Deploying a Fisheries Observer on a Purse Seiner  by Francisco Blaha

I've been back at my 4th (of 8) stints here in the Marshalls Islands for a couple of weeks now, and among the 20 elements of my work plan, one that is close to my heart is to work on an integral set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Fisheries Observers who have been trained under the Pacific Island Region Fisheries Observer (PIRFO) program. 

 Munua (from Tuvalu) logs in.

Munua (from Tuvalu) logs in.

Not an easy process... so far, we have identified 27 different SOPs over eight different sections (Training & Certification, Placement, Safety and Tracking, Debriefing & Assessment, Administration, Equipment,  Discipline and Electronic Reporting & Monitoring), but it is fun as I remember many issues of my past and I’m working in Majuro is surely the Fisheries Observer capital of the world! It must have the biggest amount of Observers (in relation to population) worldwide. Being a major transhipment hub (35 to 50 per month), there is a constant stream of Observers from all over the Pacific getting on and off vessels in Majuro lagoon.   

To deal with most of these guys is the job of Bernard Fiubala, the Observer Coordinator here in MIMRA (I’m working with him on the SOPs task). He is from the first generations of Observers here in the Pacific, he knows his stuff left right and centre, but what I appreciate the most is that he cares about “his” observers more than he likes to admit, I think. He is like their uncle actually!

 Uncle Bernard (2nd from the left) and "his" observers (Meli the incoming, and Manua the outgoing), reviewing the accommodation with the 2nd mate.

Uncle Bernard (2nd from the left) and "his" observers (Meli the incoming, and Manua the outgoing), reviewing the accommodation with the 2nd mate.

I have accompanied him to do the observer placements as part of some of the inspections we do, but today I decided to document the process for our SOPs and as there is a lot of public interest on the observers, I thought I’ll share this process.

Before I dig deeper on this, let me clear up a couple of things in regards observer safety (and I recommend you read this article from the latest SPC Fisheries Newsletter by my colleague Tim Park, PSC’s Observer Coordinator). Here I quote a bit of it:

Observer’s dual data collection and monitoring role can isolate them from the captain and crew, their only company, sometimes for months at a time, if they are on the high seas. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) has identified instances of observers being assaulted, prevented from doing their job, asked not to report an incident, or denied food, water and safety gear. There have been six observers lost in the Pacific Islands region over recent years due to accidents, undisclosed medical issues that were exacerbated by working at sea and even suicide. One observer was allegedly killed by crew members, and one death remains a mystery. These incidents have all occurred since observers were given the role of monitoring the closure of fish aggregating devices, catch retention and other compliance issues. Since the beginning of 2017, observers are all meant to be equipped with an emergency beacon and two-way communication device in order to stay in touch with their agency. This is an important first step; however, the accidental loss of an observer in 2017 resulted in the implementation of a regional regulation on observer safety with obligations in relation to search and rescue and the treatment of observers who are placed on the fishing vessels.

Unfortunately, we had six deaths of observers in our region since 2010, which no doubt is six too many. 

I think it is important to put things in perspective. We have more than 820 active observers working across 15 observer programmes in Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs). In Majuro alone, we have around 300 placements a year just from here... on a yearly basis pacific-wide there are an estimated 2000 observer trips in Purse Seiners, approximately 700 on LL and 10 on P&L. 


Even if we were to assume only 1000 trips a year (8000 over 8 years) that gives us a 0.075% fatality rate, which is very low. Particularly taking in considerations that fishing is the most dangerous job in the world, and pretty much everything on board can hurt you. I think there is a misconception that observers are sent to a type of war zone, that is not the case.

Please don't get me wrong here, and I’m only speaking on a personal capacity and I’m not dismissing in any form or way that there could have been sinister motivations behind each of those 6 unfortunate deaths, but then I don't automatically assume them either.

I have spent a lot of time at sea in fisherman and observer roles and I believe personal risk management has a strong cultural and “type of life” component. We do stuff in fishing boats that people from other industries will not do. I have done stuff that I would not do today and, in many cases, I was fortunate not to get seriously hurt

Think in your own societies as well, "city kids" were cautioned about play with us "farm/bush kids" because we were to “wild”. My wife is North European and cringes (surely with reason) at my lack of safety precaution when working with heavy machinery or chainsaws, which I don't see it because I have done the work many times before and I think I know my limitations, yet she sees it differently, which is also fair. 

Add to that, youthful exuberance and in many occasions, the fact that the “young me” and many of my Pacific friends, when you go on board you are away from your family or village “contention”, and no one is putting too many limits on your behaviour.  Anyway, my point is when things go wrong on board… they go seriously wrong.

Then there is the elephant in the room: alcohol. One of the biggest killers in our societies, and the Pacific is no different. Personally, I’m not really into alcohol, nothing religious or moral about it. It is just that I don't like it and I don't have to go far into my family history, to see how otherwise charming people transform themselves into irresponsible and violent individuals when they are drunk. 

In fact, under the “macho” culture of fishing prevalent when I was in the boats I learn that it was easier (and safer!) to say “I don't drink anymore”, that to say “I don't drink” and have to explain and aggravate people, since they feel judged. Unfortunately, we live in a society where in some respects, an “ex-alcoholic” get more social acceptance than a “non-drinker”.

And yes! We can argue that is that the alcohol may be given to the observer by the crew and/or officers and that is wrong, yet the observer may also drink that alcohol while on duty, and that is also wrong.

Therefore, I’m VERY happy that a zero tolerance for alcohol while on board has been drilled into the vessels' master and the observer during the whole placement and briefing process. And more importantly, the fact that they have a 2-way communication tracker (like this or this) with an SOS feature that can be used if they feel their safety gets compromised. (This is part of the array of fisheries Apps we use in the Pacific)

But let's go back to the placement process. A purse seine observer may be on board for 1, 2, or 3 trips, depending on the length of the trips. Every time a new observer comes on board, a formal briefing and placement process takes place, there is no way around that.

While the programme under which the observer is placed depends on national, bilateral or multilateral agreements, the process is totally standardised for all of them. The Observer coordinator comes on board with the observer, introduces themselves and the observer to the master and an early priority is to the check the accommodation where the Observer will be sleeping, they asses from physical space, condition of the mattress (bed bugs), security of storage area, allocated life jackets, etc. 

From there, it is off to the bridge where a 3-page checklist is reviewed and discussed dealing with matters ranging from access to safety to communications with the shore, to food and privacy. Describing the rights and obligations of both parties and each element is initialised, then signed by all the involved and then stamped by the captain. And of course the no alcohol rule is reinforced every time!

 Captain agrees (and makes himself responsible) to 3 pages of conditions.

Captain agrees (and makes himself responsible) to 3 pages of conditions.

Then the Observer either stay of goes back to land and returns prior departure, the vessel is not cleared if the Observer is not on safe on board. 

Over the years I may have accompanied maybe 70 to 80 placements and I have yet to see a hostile one. The PS captains are very used to the process and the observer presence is part of the deal.

Most purse seiners have good living conditions, of course, the newest ones being more comfortable. Food can be an issue if you are a bit close minded about it, really depends on the nationality of the cook and the officers… in my opinion, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and American vessels (as in pure American and not Taiwanese/American) have the best food.

Once on board, you need to find your way into what it a close-knit "society". In my case; I’m helpful by nature, and that has always been good to me while on board. I had the advantage of have been a fisherman, so I know when and where I could help safely during manoeuvring before and during fishing, and in general terms, a helpful guy is always well received, the crew like keen people. 

The other thing that helped me a lot (more than I ever thought possible!) is that I’m a keen baker and I like making cakes. Western type cakes are not very common in Asian cuisine, yet they are liked. So I would board with a couple of cake moulds (today they are made of silicon so is easier) and some essentials; cocoa, vanilla, icing sugar, baking powder, but nothing major.

The key is working around the cooks always busy schedule, and he will be happy, the crew get really happy about it (everyone likes cake) and honestly, it doesn’t take me much of an effort. I had it as a weekly event, and the guys were already looking forward to it.

Of course, as in life, there may always be someone that for whatever reason does not like you and it is perhaps best to ignore that. Plenty more appreciate you putting a bit of an effort. The good thing about this is that it does not interfere with the work done or put you in any conflict of interest. 

I have written many times before that I have total respect for the job Observers do, they are a key cornerstone for vital data collection for effective fisheries management. Many of the people I respect in the fishing world were observers at some stage and that shows as soon as they start talking.

Personally, I would love to see more observers transitioning into fisheries officers in the Pacific, there is an untapped potential of insider knowledge there that we all could benefit from, while giving the experienced observer a path into the broader fisheries world.

Have a good trip Manua!





All the best Eunice! Our E-Monitoring and E-Reporting expert moves to new shores by Francisco Blaha

This Friday we said goodbye to Eunice Borero, she has been until today the “engine” of the Marshall Island Marine Resources Authority well advanced efforts on Electronic Reporting (ER) and Monitoring (EM). Each of those emerging technologies is a universe in itself, and the fact that she was doing both a top level is just a testament to her willingness and capacity. 

 Nothing more telling that she was still working up to the moment she is called for her farewell party!

Nothing more telling that she was still working up to the moment she is called for her farewell party!

On the ER side, she managed the e-Obs system (I wrote before here) that allows observers using handheld tablets to file their daily reports, which are transmitted to MIMRA via the Iridium network. On top of that, the tablets have an SOS feature that can be used by observers if their safety gets compromised.  She also made inroads on the e-log system for vessels logsheets under the same principles.
On the EM side, she has been pivotal on the trials MIMRA has been running the five vessel trial involving video camera and GPS systems placed on-board for collecting information on their activities. This information is later analysed by office observers when the vessels return to port. 

She has managed not only the operational side but also training and coordination for the observers and fishing vessel captains using these new tools. She is so good at this that has also trained regionally gaining a lot of contacts and goodwill from everyone.

In an SPC Fisheries Newsletter, my friend Malo Hosken relates that she had to overcome quite a few preconceptions for being a woman, the article reports that: due to their regulatory responsibilities, engaging with vessel captains can be difficult for all fisheries staff. Eunice has sometimes faced prejudice or downright dismissal when on board some vessels. For example, once a captain asked her ‘if she had even been to school’. She has also experienced some observers being averse to the idea of receiving training from a younger person and a woman. So in her training sessions, Eunice begins by emphasising the importance of professionalism and cooperation. Eunice learns from observers about the fishing operations, as much as observers learn from her about ER and EMS developments. The common objective is for MIMRA to implement these new tools, which are not ‘plug in and play’ ready. 

