibited the design and implementation of effective fisheries policy.

The authors apply a political ecology lens to unpack Malthusian overfishing and, relying on insights derived from the social sciences, reconstruct the narrative incorporating four exemplar mediating drivers:

  • technology and innovation,
  • resource demand and distribution,
  •  marginalization and equity,
  •  and governance and management.

They argue that a more nuanced understanding of such factors will lead to effective and equitable fisheries policies and programmes, by identifying a suite of policy levers designed to address the root causes of overfishing in diverse contexts.

Of course, you should read the original, as the dive into all those areas (I found the marginalization and equity very interesting and love to do more work there!), yet below I quote the discussion and conclusions.

Instead of rejecting the dominant Malthusian overfishing narrative, we demonstrate the importance of creating space for a diverse and complementary dialogue with the potential to increase our capacity for effecting change and moving towards healthy, just and sustainable fisheries. Our four examples of intermediate drivers illustrate the pitfalls of Malthusian prescriptions and the potential for more nuanced, tractable policies (see table 2).
The double-edged sword of technology promotes sustainability through innovation, but it can also increase catch efficiency and intensity through mechanization. High demand for seafood generated mostly by developed countries, and facilitated by a globalized economy, is depleting fish stocks in the EEZs of many developing countries, while threatening local livelihoods, food security and human rights.
Issues of equity and marginalization are structural processes contributing to overfishing by progressively alienating many fishers from the marine environment and from political and economic opportunities.
While good governance and effective management combined can enable sustainability of fisheries, some policies intended to increase economic development and fisheries production, or policies that are not sensitive to local context can instead drive overexploitation.
Table 2. Mediating drivers of overfishing and related policy levers

Table 2. Mediating drivers of overfishing and related policy levers

Importantly, the relative impacts of each of these drivers, and others, need to be treated as hypotheses and tested with empirical evidence in different contexts (Branch, 2015); these relationships should never be assumed, as the population–environment relationship so often is. As such, there will never be a panacea for addressing overfishing. The “scaling up” of marine governance solutions without knowledge of different contexts can lead to ineffective or inappropriately applied fisheries management policies or programmes. At worst, this will lead to perverse and counter-intuitive outcomes like those mentioned above.
Designing an effective response requires developing a holistic understanding of the diverse drivers of overfishing, hypothesis testing to identify the most relevant drivers responsible and choosing from corresponding available and salient fisheries management policies (see Table 2). For example, if destructive gear is the primary driver of overfishing, a closer look at differential access to fishing technology and permits can uncover potential systemic inequalities driving fisherman behaviour and gear utilization. Likewise, fisher involvement in innovation and testing of new technology can increase efficacy and uptake of new sustainable technologies (Jenkins, 2010).
Addressing issues of demand and distribution may require national-level policies restricting access of distant water vessels, efforts to address the accumulation of licenses by corporations, or greater attention to ensure local fisheries adequately contribute to food and livelihood security. If the issues of marginalization and equity are important drivers of overfishing, effective fisheries policies may have to be codeveloped with well-designed poverty alleviation and development projects in accordance with human rights protocols (Allison et al., 2012; FAO 2015; Kittinger et al., 2013, 2017; Ratner, Åsgård, & Allison, 2014; Weeratunge et al., 2014), and incorporate strategies designed to restore the connections between resources and people by shifting existing power and market dynamics (Nayak et al., 2014).
Governance and management institutions can increase perceived legitimacy, compliance and fairness by involving fishers in policy processes and acknowledging local context and pre-existing norms and institutions and allow for more creative and flexible solutions to overfishing (Finkbeiner & Basurto, 2015). It bears repeating that these are just four examples of the many complex drivers of overfishing.
Any comprehensive fisheries policies effective at curbing overfishing will require more than stock assessments and autocratic decision-making, but rather assessment and evaluation of additional relevant local drivers, facilitated by the integration of social science data on fishing communities and cultures, as well as local stakeholders’ knowledge, needs and beliefs.
Expanding the overfishing narrative beyond the lens of population growth explicitly reveals the role of power, politics, wealth and conflict in overfishing: differential access to technology, permits and markets; patron–client relationships contributing to bonded labour; fisher alienation from policy processes; competition between international, highly mechanized fleets and local fishers; and disproportionate consumption of seafood across geographies are all characterized by extreme power differentials and inequity.
Narratives are often constructed by those in power with major implications for the powerless. As scientists, conservationists and policymakers, it is important for us to be critically self-aware of the possible neocolonial bias implicit in the narratives we advance and how it plays out on the ground in various contexts (Duarte et al., 2015).
Attributing global fisheries declines to population growth is a potentially unfair and apolitical attribution of environmental degradation and is an easy way to export problems and responsibilities to other geographic and demographic contexts.
The practical contribution of this manuscript is to advance the idea that a reduction in the number of fishers is not the only way to solve overfishing. Rather, we can maintain livelihood and food security for small-scale fishers while advancing sustainability by addressing power imbalances and inequity. Equitable solutions can free fishers from “social–ecological traps,” increasing their autonomy and flexibility to use less destructive gear, target more abundant stocks and retain more value (Cinner, 2010, 2011). Empirical studies have shown increased environmental stewardship and ecosystem health, with the same number of fishers, when collective rights and ownership are allocated to fishing communities (Fiske, 1992; Gelcich et al., 2008; Micheli et al., 2012). Thus, we argue that equity is necessary for sustainability, regardless of population growth or number of fishers.
We hope that by reconstructing the overfishing narrative in a more complex and nuanced fashion with explicit attention to the sociopolitical processes governing its intermediate drivers, we can constructively add to policy discussions and actions. We suggest reconsidering the blame placed upon fishers in contexts where access to the marine environment is a critical component of livelihoods and food security. The policy prescriptions designed to reduce access rights, harvesting rights and resource dependence of local populations may produce ethical and social ramifications with unintended environmental consequences.
Finally, we suggest the importance of being critically self-aware in the creation and use of meta-narratives about human–environment relationships, arguing instead for a more holistic understanding of the drivers of overfishing. Rather than simply “scaling up” fisheries management and conservation policy prescriptions, empirical analysis of the drivers of overfishing in different contexts could guide the choice of more effective policies to address the challenge of overfishing.
While we use fisheries as a case-study to explore these human–environment relationship assumptions, this debate continues to occur on a much broader scale across sectors and geographies; thus, we hope the message of this article is salient and useful in a broader context as we continue to work towards socially just and environmentally sustainable policy solutions.

