The FFA Tuna Fishery Report Card 2019 by Francisco Blaha

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

Frozen wealth

Frozen wealth


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

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

Goal 1 – Sustainability

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

Picture 1.png

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

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

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

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

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

Other commercial species

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

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

Picture 2.png

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

Goal 2 – Value

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

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

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

Picture 4.png

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

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

Goal 3 – Employment

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

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

Picture 6.png

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

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

Goal 4 – Food security

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

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

Back to Mozambique working on PSMA by Francisco Blaha

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

Fishers fixing their boat in Beira

Fishers fixing their boat in Beira

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The importance of inland waters fisheries by Francisco Blaha

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

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

Fishing gauchos

Fishing gauchos

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

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

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

Not really fishing boats

Not really fishing boats

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

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

Local Fish Shop

Local Fish Shop

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

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

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

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

My dad and my brother…

My dad and my brother…

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was very clear on her task ahead:

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

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

Conclusions and thesis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Data overload is a thing…

Data overload is a thing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

we all keep looking down and not taking action

we all keep looking down and not taking action

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two major takeaways concerning fisheries:

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

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

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

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

Fishing impact is virtually non-existent

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

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

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

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

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

In any case the conclusion is quite “conclusive”: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Direct Revenue Benefits

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

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

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

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

Other potential benefits

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

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

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

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

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

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

Direct Costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential costs of non compliance

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

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

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

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

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

How to be a responsible flag State?

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

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

  • Respect national sovereignty and coastal State rights

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

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

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

  • Ensure the conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources

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

  • Discharge its duty to cooperate in accordance with international law

  • Exchange information and coordinate activities among relevant national agencies

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

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

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

  • Monitoring vessels using a VMS

  • Reporting catch data

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

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

  • Investigating reports of IUU fishing and taking enforcement action

  • Denying licences to vessels involved in IUU fishing activities

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

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

You want better data?... Invest more in people. by Francisco Blaha

I wrote last week about the presentation from Brad Soule in the panel we participated at the Seaweb summit. So for those that asked me, here is the guts of what i had to say in that occasion, some of it was reported by undercurrent news and intrafish.

Pic by Dan Gibson

Pic by Dan Gibson

The author (Dan Gibson) got the message clear that any improvement in port inspections and sustainability enforcement will have to be driven by investment in the locals at the heart of the operation and so Data will be more verifiable.

He noted that the issue right now is not the fishermen that participate on the few traceability and transparency initiatives, like to ones run with blockchain, but rather those who work around the outside of the system, because they really don’t have to do anything else, since the clients don’t care or the regulatory frameworks don’t require full traceability.

I suggested that was up to the industry to do more and to empower and train fisheries officierss, rather than blaming local government for not doing enough.

“Under the present system of world governance, official guarantees are the norm and it is going to remain that way. You think the people at the ministry are useless? What are you doing to help? If you are pointing the finger at people, remember there are three fingers pointing at you.”

My message was clear: if industry members and NGOs want better data collection and enforcement of sustainability measures, it is up to them to provide fishermen with an incentive to gather their own data.

“You want better data? String in the people whose job is to bring in the data, and help them to provide that.”

"Regulators don’t create data, they verify data... so we can change paper for apps or whatever, but the key here is people. We need people."

Pic by Dan Gibson

Pic by Dan Gibson

And those people need to come not just from government and NGOs, but also the business community. "We need global commitment because any flow will take the path of least resistance. We need business support for that, not just government."

And at the same time: "How can you regulate what you don’t understand?" I asked… Regulators need more exposure to Industry practices and vessel operations… and better salaries… The Fishing sector expect excellence from the regulators in developing countries, yet they pay mediocrity.

Below are my slides… the people in the pictures are all people o l know and i work with… their weekly (or monthly in the case of the fisherman) salaries would be enough to cover the cost of the 3 nights of the hotel were the summit took place.

I finished with my favourite Maori proverb (Whakataukī):

He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata
What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.

The difference between “verification” and “traceability” and why it matters to seafood buyers by Francisco Blaha

While in Bangkok for the Seafood Summit I shared the stage with my mate Bradley Soule, Chief Fisheries Analyst at Ocean Mind. I have know him for a while and i really like him as person and have tons of respect to him as professional. He has done his years in the Coastguard, and even of many still on the cliché that fisherman and authorities are suppose to be at odds (as I wrote recently), people like him, Mark Young, Peter Horn, Tony Long and others in the compliance world with a pure enforcement background, have welcomed me and treated me like an equal... that has been sooo encouraging.

Bradley (on the right) and Natalie are a key part of Oceanmind

Bradley (on the right) and Natalie are a key part of Oceanmind

Anyway, Brad worth a blog post with the title of the post, and obviously is really good! so I quote it below.

Last week, I was invited to participate in a panel at the Seaweb Seafood Summit by David Schorr of WWF U.S. to talk about the role of verification in seafood supply chains and its role in the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability (GDST). This was one of the more challenging panels I’ve done because I got to go from the practical level we usually work at and talk about the model and theory of change that Nick Wise and I had in mind when we founded OceanMind. This theory came from conversations years ago between Satellite Applications Catapult and the Pew Charitable Trusts and others on how to get the support and technologies we were building out into the world to help folks who were already trying to do the right thing. The basis of my thoughts here come from the work I’ve been doing with enforcement agencies and seafood buyers throughout my career. Both lines of work are really about compliance and deterrence theory and how they support sustainable use of ocean resources: Specifically, how do we encourage and cajole people to follow rules necessary for sustainability.

What made this panel even more fun was that we were driven by David to really get at the core of the question of the private sector’s role in verification. Additionally, I really liked to tag team with Francisco Blaha (also a Seafood Champion this week!). Francisco and I have spent a lot of time talking about these topics already, usually over a cold drink eating street food in Bangkok. So it was a joy to get to really hash out some of these ideas with him as well as with Ben Shepperd of Streamr, who I hadn’t met before. He brought a very practical approach to blockchain and traceability that I found refreshing considering how much we read about how blockchain will solve all our problems.

I felt the need to spell out the key message here to help continue the important debate on this issue because of the importance of the topic and because I felt some of the press coverage didn’t capture the point I was trying to make (most likely due to me tripping over my own words sometimes when I speak). The question is, do seafood buyers have a role in verifying the compliance of activity on fishing vessels they buy from related to labour, fishing rules/sustainability, and health/food safety protocols? My (likely obvious) answer is yes.

In order to explain why, it’s first critical to explain the difference between verification and traceability. The phrase garbage in/garbage out really explains this principle well. Traceability is required in order to ensure legality and sustainability, but it doesn’t guarantee it. However, the ocean conservation and sustainable seafood communities use the word “traceability” as if it solves all our problems to know what boat caught a fish. This is why so many folks claim blockchain will solve all the problems; because they confuse traceability, which is a system, with verification, which is an action. Traceability by itself makes no claim as to the state of the product or information that can be followed from one point to another through a system. In order to claim that a product has certain values like being from a sustainable fish stock and being free of IUU caught fish, the claims have to be verified, even if the product is traceable back a specific vessel.

The next question is why can’t we just trust governments to take care of all of this for us? We pay taxes for compliance, there are mandatory catch certificates for import to the EU, the yellow card/red card system, etc. And yes, there are some excellent examples in the fisheries world of strong “cultures of compliance” where industry, management, and the compliance community work together to define management measures based on quality science that have legitimacy in the regulated community, which has a strong incentive to make sure everyone follows the rules and works collaboratively with enforcement to identify and solve issues. I started my enforcement career in Alaska where, despite some strong disagreements, this was the case.

However, in most of the world this is NOT the case. In most of the world, the relationship between the regulators and the regulated industry is a cat and mouse game. You are caught or you are not caught. If the government doesn’t actually prosecute someone, then that must show that everyone perfectly followed the rules. But that’s not how most of the world works. There are a lot of people out there who try to do the right thing, even when no one is watching. Then there are a few people who will always break the rules and enforcement systems need to be designed to catch and severely penalize these people. Then there are a majority of people who respond to a risk-reward calculus that looks at the risk of being caught and what the potential penalty might be. Most enforcement systems in the world, fisheries and elsewise, are built around this concept of compliance. However, the systems that work the best are those that use the economic and social system as part of ensuring compliance. This means we do not solely trust the government to be perfectly effective in finding every possible violation and it’s also why I used a Tom and Jerry cartoon to demonstrate the relationship between government regulators and enforcement when there is no buy-in and no reinforcing system of ensuring compliance within society. Government officials might be trying their best, but especially in fisheries they are woefully under-paid and under-resourced. In Majuro, one of the busiest transhipment ports in the world, there are only 5 inspectors. And yet in fisheries we have built a system that mandates governments to guarantee that there are no problems through catch certificates even when it is frequently impossible for them to have reviewed all the relevant records and conduct inspections and investigations to look for these problems.