 Malo's picture from her work in the SPC article

Malo's picture from her work in the SPC article

And if all this wasn't enough she has been working on the development of EM data standards for the WCPFC. No doubt, her work has made EM and ER a reality for us in the region, everyone that ever meet her would agree to that.

All these were emphasised in a farewell function where MIMRA's director Glen Joseph and the Minister in charge of fisheries recognised her contribution to our overall work.

 Boss Glen acknowledges her contribution to our work

Boss Glen acknowledges her contribution to our work

Personally what I always always will appreciate about her, is that she an icredible work attitude and takes her job really seriously, yet she always has an amazing smile even in the most complicated days.

Her partner Jacob got a scholarship at a very prestigious university in London, and she is supporting that opportunity by being at his side, which is great for them, but lives a professional and personal gap here for us, while we can only be happy for her.

I have contacted my acquaintances at PEW, Ocean Mind and Global Fishing Watch in London, to keep her in mind if opportunities arise. Not every day you get a WCP EM and ER implementation expert landing at your door front with the experience to have been at the forefront of the tuna fisheries here in Pacific, and that practical experience is a unique asset.

Farewell Eunice! You will be missed, but our loss in the Pacific is the further fishing world gain. We surely will still see your excellent work and life attitude in the newer areas of fishing.

The environmental cost of food production by Francisco Blaha

When Ray Hilborn publishes a new paper, you know that controversy will start soon after, environmentalist see him as an ultra-optimistic at best and a fishing industry apologist at worst. I been to a couple of his talks (in fact once he quoted something I sent him). His wife is (or was) an organic farmer, and while people may disagree, I allways found his arguments convincing and well-grounded in solid research. 

  Radar plots comparing environmental impacts (a) between different food production methods, (b) within aquaculture production methods, (c) within livestock production methods, and (d) within capture fisheries across all four impact categories examined (energy demand [MJ], GHG emissions [CO2-eq], eutrophication potential [PO4-eq], and acidification potential [SO2-eq]). Solid lines represent median impacts across broad food production system categories (ie aquaculture, livestock, capture fisheries); dashed lines represent median impacts of product subcategories (eg salmon aquaculture). From Hilborn et al. 2018

Radar plots comparing environmental impacts (a) between different food production methods, (b) within aquaculture production methods, (c) within livestock production methods, and (d) within capture fisheries across all four impact categories examined (energy demand [MJ], GHG emissions [CO2-eq], eutrophication potential [PO4-eq], and acidification potential [SO2-eq]). Solid lines represent median impacts across broad food production system categories (ie aquaculture, livestock, capture fisheries); dashed lines represent median impacts of product subcategories (eg salmon aquaculture). From Hilborn et al. 2018

I always liked his efforts in measuring the environmental cost of food production, which is an area that many people that criticise fisheries, seems to conveniently forget. In a similar vein, recreational fishers are quick to point to the levels of biomass extracted and discards by the comercials, yet never mention the obnoxious amounts of fuel consumed and greenhouse emission produced per kg of fish by their wildly inefficient outboards. I really believe that in fisheries, pointing fingers to others only does not help... we all need to do better... end of story.

Anyway, in a paper published yesterday in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, in what Hilborn and co-authors believe it is the most comprehensive look at the environmental impacts of different types of animal protein production, this is discussed with a lot of detail.

This is a compressive review that based on nearly a decade of analysis, in which he and his co-authors reviewed hundreds of published life-cycle assessments for various types of animal protein production. Also called a “cradle-to-grave” analysis, these assessments look at environmental impacts associated with all stages of a product’s life.

Of the more than 300 such assessments that exist for animal food production, the authors selected 148 that were comprehensive and not considered too “boutique,” or specialized, to inform their new study. The results are quite "illuminating".


The paper can be accessed accessed from the links in the page, from where I sourced part of the text of this entry, or directly from here.

They start by recognising that something that many people seem to forget:  Currently, agriculture uses 38% of the world’s land and accounts for over 90% of freshwater use. Farming and food production has been and continues to be, the largest driver of habitat and biodiversity loss on the planet.

Quantifying environmental costs of animal protein
The 148 different life-cycle assessment papers (also known as “cradle-to-grave” analysis) used as references, studied the environmental impacts associated with every aspect of animal protein as food. The researchers quantified 4 different kinds of major environmental impacts caused by food production:

  1. electricity/energy use;
  2. greenhouse gas emissions;
  3. potential for nutrient runoff—this causes most of the world’s water quality issues;
  4. potential to cause air pollution.

By standardizing environmental impacts per 40g/protein produced researchers were able to compare different kinds of animal proteins. Basically, the paper answers the question: what are the environmental costs of producing a hamburger patty’s worth of protein from different animal sources?

This is not small task, ince the found out that there are up to 100‐fold differences in impacts between specific products and, in some cases, for the same product, depending on the production method being used. 

Energy & Greenhouse Gasses

  • Overall, livestock production uses less energy than most forms of seafood aquaculture. Farmed catfish, shrimp and tilapia use the most energy, mainly because constant water circulation must be powered by electricity. Climate impacts depend on the source of electricity. A tilapia farm powered by solar energy will be much less impactful than one that gets its electricity from a fossil fuel power plant.
  • Catfish aquaculture and beef produce the most amount of greenhouse gases.
  • Best choices for low-carbon protein are: small capture fisheries (like anchovy, herring, or sardines); farmed mollusks— such as oysters, mussels and scallops; whitefish like pollock, cod and haddock; farmed salmon; and chicken.
  • For capture fisheries, fuel to power fishing boats is the biggest factor, but fuel use varies dramatically depending on the kind of fish being caught and the gear being used. For example, using a purse seine net to catch small schooling fish like herring and anchovy uses the least fuel, while, perhaps surprisingly, pot fisheries for lobster use a great deal of fuel and have the highest impact per 40g of protein produced. Dragging nets through water, known as trawling, is quite variable and the impact appears related to the abundance of fish. Healthy stocks take less fuel to capture.

Nutrient runoff & Air Pollution

  • In addition to using very little energy, mollusk aquaculture actually absorbs excess nutrients that are harmful to ecosystems. Farmed mollusks also produced the least amount of air pollution, with small capture fisheries and salmon aquaculture close behind.
  • Livestock beef production has many environmental issues. Manure washed away by rain is a major concern for healthy waterways. Also, because cows produce methane, they contribute to pollution that causes acid rain.
  • Capture fisheries scored best in nutrient runoff because no fertilizer is used.

An interesting takeaway:

  • When compared to other studies of vegetarian and vegan diets, a selective diet of aquaculture and wild capture fisheries can have a lower environmental impact than either of the plant-based diets.

This later, of course, will cause a lot a noise, for sure…

My take is: I’m culturally primed to listen (and read) to my elders (those who know more than me) as much as I can. Then I keep what I think is the best they have to offer. I’m sure we all have an angle on everything, but I never understood why some angles would be better than others? Is up to you to decide where you fit in the opinion spectrum. Yet there is something I’m totally sure: truth is never at the extremes of it, and to live is to compromise. How far do these compromises go? Well, that is a matter of personal choice and/or public policy, but I believe this cannot be determined unequivocally by science.

The economics of fishing the high seas by Francisco Blaha

I love when I read a paper that proves and quantifies facts that you knew from being working in the topic, but could not prove. A new paper “The economics of fishing the high seas” by cast of heavyweight fisheries economist just did that in terms of two areas that I’m very interested since (in my opinion) both have massive influences on IUU fishing: Subsidies and flag state performance on high seas fishing.

 Fig 2. Global patterns of fishing in the high seas

Fig 2. Global patterns of fishing in the high seas

The paper uses (as many other now) data from Global Fishing Watch (GFW) database, which uses automatic identification systems (AIS). I wrote about the risks of relying only on AIS (as it not only can be switched off or absent – particularly by those with something to hide- but also because is less "fisheries specific" than VMS, but then VMS is proprietary and not universally shared). And while I personally think that the numbers of vessels identified via AIS in the paper are quite low (only 900 Chinese and 600 Taiwanese? really) the real higher number just make the results even more overwhelming.

I always recommend to go to the original, (particularly because in this case is of free access) so below I just will quote some of the key issues and figures I liked. 

While the ecological impacts of fishing the waters beyond national jurisdiction (the “high seas”) have been widely studied, the economic rationale is more difficult to ascertain because of scarce data on the costs and revenues of the fleets that fish there. Newly compiled satellite data and machine learning now allow us to track individual fishing vessels on the high seas in near real time. These technological advances help us quantify high-seas fishing effort, costs, and benefits, and assess whether, where, and when high-seas fishing makes economic sense. We characterize the global high-seas fishing fleet and report the economic benefits of fishing the high seas globally, nationally, and at the scale of individual fleets. Our results suggest that fishing at the current scale is enabled by large government subsidies, without which as much as 54% of the present high-seas fishing grounds would be unprofitable at current fishing rates. The patterns of fishing profitability vary widely between countries, types of fishing, and distance to port. Deep-sea bottom trawling often produces net economic benefits only thanks to subsidies, and much fishing by the world’s largest fishing fleets would largely be unprofitable without subsidies and low labor costs. These results support recent calls for subsidy and fishery management reforms on the high seas.


Global patterns
We identified a minimum of 3620 unique fishing vessels operating in the high seas in 2016 (Fig. 1). In addition to the actual fishing vessels, we tracked 35 bunkers (tankers that refuel fishing vessels) and 154 reefers (refrigerated cargo ships onto which fishing vessels transfer their catch at sea, a process called transshipment), vital to the operation of the high-seas fishing fleet (fig. S2 and table S6). Only six countries (China, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Spain, and South Korea) accounted for 77% of the global high-seas fishing fleet and 80% of all AIS/VMS-inferred fishing effort (measured in kilowatt-hours; table S1). Fifty-nine percent of the vessels active in the high seas used drifting longlines and represented 68% of all fishing days. The top four fishing gears operating in the high seas are drifting longliners, purse seiners, squid jiggers, and trawlers (Fig. 1 and table S2).

The global high-seas fishing fleet identified here spent an aggregate 510,000 days at sea in 2016; 77% of these days were spent fishing, with an average of 141 days at sea per vessel (table S1). The time spent by vessels fishing in the high seas versus fishing in EEZs varied according to the type of fishing they conduct (fig. S1).