*George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), polymath, playwright, Nobel prize winner, and the most prolific letter writer in history, was an advocate of English spelling reform. He was reportedly fond of pointing out its absurdities by proving that ‘fish’ could be spelt ‘ghoti’

Inspiring Pacific Wahine - Pamela Maru by Francisco Blaha

As part of SPC's 70 anniversary, since Monday 24th July, each day for 70 days a new profile of an inspiring Pacific woman is been published. I have long held views against the gender inequities in society in general, and in fishing in particular. For me is not part of a "new age" agenda, is that "is just not right, mate" plain and simple as that. 

At one of her excellent presentations in SPC.

At one of her excellent presentations in SPC.

Last Monday it came the turn to my friend, boss, colleague, fellow ocean creature, and part of my extended whanau (family) Pamela Maru.  

I have worked with her for years now and totally adhere to her fisheries views and drive for the Pacific.

She also has become a family friend and total role model for my 12 years old daughter Kika, and this is something I'm totally proud of. I do hope she becomes a strongly driven waihene (woman) like Pam in whatever she decides to become.

I know Pam hates the spotlight (and she'll hate me for publishing this!), but I'm sure her example encourages other women, and even is it is just one, to head down her own path, then it is well worth it.

Pam's own words speak truth to power, and that is what I admire of her.

“We have the ability to shape our fisheries in a way that suits our long term needs, feeding and providing for our Pacific Islands. We need to invest in our people, and management of these resources – to give back, as we take out – if we really want to move ahead. We need to speak up more, and stop shying away from things that matter but which might be uncomfortable to raise.”

Read her excellent profile here

Working (yea for real) in Palau

Working (yea for real) in Palau





No ocean for old fish by Francisco Blaha

A new paper by Lewis A.K. Barnett, Trevor Branch and other researchers from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences of the University of Washington titled Old-Growth Fishes Become Scarce under Fishing, have found that for dozens of fish populations around the globe, old fish are greatly depleted, mainly because of fishing pressure, hence are increasingly missing in many populations around the world. 

Old fish become scarce under fishing.

Old fish become scarce under fishing.

I got to this paper via a ScienceDaily line that said: Like old-growth trees in a forest, old fish in the ocean play important roles in the diversity and stability of marine ecosystems. Critically, the longer a fish is allowed to live, the more likely it is to successfully reproduce over the course of its lifetime, which is particularly important in variable environmental conditions. 

The paper abstract quotes: 

Researchers have long recognized the importance of ecological differences at the species level in structuring natural communities yet until recently have often overlooked the influence of intraspecific trait variation, which can profoundly alter community dynamics. Human extraction of living resources can reduce intraspecific trait variation by, for example, causing truncation of age and size structure of populations, where numbers of older individuals decline far more with exploitation than younger individuals. Age truncation can negatively affect population and community stability, increasing variability in population and community biomass, reducing productivity and life-history diversity in traits such as the spatial and temporal pattern of reproduction and migration. Here, we quantified the extent of age truncation in 63 fished populations across five ocean regions, as measured by how much the proportions of fish in the oldest age groups declined over time.
The proportion of individuals in the oldest age classes decreased significantly in 79% to 97% of populations (compared to historical or unfished values, respectively), and the magnitude of decline was greater than 90% in 32% to 41% of populations. The pervasiveness and intensity of age truncation indicate that fishing is likely reducing the stability of many marine communities. Our findings suggest that more emphasis should be given to management measures that reduce the impact of fishing on age truncation, including no-take areas, slot limits that prohibit fishing on all except a narrow range of fish sizes, and rotational harvesting.

The ScienceDaily  article provides some good explanations:

In forestry, a tree farm with only 20-year-old trees may be healthy and productive, but the loss of old-growth trees should not go unnoticed. The giant trees have unique traits that support a number of animal and plant species and make for a diverse, robust ecosystem. In a similar sense, the same is true for old fish.

The designation of an "old fish" varies from species to species, depending on life history. Some types of rockfish might live to 200 years, while few herring live past age 10.

After female fish release eggs, many factors must align for a healthy brood to hatch and grow to adult size. Because the marine environment is so variable, species might go a whole decade between successful broods. Older fish in a population have more years to produce eggs, increasing the chance for success over time.

"In the marine world, the success rate of producing new baby fish is extremely variable," said co-author Trevor Branch, a UW associate professor of aquatic and fishery sciences. "I think of old fish as an insurance policy -- they get you through those periods of bad reproduction by consistently producing eggs."

In addition to having more opportunities to reproduce, older fish also behave differently than younger fish. As they age, some fish change what they eat and where they live in the ocean. They also take on different roles in the marine food web, sometimes becoming a more dominant predator as they get older, and bigger.

The researchers looked at model output gathered from commercial and recreational fisheries and scientific observations that describe the status of fish populations over the years. In their analysis of 63 populations living in five ocean regions worldwide, they found that the proportion of fish in the oldest age classes has declined significantly in 79 to 97% of populations, compared with historical fishing trends or unfished figures, respectively. The magnitude of decline was greater than 90% in 32 to 41% of the groups.

This is mainly due to fishing pressure, the researchers say. In general, the longer a fish lives, the more encounters it has with fishing gear, and the greater the likelihood it will be caught. However, some environmental factors like disease and pollution might also contribute to the loss of old fish.