To be very clear, I do NOT mean that government has no role. It is imperative that governments create the rules for the market to work effectively and implement compliance systems that remove the worst actors and encourage compliance through a variety of carrots and sticks for those that are influenced one way or another. However, seafood buyers have a huge role to play by adding another element of risk and reward that affects the decision calculus for whether to comply with certain rules. With the right data in hand, buyers can verify the accuracy of claims, thereby building trust within supply chains and supporting efforts to ensure compliance with sustainable management measures. This verification process can be targeted at the highest risk parts of the supply chain, which can be identified through a structured due diligence approach such as in BSI PAS 1550:2017 (“Exercising due diligence in establishing the legal origin of seafood products and marine ingredients”). While geared at EU importers, we’ve found it to be an excellent framework to help seafood buyers establish the information collection, risk analysis, and risk mitigation systems they need. Additionally, while not as easily quantified, there is a strong benefit that comes from enhanced trust between seafood buyers and sellers from this kind of process. It can result in more secure purchasing relationships for buyers who have increased trust that their supplier is doing the right thing and greater credit and security for sellers who have more communication and validation from buyers that leads to longer term relationships.

Many organizations are already partnering to engage in pre-competitive collaborations to pool their resources to conduct this kind of risk mitigation. Great examples of this include the partnership between the Royal Thai Government and Seafood Task Force in Thailand on both Port State Measures Agreement implementation as well as improving control of the Thai-flagged fleet. In both circumstances, industry is leading the way by helping the government improve and then using the transparent results of government inspections to demonstrate to supply chains that all risks were properly identified and addressed. Similarly, many restaurants, retailers, and processors of Barents Sea cod formed an Industry Group Agreement to voluntarily ensure that none of their source vessels were fishing in waters exposed by retreating sea ice from climate change in the Arctic. These private sector initiatives compliment the compliance and enforcement efforts of government. They ensure a level playing field that increases benefits for legal fishers and increases transparency to buyers about operators that may be skirting the rules. As Francisco likes to say, this kind of activity brings light into darkness.

So how does this all fit with the GDST and traceability? As several of us said during the panel, there should be an expectation that key information like permits, vessel tracking, and crew information needs to be systematically shared through traceability systems so that it can be cross-checked at any point, at least internally but also by 3rd party organizations. The standardization of the way this information is shared and the creation of the expectation for sharing can hopefully be accomplished through the GDST. This could create a system driven by industry that could make it easy to answer the question of do I have enough information to tell if there is a problem and what is the assessment if I do have the information. Unfortunately, most seafood supply chains currently do not have the systematic access to this information required to provide the kind of verification that a growing and hungry global population will require. But I look forward to working with the organizations in the GDST to hopefully build and define that system.

One final note that I would be remiss not mention and that is worthy of another discussion on it’s own: As we build verification and traceability systems, it is critical to look at the impact on small scale fishers who have unique needs, represent a major portion of global take, and have more economic reliance on fishing for food and economic security than the large businesses we think about when we talk about sustainability.

Weren't you a fisherman... So why you work on compliance? by Francisco Blaha

The lovely folk of who have know and been providing with pictures for a while, called me for an interview on the tuna champion award, and they did a question that quite a few people seem to be puzzled by… Why I work in compliance? you know… after all fisherman are not very know for being very compliant.

for me is not about finding shit on others… we all have stuff to hide. But is about the system being fair for everyone.

for me is not about finding shit on others… we all have stuff to hide. But is about the system being fair for everyone.

Interestingly, i’ll say fisherman today are VERY aware of the issues and rules around compliance… either to keep inside of them or to work them on their favour… surely the moralistic will object to the later… but is no difference to what many do when they contract an accountant to to pay the minimal amount of tax…

Playing the rules is as old as rules. And I find it quite hypocritical when people point fingers at fishers for doing they pay their accountants to do… Anyway, that used to be part of my job in the past, and now I still in the same job but i’m just work with other teams as well in the same game. Yet my angle is about fairness…

When writing about my answer to that question, here is the text of the article, and I like it:

For someone who holds little regard for rank, the challenging world of compliance may seem like an odd choice of career. 

Francisco worked for New Zealand fishing companies such as Sanford and Simunovich Fisheries. It was here that he was introduced to a level of fisheries compliance he had not experienced before. To his surprise, he enjoyed the work.

“The fact that I am here today in New Zealand with this job is a function of my past, and relates to my appreciation of the concept of fairness and equal opportunities. I’m coming into it from the perspective of it being fair for all sides. It does not relate to enforcing rules,” Francisco says.

“For me, the so called fisheries ‘crisis’ is not a biological crisis, but one of politics, transparency, and fairness.

“I grew up in a country with not much of a culture of compliance, and while I felt that many of the rules were dumb, at least I expected they should have applied equally to everyone and not just to some. The equality of the rule of law in New Zealand is a rare cultural privilege.”

He says he had found a niche that suits him, working “in the middle” between regulators with whom he shares insights into fishing; industry, which he can help be more cost-effective; and the fishers, for whom he is a voice for decent working conditions and wages. 

He is proud of being trusted by all.

“People respect that you understand their job because you have done it yourself. For example, when you go on board, crew immediately know if you spent time fishing by the way you move on board, the fact that you know how to operate the instruments and the bridge—and that you can call them on technical issues when they are trying to derail the conversation when you find a compliance problem.

“It’s the same at factories. And in boardrooms. When people know you know your stuff, that is good for everyone to improve the industry.”

“Right now, the system is not fair, poor nations are pressured to make choices that favour short term gains, and is even worst socially… When I broke my knee on board back in Argentina, when I had exams at university, there was a ‘system’ set up by the fishers’ union to look after me. When I see the conditions and pay that many of the crews today have, it just upsets me! 

“I have the same posture on gender and diversity. I don’t participate any more on panels and conferences unless the organisers can prove that there is more diversity than at the last one. This is not some ‘new age’ thing I’m trying to pose for; it’s just that is not fair, and that is enough for me.

I was asked around this a couple of years back a similar set of questions and the answers are here:

Draft FAO guidance on social responsibility in fish and aquaculture value chains by Francisco Blaha

 As you may know I been working under contract with FAO in the development of a draft guidance on social responsibility in fish and aquaculture value chains… needless to say was a challenge since while it is an area of interest, is not an area of usual work for me. I took on the job based on the fact that I could bring in a specialist in the area who at the same time has been involved in fisheries for years: Katrina Nakamura.

sadly they never can comment…

sadly they never can comment…

The story on why FAO got into this starts in2016, during the 15th Session of the FAO Sub-Committee on Fish Trade (COFI-FT), in Agadir, FAO Member Countries highlighted the increasing concern about social and labor conditions in the industry.

In 2017, at the next session of COFI-FT in Busan, countries confirmed the significant importance and relevance of social sustainability issues in the fish value chain, in particular, the recognition and protection of human and labor rights at the national and international levels.

In 2018, during the 33rd Session of COFI, it was recommended that future guidance on social sustainability should be developed in cooperation with relevant stakeholders, including the industry and fish worker associations. During this session, it was also recognized the complexity of addressing social issues and the importance of collaborating with interested organizations and stakeholders to develop the guidance document in order to assist actors along the fish value chains, including small-scale fisheries.

In line with the mandate from the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) to promote social sustainability in fisheries and aquaculture value chains, a number of Dialogues will be organized over the coming months. In particular, the Dialogues will focus on the draft FAO guidance on social responsibility that was developed by Katrina and myself for presentation to the FAO Sub-Committee on Fish Trade (COFI:FT) in November 2019.

These Dialogues provide a great opportunity for FAO to present the draft guidance to stakeholders in the sector and for participants to provide feedback, comments, suggestions and inputs. Thus, concerns and gaps can be addressed, making the final document more inclusive and robust.

The document is now on line here and I encourage you to provide comments if you so inclined

The more inclusive and diverse the voices, the better the result… or so I hope!



My Seafood Champion Award for Advocacy by Francisco Blaha

I been really honoured to receive the SeaWeb Seafood Champion Award for Advocacy here at the Seafood Summit in Bangkok. And it has been really nice! 

obviously someone did a big mistake here :-)

obviously someone did a big mistake here :-)

For those that asked, Is a fiscally neutral award! No superpowers attached (to the disappointment of my daughter) but if just only meant that for a couple of hours everyone around here was very nice to me, told me they appreciated that I’m genuine and independent, that they like my blog & pictures, that they are looking at MIMRA's and the other places I work with lots of interest, as well as on the social side of fishing via my FAO work, and not less importantly the sharing of lots of drinks and food... that is way more than enough!

Being self employed, my work depends on being trusted with jobs and for that I have to seriously thank sooo many people over the last 34 years… from industry and fisheries institutes to NGOs and to big and amazing organisations like FFA, NZ MFAT and FAO for their support! 

I been really fortunate to be able to move in between industry, NGOs and regulators with ease… and be trusted while on deck with the crew, on the bridge with the officers, on the factory floor with the cutters, in the QC office with the food safety people l, on the operations rooms with the VMS and intelligence guys, and on the boardroom with the bosses… and I made a point of not taking my acceptance in any of those places for granted, ever.