This characterization of the global high-seas fleet enables a detailed estimation of the total cost of fishing the high seas. Using vessel-level data on ship length, tonnage, engine power, gear, flag state, trip-level fishing and transit tracks, speed, and other factors that affect the costs of fishing, we estimate that total costs of fishing in the high seas in 2014 (the most recent year for which spatially allocated global reconstructed catch data are available) ranged between $6.2 billion and $8.0 billion (Table 1). The uncertainty around total costs was driven mainly by labor costs, particularly for China and Taiwan, which exhibited the highest total costs, but for which fisheries data are often scarce.

The total fisheries catch from the high seas in 2014 was 4.4 million metric tons, with an aggregate revenue (landed value of the catch in US$) of $7.6 billion (Table 1). Five countries alone accounted for 64% of the global high-seas fishing revenue: China (21%), Taiwan (13%), Japan (11%), South Korea (11%), and Spain (8%). High-seas catch by country and FAO region significantly and positively increased with rising fishing effort (R2 = 0.46, P < 0.001) (fig. S4). Subtracting our estimated costs from the landed value of catch provides the first empirically based estimates of the net economic profit of fishing the high seas.

Globally, our estimates of high-seas fishing profits (without accounting for subsidies) ranged between −$364 million and +$1.4 billion (Table 1). We estimated that governments subsidized high-seas fishing with $4.2 billion in 2014, far exceeding the net economic benefit of fishing in the high seas. This result suggests that without subsidies, high-seas fishing at the global scale that we currently witness would be unlikely (at the aggregate level), and that most of the negative returns accrue from China, Taiwan, and Russia (Table 1). Coupling our estimates of profits with country-level subsidies suggests that subsidy-distorted high-seas profits range between $3.8 billion and $5.6 billion.

We conducted these calculations spatially, revealing that, even with subsidies and our lowest estimate of labor costs, 19% of the currently fished high seas cannot be exploited profitably at current rates (Fig. 2). Assuming higher labor costs, and the fact that companies still receive subsidies, the area of unprofitability jumps from 19 to 30%. Finally, without subsidies and low wages to labor, the area of unprofitability shoots to 54%, implying that without subsidies and/or low labor compensation, more than half of the currently fished high-seas fishing grounds would be unprofitable at present exploitation rates.

The countries that provided the largest subsidies to their high-seas fishing fleets are Japan (20% of the global subsidies) and Spain (14%), followed by China, South Korea, and the United States (Table 1). It is remarkable that in these cases, the subsidies far exceed fishing profits, with the extreme being Japan, where subsidies represent more than four times our estimate of their high-seas profits. For 17 countries, contributing 53% of the total high-seas catch, current extraction rates would not be profitable without government subsidies (Table S5). Among these countries, China and Taiwan alone account for 47% of the total high-seas catch, which is significant. Whether subsidies enable profitability or not, the magnitude of subsidies and the fact that many of these subsidies lower the marginal cost of fishing suggest that high-seas fishing activity could be markedly altered in their absence.

In what fisheries do these high-seas dynamics play out? We find that drifting longliners and purse seiners, targeting mainly large mobile, high-value fishes such as tuna and sharks, are the most profitable high-seas fisheries (Fig. 3). All other fisheries are either barely profitable or unprofitable. We estimate that deep-sea bottom trawling would not be globally profitable at current rates without government subsidies, with maximum annual losses of $230 million before subsidies. Similarly, squid jiggers would be, on average, very unprofitable without subsidies, with maximum annual losses estimated at $345 million, but when we look at the spatial economic patterns per country, type of gear, and fishing grounds, the picture becomes much more complex

Spatial fishing patterns and profitability

While fishing is geographically extensive on the high seas, it is perhaps less so than previously assumed. Using a spatial grid with 0.5° resolution, we estimate that fishing occurred in 132 million km2 or 57% of the high seas in 2016; this number reduces to 48% with a grid of 0.25° resolution. Fishing effort in the high seas occurs mostly between latitudes 45°N and 35°S (Fig. 2). Hot spots of fishing effort were detected at the EEZ boundaries of Peru, Argentina, and Japan, dominated by the Chinese, Taiwanese, and South Korean squid jiggers; deep-sea bottom trawling off Georges Bank and in the Northeast Atlantic; and to a lesser extent in the Central and Western Pacific, associated mostly with tuna longline/purse seine fleets. The spatial footprint of high-seas fishing was most extensive for longliners; purse seiners were restricted to the equatorial zone; squid jiggers operated mostly on the EEZ boundaries of Peru, Argentina, and Japan; and deep-sea bottom trawlers were restricted to the continental shelf edge and seamounts (fig. S3).

 Fig. 4 National patterns of fishing in the high seas

Fig. 4 National patterns of fishing in the high seas

China and Taiwan had the largest spatial footprints, followed by Japan, Spain, and South Korea (Fig. 4). A global pattern emerged in which unprofitable high-seas fishing (without subsidies) transformed into profitable fishing (with subsidies) in most areas for Japan, Spain, and South Korea. However, the global map of profits after subsidies still showed many areas with an apparent economic loss for China and Taiwan, such as the Western Indian Ocean. Fishing by China and Taiwan became profitable at many locations only after assuming low labor costs, that is, by lowering average labor costs from these countries by 30 and 53%, respectively (table S5).

Economic profitability also varied markedly between countries, fisheries, and FAO regions (Fig. 5). The analysis at this level is most important for understanding the economics of individual fisheries, with direct management implications. The following are the results for the most important high-seas fishing countries.

China. China shows the highest economic contrasts of fishing in the high seas, as it deploys some of the most and least profitable fisheries (Fig. 5 and table S7). The most profitable of the high-seas operations by China and globally were in the Northwest Pacific, where we estimate that fuel expenditures are only a fraction of those elsewhere because of the proximity to mainland China. Longlining and bottom trawling in the Northwest Pacific showed an estimated average profit (before subsidies) of $325 million and $111 million, respectively. Most other Chinese fisheries appeared to be unprofitable, and the worst were in the Southwest Atlantic, where estimated fishing costs are four times greater than near mainland China. The most unprofitable of all Chinese fisheries was bottom trawling in the Southwest Atlantic, which exhibited an average net loss (even after subsidies are taken into account) of $98 million. China’s squid fishing was consistently unprofitable, and subsidies made it profitable only off Peru’s EEZ.

Taiwan. Similar to mainland China, Taiwan’s high-seas fisheries in the Northwest Pacific are its most profitable (Fig. 5 and table S7). Taiwanese longlining and squid jigging in the Northwest Pacific are among the most profitable high-seas fisheries globally without subsidies (average profit $193 million and $63 million, respectively). Taiwanese longlining elsewhere appears to be unprofitable. We estimate that in the Western Central Pacific and Eastern Central Pacific, longlining results in average annual losses of $65 million and $63 million, respectively. Similar to China, only after assuming low labor costs does Taiwanese high-seas fishing produce profits (table S7).

Japan. In contrast to China and Taiwan, Japanese fishing in the high seas was mostly profitable, especially in the Eastern Central and Western Central Pacific (Fig. 5 and table S7), with longlining profits before subsidies estimated at $205 million and $113 million, respectively. Japanese pole and line fishing in the Western Central Pacific and longlining in the South Atlantic and Eastern Indian Ocean were also profitable even without subsidies. Surprisingly, the least profitable Japanese tuna fishing occurs in the Northwest Pacific, close to Japan, with net economic losses unless subsidies make that fishery profitable.

South Korea. South Korea’s most profitable high-seas fishing was longlining in the Western Central Pacific ($173 million on average before subsidies), followed by bottom trawling in Atlantic Antarctic waters ($129 million) (Fig. 5 and table S7). Korean squid jigging off the EEZ of Argentina and off the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) is also profitable ($91 million on average before subsidies). The least profitable South Korean high-seas fishery was bottom trawling in the Southeast Atlantic, where costs exceeded revenue even after subsidies were subtracted. Longlining in the Southeast Pacific was the second most unprofitable of South Korean fisheries.

Spain. Spain’s most profitable fishery was longlining in the Western Indian Ocean, followed by longlining in the Southeast Pacific, off West Africa, and the Southwest Pacific (Fig. 5 and table S7). However, Spain’s purse seining in the Eastern Central Pacific, the Western Indian Ocean, and the Eastern Central Atlantic (West Africa) would not be profitable at current rates without subsidies. Purse seining in the Southeast Pacific was not profitable even with subsidies, and current bottom trawling effort everywhere in the high seas was unprofitable without subsidies.

Other countries and fisheries. Deep-sea bottom trawling on the high seas showed a broad pattern of unprofitability worldwide (table S7). Sixty-four percent of all national bottom trawling operations in FAO regions were unprofitable without subsidies, and a remarkable 32% of these operations appear to have been unprofitable even with subsidies, which raises obvious questions about the incentives to fish there.

Indonesia, the only flag state that publicly provides VMS data, fished only in the high seas of the Indian Ocean. Tuna fishing using purse seines and longlines in the Eastern Indian Ocean was profitable even without subsidies because of the relatively low costs of fishing off the western edge of their EEZ and the characteristics of the fleet, that is, small vessels with small engines (Fig. 5 and table S7). However, Indonesian fishing in the Western Indian Ocean was unprofitable, as we estimate that costs are 15 times greater than the landed value of the catch. This result may be due to the sharp differences in reported catch across FAO regions of the Indian Ocean.

 Fig. 5Spatial patterns of high-seas fishing profits. ( A ) FAO regions, ( B ) profits before subsidies by country, and ( C ) fishing gear

Fig. 5Spatial patterns of high-seas fishing profits. (A) FAO regions, (B) profits before subsidies by country, and (C) fishing gear


Our results show that, by and large, fishing the high seas is artificially propped up by an estimated $4.2 billion in government subsidies (more than twice the value of the most optimistic estimate of economic profit before subsidies are taken into account). The economic benefits vary enormously between fisheries, countries, and distance from port. On aggregate, current high-seas fishing by vessels from China, Taiwan, and Russia would not be profitable without subsidies. This is globally significant since these three countries alone account for 51% of the total high-seas catch. Other countries exhibit annual profits ranging from negligible to $250 million, which were increased substantially by subsidies (for example, Japan, Korea, Spain, and the United States). Surface fisheries for pelagic species such as tuna were profitable, whereas most other fisheries barely broke even, and squid jigging (mostly concerning Chinese and Taiwanese fleets) and deep-sea bottom trawling were generally unprofitable without subsidies. Some national fisheries in specific regions were unprofitable even after government subsidies are taken into account.