These findings could inform fisheries management, which often sets limitations based on the total weight of fish caught over a season without considering factors such as the size or age of a fish. The authors suggest fishing methods to protect young and old fish by prohibiting the harvest of fish below and above a specific size range. Other solutions include closing certain areas to fishing permanently, or rotating areas where fishing can take place each year to let fish grow older and bigger -- similar to agricultural crop rotations that allow the soil to recover between planting cycles.

The title of the blog refers obviously to great Cohen brothers movie "No Country for Old Man"

Journal Reference:

  1. Lewis A.K. Barnett, Trevor A. Branch, R. Anthony Ranasinghe, Timothy E. Essington. Old-Growth Fishes Become Scarce under FishingCurrent Biology, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.07.069

Shared Stocks and Fisheries Subsidies Disciplines by Francisco Blaha

A recent information note* (09/2017) by R. Sumaila and the good people of ICTSD.org sets out how the distinction between shared and non-shared fish stocks has been drawn in the academic literature and what the potential implications are of such distinctions within the context of subsidy disciplines and multilateral fisheries subsidies negotiations at the World Trade Organization.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 3.56.31 PM.png

The paper (download) contributes by setting out how the distinction between shared and non-shared stocks has been drawn in the academic literature and what the potential implications are of such distinctions within the context of subsidy disciplines. The specific objectives of this information note are as follows:

  1. to explain succinctly how shared fish stocks are identified in the technical literature, international instruments (including UNCLOS), and the author’s own recent work;
  2. using the author’s own method of identifying shared stocks, to explain the share of fisheries catch that is caught in shared fisheries and the landed value of this catch; and
  3. to discuss briefly the likely implications of using the distinction of shared and non-shared to apply subsidy disciplines to shared fish stocks.

Go for the original for all the insides, yet the conclusion pasted below reads 

Several proposals in the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations attempt to draw, for different purposes, a distinction between domestic fishing of resources under a coastal state’s jurisdiction, and fishing of shared resources, particularly in areas beyond national jurisdiction. This author and his colleagues have suggested drawing a similar distinction in order to align incentives for international cooperation with international resources.

The definition of which stocks are shared is clear. Our research builds on this definition and uses current knowledge about the behaviour of fish species to estimate which species are in fact “shared” and, 8 Shared stocks and fisheries subsidies disciplines September 2017 thence, what proportion of fish catch and landed value comes from these shared species. The limitations of current knowledge, however, mean that this approach would be difficult to implement directly in the context of subsidy negotiations. However, our research does have several implications that negotiators could consider.

Overall, it is clear that a substantial portion of global catch comes from shared stocks, which means that there is a strong argument for international cooperation to limit subsidies that could lead to the overfishing of shared stocks, particularly those that are not under the responsibility of any national jurisdiction. Further, there are regions of the world where many fish stocks are shared; as such, the rationale for collective action to limit subsidies that could lead to overfishing of those stocks is particularly high. It also appears that some countries are more heavily involved in fishing of shared stocks, so they arguably have a duty to ensure they are not contributing, via subsidies, to the depletion of those stocks.

Finally, there are certain species that are “shared” far more heavily than other species, in the sense that a large number of countries exploit them; it is suggested that governments make a particular effort to ensure that subsidies provided to their fisheries are not directed to the exploitation of these species.

*Citation: Sumaila, U. Rashid. 2017. Shared Stocks and Fisheries Subsidies Disciplines: Definitions, Catches, and Revenues. Information Note. Geneva: International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD).

The Role of “Port Agents” in Tuna Fishing in the Pacific by Francisco Blaha

Port agents have a busy life in some ports in the Pacific. They are the nexus in between the land and most of the necessities of the fishing vessel and the fish, from engine parts to certificates for the fish, from helicopter fuel to the observer accommodation while waiting for the vessel. But critically in my work, they are the ones that let us know the vessel is coming to port.

The agents' agent bringing me back from a transhipment.

The agents' agent bringing me back from a transhipment.

And I don't like that, I think the vessel should announce itself via e-reporting tool. This will give us key advantages, it would oblige the vessels to use the e-reporting tools they prefer of use (see the ones we have here in the Pacific) otherwise they cannot announce their arrival notification along the expectation of Ports State Measures, and cannot unload.

If they request entry from the App, we in port get to know quite a lot for the logsheet in advance… from volumes, to positions, to days of unusual fishing and this allows to target intelligence work with other tools such as VMS, e-observer if they have it and so on.

Anyway, that "advance notice for port entry" is in the pipeline. But for now, we depend on the agents, and as said they are a mysterious bunch.

Some are independent, other relate to the traders (such as FCF), vessel operators, business conglomerates on shore, etc… most are foreigners and not Pacific Islanders but this is not the rule.

In some cases, they are actually quite close and familiar to the fisheries administrators, since they interact on constant basis, yet they are opaque in their accessibility, even if they have fundamental information for the authorities and fisheries economists

I have never been aware of any past or future study in the Pacific that has deals with them as a unique and vital player in the industry, yet one we know very little about.

Hence I was quite interested to read this article by Andre Standing for the Coalition for fair fisheries Arrangements, titled “One Of The Greatest Barriers To Sustainable Fisheries? The Role Of Fishing Agents In Africa”, is good reading and I recommend you go for the original.

I will quote some of the parts I found most interesting and that I would love to compare to what’s happening here in the Pacific.