With all the problems that fisheries has (and that many people are working really hard to fix), it also allowed a dyslexic mongrel race kid like me (with a bit of an disrespect for authority issue) to move across cultures and oceans from the deck of fishing and research vessels in the South Atlantic to to then been given this award for my work mostly in the pacific but also Asia and Africa… while not being part of any corporation or group of anything… just being me.

I don't think many other primary industries would cater for that… and that is the reason I love fishing, because it allowed me to be me… just simply as that… and I really want to make sure other misfits like me have the same or at least similar chances than I had

So my biggest thank you to the organisers of this event, but in particular, to the thousands that helped and trusted me all over the world since the first time I floated (in the late 70s) to today, your support and help are not taken for granted, and I’ll do my best to keep earning it.

Where does the methylmercury in the ocean come from?  by Francisco Blaha

While I write mostly about fisheries, by far the two most read blog-posts I have written (over 5000 visits!), relate to the levels of mercury in tuna in relationship to the area of capture (here - 2017 and here -2019)… It seems that more people is worried about eating them, than about their sustainability, legality or the welfare of those that catch it… which is saying something!

The latest SPC Fisheries Bulletin, presents an article by some of the authors of that 2019 paper I blogged about that presents their findings in a “less formal” way than a scientific paper and with some amazing illustrations, is totally recomendable (as al of the articles of the SPC fisheries bulletin!) read it from here!

I really like a section that explain where methylmercury in the ocean come from, and the illustration, so I quote it below… yet as usual, read the original!

Screen Shot 2019-06-09 at 3.56.09 PM.png

Mercury is emitted into the atmosphere through natural sources such as volcanoes, but more extensively through human activities such as burning coal and fossil fuels, industrial waste, and small-scale gold mining. The gaseous form of mercury in the atmosphere is gradually deposited into the oceans in the form of dissolved mercury, or methylmercury. Human-caused mercury emissions have been, for example, responsible for a threefold increase in mercury concentrations dissolved in the surface layers of the world’s oceans since the industrial revolution (Lamborg et al. 2014). A fraction of the dissolved mercury is naturally converted into methylmercury by sulphate-reducing bacteria, in which case the process is referred to as mercury methylation. This conversion is particularly intense in the less oxygenated deeper ocean waters (between depths of 400 m and 800 m). Also, in the surface layers, the dissolved methylmercury and mercury are degraded by light and re-emitted into the atmosphere in a gaseous mercury form (photo-reduction process). The production of methylmercury in the oceans, therefore, depends on the balance between methylation, which is more intense in less oxygenated zones (deeper ocean layers), and photo-reduction, which is more intense in surface ocean layers. The balance between these reactions explains the trend towards an increase in methylmercury concentrations with depth. 

This methylmercury is highly bioavailable for ingestion and fixing by the living organisms at the base of the food web. Its concentration increases naturally, by accumulation, because it is only eliminated in very small quantities by organisms, from the very first stages in the food web (plankton), up to the top predators (tuna and sharks), which contain the highest methylmercury levels. There are, however, many more grey areas in the ocean mercury cycle. 

Vessel Activity and the Risk of IUU-Caught Fish Passing through the World’s Most Important Fishing Ports.   by Francisco Blaha

In general terms I’m not particularly fond of “IUU“ rankings... I know they have a place in the bigger scheme, but I struggle with the fact that they do not tend to include into the level of “effort” by a country.

Let me explain, usually the European and rich countries come well up, yet they have a small EEZ, domestic fleets, lots of money/resources and no influence by DWFN and geopolitics… on the other side developing nations have massive EEZ, very little resources, big influences by DWFN and geopolitically influenceable.

1st in the ranking…

1st in the ranking…

Would be impossible to measure for me, but I’m sure that proportionally we here in the pacific Islands put way mere resources (as a % of our GDP) that the rich countries that normally come on top. Furthermore many use publicly available data, which is  normally difficult to small countries to publish when sometimes there is not even capacity to update their websites. Furthermore, the rankings can be then used against countries than by a myriad of factors can’t really do better unless a total change in their circumstances is in place.

This time is different… since among the authors I have 3 friends whose quality of work I admire… Gilles Hosch, Brad Soule and Charles Kilgour, they have produced this very interesting paper: Any Port in a Storm: Vessel Activity and the Risk of IUU-Caught Fish Passing through the World’s Most Important Fishing Ports . The way I see it… is an exploration of the intrinsic and extrinsic risk of IUU fish passing through the world’s most important fishing ports and the drivers of this risk.

Which in turn give guidance into where to put efforts into the effective implementation of Port State Measures, an area I’m working extensively with FFA, FAO and more importantly the Marshall Islands government. I say this because the paper identifies Majuro as the 2nd busiest port in the world (after Bussan) based on number of foreign vessel visits (1168) and the 1st in the world in terms of foreign fishing vessel hold size (943,000 m3), which is not surprisingly since we have mostly big Purse Seiners coming over here on weekly basis. 

But as an example of my criticism of this type of work… even if it is minimal in the bigger scheme… the top 3 port states in my part of the world, as the ones with the lowest level of risk are Vanuatu, Cook Islands and NZ… Which sound great for them… but then there have been no commercial landings by foreign fishing vessels in Port Vila (Vanuatu) since 2014 (in the meantime Vanuatuan vessels are well know for the lack of control on them visit all port in the world and are involved in the biggest amount of transhipments at sea). The port in Rarotonga (Cooks) barely gets foreign fishing boats visits because is very small and with limited exports logistics. While NZ has some of the most stringent PSM in the world… Yet of course, what they say is true, if you have no vessels coming to your port at all… you risk is very low… even if you have no inspectors at all in to receive them… but to be fair, the authors recognise these type of issues in the discussion. While on the other side, ports that are busy and put WAY more effort that Vanuatu for example can be faced with “unwanted scrutiny” by international groups or NGOs, just because they are lower in the ranking.

The paper goes into some rigorous statistical appraisals which is always good, and recommend you downloaded and read it from here. I just quote some parts I found relevant and I particular I like the conclusions and recommendations, specially this one: Port States should publish vessel movement data on port authority websites (based on physical vessel monitoring routines) in a format that can be readily used (e.g. as a downloadable spreadsheet). And enabling this (perhaps not coincidentally), is among my work objectives for this year here in RMI as we prepare to access PSMA .

Like previous studies it has attempted to rank ports and States based on landings and vessel visits reported by governments by using Automatic Identification System (AIS) positional data transmitted by fishing and fish carrier vessels to identify the locations of ports and rank them based on the frequency of visits by foreign flagged and domestic-flagged vessels. It advances our thinking in that (i) the analysis includes an estimation of the hold capacity of fishing vessels and is therefore able to rank ports based on the total hold capacity of vessels visiting them and (ii) the profile and the frequency of vessel visits inform an assessment of the relative risks between different ports, and the implications for the implementation of the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA). The study also assesses the accuracy and utility of AIS-derived data for determining IUU risk globally for all ports, notably by cross-referencing its findings with those of other studies.

The study develops a broad suite of indicators that quantify and aggregate the AIS-derived port visit information in conjunction with published and publicly available policy and regulatory information drawn from other sources, such as the compliance record with binding port State measures of regional fisheries management organizations, to raise a global port State IUU Risk Index. The comparison of achieved risk scores with national income, levels of corruption, and geography provides insights into factors driving (aggravating) or modulating (mitigating) risks of IUU-caught seafood passing through a Nation’s fishing ports, and supports a view that States with weaker governance also face higher odds of visits by vessels likely to have engaged in IUU fishing (i.e. higher external risks).

Based on an in-depth assessment of 14 individual ports globally, appended as a supplement to this paper, the study finds that overall, and with the possible exception of mandatory advance request procedures for entering ports, the implementation of key provisions of the 2009 PSMA remains severely lacking. The two main areas for improvement are the posting of publicly available PSM-related information on national and/or FAO portals, and the formal designation of ports.

The Objective of the paper is to Assess risk of illegal fish passing through the world’s fishing ports & assess drivers such as Risk (probability of IUU-fish passing through ports of given port States) and have a Qualitative component  - risk scores serve to rank States and/or world regions across this study, yet acknowledging that it does neither embody a concise measure of probability, nor of actual incidence.

This paper explores these issues in order to gain a better understanding of port State-related dynamics (numbers of ports, amount of traffic, etc.), port State exposure to IUU risks, and perceived performance in combatting IUU fishing.

The purpose of this study is twofold. Firstly, to assess the potential for using (remotely collected) Automatic Identification System (AIS) data to identify and characterize fishing port activities, thus enabling a possible long-term, cost- effective monitoring tool. Secondly, to establish how risk assessment methodologies can be applied to estimate IUU risks associated with port States and fishing ports, based upon a suite of internal and external indicators that are used to build a Port State IUU risk index made of 3 components: internal risk, external risk, and overall (total) risk.