The lack of profitability for China and Taiwan may be related to massive overcapacity. After realizing the declining returns from their domestic fishing, China embarked on a vessel construction program in the 1990s destined to “distant-water fishing,” which continued through the 2000s, when China declared its interest in developing high-seas fisheries (10), although GFW data suggest a recent sharp decline in its fishing fleet. Japan, on the other hand, has undertaken well-documented vessel-scrapping programs to decrease the overcapacity of its large-scale tuna longline fleet (11). Scrapping means that vessels are decommissioned and dismantled, which results in effective reduction of the fleet.

How is it possible that some countries continue to fish in certain high-seas regions while exhibiting an apparent economic loss? For this behavior to be incentive-compatible, there must be a net benefit for individual companies to continue operating in the high seas. The most obvious reason is underreporting the catch, which would result in an underestimate of fishing revenue and profits. The data used in our analysis are reconstructed catch data that attempt to correct for underreporting (1213). Some analysts have criticized catch reconstructions on a methodological basis, suggesting high uncertainty about the reliability of the reconstructions and claiming that FAO’s annual catch reports are “the only validated source of global fisheries landings” (14), but see (15). Reconstructed data suggest catches perhaps 30% larger than those reported by FAO (13), which makes our estimates of fishing revenue and profits larger than they would be had we used FAO’s raw data. However, global catch reconstructions mainly address unreported catches within countries’ EEZs. The data for industrially caught tuna and other large pelagic fishes were largely on the basis of officially reported data provided by the various tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations to which major discards were added before spatial allocation (16). Therefore, catches for some high-seas areas may still be underreported.

Overall, we conjecture that fishing the high seas could become rational for the most unprofitable fisheries due to a combination of factors including the following: (i) currently available catch data continue to underrepresent real catches, (ii) vessels fish only part of the time in the high seas and make most of the economic benefit from fishing in EEZs, (iii) government subsidies not accounted for in this analysis, (iv) reduced costs because of unfair wages or forced labor, and (v) reduced costs because of transshipment at sea. There may be additional market factors that are fishery-specific, that is, squid fishing by Chinese vessels in South America. Our results suggest that this fishery is unprofitable, but over 100 Chinese squid jiggers amass in January at the limit of Argentina’s EEZ to catch small Illex squid, before Argentina opens the season inside its EEZ. The low stock size and high demand for squid may allow Chinese companies fishing early in the season to charge higher prices than those used in our analysis (17). To these factors, we could add geostrategic reasons, where countries may fish in some regions as part of their long-term foreign policy strategy, regardless of the economic benefit. Examples of this strategy have been documented for Chinese and Russian fleets fishing in Antarctica (1819).

Previous studies showed that total government subsidies equaled 30 to 40% of the global landed value of catch (20), but this study allows us to compare subsidies to the actual profits in the absence of subsidies, specifically for fishing in the high seas. Even under the lowest estimates of high-seas fishing costs, subsidies more than double the net economic benefit of fishing in the high seas. For some fishing fleets, subsidies make the difference between negative and positive profits, but for a few countries, subsidies are extremely large (especially Japan and Spain) and appear to play a central role in economic outcomes. Some of the Japanese and Spanish fishing fleets do not appear to require subsidies to be profitable, yet they collect the highest sums globally. To the extent that government subsidies enhance fishing activity (for example, through fuel or other subsidies that affect the marginal cost of fishing) (2021), they artificially boost the bottom line of fishing companies, perhaps at the expense of sustainability of the underlying resource stocks.

Forced labor or modern slavery is a key cost-reducing factor in long-distance fishing, which manifests itself both at sea (using forced labor) and on land (using child slavery) (2224). In some countries, high-seas fisheries are profitable only after assuming government subsidies and low labor costs (mainly for China and Taiwan). Thus, it seems possible that unfair labor compensation, or no compensation at all, allows seemingly unprofitable fisheries to be economically viable. High-seas fishing has also been linked to illegal activities (that is, smuggling of drugs, weapons, and wildlife) by transnational organized criminal groups that use flags and ports of convenience, poor regulation of transshipments, and offshore shell companies and tax havens (2526). These illegal activities may also justify the rationality of some of the fishing in the high seas.

Refueling and transshipment at sea also reduces the costs of fishing in the high seas because it allows fishing vessels to continue fishing for months or years without having to return to port (27). Without bunkers and reefers, fishing in the high seas would be far less profitable, especially for China, which showed the largest number of encounters with reefers for transshipment. These results also show how chronically unprofitable some fisheries are, such as Chinese squid jigging, which appears to be profitable only through the provision of subsidies, the use of transshipment, and low compensation for labor.

A caveat of our analysis is that GFW data are not able to detect all fishing vessels because some of them do not carry or will simply deactivate AIS or VMS. However, including more vessels in our analyses would only further increase the estimated costs of fishing the high seas and reduce the per-vessel subsidies. Comparing our data with the best available estimates of the number of active vessels per country, gear type, and Regional Fisheries Management Organization, we estimated the proportion of the fleet detected by satellites, and calculated scaling factors to correct for underobserved fishing effort (see the Supplementary Materials). This calculation assumes that the vessels not in the GFW data are as active as and behave similarly to those in the data set. If this assumption does not hold, and undetected vessels are less active and/or fish more inside EEZs than on the high seas, then our scaled estimates may overestimate high-seas effort. For many of the major fleets, including China’s longline and purse seine fleet in the Western Central Pacific, we observed >90% of the active fishing vessels, resulting in small correction factors to account for vessels we could not track (table S3). However, a number of fleets have notably bad coverage, including Taiwan’s small-scale longline fleet in the Western Central Pacific (40%) and China’s squid fleet operating in the South Atlantic (48%). In aggregate, scaling up for undetected vessels augments effort by 20%.

Labor costs are the largest source of uncertainty in our analysis, accounting for 68% of the uncertainty around our estimate of total profits. Wages and labor compensation schemes are highly variable across fleets and nations, and violations of human rights and modern slave labor have been documented in some high-seas and distant-water fleets. We address this uncertainty by providing conservative upper and lower bound estimates of labor costs for each country. Nevertheless, unfair wages or unpaid labor could further decrease our lower bound of costs and increase profitability for some fleets. For example, if crew wages were 20% lower than our current low bound estimate, our highest estimate of total profits would increase by 26%. Fuel costs account for the remaining uncertainty (32%), which is determined by the assumed fuel consumption factor of each vessel (see Materials and Methods). Last, we used the global average price of fuel, which may not reflect regional price variability. While this may affect our results (for example, a 10% change in fuel price would result in a 7% change in our estimate of total costs), tracing the origin of the fuel each vessel uses and the price it pays for it would require strong assumptions and is further complicated by the common practice of refueling while at sea.

For our calculation of fishing profits, we use the landed value of the reconstructed catch for 2014, which is the latest year for which both global FAO statistics and global reconstructed data are available (152829). To estimate costs, we use effort data from 2016 (the year for which we have the most complete AIS and VMS databases) combined with 2014 global average fuel prices. Using data 2 years apart might result in some discrepancies, but we believe that high-seas fishing effort in 2016 is a good proxy for effort in 2014. Evidence to support this claim is the small short-run price elasticity of fuel demand of the large-scale industrial fishing fleet (9). Assuming that the spatial distribution of effort has remained constant, we used the estimate of elasticity (−0.06) to adjust fishing effort in response to higher fuel prices in 2014.

Fishing profits are likely to vary over time as factors such as fuel price, fish price, climate, and fish stocks fluctuate. While our analysis is for a single year, the slight increase in high-seas catch and revenue, coupled with the high and constant price of fuel between 2010 and 2014, suggests that our estimate of profits is likely to be representative of, or slightly higher than, the average state during the first half of this decade. In addition, we have likely underestimated the costs of fishing in the high seas because our calculations do not include capital investments. For example, the capital invested in Japan’s distant-water fisheries in 2014 (the only country for which this information is available) corresponds to around 40% of total annual expenditures, which would decrease the country’s profits (before subsidies) from $177 million to virtually zero. However, since 2014, fuel prices have decreased by ~50% and we estimate that total profits may have increased (before subsidies) by up to $720 million. If current fuel prices remain stable, the second half of this decade may be considerably more profitable for high-seas fisheries, and their dependency on government subsidies may be reduced. As more recent effort, catch, and costs data become available, we will be able to better assess the temporal dynamics of the economics of fishing the high seas.

Satellite data and machine learning technology have opened up a new era of transparency that allows us to evaluate quantitatively what we previously could only speculate about. This study opens a window into the economic profitability of high seas fishing across spatial scales, countries, and fisheries, which can be updated in near real time going forward. Our results show that, in many locations, the current level of fishing pressure is not economically rational, despite the overall profitability of major pelagic fisheries such as tuna fishing. Potential food security arguments in favor of continued or ramped-up high-seas fishing seem misguided because high-seas fisheries mainly target catches of high-value species such as tuna, squid, and deep-sea fishes, which are primarily destined for markets in high-income countries (30).

Our findings provide economic evidence that supports growing calls for substantial reforms of high-seas fisheries to align conservation and economic potential. These reforms could include combinations of better fisheries management including capacity reduction, marine reserves, and innovative financing (31), but our most direct finding is that subsidy reform could substantially alter fishing behavior in the high seas. Strong fishery management reform could act as a kind of substitute, even in the presence of subsidies, provided strong catch limits were adhered to. In a similar manner, several authors have suggested that closure of large areas, and even all of the high seas, could both achieve conservation goals and increase the economic benefits of fishing migratory species, particularly when they are overfished (132). The uncertainties in our analysis highlight the need for increased monitoring and transparency in fisheries, particularly regarding labor practices. The additional evidence presented here can serve as a starting point for targeting policies in the most efficient manner, as the United Nations starts discussions in 2018 to negotiate a new agreement for the conservation of biodiversity in the high seas (33).

All tables and aditional data is here

Kiribati shows how it can be done! by Francisco Blaha

In June last year, Kiribati gained EU market access to the EU after being authorised to exports their fish and fishery product to the EU. As I explained at the time (here) its a complicated and expensive process, basically Kiribati (a Least Developed Country) had to prove they had standards for seafood safety and a system of sanitary and traceability controls equivalent to those of an EU member country (i.e. France). 


At the time, there was a lot of cynicism from many corners (particularly in the European industry) that this was a plot for DWFN that have flagged their vessels here to access the EU market under no tariffs, and that the authority would be pushed over by the international interest.

The Kiribati Seafood Verification Authority (the competent authority) listed as approved 5 Purse Seiners and one processing establishment, and in this way gave these operators access to the EU market. Yet this access is not a one-off event, is a privilege based on constant verification of compliance, and the compliance is based on periodic  inspection of processing conditions, records and product testing.