Who and what is a ‘fishing agent’
Today fishing agents provide several services, from organising a license, arranging vessel inspections, recruiting crews, providing food and water supplies to vessels in port, arranging refueling, receiving and passing on information from the vessel to the authorities, even the removal of rubbish from the vessel when visiting port. Some fishing agents companies provide all these services, and some are shipping agents providing these services to a range of vessels including fishing vessels. But it seems more common in Africa for fishing vessel operators to use different agents for different services, and there are dedicated agents that specialise in the procurement of fishing licenses and fisheries related services. Agents that operate as the first port of call for new fishing licenses may then sub-contract other services to other agents. Even under bi-lateral access agreements, such as with the EU, individual operators will pay for a local agent to be an official contact person for their license, which may include holding a copy of their license on their behalf.
The EU operators report paying about 1500 Euros each a year to agents for this service (above and beyond the fees for the actual license), although the fees can be considerably more - apparently, there are cases of individual vessels owners being asked to pay over 10,000 Euros a year for this.  There is no doubt that agent fees are a substantial cost for the industry, and that being a successful agent is a lucrative business.
Fishing agents are usually local citizens, although there are examples of foreigners working as agents as well. A few years ago, the Spanish consul in Guinea-Bissau was known to be the business contact for Spanish fishing vessels there, facilitating the purchase licenses and offering diplomatic services. In some countries, such as the Seychelles, agents are certified and receive official authority to work. But there are several countries where the legal status of agents is difficult to identify. Indeed, in many countries, the sector seems to exist in a relatively informal way. It is reported that Dutch fishing vessels working in Mauritania, for example, have been using the same local agent for years, although there is no formal contract between them. Other industry representatives confirm that working with agents without contracts has been quite common, which makes their responsibilities somewhat vague.
The industry’s perspective
It is possible that fishing vessel owners are totally unaware that often money paid to agents is making its way to the private bank accounts of government officials. But it is not very likely. Indeed, a source with close contacts to the European tuna fishing fleets said that the fishing industry had been warned before about the legal implications of allowing this situation to happen - in some countries vessel operators have been paying millions of Euros to agents who they knew were giving kickbacks to government officials for license payments. This made them complicit in bribery, which would put them in breach of their home country’s laws on payments of bribes in a foreign country. 
An expanding sphere of influence?
There are other roles of fishing agents where potential abuse of power could be found. One area of concern relates to the role of fishing agents in recruiting national citizens for crews on board foreign vessels. All vessels that need to pick up local crew will tend to use an agent for this, although it might not be the same one used for gaining licenses. But there are also concerns that this is a role that provides opportunities for kickbacks, giving jobs as favours to people who are not well trained, as well as abuses in labour contracts. The role of these agents in labour disputes is something worth more research, as they may well be important players in the exploitation of crews.  It is an area where the tuna industry has made improvements, and they now vet all contracts provided by agents for local crews.  But the same is apparently not the case for demersal trawlers in many countries. 
Agents are also used in some countries to collect and distribute by-catch, where this is obligated to be landed by fishing vessels. But the fees paid for this, and how agents decide who gets what and for how much, is very hard to find any information on. But it is a powerful position and one that requires adequate accountability and transparency, which doesn't seem to be the case. 
What can be done?
Where agents are handling fees for public services, the cost of these fees should be published by national authorities - making it that much more difficult for part of these fees to be stolen by agents and officials. A clear example is a fee for handling licenses. Another is the fee structure for vessel inspections, including per diem rates for inspectors. 
Another idea is that there should also be a public registry of agents. The fact that in some countries, vessel operators are forced to turn to local fishing authorities to recommend agents, may facilitate some of the corrupt relations between these authorities and agents.
Other ideas for reforming this situation lies with changes to national fishing authorities. Those that see the root cause of the problem being the extremely low wages paid to fisheries officials, as well as cumbersome bureaucracies, want to see fisheries authorities privatised, or made into parastatal organisations, so more competitive salaries, as well as easier hiring and firing of staff, can be achieved. 
Yet a more fundamental issue is whether some of the services provided by agents are in fact needed?  The role of agents has become so valuable partly because of the deficiencies of national fishing authorities. But this state of affairs appears to be maintained deliberately to allow for abuse of powers. 
It is not clear why vessel operators have to pay an agent to process and collect a fishing license. Surely, the national licensing authority should be able to provide an on-line, transparent service that would do away with the need for this altogether. For example, in the case of EU fishing agreements, rather than mandate vessel owners to use a local agent for services including licensing, the EU could insist that the competent authorities provide this service as part of the agreement.
The same could be said about other functions of agents - is it necessary for agents to make the arrangements for government inspectors? Should the national authorities be able to organise and communicate with vessel owners themselves? Why is it that agents are used to collect data from fishing vessels? If the argument for the use of agents is based on the view that working with opaque and bureaucratic governments is too complicated and time-consuming for the industry, the answer lies in improving government services, not in establishing a lucrative business sector for well-connected, but ultimately unaccountable intermediaries

I think the situation in the Pacific is different, but I’m not aware of any study by anyone with port agents for fishing vessels in the Pacific. So if any NGO, foundation or RFO is keen to do some research into this key yet largely unregulated and marginal group that runs in parallel to fishing, let me know, I’ll be keen to tackle it.


Notes from the 6th Pacific Tuna Forum by Francisco Blaha

Just back 6th Pacific Tuna Forum in Port Moresby in PNG. Is were the "who is who" tunawise around the region should  meet to debate on current issues in the Pacific tuna sector. Covering the developments in the VDS scheme, impacts of climate change on fisheries, sustainable fishing practices in the Pacific, regulatory issue, markets opportunities and challenges and opportunities in growing Pacific Islands based tuna fishing and processing industries.

The way you see it is the way it felt... a bit lonely and empty

The way you see it is the way it felt... a bit lonely and empty

Yet it wasn't much debate, overall was a rather mild Forum, not a lot of people, particularly if compared with the last one in Fiji in 2017.

The conference started with a stern presentation of the current PNG Prime Minister: Peter O’Neill… who politics besides (he is embedded in more nationalistic approach) started deeply questioning (to my delight) some of the issues that I have pointed here for years.

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 2.48.48 PM.png

The DWFN operating here (mostly Philippines) have been based here for over 20 years as a way to get cheaper access under the excuse of developing the local industry. Yet the 5 canneries here are working at less than 25% capacity, less than 15% of the fish caught here is landed in the country, locals are confined to the lower ranks jobs, vessels flagged locally have only 3-4 locals on board… and so on. In other words, the Philippine, Thailand, Taiwanese, etc., tuna industries survive based on local fish… and here we get the crumbs.