This study firmly cements the value and utility of AIS (and its resulting public-source data) in the domain of fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance. This has been the preserve of VMS for decades, a satellite-based communication system of which the resulting data are generally richer, better quality, and largely publicly unavailable. AIS technology has reached a degree of maturity and adoption which allows stakeholders to take it to the next level, although it is important to keep in mind the limitations of the technology; in this context by aiming it specifically at IUU-related risk analysis to inform monitoring, law enforcement and capacity development endeavors. This type of analysis could be made more robust by incorporating VMS data, as well as new forms of vessel tracking such as GSM-based reporting tools for small, inshore vessels – noting that the majority of the world’s fishing vessels are mainly small-scale and do not carry transponders.  

It is possible to determine the locations and identities of global ports important to the industrial fishing industry using AIS data if it is properly layered with other sources and a comprehensive methodology for identifying port visits is used. A careful methodology is critical to this type of analysis to account for some of the inconsistencies of satellite-derived AIS data and the particular and diverse geographies of different ports. However, there will always be some abnormal results in this type of global analysis unless all data are manually reviewed, as it is not possible to develop an algorithm that accounts for the unique circumstances of every port in the world. Without synthesis with other sources (especially identity and hold capacity), AIS data is unlikely to produce these results for fishing vessels and fish carrier vessels.  

Most of the publicly available global port information, especially the location and names of ports, is incomplete, and currently insufficient as a starting point for this type of analysis. There were major gaps in the knowledge of known world port locations used by major fishing fleets that the study had to fill. By using AIS-derived port locations, it is possible to identify “visits” by fishing vessels and carrier vessels to specific ports. Given the focus of the study on informing implementation of the PSMA, it is notable that the analysis was able to identify and associate over 91% of port visits by foreign-flagged vessels with ports and anchorages that were defined through this study. When only foreign-flagged vessel visits are considered the names and relative rankings of the identified ports are familiar to those knowledgeable with the global fishing industry. 

There are differences in the mandatory use of AIS by fishing vessels as well as the ability of satellites and terrestrial antenna networks to record transmissions that affect any global analysis. The discrepancies within AIS positional and identity information, both intentional and unintentional, add another layer of difficulty and reduce the potential data available for analysis.  

The risk analysis – rooted in both AIS and AIS-independent data – show that AIS data can be combined with data from other sources to build useful indicators. In this study, many indicators with an AIS component also had an AIS-independent component, turning them into powerful hybrid indicators; the average governance index of foreign vessels’ flag States visiting ports is one such example. Other indicators were either fully AIS, or fully non-AIS based, but worked in unison to produce relevant IUU risk scores in their respective internal and external components. 

The port State IUU risk analysis allowed for the identification of major regions and major fishing nations where high port State IUU risks prevail, and where – specifically with regard to regions – positive trends of improving risk mitigation with improving national incomes would seem to apply as the general rule, but with the notable exception of Asia and Near East. The methodology used is capable of analyzing and identifying national, regional and global trends – through the use of weighted indicators and resulting risk scores – that allow a deeper understanding, not only of how IUU risk is distributed, but also how it would seem to evolve along gradients such as national income or the quality of governance.  

In the same vein, the study established that the quality of governance – using Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – of a port State is the strongest structuring factor that determines the magnitude of both its internal and external risks to IUU exposure. For countries with high levels of endemic corruption/weak governance, this implies that focusing on the improvement of PSM, in the absence of concomitant improvements in governance in general, is unlikely to generate substantial results. 

While the study finds important differences between regions in terms of IUU risk mitigation and risk exposure, it also shows that every region harbors weak and strong performers. The study finds that for a port State being part of a given income group, a given region, having a particular CPI score, or receiving visits from particular types of fleets, is never sufficient to confidently predict its performance in the domain of PSM – owing to the wide scatter in data. 

The ‘deep-dive’ analysis of fourteen individual ports, published separately as a supplement to this paper, led to the conclusion that a lot of progress remains to be achieved in the domain of translating key PSMA provisions into national practice – starting with the designation of ports and the publicly available information accompanying these port State measures. In general terms, the study found that national PSMA- or PSM-related information has been very hard to locate in all cases and that publicizing of PSM information, by individual States and by FAO, as provided for in the PSM Agreement, is severely lacking. This lack of public information also limits the depth of analysis that may be achieved by studies such as this one when looking into the performance of individual ports.

That analysis also found that individual ports do not necessarily reflect the performance of their countries, nor their region – except by chance – implying that substantial variation in the performance between individual ports of the same country is to be expected as a rule, rather than an exception.  


The following recommendations are derived from results and conclusions, and ordered by specific domain first, and by target audience next. 

For AIS-related work in this domain

  1. National authorities should consider requirements that make AIS as reliable as VMS for determining compliance. These may include requiring tamper-proofing to prevent the manipulation of position and identity. This may enable greater use of AIS and other tracking technologies for fisheries control that is more cost effective than traditional VMS.

  2. Countries not having done so should publish national registries, update identity information associated with their vessels’ IMO numbers, and provide vessel data for inclusion in FAO’s Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels, in order to enable a greater understanding of the legal standing of vessels operating in given areas. This should include the MMSI for all authorized vessels required to have AIS.

  3. Given potential current and/or future resolutions regulating effort, RFMOs and States should collect and publish vessel hold capacity data. While creating transparency and improving capacity knowledge at RFMO and State levels, this would also strengthen the type of analysis presented in this study.

  4. The number of terrestrial AIS receiver networks should be expanded, to ensure greater port coverage of AIS data in high traffic areas. This will increase processing requirements.

  5. Flag States should mandate the use of AIS on fishing vessels and carriers leaving their waters.

For port and flag States

  1. Flag and port States should sanction the intentional or unintentional transmission of false identity and/or positional AIS data. This is important for safety of life at sea as well as for compliance monitoring efforts and studies such as this one. (go our FFA VMS!)

  2. Port States should publish vessel movement data on port authority websites (based on physical vessel monitoring routines). Such data should be kept in a format that can be readily used (e.g. as a downloadable spreadsheet), with the port of Las Palmas presenting the best practice case identified in this study. (on our work-plan for this year)

  3.  Port States not having done so to date should plan for the formal designation of their ports and ensure robust prior notification and authorization regimes are put in place. (done for the last year at least)

  4. Port States having ratified the PSMA should ensure that their PSM-related information is submitted to FAO for public hosting of the relevant information – including on designated ports. (after signing)

  5. Port States should develop an easy-to-locate national PSMA-themed web portal providing third party access to a comprehensive set of resources regarding port State rules, designated ports, rules of port entry, forms, and contacts. (goes with recomendation #2)

  6. Port States should consider the use of AIS, among other tools, to actively monitor sections of known ports frequented by fishing vessels and fish carrier vessels that may not be part of current compliance plans. (go our FFA VMS!) and we see them from our window)

  7. Port States should consider the use of AIS, among other tools, to identify stopping events outside of known ports that may indicate attempts to evade inspection. (go our FFA VMS!)

The use of Harmonised Minimum Terms & Conditions for Access by Fishing Vessels for Crewing Rights and Welfare by Francisco Blaha

As part of the bigger picture on my work around the areas of decent labour (besides my main area around PSM, CDS and the whole IUU spectrum). I recently I posted about FFA’s groundbreaking move to add crewing and labour aspects to their harmonised conditions of licensing, and how an important this move is, since for 1st time access to fishing (normally just fisheries domain issue) is from now formally linked the crew rights and welfare.

#1 should always be the place for the crew rights and welfare

#1 should always be the place for the crew rights and welfare

The key issue is that on-board fishing vessels particularly those flagged (or owned by nationals of) DWFN, labour abuses (lets keep it light just around low payment and retentions of salary) are carried out for the purpose of maximising profits in an industry which is reliant upon low-cost labour, and many operators view “cost savings on crews from developing countries to be a legitimate lever in achieving competitive rates” [see here] and due to these abuses happening often beyond the jurisdiction of any national labour regulatory regimes and flagging the vessels in countries with very weak or no oversight over their vessels

So, again (as in the case of many IUU issues) is up to coastal and port states (most of them developing countries) to take action due to the lack off action of the ultimate responsible of what happens on board… the flag states (many of them rich countries) as a vessel is literally and extension of their territory

Hence, FFA as a group of predominantly coastal states, took this landmark initiative and published last week an information note, fleshing a bit the details of the move, so i’m happy to quote it here. The drivers behind all this were Tion Nabau (legal advisor) and Len Rodwell from FFA (and I’m sure the information not was written by him). And as I said at the time, I’m totally proud that the people I work the most with (the Pacific island Countries) have taken such step, and the input they allowed me to have on it during the discussion phase, has been,  definitivelly one of the highlights of this working year by far.

good move boss

good move boss

 What Are the HMTCs? 

The Harmonised Minimum Terms and Conditions for Access by Fishing Vessels (MTCs) are one of FFA Members’ key tools to regulate fishing access to their waters. They are a mechanism for setting agreed standards to apply in all FFA Members’ EEZs in support of the effective management of their fisheries resources. The MTCs apply to foreign fishing vessels licensed to fish in the EEZs of FFA Members. FFA Members can also apply them to their domestic fleets. 

The Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC) has the responsibility for adopting and amending the MTCs. The MTCs are adopted as minimum standards of access and do not preclude any member from adopting more stringent standards. The MTCs are directly linked to the FFA Vessel Register, and any foreign fishing vessel that does not meet the registration requirements cannot be in “good standing” on the Register and, as a result, cannot be licensed by FFA Members. 

The MTCs are implemented nationally via legislation, regulations and/or licensing conditions. 

and while Pacific islanders are still a minority on board this move will hopefully help address that issue

and while Pacific islanders are still a minority on board this move will hopefully help address that issue

Crewing MTC 

In May 2019, FFC 110 adopted additions to the MTCs to address growing concern by FFA Members over poor conditions of employment on some foreign fishing vessels operating in the region. This also reflects heightened international attention to this issue and associated links to human trafficking and modern slavery. 

The Crewing MTC sets out the minimum terms and conditions applying to the employment of crew on foreign fishing vessels that are licenced to fish in the waters of FFA Member countries. It is broadly based on the ILO Work in Fishing Convention and covers the following requirements: 

  1. A written contract in a language each crew member can understand; 

  2. Protection of the basic human rights of the Crew in accordance with accepted international human right standards. This includes provisions to ensure that crew are not assaulted or subject to torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, ensuring the treatment of all crew with fairness and dignity; 

  3. Procedures covering the death of crew member and for advising next of kin in the event of an emergency; 

  4. Full travel costs from the point of hire to and from the vessel at no cost to the crew; 

  5. Decent and fair remuneration; 

  6. Full insurance coverage to and from, and on, the vessel; 

  7. Provision of medical care; 

  8. Rest periods; 

  9. Provision for health and safety including provisions relating to vessel safety while the crew is on board and throughout the duration of the contract; 

  10. Provision of safety equipment and tools; 

  11. Proper accommodation, sanitary facilities and suitable meals and water. 


Commencement of the Crewing MTC by 1 January 2020 

Members have agreed a target date to implement the crewing MTC, either through their laws or licensing conditions, by 1 January 2020. 

Implementing the Crewing MTC 

FFA Secretariat will provide assistance to Members to implement the MTCs including through legal advice and support. Support will also be provided to those FFA members that are flag States to ensure they are able to meet the requirements of the new MTCs. FFA will also support strengthening of national inspection regimes (at sea or in port) to ensure compliance with the new provisions. National inter-agency cooperation and coordination is critical to the implementation of the crewing MTC noting the crewing standard cuts across other sectors such as labour and vessel safety. 

The main agreed revisions to the HMTCs, setting out the amendments approved by FFC are:


Crew Employment Conditions 

(a) The Operator shall be responsible for the health, welfare and safety of the Crew while he or she is on board the vessel throughout the duration of the contract. 
(b) The Operator shall ensure that a written contract is executed and signed between the operator or through a representative of the Operator and the Crew before the commencement of employment which shall contain the particulars as set out in Annex 6. 
(c) The Operator shall observe and respect any form of basic human rights of the Crew in accordance with accepted international human right standards. 
(d) The Operator shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that Crew are not assaulted or subject to torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment and shall treat all crew with fairness and dignity. 
(e) The Operator shall be responsible for the provision to Crew for health protection and management for sickness, injury or death while employed or engaged or working on a vessel at sea or in a foreign port. In the event of injury or sickness, medical care shall be provided free of charge to the crew. 
(f) The Operator shall in the event of death notify relevant authority as soon as practicable and ensure that the body is well preserved for the purposes of an autopsy, investigation, and shall undertake immediate repatriation of the body to the nearest appropriate available port. 
(g) The Operator shall be responsible for advising the Crew’s next of kin in the event of an emergency. 
(h) The Operator shall provide a decent and regular remuneration to the Crew. 
(i) The Operator shall provide repatriation of the Crew to his or her point of hire and all related cost where the contract is terminated as follows: 

(i) The contract is expired whilst the crew is still abroad 
(ii) The crew cannot perform his or her duty due to sickness or other medical reasons 
(iii) Where the contract is terminated in accordance with the signed contract. 

(j) The Operator shall ensure that Crew are given regular periods of rest of sufficient length to ensure safety and health in accordance with international standards. 
(k) The Operator shall be responsible to ensure: 

(i) that the vessel is safe in accordance to accepted international standards on safety of vessels; and 
(ii) the safety of Crews on board and the safe operation of the vessel and to provide on-board occupational safety and health awareness training. 

(l) The Operator shall provide the following at no cost to the Crew: 

(i) full travel costs from the point of hire to and from the vessel; 
(ii) full insurance coverage, to and from, and on, the vessel throughout the duration of the contract. 
(iii) Copy of the insurance policy. 
(iv) Appropriate and adequate safety equipment and tools; 
(v) Appropriate accommodation which shall be in a clean, decently and habitable condition and is maintained in a good state of repair taking into regard the comfort, the health and safety of the crew. (vi) Appropriate sanitary facilities which are hygienic and in a proper state of repair, 
(vii) An adequate amount of suitable food and water having regards to the crew’s health, religious requirements and cultural practices in relation to food. 

(m) The Operator prohibits deduction from crew wages by any party for any expenses related to work. 

yes, definitivelly a reason to sing together…

yes, definitivelly a reason to sing together…

Annex 6 - Particulars of Crew Agreement 

1. The Crew’s family name and other names, date of birth or age, and birthplace; 
2. The place at which and date on which the agreement was concluded; 
3. The details of the next of Kin in the event of an emergency 
4. The name of the fishing vessel or vessels and the registration number of the vessel or vessels on board which the Crew undertakes to work; 
5. The name of the employer, or fishing vessel owner, or other party to the agreement with the crew; 
6. The voyage or voyages to be undertaken, if this can be determined at the time of making the agreement; 
7. The capacity in which the Crew is to be employed or engaged; 
8. If possible, the place at which and date on which the Crew is required to report on board for service; 
9. The provisions to be supplied to the Crew, the amount of wages, or the amount of the share and the method of calculating such share if remuneration is to be on a share basis, or the amount of the wage and share and the method of calculating the latter if remuneration is to be on a combined basis, and any agreed minimum wage; 
10. The termination of the agreement and the conditions thereof, namely: 

i. if the agreement has been made for a definite period, the date fixed for its expiry; 
ii. if the agreement has been made for a voyage, the port of destination and the time which has to expire after arrival before the Crew shall be discharged; and 
iii. if the agreement has been made for an indefinite period, the conditions which shall entitle either party to rescind it, as well as the required period of notice for rescission, provided that such period shall not be less for the employer, or fishing vessel owner or other party to the agreement with the Crew; 

11. The right of termination by the Crew in the event of mistreatment and abuse; 
12. The protection that will cover the Crew in the event of mistreatment and abuse, sickness, injury or death in connection with service; 
13. The amount of paid annual leave or the formula used for calculating leave, where applicable; 
14. The health and social benefits coverage and benefits to be provided to the Crew by the employer, fishing vessel owner, or other party or parties to the Crew’s work agreement, as applicable; 
15. The Crew's entitlement to repatriation; 

Back in Majuro with plenty to do! (and coffee) by Francisco Blaha

It has been a pretty hectic 1st week back in Majuro (as part of my Offshore Fisheries Advisor role supported by NZMFAT), even if it has been quiet from the transhipment perspective. Don't get me wrong we have 32 vessels in the lagoon in between Purse Seiners and Carriers but not much transhipment is happening, and the roots of this pause are not here.

the Tuna Armada (drone pic by Garry Venus)

the Tuna Armada (drone pic by Garry Venus)

The canned tuna industry value chain is a bit like those domino effect videos, where one event at one end has effects all along the chain. Canneries in Bangkok have good skipjack inventory supplies at the present due to good fishing since the end of the FAD closure last year, add to that the Trump tariff war (that includes tuna), plus lots of Chinese processed skipjack heading to the EU, the tuna price per ton price is very low (1200USD/ton), therefore not much is sold. 

Screen Shot 2019-05-25 at 1.04.28 PM.png

As processing coolstores are full the demand is low and the unloading in Bangkok is slow, so the carriers are used as temporary storage and the waiting time prior unloading for carrier waiting to enter Bangkok can be up to 1.5 to 2 months at the present (imagine being waiting at anchor for over a month maintaining a boat that cost 10 to 20K a day just to stay afloat and keep up to 1000 ton of fish frozen). Check the IAS screenshot of Bangkok and surroundings that shows you the amazing number of carriers actually in port and waiting in the gulf.

So carriers here are full (and kept as floating coolstores) and waiting for space in Bangkok to depart. We do have some “big” carriers coming over in the next weeks to clean up the backlog

Vessel owners are then confronted with a complex choice, they may don’t want to sell their fish too cheap (or even below cost), but then is “cheaper” in the long term to be empty (to either to go back fishing or just stay with minimal use of fuel) than to stay full burning fuel to keep the fish cold.