For factories is easy, inspectors go and do the job and is done. For Purse Seiner vessels is more complicated, because they are highly mobile, operate from different ports and generally don't care much about sanitary regulations. Hence either you inspect them when they come to port or your inspectors fly to the port of arrival and inspect them there if things are ok the listing continues, if they are issues you give them corrective actions and agree to a timeframe for rectification, and if nothing gets done… you delist them and they lose market access, end of story.

Kiribati, right from scratch followed the rules, and after they found their own flagged (yet mostly Korean owned) vessels playing games to avoid inspection and not following up the corrective actions, they delisted all their vessels for lack of compliance. 

This is a full-on action that one can only applaud, no other country that I’m aware of has delisted the totality of their EU appoved fleet for lack of sanitary compliance. 

And if Kiribati does it, then what is the excuse for the Taiwanese, Chinese, Philipines and Korean fleets, whose vessels almost never go back to their home ports, and in 25 years hanging around Pacific ports, I have yet to see a non-pacific flag state sanitary inspector doing an inspection in one of their vessels. And believe me those vessels are bad, they will never pass an inspection and no records are kept at all, yet they are sanitary listed, accessing the EU market and still, somehow, the EU inspection on those countries don't pick up that these vessels have not been inspected for years.

In any case, Kiribati has taken a really bold action, and they should be congratulated for it!

Ideal port state configuration by Francisco Blaha

Following on my post on the ideal Flag State set up for a CDS, I follow here the same principle but for a Port State, based on what I wrote in our recent FAO book for a CDS and that I adapted a bit for the Pacific context for a report I’m doing for FFA.


It is largely the quality of port state monitoring, and the work of its port-based fisheries officers in monitoring fishery transactions in its ports, that determine the level of risk of illegally sourced fish entering the land-based supply chain. There is a scale of responses available to the port State, and it is essential that this is tied to risk and that this risk is understood.

A port state constitutes the last opportunity to detect infringements and deny certification of IUU-derived catches before the transfer into land-based supply chains. Because of this, port States play a vital role in effective PSM and CDS development by providing additional verification and ensuring flag States are more accountable for vessel monitoring. This is because, even though a flag State can certify catch, port States can stop this catch from passing through their ports and effective structures and legislation can ensure that the benefits are not returned to those undertaking IUU fishing.

Once a flag state and a port state have signed off a catch certificate and authorised the landing, in the absence of information indicating otherwise, this catch certificate then becomes irrefutable, and the product enters the land-based supply chain. This then means that the product has entered the market, money changes hands, and any ability to deny market entry to IUU-derived product, outside of procedural concerns, becomes near impossible. 

Once the product has passed through the port, it is more a matter of accounting for the quantity and the form in which product certified under a certificate flows through the supply chain to the consumer. Falsely certified and landed IUU products no longer have to be laundered into the supply chain because:  

  1. they have obtained official validations from flag, coastal and port states that the product is legal; and
  2. whilst procedural issues can delay or restrict product progress through the value chain, identification of product derived from an illegal fishing operation becomes more problematic and difficult the further down the supply chain it travels.

Port state control contacts, cooperation and communication
The first and foundational element in the effective management of fishing ports is to ensure that all parties can make contact with port state authorities. Effective fisheries compliance and MCS is largely information based, both officially recorded through means such as log sheets, but also other informal information, such as from Operators who witness events and may have important information to communicate about fishing vessels intending to visit particular ports. This can only happen if port state authorities in charge of fishery law enforcement are easily identified and contacted by third parties.

Communication is central to effective PSM both prior to, during and following vessels entering their ports and using port-based facilities. As noted earlier in the section on Flag State Responsibilities, it is important that there is the flow of information between flag, port and coastal States to identify and respond to illegality effectively. When port states establish that infringements have been perpetrated by foreign fishing vessels and deny them port access, they should notify the flag states concerned and as well as related parties such as coastal states and RFMOs. Similarly, port States should be able to also communicate inspection results and the activities of foreign vessels to flag state and RFMOs. 

Designated Fishing Ports
To administer fishery law enforcement effectively, ports to be used by fishing vessels should be so identified as such. All non-identified ports are off-limits to fishing vessels and may only be used in cases of force majeure. These decisions that are made around designating ports should be informed by the resources available to the port State to monitor activities and manage risk. All port States have a limited human capacity to manage vast marine areas and numerous port and landing locations, so it is vital that they direct vessels to areas where they can ensure sufficient resource will be present. 

Once ports are determined, fishery administrations must have a suitable monitoring and inspection framework for fishing vessels moving in and out of ports. The monitoring framework should ideally aim to record at least all inbound and outbound vessel movements, trip activities and areas for incoming vessels and to gain prior knowledge of the activities vessels are planning when entering or leaving port.

From a CDS perspective, it is essential that fishing vessels unload in identified ports staffed by informed and competent authorities so that attempts at landing IUU products are identified and managed.

Prior notification or advance request to enter port
Prior notification of port state authorities is a matter of the vessel master announcing his intended arrival at a given port and requesting permission to enter. This ensures that the port Authorities have sufficient time to assess risk, decide on a response to that level of risk presented and ensure that sufficient resources are available to respond to this when or if the vessel arrives at the port. The required notification times generally range from 48 to 72 hours before arrival.
Prior notification enables authorities to examine vessel details, licenses, operations and decide if an inspection is warranted before the catch is unloaded, and therefore prepare the necessary preconditions for a catch certificate.

Because it may not be possible to inspect all fishing vessels entering a port, vessels indicating a higher level of risk of having completed IUU fishing and may be attempting to unload IUU-derived product can then be prioritised.

Port entry and unloading authorization
In line with the recognition of port State’s sovereign rights over their ports and activities that occur within them, port States should develop authorization processes for both port entry and unloading of fishery products and other related port-based activities. The establishment of port entry and landing being conditional upon confirmation of authorization by the port State ensures that the structures to support the mechanisms that are applied in a CDS are in existence and can be utilized in support of CDS implementation. 

In many respects, these authorisations are the centrepiece of port state action to deter IUU fishing and ensuring that a CDS achieves its goals. These reinforce the port State’s sovereign control over activities in their ports and can deny unloading authorizations to fishing vessels suspected of IUU fishing or proved to have carried it out.

Effective PSM and CDS implementation depend on the ability to ensure that no products can be unloaded without being satisfied that they are not the product of IUU activities and that catch certificates are validated by a flag state and the port state where unloading take place.

Port inspection
The designated ports must have the capability to conduct robust vessel inspections. Sufficient numbers of trained fisheries inspectors with sufficient enforcement powers to effect detailed interrogation of the vessel, gear and catch must be present in all designated ports to handle inspections of fishing vessels in ports.

As outlined in Article 14 of PSMA and reflected in WCPFC CMM 2017-02, port States should collect the following minimum information during inspections and automatically forward the findings to flag states and RFMOs as appropriate:

  •  the port, date and time of any inspection;
  • the flag state of the vessel, and its identification;
  • the name, nationality and qualifications of the master;
  • authorizations for fishing and transhipments;
  • type of fishing gear;
  • catch on board – origin, species, form and quantity, and catch to be landed/ retained on board;
  • total catch landed and/or transhipped; and
  • inspection findings.

The inspection process, supported by the information collected during a vessel inspection, enables port states and flag States to determine whether vessels have engaged in or supported IUU fishing. This can be done on behalf and at the request of a flag State and, if notified by a port State suspects that a vessel in its port has engaged in IUU fishing, in line with WCPFC CMM 2017-02, the flag State shall immediately and fully investigate the matter in accordance with Article 25 of the Convention. 

The port State may also take action itself and, in some circumstances, a port state may take additional action if IUU fishing has taken place in waters under its jurisdiction. In these circumstances, the port state may apply its regulations as a coastal state, investigate the matter and prosecute and sanction offenders. 

Even where suspected IUU fishing may have taken place in waters beyond the jurisdiction, the port state may take action against the vessel and its operators with the consent of or at the request of the flag and/or coastal states concerned or if its own legislation recognizes the commission of the offence or attempt to bring IUU fish in to a port under its control.

In relation to CDS, importation refers to the act of transporting fishery products, already landed in another State, into a State or territory by means other than a fishing vessel. Whilst some FFA members may import some fisheries products for domestic consumption, the key concern for CDS is fisheries products that are being imported for processing and further exportation. In these circumstances, the importation of fisheries products is more of an issue of a country as a processing state than as a port state, due to the fact that this product has already been landed in another State and legality (hopefully) established.

CDS Specific requirements
In order for a CDS to be effective there are specific controls and steps that should be supported by port-state mechanisms and these are outlined in the following sections.

Harvesting: end of a fishing trip and port entry
Effective CDS design envisages the preparation of catch certificates that are submitted to flag state authorities for validation and then the validated certificates are submitted to port state authorities prior to landing. Catch certificates received from an agent or catch certificate ID numbers that enable access in online CDS registries should be verified at the time of, and compared with the information in, an advanced request for entry to port (AREP). 
There are three critical decision points in effective PSM, when a vessel requests port entry, when a vessel arrives in port and after the port inspection (if required). If verifications indicate suspected IUU fishing or a lack of the correct authorisations, then port states must be in a legal position to refuse port use, and, if suspicions arise after a vessel inspection in port, to refuse unloading operations and access to port services.
These port-specific control and management measures are a critical element of CDS, but are not automatically pre-packaged in CDS. Port states themselves must develop these mechanisms in accordance with international fisheries law and WCPFC PSM CMMs. 

catalejos (1).jpg

Unloading: transshipments in port
During transhipments catch certificates are handed from fishing vessel masters to reefer masters. They must generally be counter-validated by the port states in whose port the transhipments take place, assuming the transhipment takes place in port, and in these circumstances, counter-validation by the reefer’s flag state is generally not required. This applies to unilateral and multilateral CDS.

The port state is thus the designated authority under a CDS to ascertain that the declarations regarding transhipments and the information recorded in catch certificates are true. In these circumstances, as noted in earlier sections, it is important to ensure that there is good information flow between the flag State and port State to ensure that there is not a disproportionate burden placed on the post State due to a lack of flag State monitoring.
With regard to in-port transhipments, the port authority must consider the following when authorizing and monitoring these operations:

  • Is the fishing vessel preparing to tranship authorized to operate in the fishery from which catches originate – flag state/RFMO?
  • Are there any reasons to suspect that IUU fishing has occurred?
  • Is the reefer authorized to operate in the fishery from which it takes catches?
  • Is the reefer and fishing vessel complying with RFMO transhipment rules?
  • Are the transhipped species, volumes and product types identical to those declared in the catch certificate?
  • Has the catch certificate been validated?