Of course, excuses abound… productivity is low, people are dumb and lazy, we don't make money… but we want more licenses… and no we are not leaving even if working here is terrible. Yea right

Looks like the present political leadership, seems to be keen to change that. So even if they only do 50% of what they promise it should be ok.

I started my presentation with few words in Māori (Maori language week in NZ) and expressing my big and sustained disappointment to the fact that of 30 speakers only 4 are women, in an industry that has a whole is much more balanced and has very capable female leaders.  

And this is not a fault of INFOFISH (the organisers) who are mostly women. In fact, Shirlene Maria Anthonysamy (the 1st woman in charge of the organisation in its history) and her mostly female team are trying to do the right thing, yet is telling that she has been the Acting Director for over a year now without being confirmed.

After having been part of the 6 editions (over 12 years) I decided I will not participating again until a fairer gender representation is on stage, and I’m doing this just based on a sense or what is right, my views of working with women in fisheries are long-held. We just need to do better, simple as that.

Of the presentations, three impacted me the most and they came from Feleti Teo the Boss at the WCPFC and my colleagues in SPC Valérie Allain and Robert Scott. I will blog about Valeries' work on climate change later on.

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The numbers of fish captured are as usual staggering, even if the news show that the stock are on the "safe" zone, yet at differwnt risk levels.

Record tuna catches in 2016 (provisional)
Total: 2,717,850 mt
Purseine (PS): 1,858,198 mt
Longline (LL): 859,652 mt

Of which: SKJ (skipjack): 1,816,650 mt,  YFT (Yellowfin): 650,491 mt, BET (Bigeye): 152,806 mt

Economic value in 2016: USD 5.28 billion
PS: $2.84 billion
LL: $1.48 billion

Is important to note that around only USD 500 million stays in the Pacific. And this is to be seen as positive, 10 years ago it was only 90 million! but still, shows that we get crumbs.

And the problems for the fishery are the usual:

  • Multi-stakeholders tensions
  • Finalizing negotiations of the Bridging CMM on Tropical Tunas
  • Continue to develop Harvest Strategies
  • Gap in Data and Data Quality

And that Harvest Strategy is the way of the future

The insides of the FAO PSMA implementation by Francisco Blaha

The last 2 weeks I have been working for FAO as a resource consultant for a series of workshops on the formulation of national strategies and action plan for compliance with the 2009 FAO Agreement on Port State Measures Agreements in 5 very different countries. More than ever Frank Zappa’s “One Size Fits All” keeps resonating in my ears.

fisherman in port

fisherman in port

There is no doubt that the PSM concept is fantastic, vessels need to come to port, therefore, is really cost effective in comparison to at sea boarding and so on… Is largely the quality of Port State monitoring and the work of its fisheries officers that determine the risk of illegally or unreported fish entering the supply chain.

For this Port states must consider the following mechanisms:

  • Two-way communications for acquiring information about vessels using or intending to use port facilities; communications with flag states and parties such as coastal states and RFMOs are basic and fundamental.
  • Designated specific fishing ports for foreign fishing vessels must be made mandatory as to enables effective oversight.
  • Incoming vessels must formally request port entry to enable resources to be allocated for port procedures, vessel inspections if required and processing of catch certificates and so on.
  • A system of authorizations for entering ports and unloading should be in place to ensure that permissions are denied in cases of suspected or established IUU fishing.
  • When inspections are required, sufficiently competent fisheries inspectors with law-enforcement powers must be on hand.
  • Standard inspection information must be recorded and transmitted in accordance with PSMA and/or RFMO rules.

In some developing countries the denial of a port use, hence of a landing authorization and potentially the denial of validation under a CDS, may involve minimal legislative changes and can be implemented by training the relevant officials, and so establishing a simple path to providing the enforcement function of a responsible port state.

Even if you don't have a strong sanction regime, when you to deny port access to fishing vessels suspected of IUU fishing, or to deny landing authorizations and access to port services or even just delay them for investigations. These actions provide for substantial losses for illegal operators, and there are also economic consequences in terms of delays for carriers, incomplete orders, loss of trust and in many cases financial penalties associated with incomplete volumes under contract.

If we tackle the illegality at the port, any issues down the chain are around volumes: misreporting, underreporting, fish laundering and here is where a CDS comes to play.

Said so, the PSMA is a high-level document agreed by many countries, yet the realities of different countries are so varied that it cannot just be "implanted" and so just apply to all countries and to the realities of its different ports. 

How can you bring the realities of places like Thailand, Tuvalu, Ghana, Uruguay, or Curacao Just to name a random few) into one document without some serious customization? Thankfully this possibility is somehow contemplated, but to an extent only

Furthermore, this customization needs to include the role of regional organisations in each region, for example in the Pacific the role of FFA is overarching for all its member and supplies the Port State a strength that sometimes cannot be totally captured by the view or a “single” State.

Also, there is the fact that if country may choose not to become a party (sign and ratify) for reasons related to cost effectiveness for example, yet still can comply with the principles of PSM.

Many busy ports in developing countries may be reticent to sign because this will imply compliance with strictly regulated systems inside the PSMA (such as reporting and exchange of information with various actors including flag state, state of nationality of the master, FAO, RFMOs, etc.)

For some regions, similar outcomes could be achieved via RFMO CMM like the one that IOCT has endorsed and has been discussed by the WCPFC

Independently of the methodology, PSM is here to stay and it would become the norm with time.

A lot of my involvement in this topic relates to vessel pre inspection intelligence, inspection and enforcement. Yet these are areas that I know from being at the receiving end of them, as well from training Inspectors on the “tricks of the trade”. But I have never been a fisheries officer and don't come from an enforcement background (i.e. police, coast guard) as many of my colleagues, so I need to be extra careful not to be too casual about methodology.