In the meantime, we have most boats full of fish in the lagon (you can see this from the logsheets and the normal flotation line that is way below water) waiting for the carriers to come over, which is good for crew and maintenance… 

This the 1st time I’ve seen it so bad in almost two years coming here, and some way it means that the Asian DWFN and foreign owned domestic companies are catching more fish than the ones being consumed…. And that cannot be good, and I mean at all levels, not just in terms of management and bio-economics… I just have no idea how much fuel is being burnt into maintaining fish frozen unnecessarily, since it could have stayed in the water alive and growing for free… and when you live in place where the high tide line is less than a meter below your house… these issues resonate quite strongly.

On the other side this allow me to focus on the many other aspects of my work-plan as agreed with MIMRA and my employer NZMFAT. So I’m focussing on other various areas. 

I don’t like procurement, but we have various needs identified so I worked on the technical specifications for them, our priorities are:

New boarding boats: we have been struggling with issue of boarding boats for a while and we are mostly dependent on the Pilot boat or the agents and vessels good will, which they have so that is OK, but is not the right thing to do. And with up to 20 PS sometimes in port we need 2 .

The one boarding boat we have is not really fit for purpose for various reasons:even if it is advisable to have 2 boarding officers, if we go in the present boat one has to stay on board and wait far from the PS, since we cannot leave our boarding boat tied up to the boarded PS as  they will “knock” against the port or starboard sides and as our one is made of fiberglass with very minimal contact protection (bumpers) it damages it quite badly, since is made of fibreglass and it cracks at each hard knock against the FV.

It also has two very thirsty 100 HP petrol engines, that need to be perfectly calibrated in terms of tuning to be used efficiently. Furthermore it makes the boat very heavy on the stern when manoeuvring at low speeds (as when you get closer to a vessels to board it) in fact if you have to fast reverse chances are water will enter the hull. Hence besides being expensive to run is not safe, and reality is that officers don't need high speed to chase anyone, as we are in port. On top of all this is really heavy, and the engines are exposed at the stern making it hard to lift from our own wharf now, so the only chance is to retrieve with trailer and ramp, so you need a truck, go to the ramps and so on, which is silly when you are literally next to the water, as the new office is.

So from experience, the most appropriate boats for this functions are the RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boats) and worked on the following specs: They need to be made of welded marine aluminium (at least 6mm) with Hypalon heavy duty tubes that can absorb any impact with the side of the fishing boats, and are literally unsinkable, have a single inboard engine centre weighted with a jet drive system that makes it very stable on low speed manoeuvring, and with very low draft and no propellers. Besides the easy maintenance, it can be ordered with a spare set of jet shafts, so if one needs maintenance the other one is easily mounted to replace it, and the boat keeps operational.

The safest I’ve know is motorbike type seating, with secure and solid tow points at bow and stern and a solid bow platform for boarding vessels and with secure stowage area for gear. And also have heavy duty lifting lugs and without a roof / canopy so we can have a single crane lifting it up on the wharf in the new building. 

This also implies that I had to work out the specs for a  3-4 ton jib crane to lift the 2 boats, and then also safety gear for the officer, and rugged PC tablets, and inspection tools, and so on…

And honestly it take for ages to do technical specs for World Bank procurement, so I do not enjoy the writing part of it.


In the meantime I’m also procuring Hook Type Crane Scale with Wireless Remote Display for increase the accuracy of our transhipment monitoring scheme… which is another project in itself, since we want to test what is best in terms of find what fits best in terms of accuracy safety, sturdiness, easy handling, connectivity to our IMS and price.

If that wasn't enough, my work plan includes to help with the development of a Corporate Strategy and updating the  Tuna Management Plan, since the present one is from 2014 and not really been used. 

I’m been always very aware of my limitations as a writer, and this type of documents need to struck a balance in between VERY good and concise writing yet being usable, and to do a good one a certain sets of skills are needed that I don't totally have. 

And while I believe I can certainly contribute to many aspects of these documents, I’m not the right person to write them. Yet I have read quite few of them, and always find the lesser pages and the more graphical they are the better. 

These are after all documents that supposed to guide decision making, so the simpler and more graphically you can follow up the objectives of your organization in line of what you are trying to decide the better.

The best strategies I’ve read where are produced with the help of Lars Olsen a fellow consultant (and good surfer), that is based in Hawaii but lived in NZ and Ozz for while, and besides doing great work he is really nice guy. So I reached out to him and to NZ MFAT to enlist him to guide the document and both came to an agreement so he is leading this work, and I’m eager to contribute and keep learning from him.

In terms of Tuna Management Plans (TMP), I always liked the NZ ones, for similar reasons to the strategies… linear simple and graphical documents. But here I’ve experience that the model of having a consultant coming to do them does not establish sufficient ownership by the local counterparts (independent of who and how good the consultant is) and I wanted to avoid that, so I approached NZ MPI to see if they could allow some of their management plans specialist to come and run a “collegiate” type workshop with us, and thet agreed!

Everyone was supportive or that concept and we have Aimée Komugabe-Dixson and Hillary Ayrton (whom I’ve known socially for a while and besides being really cool she is a top spearfisher back home in NZ), so again I’m looking forwards to be part of the process and keep learning.

So over the next two weeks we will meet in the morning and go through the process of developing ourselves the TMP while they facilitate and guide us, and in the afternoon we can keep going on with our work and the specialists “polish’ our ideas and data into the format of the TMP… so they are not the ideas of someone that talks to all of us and then wrote a document, but rather our ideas and work moulded into a accessible format.

Now the only reason I manage to do this is because the awesomeness and full support of Joanna Anderson and Cheryl Brown my bosses at NZ MFAT, Arthur Hore from NZ MPI (whom I knew from my industry days in NZ) and of course the support of MIMRA’s management in particular Sam, Berry and Glen.

I also took the time to accompany the social responsibility auditor of mayor tuna conglomerate to go on bard and witness their interactions with the crew, and offer some feedback not only in terms of my own past as contracted fisherman in the pacific fisheries but also on my present role on social responsibility in fisheries values chains. But that is a topic for another blog post.

And finally is also the issue of the coffee… I’m the kind of guy that is happy to go anywhere anything but I have one hang up from urban life… good coffee, so much that so that even if travel minimally and never dispatch my luggage I bring always my Bialetti Elektra with me. And good coffee has been a bit of a struggle here in Majuro… there was only one expresso machine in the whole island, and it was the USP campus (a good 15’ by bike from the office)… 

We talked about this my Glen Joseph the MIMRA boss quite few times since he likes his coffee too and had one of those capsule machines that contribute to the plastic and rubbish problem (Majuro has a prohibition on single use plastic bags and a good plastic bottles and cans recycling programme)

So based in the principle of “aguyjevete” a guarani word (the language used in the area I grow up in the border of Argentina and Paraguay) which I don't think there is a European word that translate to it... is something in between gratitude, recognition, reciprocity and pride... and is "expressed" as a gift or a contribution – and it helps maintaining social relationships and acknowledges reciprocity.

Surely, not coincidentally, Maori have a word that means something along those lines and is Koha, and it reflects the Mana (stature, prestige, goodness) of both the giver and the recipient of the gift, reflecting what the giver is able to give, and the esteem they hold of the person or group they are making the gift to - and hence plays an important part in cementing good relations.


So knowing that Glen is happy with my work and lobbied my bosses in MFAT for an extension of my contract for another year, and this is of incredible help to me and my family... and I wasn't raised to take others support and trust as granted, but rather something to be earned every day.

So I gifted my colleges here at MIMRA HQ a good expresso coffee machine… as a minimal and simple representation of this traditional ways (koha / aguyjevete) not uncommon in many pre-european cultures where social capital and relationships are way more important than bank accounts and papers... hence I’m doing the barista training too…

So yea… Is not all transhipments in life! 

Which country has the best e-CDS that can be used as a model? by Francisco Blaha

I get very often variations of this question… which I tend to respond to the enquirer that is not a question that has no real answer, and then direct them to read some CDS publications that explain why. Yet since I got the question again and i’m jet-lagged, I decided to compile an answer for a colleague, in a simple language as I can try!


Below is my attempt to an answer:

The 1st thing to understand is that a CDS is a “traceability” system that uses certificates and other documents to determine whether marine products in a supply chain originate from legal catches. The objective is to deter IUU fishing by denying its products entry to national and international supply chains and markets. And while CDS may be unilateral or multilateral, to talk about a “national CDS” as something that one country can do by itself over the whole value chain, is misleading.

The key word is traceability which in this context is “tracking fishery products through entire supply chains from catch and landing through division and processing to final sale and consumption”. It is achieved by means of identification and record-keeping along the value chain in systems such as a CDS.

Each country has “a part” on CDS that relates to making sure that they fish they are receiving (either by landing or importation) or transhipment that they are hosting is legal and then accounted for. What happens inside that country is their internal traceability (which then need to be connected with the next country in the value chain for a “full CDS”).

Hence if you want to call it that way, we have a “domestic CDS” (the traceability based system inside the country) and the “full CDS” which is the system in between the countries that part of it.