These considerations demonstrate that port State oversight of in-port transhipments requires a sound understanding of the fishery and the relevant regulations. This is difficult for port States to maintain across all fisheries and therefore this is when flag State and coastal State monitoring and cooperation is vital. 

Unloading: first buyers and verified weights
Landings are also carried out by reefers, with the difference that whereas fishing vessels land their own catch, reefers land catch from, usually multiple, other fishing vessels. Landings by reefer are more complex than those of fishing vessels: reefers land the catches of individual fishing vessels sequentially, and the operations take much longer. Reefers must be able to separate the catches of individual fishing vessels in their holds. 

In regular fishing vessel landings, port state inspectors ensure that authorization to land fish is only given if they are confident that the fishing operations were legal. In any case authorization should not be granted before all paperwork has been received and processed. The same applies to reefers, with the difference that the process is more complex, and that more paperwork is submitted. Each fishing vessel submits catch certificates and other documents and the verification take more time. Robust verification processes must work back beyond the reefer to the fishing vessels and their activities in the trip associated with the catch that is being carried.
If there is no suspicion that an attempt is being made to land IUU fish, there are two things to be overseen by port state authorities: i) the actual weights of each species and product landed must be verified; and ii) the buyer(s) of the products must be identified. This can be a complex and varied process depending on the next intended destination of the catch.

Establishing actual and verified weights landed involves recording the weights “on landing site” or “off landing site” in locations such as cold stores or processing establishments. This is the first occasion when accurate actual weights can be verified by species and product type. Normally, fishing vessel crews and buyers’ agents work together to establish the weights, because payments for products received are based on the weights thus established. The presence of officials is essential to avoid laundering during this process and to verify that the correct weights enter the supply chain.

If road transport is involved from port to factory, the risk of laundering in transit must be assessed. Assurances are often provided in the form of padlocked and sealed trucks, and/or of truck weights being recorded as they leave the port and as they enter factories.
Final weights may be established in port directly after landing, but final grading of bulk products and their final weights may only be established at factories buying the product, which may be located at considerable distances from ports. Landings can be made into trucks, containers or dockside bins and transferred immediately to in-port warehouses; a single landing may involve a mix of these. 

Port state authorities must be able to oversee single landings, know the means of transport and storage intended to be used, and sum all transactions to their full landed equivalent. This is to establish confidence that no product has been mixed or been made to “disappear” in the process. In busy ports this is a major challenge requiring sound planning, reporting and oversight.

Most current CDS do not provide for the establishment, recording and counter validation of verified weights. But this is important in other fisheries such as tuna purse seine operations: bulk tuna of different species is landed and estimates of species mix and volume are provided by vessel masters and validated by flag states. But the weights are almost always under-estimated, and the estimated species mix is often wrong. It follows that a factory buying a full landing without adjusting the certificate for verified weights will be “short of catch certificate” in respect of the entire volume acquired and will not be able to export all of it legally.

With increasing pressure on WCPO Tuna stocks, there are stronger controls being developed in the fisheries to ensure that the stocks, and catches taken, are managed sustainably. As this develops this is likely to lead to further increased species-specific controls that can provide incentives for species misreporting. The fact that the final weights and species composition breakdown may not be available until several weeks after the completion of the fishing trip presents a weakness that can lead to IUU product being landed. It is therefore vital that there is a strong link and supported processes to associate those final weights back to the fishing vessel record.

Unloading: laying the foundation for traceability
Establishing the accuracy of verified weights of landed catch is critical in a CDS: it is one of two data groups that constitute the initial KDEs of the land-based and country-level traceability of fisheries products, which acts in support of CDS but is not provided by the CDS itself.
The second set of KDEs supporting traceability consists of the data identifying the first buyer. As can commonly occur there may also be several buyers and this will constitute the first split in the supply chain. Ideally the amount bought by each buyer and the buyer’s identity are recorded on the catch certificate passed to the buyer with CDS-covered products.

Science and biological sampling interactions with PSM
Port sampling is primarily a scientific tool that captures size and species composition of the unloaded catch (target and landed bycatch) that is then used in regional stock assessment work. Just the same as port state measures and port inspection offer the most cost-effective and expedient tool to ensuring illegal catch does not enter the market, port sampling offers the most convenient and cost-effective method to obtain large quantities of individual size data (when compared with observer data obtained at sea).  However, port sampling can also provide information to validate logsheets and other catch records completed by the vessel to ensure the accuracy of vessel recording by providing an independent verification of the data provided by the vessel. 


However, in order for this to be effective, it is imperative that the port sampling is carried out by designated and trained personnel and that they are embedded and coordinated within the broader port based other processes (such as inspections, authorisations). This, therefore, becomes a balance between maximizing the scientific benefits that it provides through regionally coordinated targeting for maximum scientific benefit and the MCS benefits through targeting more intensive examination of higher risk vessels. It is imperative that the port based sampling and monitoring is strongly linked, not only nationally, but also regionally to SPC to ensure effective targeting for managing the resource.

There are several port based requirements that are needed in order to maximise the effectiveness of the port based monitoring and port sampling, such as it is vital that harvest rules are developed to ensure that species are landed in a measurable and identifiable state. Without this both the scientific and MCS benefits of port monitoring and port sampling are diminished.

Furthermore, the coordination in between the prior notification and vessel arrival scheduling responsibilities with samplers is vital, not only from the better use of the already stretched resources of the fishery administrations but as well for minimizing the potential burden on industry operators.

Fisheries in the Pacific. Regional and national information by Francisco Blaha

Once in a while, one of those reference fisheries books for a region gets published, and you know it would be quoted in every report coming up. I love those books, and in this case even more so, because it has one of my pictures on the cover! (and I’m also referenced

 The cover is picture I took in Noro-Solomon Islands (my favourite tuna town in the whole world)

The cover is picture I took in Noro-Solomon Islands (my favourite tuna town in the whole world)

This new FAO FTP "Fisheries in the Pacific. Regional and national information" is a mammoth work that comes out of the efforts of three people I know and appreciate. It was produced under the supervision of my friend Jessica Sanders, a Fishery Officer of the FAO Subregional Office for the Pacific Islands. While the main author is Robert Gillett, a fisheries specialist based in Fiji (and a mentor to my consultant's career). The co-author, Mele Ikatonga Tauati, is a Junior Professional Officer with the FAO Subregional Office for the Pacific Islands who I also meet and is totally cool.

Below is the abstract, and here is the original

The Pacific Island region consists of fourteen independent countries and eight territories located in the western and central Pacific Ocean. In this area, there are about 200 high islands and some 2 500 low islands and atolls.

The main categories of marine fishing in the area are:

  • offshore fishing. This is undertaken mainly by large, industrial-scale fishing vessels. Approximately 1 100 of these vessels operate in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Pacific Island countries, mainly using purse-seine and longline gear to catch tuna.
  • coastal fishing. This can be divided into three categories:
  1.  small-scale commercial fisheries (also referred to as “artisanal”), which can be further subdivided into those supplying domestic markets, and those producing export commodities;
  2. subsistence fisheries, which support rural economies and are extremely important to the region’s nutrition and food security; and 
  3. industrial-scale shrimp fisheries, which in the region occur only in Papua New Guinea.

The region’s fishery resources can be broadly split into two main categories: oceanic, and coastal or inshore. Oceanic resources include tunas, billfish and allied species.

They are characterized by an open-water pelagic habitat and potentially extensive individual movements. Coastal or inshore resources include a wide range of finfish and invertebrates. They are characterized by their shallow-water habitats or demersal lifestyles, and restriction of individual movements to coastal areas. This paper discusses these resource categories, with a focus on the major types of fishing, the important species, the status of the resources, and the fisheries management that occurs.

This report also provides information on the fisheries in each of the 14 independent Pacific Island countries in the following categories:

  • Overview and main indicators
  • Production sector
  • Post-harvest sector
  • Socio-economic contribution of the fishery sector
  • Trends, issues and development
  • Institutional framework
  • Legal framework

The 2018 World Tuna Forum in Bangkok by Francisco Blaha

As every two years in May, I get asked to be a speaker at the World Tuna Forum in Bangkok. Is the biggest event of its kind in the Tuna and a total talkfest. As usual, I’m invited to talk about the developments in fisheries controls we are doing in the Pacific, and this year I focus on the findings and recommendations of my recent FAO publication “Seafood traceability for fisheries compliance: Country-level support for catch documentation schemes”.


I'm always ambivalent about my presence here. If I was to get 1$ for every time I heard the word sustainability, I’ll be coming back home a wealthy man, yet if I was to get 1000$ for every time I was to hear a firm commitment to effort and fleet reduction, I’ll still be coming home with empty pockets

Almost everyone talks about commitments to sustainability, fight the “scourge” of UU and the whole lot. However, at the same time, DWFN keep adding capacity, finding gaps in the system, employing people from desperate backgrounds and nations to pay them less every year (or not paying them at all), while milking to the maximum their countries subsidies cow.

On the other hand, here is where my message could have the best impact. If you not seated at the table, you become dinner. So I learn to accept that these are the rules of the game, and here is a description of the players and here is the forum’s programme.

I have to admit that I appreciate INFOFISH invitations to be a speaker at all their Tuna events, yet I established years ago that I would not accept their invitation if the number of female colleagues as speakers the same (or less) that the prior edition. And I’m glad to see the number of female speakers increasing in every edition,

As always my message is technical, I'm very forward with the disparity in between what I hear in this meetings and what I see in the ports. Pacific Island Developing States have, in my opinion, invested proportionately much more than the DWFN in MCS and Fisheries Information Management Systems. Particularly in comparison with the nations with the highest numbers of fishing vessels in the region, such as China, Taiwan and Korea. These nations have virtually not supported any Authorities strengthening programmes, nor seem to put much effort into their obligations to control they own vessels IUU fishing, as specified by various international treaties… their flag performance is abysmal.

A CDS could deal efficiently with the issues of legality, fish accountancy and provenance, and with that, many issues in the tuna world would be way more transparent. But the excuses to not implement it abound and many point to cost, as one of the biggest…. Yet, the volumes of subsidies are sickening. So the reality is that the main reason is the lack of political will… and that is my final message having the chance to be in front of the people that drive that will.