Personally, I’m learning a lot, even if sometimes I get a bit down since most of the outcomes of this work, at this stage at least, are all paper based: strategies, policies, etc… and some days I feel I don't produce much more than stacks of words only. But as my friend Pam told me, those documents can be the start of better things to come, and she is normally right.

An Interview about Fisheries, Inequality, MSY, Waiheke&NZ, Dub and he tangata (the people) by Francisco Blaha

A few days ago, I got my first full interview. It was a local newspaper in Waiheke, the island where I live, so it never will see too much public attention (thankfully).... but it made me compile my ideas in order over some fisheries topics, and while some of my "strongest" opinions were edited or taken away (It is a local newspaper, not fisheries one!) I share the original version here for what is worth.

is about the people, mostly

is about the people, mostly

Do you see your self as an environmentalist or an aid worker?

I don't see my self as either of those at all. I'm just a fisheries specialist that provides technical and practical advice to countries and organizations. I don't take sides in the fisheries argument (industry vs recreational, NGOs vs government) we all need to do better, end of story. Yet I'm a humanist, and I believe that only people can me make the difference and as long as everyone thinks that only theirs is the truth, we all lose.

What is your connection to Waiheke? (the island in NZ where I live)

I wanted to move to Waiheke the 1st time I came over 20 years ago, I loved living in the Pacific Islands as I found very similar cultural/family environment to the one I grow up, but I also dig some of the benefits of more western societies, and in Waiheke I found a good mixture of both. So when I married and we had kids ready for school, we settle permanently here and are very much part of the society.

My kids went to local primary school, my wife Vibeke was on the school board, my son and I are very active in the Waka Ama Club, and so on. From all the places I worked and lived so far (52 countries) Waiheke is where I feel at home.

You’re an independent contractor/consultant, so what kind of work have you been doing in the last year or so? How do you typically find work?

Other than a couple of years as a Fisheries Officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations based at their HQ in Rome I always worked for my self for the last 25 years.

My main clients are in 3 groups: the development and aid components of international organizations like the UN FAO and the European Union, some regional organizations, I do a lot of work for the Pacific Islands Fisheries Forum Agency and also the international development agencies of some governments, presently I have contracts with NZAID and the Swiss Government. I also take the odd contracts with NGOs like WWF or organizations like APEC.

The key part of my workload these days is what we call Fisheries Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) as the tools to combat Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fisheries.

For the last couple of years, I worked training fisheries inspectors in Guatemala and Colombia for the EU, developing a Catch Documentation Scheme (legally caught certification) in most of the Pacific islands with FFA, developing data integration systems for many of the e-monitoring and e-reporting Apps we are testing in the Pacific, training inspectors and developing systems for port controls under the UN Port State Measures Agreement in PNG, Vanuatu, Palau, Tonga, Thailand and Myanmar, with the UN, mentoring inspectors on foreign vessels controls in the Marshall Islands, Solomons and Kiribati for the NZ MFAT, and some other stuff. 

But I also like to have one off projects like directing the development and design of a comic and colouring book aimed to train subsistence fisherman in the APEC economies countries, something I did with other 2 Waiheke based professionals.

Works come to me on my inbox, either by direct offers based on my CV and project history or by invitation to tender for projects. Thankfully I get offered more work than I can take. Said so I make a point of not spending more than 6 months of the year off the island, the rest of the time is for my family, the ocean, and my veggie garden at home

An important point to me is that In reality, I don't work with fish, I work with the people that work with fish. And while I’m introverted, I love working with fisherman and fisheries inspectors… I have gained much wider perspectives working as and with fisherman, getting a small boat similar to theirs and heading out at sea than working from shore and hanging out only with office people.

My favourite Māori proverb or Whakataukī says: He aha te mea nui o te ao (What is the most important thing in the world?)  He tangata, he tangata, he tangata (It is the people, it is the people, it is the people)

And the older I get, the more I believe on that… I’m not going to change the world, people will. and if I can help people with that, there is where my focus is. I work eye to eye with anyone, not Mr “foreign consultant” and poor fisherman/inspector from developing countries.

In the Pacific, tuna is a hot topic right now. I heard that you’ve been doing work with Pacific Island Nations to sustainably develop and protect their fisheries. Can you tell me more about that?   

In the Pacific Tuna is “the topic”, recently the UN General Assembly proclaimed 2 May World Tuna Day, spotlighting the vital socio-economic importance of tuna around the world. 

I’m one among the estimated 22000 people in the Pacific whose livelihoods depend directly and completely of Tuna. An industry that at its base produces some 256 million cans of tuna that are consumed annually, amounting to U$D 7.5 billion, yet around only 600 to 700 million come back to the resources owners, the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) where over 60% of the world tuna resources originate, and that is 1st unfairness. 

Of course, there are serious challenges to their long-term sustainability of the fishery, as there is more fishing effort for tuna than for any other group of fish and the overwhelming majority of this effort is by Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFN) i.e. China, Taiwan, Korea, Philipines, Japan, etc. They are as well as beneficial owners of PICs flagged vessels, and while all fish legally (as they are licensed) they interests are off shore. And this is an issue of overarching importance since confronting interests are pushing tuna sustainability.

There is a fundamental (and perhaps unbridgeable) difference; as clearly expressed to me, by my Nauruan friend and colleague Monte Depaune last year: “ for non PICs and DWFNs the issue of sustainability is one of long-term financial benefit. However, for Coastal States PICs it is also a food security issue, one that DWFNs have less trouble with, as they can leave… but PICs cannot”

Tuna is a key lifeline of the Pacific but the balance of benefits is entirely skewed, in a way that has not moved far from the times of colonialism. Countries with money, technology and resources get richer by using the resources of poorer smaller countries at a lower level of development. They do so by pushing many agendas (including aid) and taking advantage of the lesser level of institutional maturity in countries that are struggling to manage themselves, as they are only 40 to 50 years old and had to “learn” from scratch a system of laws and a concept of nationhood entirely foreign to their former reality.

A lot of my work is around facilitating that transition and help to foster their own controls and agendas over fisheries issues. My counterparts are my islands based colleages, not the international agencies.