All present “full CDS” are run by RFMOs, not by countries… The first multilateral CDS were introduced in the form of trade documentation schemes (TDS) or trade information schemes by tuna RFMOs to monitor trade in the fish species they governed. The TDS is the precursor of the multilateral CDS, and TDS are in place in four out of five tuna RFMOs, and are the only multilateral trade documentation mechanism in IOTC, and IATTC; ICCAT developed a CDS in 2008 and CCSBT in 2010. The WCPFC still the only one that has none of these systems in place.

The two existing tuna CDS together cover substantially less than 1 percent of global tuna harvests by volume – all commercial species combined; the three RFMO CDS cover less than 0.1 percent of global wild fishery catch by volume. There is hence vast scope for expansion of the systems. 

Of all CDS systems only 2 are electronically native, the ICCAT e-CDS was operational by the end of 2016; the upgraded CCAMLR e-CDS was operational in the first quarter of 2017. 

There are also two unilateral attempts to a CDS in existence, the 1st has been implemented by the EU since 2010, is different from the general advised CDS, as it operated unilaterally by a single market state and does not apply to any specific species or fisheries. Instead it covers most wild-caught marine finfish traded into the EU market, and requires products to be covered by catch certificates validated under the scheme by flag state authorities.

The layout and functionalities of the EU scheme reflect those of multilateral schemes (less port of landing which is inexplicably absent), but it has few verifiable traceability mechanisms and for most flag states it certifies products exported but not the one caught. The scheme lacks a central registry to issue and record certificates. The system is hence vulnerable to fraud because the foundation for traceability in a CDS is missing, and individual traceability mechanisms applied by individual countries along their supply chains have limited scope with regard to eliminating fraud. The scheme is hence weakened because there is no effective supply chain traceability system that transcends individual country systems.

The US SIMP system suffers from a different set of limitations as a end market measure, one of the key ones is that does not requite validation at all by any CA of any producing country. A comparison in between the data requirements of both is here.

Below I represent the “full and domestic” CDS and their interactions in graphs, so perhaps is easier to understand:

The “full CDS” illustrated in Figure 1 (original by Gilles Hosch) and show the connections in between countries that are the key issue

Figure 1: Each country is a black box that process its own internal traceability system, country A has the responsibility of determine legality at landing/transhipment and initial volumes determination, everyone else needs to avoid fish laundering by checking the volumes per species it receives versus the ones sent from the last country, all the way to the volumes and species legally unloaded from the vessel.

Figure 1: Each country is a black box that process its own internal traceability system, country A has the responsibility of determine legality at landing/transhipment and initial volumes determination, everyone else needs to avoid fish laundering by checking the volumes per species it receives versus the ones sent from the last country, all the way to the volumes and species legally unloaded from the vessel.

Then each country has what some call their “domestic CDS” (the traceability based system inside the country) where knowing the movements of the fish in between operators and and the mass balance in between in and out is the key element, as we see in Figure 2 for a generic Country A.

Fig 2: Each “black box country” will have different needs according type of state roles (flag, port, coastal, processing) of the country.A generic country could have sequence above if it does most functions.

Fig 2: Each “black box country” will have different needs according type of state roles (flag, port, coastal, processing) of the country.A generic country could have sequence above if it does most functions.

Operationally a complex country like PNG for example has an internal traceability systems able to do what you see in Figure 3 by a combination of PSM to define legality at unloading and a catch accountancy system (that is world class!) along the “in country” processing chain. Once it leaves the country, the next country needs to have a system to receive that data and manage its own process.

Fig 3: The schematic system being worked inside PNG. While is called CDS, is in reality their “inside CDS”, ( it becomes a “full CDS” when it reaches the full value chain with other countires )

Fig 3: The schematic system being worked inside PNG. While is called CDS, is in reality their “inside CDS”, (it becomes a “full CDS” when it reaches the full value chain with other countires)

For Marshall islands for example the system is different as you see in Figure 4,  we have moved a step closer to a CDS since we are linking to our main “next country” Thailand, but still only a partial one, since it does not incorporate most flag states and no market state.

Fig 4: RMI operational “inside CDS”, as you see our inside system is very small so we are working to link it with the one in Thailand

Fig 4: RMI operational “inside CDS”, as you see our inside system is very small so we are working to link it with the one in Thailand

The minimal MCS tools needed to capture the necessary data that need to be captured each country for a CDS to work will depend of the combination of the type of states that are in their fisheries reality. For example PNG is a flag, coastal, port, processing and market state (since it imports tuna sometimes). Solomons is flag, coastal, port and processing. Tuvalu is flag, coastal and port. Tokelau only coastal. 

This FAO document I co-wrote with my friend Gilles Hosch, has the a description of the ideal configuration needed at each type of state in order to get the minimal data for a CDS (and you’ll recognise some of the words here too).

For a FFA lead eCDS, that then could be push into the WCPFC, we will not only need to have all member countries in but also on one side all DWFN (TW, China, Korea, Japan, US, Philippines, Spain) this could be achieved via pushing the participation as part the “harmonised minimum terms and conditions” or “HMTCs” that all vessels fishing in FFA waters need to comply (as they recently did with labour issues), yet this leaves out those fishing only in the high seas… and that is something that only the WCPFC and the flag states have jurisdiction.

On the other end, we also need Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, and China (as key processing countries to play a part).

Thailand’s involvement is almost guaranteed since they have become leaders on the area, Vietnam is under the microscope because the EU yellow card (the most successful outcome of the EU IUU regulation), Phillipines’ canning industry depends totally of the fish they catch in PNG waters, so they could be coerced into it.

With China, who knows… not that they're really care about anything or anyone and not that the EU or the US are going to put any trade related measure with them…

And then is the engagement with the EU, Japan and US as final market states.

The EU has the capacity to accept RFMO’s CDS as equivalent of their Catch Certificate, it would be a long negotiation but can be done. Japan has been talking about a CDS for a while, they have been very supportive of FFA so if they are seated on the table they could be part of it.

The US system does not involve anyone else other than themselves (there is a pattern there?), the exporter inputs the dat and the importer receives it, that is it, no involvement of any fisheries authority from any state. Yet their system (SIMP) is electronic, so if we have a system where nothing leaves the country unless authorised and accounted, if that fish goes to the US the exporter (under national legislation) would have to log into SIMP via a nationally run portal, that feed into the SIMP platform.

once we get to all that… we quite sorted

FFA takes a ground-breaking step in the issue of fishers labour rights by Francisco Blaha

I reported last week that I was in the Brussels Seafood Global Show presenting the work I’ve been doing for FAO, The event we had was called the Brussels Dialogue and provided a great opportunity for FAO to present our first draft guidance on socially responsible fisheries value chains and for participants to provide feedback, comments, suggestions and inputs.

Fishing and fishers are now formally linked

Fishing and fishers are now formally linked

I was really presently surprised by the very favourable reaction to our work… in a nutshell our message was: We are people, this a story about all of us not just them, is about upholding the existing rights not more rules, and about due diligence that everyone in the value chain should be working towards. 

Katrina knows her stuff!

Katrina knows her stuff!

And while I was talking about this there with my colleague Katrina Nakamura, part of my head was in Ponphei (FSM) where the FFA Committee (FFA’s governing body), was discussing an issue if was involved in the drafting of the a month ago at the MSC working group (MCSWG).

Part of the problem in terms crew abuses, is that even if they where proven we did not have the tools to stop the vessel access to fishing, since labour and fishing are under different regulatory framework. This has been a big problem.

And in a total show of leadership my friends and colleagues in the pacific based on the awesome work done by Len Rodwell and Tion Nabau (legal adviser) of the FFA secretariat, with some inputs of my self and others during the MCSWG, they passed the first ever licensing conditions designed specifically to address human rights and labour abuses in the Pacific tuna fisheries

The measure, passed in the form of “harmonised minimum terms and conditions” or “HMTCs” for how all 17 member states may issue licenses, sets clear terms for the welfare and treatment of crew members working on board fishing vessels based directly form ILO Working in Fishing C188.  

The offices of the 17 Members expressed overwhelming support for the proposal, some concerns were expressed with respect to the consistent application of the standards and the legal framework underpinning the proposal, but those concerns were not significant enough to override the view of the moral and ethical necessity to address human rights and labour abuses.  

The reason this is momentous is because from the 1/1/2020, if a vessel does not uphold those conditions (I’ll blog about them when the final draft is approved by the FFC Ministerial) then they right to fish can be removed in the biggest fishery in the world. And this is the 1sttime in the world that there is direct link substantiated by a coalition of coastal states.

This is ground-breaking for fisheries worldwide, in this part of the world, fishers labour rights and fishing access are for first time formally linked.

I’m totally proud that the people I work the most with have taken such step, and the little input they allowed me to have on it. 

This will impact positively peoples life, and is (or should be) what we work for!

Fishery subsidies: the interaction between science and policy by Francisco Blaha

Been writing about the impact of subsidies for a while now. In fact I said many times that in my simple and humble opinion y we could tackle subsidies and increase transparency open licences negotiations, CDS, etc) the challenges around fisheries work will be much more manageable.

spreading the subsidies around, like live bait in a P&amp;L just to generate some action…

spreading the subsidies around, like live bait in a P&L just to generate some action…

I always had the idea a well managed fishery the fisheries is la table with 3 legs science, policy (including law) and MCS, they retro-feed each other, and if one fails the table collapses, hence based on my interest on subsidies I’m always keen to read the work of Dr Rashid Sumaila and his collaborators.