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The Ideal Flag State Configuration by Francisco Blaha

Last week I was quite honoured of been asked to participate in a sort of “expert consultation” around flag State performance. There were some very clever people involved and It was an interesting and well-run process that deserves more attention than the one I will give today. Yet it made think a lot about what I wrote in our recent FAO book on the ideal flag state configuration for a CDS and that I adapted a bit for the Pacific context for a report I’m doing for FFA.


While the involvement of the Flag State in the traceability side of a CDS is relatively minimal, especially once the catch is landed, their involvement in ascertaining the legality of the catches is enshrined in all the present CDS initiatives.

Flag State responsibilities have been defined in International agreements since the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Under Article 94 of UNCLOS, flag states must oversee the operations of fishing vessels flying their flags and “effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters”. The 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement also mandates this and obliges flag states to investigate “immediately and fully” alleged violations of conservation and management measures (CMM) and apply sanctions “adequate in severity to be effective in securing compliance… and deprive offenders of the benefits accruing from their illegal activities”. The 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries also mandates an approach consistent with this for flag states, but further strengthens and broadens the requirements for the enforcement regimes.

A flag state needs to oversee the operations of fishing vessels flying its flag as follows:

  • i) it issues the registrations and licences before fishing can commence;
  • ii) during any fishing trip it monitors the activity and subsequent transhipments; and
  • iii) on completion of a fishing trip it handles data acquisition and mandatory filing of reports on the quantities of harvested and landed product

Vessel registration and fishing vessel registry
The registration of fishing vessels is typically a function of government departments that have no jurisdiction over fisheries, but the data must nonetheless be available to the department in charge of fishery management.

In several countries, including some suspected for flag-of-convenience infractions, coordination between the departments that register fishing vessels and those in charge of fishery management is poor: in such cases the latter is not aware of or does not have the capacity to monitor, the fishing vessels flying the national flag and operating in distant fisheries, and therefore the flag state oversight is diminished or non-existent.

It is important in the development of CDS that there flag States develop a strong link between the vessel registration and the licences, permits and authorisations required to fish that are discussed in the following section. There needs to be a process in place to ensure that vessels suspected of IUU fishing cannot be registered or licenced by a flag State and that both registration and licensing is in place before a vessel allowed to leave port and fishing under a State’s flag. 

Fishing licences
The flag state is expected to control its vessels by means of licences, authorisations or permits, which are based on two complementary elements: i) a basic registration scheme in which a licence may be obtained by filling in a form and paying a nominal fee – useful as a basis for statistics and for controls based on identification of registered licence holders; and ii) the required compliance conditions regulating the licence holder or operator and the vessel and crew, in accordance with national laws and international conservation and management measures. The latter will not be identical in all fisheries, but they define the basis for the legality of the catch. 

With regard fishing vessels operating in WCPFC areas of competence, the situation has improved markedly since the establishment of the WCPFC Record of Fishing Vessels (RFV) and sub-regional records of authorization, such as the FFA Record of Vessels in Good Standing. A fishing vessel that is not on an authorization or ‘white list’ would not be able to obtain a catch certificate through any RFMO/CDS interface, regardless of flag state performance.

Authorization to sail and/or fish in areas beyond national jurisdiction
The authorization to fish in waters beyond the Flag State EEZ, and especially in the EEZ of a third country, is a rare best-practice that requires a fishing vessel operator to submit mandatory documents to the fishery administration before commencing fishing on the high seas or in third country waters.

Such documents should include certified copies of fishing licences for operations in the EEZs of third countries, thereby making the licence to fish in coastal state waters a prerequisite to the Flag State authorization.

Among FFA membership there is a situation of overlapping authorisations and access agreements in the purse seine fishery (i.e. FSMA Arrangement, US Treaty, PNA conditions, and bilateral arrangements) that is, for the most part, managed and coordinated. However, the situation differs in the long line fishery and arrangements linking the vessels right to fish from Flag and Coastal States is not as well coordinated.

Observer programmes
A fisheries observer is an independent specialist who works on board fishing vessels as part of an observation programme administered by a government agency or third-party contractor.

The primary objectives of observer programmes vary and may be oriented towards science or compliance. They usually develop a balance between the two and hence support the flag state in exercising its data capture and oversight responsibilities.

For Flag States among the FFA membership, the situation is founded by WCPFC CMM 2007-01 that establishes the WCPFC regional observer programme (ROP). The ROP collects verified catch data, scientific data and information related to the fishery from the convention area, and monitors the vessel implementation of conservation and management measures adopted by the commission.

Each member and cooperating member of the commission must ensure that vessels fishing in the convention area accept an observer from the regional observer programme if required, except for vessels that operate exclusively in flag State or a single coastal State’s waters. The members and cooperating members are responsible for providing observer coverage as required by the commission, and source observers for their vessels. The requirement is for 100% coverage of purse seine vessels and 5% for longline vessels.

Observer programmes, particularly the training and coverage levels, are a vital tool in developing effective PSM and CDS. The coverage of any monitoring needs to target key CTE’s in order ensure the accuracy of records and observers play a key role in this, so it is particularly important that the observer coverage is adequately trained and targeted to cover risk harvesting and transhipment activities. 

Logbook regime
A Fisheries Logbook records the fishing and non-fishing activity of fishers, who are required to report their activity and submit the logbook at regular intervals. Logbooks are a general licensing requirement of flag and coastal states and RFMOs; they are used to record fishing operational data in standardized logsheets, or logbook pages, for presentation to the authorities of the port state of transhipment or unloading and/or to be forwarded to the flag state.

Log sheets have historically been submitted in hard copy to fishery authorities during unloading, but they are now increasingly managed by means of electronic platforms, particularly in the Purse Seine fishery of FFA Member States. This electronic data recording and real-time transmission to authorities, in accordance with data collection protocols, is a foundation for the integration of data into e-CDS initiatives.

In principle, the flag State receives the electronic records, and port and coastal states are increasingly collecting logsheet data for their own use. Flag States operating among the FFA membership utilize the SPC Data collection forms (and standards) presented in appendices of the DCC10 report.  

Vessel monitoring systems
The acronym VMS denotes systems used in commercial fishing that enable regulatory organizations to track and monitor individual fishing vessels. Its operation and the equipment involved differ according to the requirements of the flag or coastal state, and of the RFMO in which the vessel operates.

A VMS requires each vessel to install a mobile transceiver unit, which identifies and locates a vessel by means of global positioning satellites. The mobile transceiver unit transmits the sending location and the data network identity to the receiving location, from which the data are transmitted to electronic chart display and information systems to enable the authorities to see the position of any vessel.

With vessels, in many cases, operating so far from flag State’s sovereign areas, VMS tools for monitoring spatial activity are pivotal in fulfilling flag State responsibilities. A typical VMS unit tracks and stores a vessel’s unique ID, position, speed and bearing and transmits this information to a shore in pre-agreed intervals, known as polling rates. These polling rates have an important bearing on the effectiveness of the monitoring. As well as understanding the location of the vessel, ensuring compliance necessitates gaining a greater understanding of the vessel activities in these areas. A polling interval too large makes it easy for illegal activity to be missed by States monitoring activity.

Oversight of unloading
Fish can be removed from a fishing vessel as a landing, an at-sea or in-port transhipment to a reefer vessel, or as any other form of transferring fish from a fishing vessel into the supply chain. Discards are logically ignored in CDS because they will not enter the supply chain, however, they are an important consideration when monitoring harvesting activities and ensuring the legality of vessel operation and compliance with national and regional rules around catch retention.

The flag state will, in principle, record what is being unloaded by fishing vessels flying its flag and the quantity involved, but this control capacity varies considerably among states. Port states are increasingly mandated to monitor unloading at their ports and record the related data, especially unloadings from foreign vessels, according to the terms of the 2009 PSMA-IUU and the recently adopted Conservation and Management Measure on minimum standards for Port State Measures, WCPFC PSM CMM 2017 - 2.

A CDS will provide a stimulus for weaker flag states to improve their oversight of unloading because catch certificates are normally issued and validated before unloading occurs. Planned unloadings must be communicated to flag state authorities, and there needs to be some form of flag State authorization of the unloading and, as noted earlier, sharing of information on vessel authorisations and activities is required for robust CDS and PSM. Then the submitted information must be approved through a robust validation process for the issuance of the catch certificates.


Fish tales: Combating fake science in popular media by Francisco Blaha

What role should scientist play in correcting bad science, fake science, and pseudoscience presented in popular media?  His is an interesting question placed by Andrew David Thaler and David Shiffman in a recent paper in Ocean & Coastal Management where they discuss effective social media strategies for scientists who want to engage with the public on issues of bad science, pseudoscience, and fake science. 


Based in two cases (fake documentaries and bad reporting) they identify two tracks that scientists can use to maximize the broad dissemination of corrective and educational content: that of an audience builder or an expert resource.

Finally, they suggests that scientists familiarize themselves with common sources of misinformation within their field, so that they can be better able to respond quickly when factually inaccurate content begins to spread.

Of course this an topic that interest me and is partly why I starter this blog, not all is perfect in the fisheries world (far from that) but there is a lot of people trying to do the right thing in a very complex scenario where geopolitics, inequality, social injustices and pure greed intermix each other. The fisheries situation in east Africa is not the situation in the Pacific, the one in the south Atlantic is not the one in NZ. Generalisations and reader winning clickbait type headlines don't help.

Hence, I liked this article. I just quote some of my favorite passages, but a usual nothing beats reading the original!

In an era of mass media propagation, the potential to disseminate scientific discoveries to a curious and literate public is unprecedented.

Scientist and science advocates have the ability to bypass gatekeepers of traditional media to grow and nurture their own audiences. This presents a powerful pathway for conservation scientists to reach critical stakeholders and increase attention on key environmental and conservation issues. This also provides a means to increase ttention for less popular conservation issues, including both regional issues and impacts that are not generally tailored for mass appeal (i.e. ocean acidification: Upwell, 2015).

The potential reach of these attention-driving tools for conservation outreach is tempered by the ability for bad science, pseudoscience, and fake science to spread widely through the general public (here we define “bad science” as unsound conclusions drawn from valid premises; “pseudoscience” as sound conclusions drawn from invalid premises; and “fake science” as unsound conclusions drawn from invalid premises). Unfettered by the limitations of accuracy and rigor, these stories can, as Francklin would say, “fly, as it were, on the wings of the wind”. Bad science, pseudoscience, and fake science can often spread so effectively that, even when corrected, as in the case in the now-retracted Lancet paper which sparked the modern anti-vaccination movement, the false information will remain within the unchecked pool of common knowledge

As practicing scientists find themselves more frequently participating in public discussions through social media and other platforms of digital dissemination, we must address a central question: What role, if any, should professional scientists play in challenging misinformation in the popular media? Tied to this question are three more pragmatic concerns:

  1. How can scientists effectively engage with popular media?
  2. What tools are available to scientists who want to reach a broad audience?
  3. How can scientists measure both quantitative and qualitative success in online science campaigning?