Tuna gave me a new and good life when I came to the Pacific, escaping far from my origins and struggles. Tuna gave me friends and an extended family in places that barely figure in maps, yet there is more “humanity” than in countries whose “empires” cover the earth.

Doing what you do must be quite high-risk, given the money that’s involved in the fishing industry and the illegal practices of some companies?

The whole idea of high seas pursuits and boarding of rogue vessels from small dinghies while the wind and waves hit your face is a nice picture (and perhaps the one that some NGOs with video productions aimed at asking donations make you believe is the big part of the job), yet the reality is far from that.

way less exciting than in the docos

way less exciting than in the docos

The key issue in the Pacific is not illegal fishing (as fishing without a license) is actually underreporting (declaring less than what you caught) and misreporting (declaring different from what you caught), the way to deal with these issues is more akin to the job of an accountant and data manager than to a "hero" jumping into boats, making everyone believe that all Asian fisherman are thieves.

I have spent more productive time and caught more “bad” operators with systems I learned from accountants and data managers than from my navy training.

Yes, of course, we still go on boats look at papers, but more importantly: we weight fish, estimate captures, we assess remotely via satellites vessels positions, we go over compliance histories, we use intelligence type work and so on.

Any fisheries inspector's job is way more going over a lot of paper, computer screens and boarding vessels when they arrive at port, rather than what you get to see on TV.

a lot of paper and fact checking... lying is easy doing consitently is not

a lot of paper and fact checking... lying is easy doing consitently is not

Have you had any hair-raising adventures? Any unpleasant surprises? Any good surprises? 

I had a few close calls while working on fishing boats, but then that is expected since is the most dangerous job in the world, unfortunately, more people perish fishing than in mining, oil and forestry combined. 

Yet what really irks me the most, is the general perception that all commercial fishermen are horrible people bent on destroying nature. Yet, they are producing food, no different of a farmer or an orchardist. If you eat, the reality is that you need to kill, and while they are some very unpleasant rogue people out there that push the limits of legality in fisheries, that applies to any form of food production, not just fishing. 

Our society is very good at cherry picking the environmental damages it causes in order to produce food. We see a nice picture of a sunflower field and we say “how beautiful” while the picture of a skipjack tuna purseine vessel may bring the most vicious comments, yet that sunflower patch has biodiversity impact of 100%, everything alive that was there, was killed to plant those sunflowers at massive fuel cost. A purseine set has around 5% biodiversity impact and produces food at fraction of the fuel use, yet they are the environmental assassins?

On the other side of the equation, we have recreational fisherman that go and spend hundreds of dollars in petrol on their big completely inefficient 150 HP outboard engines that liquefy their exhaust fumes in the water to bring 15 kg of fish, while a coastal longliners brings 5000 kg with 300HP. So if we talk about environmental impacts… all of them need to be included in any discussion about sustainability.

Interestingly, I find that in fisheries more than in any other form of food production, everyone has a very strong opinion, yet not everyone has a fully factual opinion. I heard, architects, mechanics, builders, dentists have hard and definitive opinions on fisheries issues, but they will never venture the same level of anger towards, agriculture or livestock production. And what is more telling, is that they would be totally offended if a fisheries biologist had the same depth of negative views about their area of work.

The western theory of sustainable harvesting of fish stocks evolved during the first half of the 20th century, but by the 1990s many fisheries in the developed world were considered overexploited. This started to change in the mid 90s as more countries implemented fisheries management systems that had:
(i) specific objectives and targets for fishing pressure and abundance, 
(ii) monitoring of fishing pressure and abundance, 
(iii) assessments to determine if targets were being met, 
(iv) feedback management systems that adjusted regulations in response to the assessments and in particular restricted fishing pressure when it was too high, and
(v) enforcement systems to assure compliance with regulations. 
These are the basic elements of a sustainable management system, and without these elements there can be no assurance that the stock will be sustainably managed.

Hence quite simply “sustainability is a process” not a line drawn somewhere. Everything has advantages and disadvantages, and we have to navigate ethical choices since there is no one perfect way to achieve a complex goal.  

With science, we can determine what kind of management of a fishery will lead to long-term sustainability of food production, this, in turn, feed Fisheries policy that can set up the harvesting regimes needed, and then MCS ensures stakeholders obey the rules set and measure the outcomes, that then feed back into the science... and so the process restarts its cycle forwards. Is like a table with 3 legs, if one does not work, the table falls. 

Furthermore, science can (and should) evaluate the environmental impacts of a fishery (including fuel-related climate forcing results). Yet, it would be impossible for science, policy and MCS to tell you what environmental impacts are low enough – that is a question of individual choice and public policy via political pressure.

And I know this will sound terrible, but the only guaranteed way to have no impact on our environment is for all of us (humanity) to disappear (fast and at once). All other options imply compromises… and those compromises depend immensely from where you stand. 

I live in beautiful and safe Waiheke, but I work all over the world, from the people I work, around 15% live below 1 USD dollar a day, around 45% lives below 2 USD a day… yet don’t pity them, pity their circumstances they live in. These people are some of the most resilient, innovative and determined people I know, they wouldn’t be alive otherwise. 

Over 75% of the world population earns less than 10USD a day, in other words… 3 of every 4 people in this world earn less per day than the cost of a glass of wine at a Waiheke winery. Yet the definitions of what is efficiency, governance and sustainability are decided by western rich countries that compromise the top 25%, the ones that can afford to have future… we are very good at forgetting that too

The incredible level of income inequality in our societies is for me the biggest sustainability tragedy of our world. If we are failing to look after our own in such a catastrophic way, what hope is there for everything else? I believe that sustainability in fisheries (as in any other primary production area) would only be able to be managed with real long term prospects after we have dealt with our own collective failings a society.

From work by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman

From work by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman

Can you tell me about what’s going on in New Zealand waters, there has been a lot in the news about the Quota Management System.