This latest paper, does the usual good job and digs deep on the 3 different academic branches used to analyse subsidies: descriptive, theoretical, and empirical.

Descriptive studies determine the definition of subsidies, describe the social and political contexts under which these subsidies are funded, and estimate subsidies at local and global levels. These studies offer the foundation for subsequent theoretical and empirical analyses.

Theoretical studies of subsidies started with static open access fishery models, but more recent studies include rational expectation, political economy, shared fish stocks, and international trade. They provide a number of predictions, but the general conclusion seems to be that the impact of subsidies should depend on the type of subsidies, biological characteristics of the fishery concerned, as well as the management and political systems in place.

Empirical studies aim to provide systematic evidence on how subsidies affect fishery outcomes in the real world. As the data on fishery subsidies are limited, empirical studies are still scarce; however, solid advances have been made during the last decade.

They then relate their analysis to the two over-aching topics in fisheries Science and Policy, which makes it a very good read. So, as usual I quote parts of it, but always read the original.

Fisheries subsidies have attracted considerable attention worldwide since the 1990s. The World Trade Organization (WTO), among others, started to strengthen its disciplines in fisheries subsidies in 2001. The academic study of fisheries subsidies can play a key role in contributing to policy-making processes such as WTO negotiations by providing more accurate information on the link between subsidies and overfishing. This paper aims to review the existing academic literature and discuss the role of academic studies in the process of designing and implementing policies on fisheries subsidies. Academic studies on fishery subsides can be divided into three branches: descriptive, theoretical, and empirical. Overall, there has been significant progress in empirical studies on fishery subsidies during the last decade. While the number of studies is still limited, they generate insights that are consistent with theoretical predictions. As for potential contributions of academic studies to actual policies and sustainable management, more interaction between academic experts and policy makers is desirable.

Policy background on fisheries subsidies
The issue of how to control the negative impacts of fisheries subsidies has attracted considerable attention since the 1990s among scientists, policy makers and managers worldwide. In 1992, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) pointed out that providing subsidies to the fishing sector could lead to the depletion of fish stocks (FAO 1992). The World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 identified fisheries subsidies as an important issue in relation to sustainable fisheries. The United Nations Environment Program also hosted meetings and workshops on fisheries subsidies during this period (von Moltke 2012). In addition, the World Trade Organization (WTO) started work to strengthen its disciplines on fisheries subsidies in 2001. Before that, one of the main legal instruments at the disposal of the WTO was the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) agreed in 1947 (GATT 1947). GATT 1947 has its own disciplines focused on subsidies in general. Its article XVI provides rules on export subsidies and other forms of subsidies that could cause trade distortion. These rules were further improved during the GATT Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations from 1986 to 1994, and a new legal instrument, the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM Agreement), was signed in 1994. This agreement establishes three categories of subsidies: prohibited, actionable, and non-actionable. These categories are determined based upon the trade-distortion effect of the subsidies. Potential effects of subsidies on fishery resources fall outside of the scope of the SCM Agreement.

In 2001, new negotiations of the WTO started. One of the main objectives of the negotiations was to clarify and improve WTO disciplines focused on fisheries subsidies. Members of the WTO intensively negotiated this subject and, in 2005, the WTO Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration noted that there was “broad agreement that the (Negotiation) Group should strengthen disciplines on subsidies in the fisheries sector, including through the prohibition of certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing”. There were active negotiations on fisheries subsidies for several years around 2005. However, the WTO Doha round negotiation as a whole came to an impasse in 2007, and the negotiation on fisheries subsidies also stopped. In late 2016, the negotiation group on fisheries subsidies was revitalized with the goal of achieving binding outcomes to be adopted at the WTO Ministerial Conference in 2017. This Ministerial Conference, however, did not achieve substantive outcomes.

A possible link between subsidies and overfishing was discussed during these negotiations. Participants engaged in the WTO negotiations had to tackle the problem of a lack of a common viewpoint on the effects of subsidies. Academic studies on fisheries subsidies can play a key role in these negotiations by providing more accurate information on the link between subsidies and overfishing. This paper aims to review the existing academic literature and discuss the role of academic studies in policy-making processes during the negotiation of fisheries subsidies.

Future challenges
Overall, the literature on fishery subsidies shows that significant progress has been made in the last three decades. Descriptive and theoretical studies clarify under what conditions various subsidies are beneficial or harmful. While the number of empirical studies is still limited, they generate insights that are consistent with theoretical predictions by simple partial equilibrium models. Given that an increasing amount of data on fishery subsidies is becoming available, there is scope for more studies.

In particular, the fisheries support estimate (FSE) database recently developed by the OECD seems to provide a potential avenue for future research (OECD 2017). The FSE database replaces the government financial transfer (GFT) database, and it provides more detailed subsidy data for OECD countries. For example, the FSE database includes an independent category for the provision of infrastructure, the effect of which is controversial as previous studies could not examine its impact due to data limitation. Another strength of the FSE database is that the People’s Republic of China—the country with the largest total amount of fishery subsidies—is included. As such, the scope of the database has increased, even though it still does not include data for many of the world’s coastal countries.

One drawback, however, of the FSE database is that it only goes back to 2009. Researchers may be able to manually append the FSE and GFT (which started in 1996) databases, but they must make sure that the data series are consistent across databases. In addition, quality is always of concern for both GFT and FSE data, as they are self-reported. As such, it is important for empirical researchers to use other sources of data (e.g., academic databases) and various techniques to mitigate the shortcomings of the FSE database. For example, country fixed effect estimation may mitigate the concern that some countries systematically under-report their subsidies. Alternatively, SEs that allow heteroscedasticity may be useful if some countries report their subsidies data with high variances. Researchers should also conduct estimations using various subsamples of countries to ensure that the main result is not affected by a group of countries with low quality data.

Another potential direction for empirical studies is to analyze the impact of subsidies at the fishery level. Existing studies are conducted at the regional level or at the vessel level due to data limitation. However, from a policy perspective, it is more useful to examine which subsidies are effective/ineffective in which fisheries, as the relevant management unit is a fishery. Thus, a fishery-level analysis will yield more useful insights for fishery management. It is also desirable that future empirical studies employ careful identification strategies, as in Duy and Flaaten (2016) and Sakai (2017). To evaluate the impact of subsidies, we need to know counterfactual outcomes, e.g., what would have happened without the subsidies? As fishery subsidies are not distributed randomly to fishers, it is challenging to construct a control group of fishers that can be used to assess a counter-factual outcome. In this regard, both fixed effect models and propensity score matching methods are useful, if not perfect, tools to provide us with such control groups.

As for possible contributions of academic studies to society, more interactions between academic experts (such as economists and scientists) and policy makers (such as diplomats and politicians) are desirable. Under the current situation, the participation of economists and other experts on fishery science is limited to a handful of large delegations like those of the European Union, Japan, Norway, and USA. Most members of groups negotiating fisheries subsidies at the WTO are diplomats and they are usually not aware of the progress that has been made in studies in this field. More outreach toward delegation members from developing countries needs to be considered to strengthen the bond between science and the implications of fisheries subsidies worldwide.

If you are in Brussels, come to the Dialogue on Socially Responsible Fisheries Value Chains by Francisco Blaha

If you read this blog, you may know about my interest in this topic and that I have been contracted by FAO to deliver a position paper on Socially Responsible Fisheries Value Chains. Coming from pure commercial fisheries and then compliance background this a broadening step in my career even if it overlaps (to a point) issues of IUU fishing. I’ll be presenting the work we have been doing for FAO with my colleague and friend Katrina Nakamura in Brussels. So if you are around come on the 8 of May from 10:30 – 16:00 to Room 1101AB.

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The FAO Sub-Committee on Fish Trade has a specific mandate to promote social sustainability in fisheries value chains, mainly the recognition and protection of human and labour rights in national and international value chains, and to collaborate with international partner organizations – such as International Labour Organization (ILO)United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and others.

While I’m never particularly keen in going to trade shows (I wrote about it here), theBrussels Seafood Expo Global is a great opportunity to promote socially responsible fish value chains and share experiences among different stakeholders.

Dialogue objectives: 

The Dialogue will foster an open discussion on measures for social responsibility in the fisheries and aquaculture sector with the aim to promote sustainable human and labour rights along the value chains.

In particular, the Dialogue will focus on the mandate from COFI on social sustainability and to contribute to the ongoing process on developing FAO guidance on social responsibility that will be presented to the FAO Sub-Committee on Fish Trade in November 2019.

The Brussels Dialogue provides a great opportunity for FAO to present the first draft guidance on socially responsible fisheries value chains and for participants to provide feedback, comments, suggestions and inputs. 

The programme for the day is here and also below.


The Brussels Dialogue will be web streamed to allow for wider participation. For more information, please visit Seafood Expo Global