I have not been working with NZ fisheries for a while, but I still maintaining good contacts with a lot of people in the different parts of the system. 

Despite the many scientific and public discussions on the sustainability of fisheries, there are still great differences in both perception and definition of the concept. The result has been that each group (scientists, economists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), etc.) defines “sustainable seafood” using whatever criteria it considers most important, and the same fish product may be deemed sustainable by one group and totally unsustainable by another one. (i.e. Hoki in NZ)

No fisheries management is perfect, they are all perfectible and the QMS is no exemption… yet to disqualify it based on a perception is erroneous. One could say under the same pretence that the snapper stock is in a sorry state because NZ is the only developed country (i.e. part of OECD) that does not have a recreational licensing scheme, hence it really does not know how many non-commercial fishers are and how much they catch. Under that premise and the definition of IUU fishing, you could say that presently all fishing is non-licensed and underreported. (The estimations of recreational catch in the Hauraki Gulf are above the volumes of the commercial fleet, and caught with a fuel usage that is by a factor of 1000 bigger than the commercial one)

If the stock were in a sorry state, fishing companies would be loosing money yet a company like Sanford has declared some of best revenues in many years. In NZ we don't have subsidies so in many ways commercial fishing is economically self-regulating; the cost of having a fishing boat in the water is X incremental (adds up every day), so the value of the volume of the catch on board has to be X+1, otherwise, they lose money. If they spend more money trying to catch fish (because there are none out there) that the value of the fish they have on board, they will be broken and soon out of business, on top of that the price of fish (while high) has been quite stable, if there was substantially less, then the price should be much higher.

Now if you were to say that the stock is in a sorry state in comparison to 1970s in that case yes, because the pressure was much lower, yet that argument can be applied to every thing in NZ, from milk to housing… so in not really relevant as a present discussion factor.

Of course this is not to say that everything is fantastic, there has been plenty in the news in regards fish dumping, the limited use of video evidence and so on, yet on the other side, serious fraud via under-reporting of catches by a fishing company (Hawkes Bay Seafoods Limited) was uncovered, and this would not have been possible if it wasn't for the way the  QMS works. I go back to my early words; no system is perfect, they are all perfectible.

Personally, I think that the Aquiles tendon of most fisheries management systems (QMS included) is that the biological assessment that the becomes the basis for the determination of the status of fish stocks, so they are maintained at or above a level that can produce the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY).  

MSY reflects the greatest yield that can be achieved over time while maintaining a stock's productive capacity, having regard to the population dynamics of the stock and any environmental factors that influence the stock.  Controls are set so that the biomass level can support the maximum sustainable yield (BMSY).  This provides the conditions to maximise the yield of the fishery without compromising sustainability.  Once the BMSY is identified, the Total Allowable Catch of a stock can be determined.

However, there are BIG issues with MSY as a definitive concept. Dr. John Allan Gulland said it is  "A quantity that has been shown by biologists not to exist, and by economists to be misleading if it did exist". MSY was designed as a political construct more than a fisheries management tool. Is a theoretical construction that exists in three realms: as science, as policy, and as a legal concept. Despite substantial criticism by scientists and economists, MSY still remains at the heart of fisheries science and fisheries management (read Carmel Finley, 2009. The Social Construction of Fishing) and Maximum Sustainable Yield: The Worst Idea in Fisheries Management by Dr. Sidney Holt)

On the other side, Maximum Economic Yield (MEY) would be a much better idea! But I'm getting off point here!

Again, in fisheries, as in many aspects of life, nothing is completely black and white, there is very well informed and contrasted opinions, as well a chorus of uniformed ones that pick sides. I wish that all were to read always both side of the any arguments, since is the only way forwards, as I said before: sustainability is a process

Our news editor heard you as a guest DJ on a late-night show on BFM a little while back and was quite taken with your music collection. Are you a musician or a DJ? Does your interest in world music correlate to your work in any way, given that it takes you all over the world? 

Haahaa… yeap I was a DJ in bFM, KroadFM and the party circuit in the late 90’s early 2000, I played under the name of Mano Paco…

My friends Dubhead and Stinky Jim that still at BFm are very kind to invite me to their programs once in awhile so does the Martini Gotje to his Navigator programme in Waiheke radio on Sundays. 

Yes, I love music and I love playing it for people. I didn't have the opportunity of learning to play instruments as a kid but always loved it, and I always been particularly taken by the Jamaican sounds (in particular Dub).

Music is by definition people, and as said I think people are the key to everything. My work makes me deal with very different people and music, and I been always fascinated by the crossovers of Jamaican and electronic bases with the traditional music of different regions so that is my style and edge. I also do VJeing (videos mixing and explorations), If anyone has been to gigs in Waiheke by Radio Rebelde or the Deep Base Brothers, chances are you've seen or heard my stuff.

I don't like to be defined only by one thing, music and the ocean have always been a solace, a friend and an escape… I hope I can still enjoy them for many years. 

waihippie 2.jpg

Foreign aid to the Pacific by Francisco Blaha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 3: ODA per capita across Pacific island countries

Figure 3: ODA per capita across Pacific island countries

Where does this aid come from?

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

Figure 4: Top 10 Pacific donors

Figure 4: Top 10 Pacific donors

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

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

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

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

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

So, what can we conclude?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Media Officer for Pacific Islands Fisheries Forum Agency by Francisco Blaha

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

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

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

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

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

Interested candidates are encouraged to apply online through this link: http://piffa.applynow.net.au/jobs/88413(link is external)

Closing Date: 

Monday, August 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The paper highlights are:

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

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

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

Microplastics in fisheries and aquaculture by Francisco Blaha

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

I just quote below the abstract as an intro.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are looking for candidates with:

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

Full job descriptions are available on their website: https://www.fishwise.org/about-us/careers/ 

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

FADs and MARPOL by Francisco Blaha

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

Hand crafted and jelouslly guarded MARPOL

Hand crafted and jelouslly guarded MARPOL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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