Measuring success
There are a few metrics of success that can provide active social media campaigners with an understanding of the effectiveness of their outreach efforts. The volume of a conversation on Twitter can be measured by several third-party services. Unique visitors to a blog post serves as a quantitative gauge of the degree of public interest. Placement in Google search results is more qualitative, but is an effective indicator of what content the public is using to inform their decision making. We entered into the multiyear campaign will the goal of making fake documentaries presented as factual natural history programming less economically viable as a stand-in for educational programming. To that end, decrease in viewership and increase in negative sentiment served as the best metrics of success for this campaign. In early 2015, citing the backlash against these programs, the new CEO of Discovery Communications announced that their new programming would not include fake documentaries (de Moraes, 2015).

In conducting these campaigns, we have identified two strategic tracks that scientists who wish to address the promulgation of bad science, pseudoscience, and fake science through popular media can utilize to further public education in their chosen fields.

Track 1: the audience builder
One of the obvious conclusions of this work is that in order for science and conservation messaging to successfully disseminate through social media, there needs to be active scientists with prominent, mature audiences. This approach, though often regarded as the gold standard for measuring long-term social media success, is neither effective for everyone nor often the best pathway for most practicing scientists. Generally, scientists on social media develop a niche audience specific to their discipline, resulting in smaller, though more engaged following.

Developing a large, active, and sustaining (that is, one that continues to grow linearly) social media audience represents a considerable investment in time and resources. Success in audience building can have tremendous payoff in terms of public outreach and broader impacts, but it may come at a cost to other aspects of a scientist's career. Scientists interested in pursuing this track should consult and for strategies to establish and grow your audience.

Track 2: the expert resource
Ensuring that experts in their field are not only aware of potentially problematic popular media, but have access to tools to broadly disseminate correctional media is as important as audience building.  This highlights one of greatest strengths that practicing scientists can bring to the media landscape: they already have the background knowledge necessary to rapidly and thoroughly respond to misinformation as the story is breaking, effectively increasing the speed of those slow and solemn steps towards the truth. It is not necessary for the expert to have nurtured their own massive online audience; they only need to know who the key audience builders are and either direct those individuals towards the best content or produce content that can be shared broadly.

When audience builders and expert resources collaborate to create compelling, sharable content that directly addresses misinformation, be in it the form of fake nature documentaries, viral news stories of dubious merit, or pop culture pseudoscience, they can effectively harness the enhanced public attention to disseminate their knowledge effectively through social media. Scientists, particularly those working in fields where they commonly encounter bad science, pseudoscience, and fake science, should maintain a reasonable cultural awareness of the current zeitgeist and be prepared to reach out to key audience builders when the tide of misinformation needs to be stemmed.

Looking back over almost three years of social media campaigning against a particular popular media phenomenon, we see a clearly defined role for the practicing scientist to engage with the proliferation of bad science, pseudoscience, and fake science: it is to ensure that the best available knowledge reaches the largest possible audience. There are many strategies and tactics that one can adopt to achieve these goals, and we have highlighted one case study here. Scientists can work to develop their own audience, if that is a pathway that appeals to them, but, more critically, scientists should be aware of the bad science, pseudoscience, and fake science that affect their field. 

By understanding what kinds of misinformation can spread rapidly through popular media and knowing who the ley audience builders are with relation to their field, the practicing scientist can position themselves to reach out to key influencers and maximize the dissemination of expert content.

I (personally) like to think that in fisheries we have to be both an audience builder and an expert resource, which enable us to respond quickly to misinformation and capitalize on the initial increase in public interest.

Tuna initially frozen in brine and then send to -35C for steaks and loins? by Francisco Blaha

A big part of my job for many years was to help countries with issues around EU Market Access, and in what regards vessels and landing site, since that still is part of my “specialities” and I get always asked questions :-)


There is an interesting scenario developing in the purse seine tuna industry started by the French a few years ago. Traditionally, purse seiners freeze in brine and mostly kept the fish there. Lately, they installed dry lockers (on board coolstores/freezers where they put the fish after being frozen in brine) and moved the frozen fish from the wells (in brine) to the "dry lockers". Usually, they could bring this down to -15C or so... but as they were destined to canning, hence they can be stored at –9C, that wasn't an issue

Now that MSC fish has a higher value, more and more Purse Seiners are replacing some of their dry lockers with blast freezers to -35C for the big yellowfin they catch, than then is sold as -35C fish to be process frozen (loins, steaks, etc),  and destined to the sashimi market, while the rest goes to canning 

Generally, once the fish comes to deck from brailing into the chute table, the big yellowfin are separated and sent to the blast freezers... But many go through into the brine, get frozen and then (a few days later) when they move the fish to the dry-lockers they are separated and stored in -35C

Now this fish was initially frozen in brine, and the way I read the regs it can be kept at -9C if is going to canning, but what is the situation now for that fish when it goes into -35C?... it can go to frozen processing for loins and then exported to the EU?... 

One way you can read the regs... is that is the temperature the one that decides the "destiny", and not the way it was frozen... from the food safety perspective the fish is safe, histamine is low... is nothing wrong with that fish... it just it took it a bit longer to get to -35C :-)

This has been so far the case so far since no one questioned the EU about it… But DG SANTE has their eyes on the tuna industry, and as in the case of the double use (fish and fuel), I wrote before… they don't like it.

In May they put out a “letter” making their position clear:

“certain operators use tuna frozen in brine on freezer vessels at -9C for purposes other than canning, such as the production of tuna loins placed on the market as fresh”

“It is clear that the freezing of fishery products in brine at a temperature of not more than - 9C is only allowed if those products are intended for the manufacture of canned food.
Those fishery products which are not intended for canning must be rapidly frozen to reach a core temperature of not more than -18C. Therefore, the practice of using tuna frozen in brine on freezer vessels at -9C for purposes other than canning, such as the production of tuna loins placed on the market as fresh, is contrary to the provisions of the Regulation”

And they also go into the monoxide issue… but that has been clear for years now.

I don't think that is clear… but in any case, it put the CA in the world into another problem… How could the CA ever prove (without being on board) that that practice that I describe (1st brine then -35) did not happen?


FADS – the good and the bad (from PNA's TMI) by Francisco Blaha

Every few weeks the good people from PNA in Majuro publish their Tuna Market Intelligence briefings, and if you are interested in tuna, they are compulsory reading. I have republished in the past some of their content, yet as always say: nothing beats the original. This week they publish this VERY interesting overview of the status and evolutions of FADs and also a small interview they did about my work with the MIMRA crew in Majuro. I have written quote a lot about FADs over the years, and the information in this piece is very good and accessible. Enjoy!

 the proud navigator was showing me one of 10 new  data transmitting echosounder solar buoy  he just got

the proud navigator was showing me one of 10 new data transmitting echosounder solar buoy he just got

Quoted from PNA TMI#70
While Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) have been around for ages, they have significantly evolved over the last 20 years, changing the fishing industry and affecting the status of tuna stocks. It is estimated that currently 50% of canned tuna comes from skipjack caught with the aid of FADs.

Today, up to 72% of FADs are connected to solar powered satellite buoys that contain GPS and sonar devices. This enables a vessel to see the exact location and depth of the tuna as well has how many and what kind of tuna is under the FAD. Purse seine fishing is much more efficient with the aid of FADs as boats spend less time looking for tuna. This results in a considerable savings of both time and fuel.

Fishing vessels, mainly purse seiners, deploy FADs, which in turn attract tuna, specifically skipjack. One vessel carries anywhere from zero to 350 FADs in our waters, and in other oceans up to 1,000 per boat. Generally, it takes two months for skipjack to congregate around a FAD.

FADs are ultimately lucrative and they seem like a good idea. But there are several problems associated with use of FADs, primarily because there is no required accountability.  There are no rules governing how many FADs a vessel can use, nor are there any regulations regarding retrieval.

Another major issue is that, not only are the target species (adult skipjack) caught, but many other species, bycatch, are taken on board as well, including juvenile skipjack and yellowfin and other non-targeted tuna and non-tuna species.  Some of these species are endangered, such as turtles and sharks, and some are fish species that are vulnerable. For example, Greenpeace estimates that as many as 80,000 tons of baby bigeye tuna are landed yearly as bycatch.

Another issue is that FADs are easy to deploy but vessels don’t find it worthwhile to recover FADs that drift out of productive areas. Greenpeace reports that at any time, over 100,000 FADs are either adrift or anchored globally. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) reports that most companies recover less than 10% percent of the FADs they deploy with PNA/SPC estimating at least 50,000 annually in PNA waters.  This makes for a lot of ocean waste that entraps ocean life. In addition, a considerable amount ends up on beaches of small island nations like Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, remote places that have difficulty handling large quantities of rubbish.

Data would be helpful in analyzing the true ramifications of FADs. PNA, SPC and PEW are working to obtain information, but collecting data on FADs has proven tricky. It’s hard to link a FAD to a vessel. Observers are on board but they need better training to record the numbers correctly and consistently. 62 % of the buoys associated with FADs are labeled with the name of the company or the associated vessel but that means that over 35% are not.

Meanwhile, FADs are deployed by one vessel and then picked up by another. When tracking data feeds to PNA they are often turned on, then off by industry. They are geo-fenced to limit the tracking by PNA. FADs are traded and stolen and they drift from one zone to another. At the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting last December, PEW called for action and cooperation by governments, fisheries, satellite-buoy companies and fleet managers to share information and to help facilitate responsible management and regulations of FADs.

To help counteract the negative effects of FADs, the Western Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) and Indian Ocean have created FAD bans. This year there is a three-month WCPO FAD ban for July through September in both the high seas and the WCPO coastal states’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). In addition, there is a two-months WCPO high seas ban that each government can choose and then declare to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

FAD bans are controversial; not everyone agrees they are the answer to protecting the sustainability of the tuna stocks. FAD bans are hugely costly to fishing companies as well as coastal states as vessels sometimes refuse to fish during the ban. It has been estimated that the reduction in the value of catch taken per month during the closure is up to USD15 million. Meanwhile, the reduction of catch is offset by extra-large catches as soon as the FAD ban is lifted. And not everyone honors the ban; according to SPC there were 4071 FAD deployments during a recent FAD closure.

To address the problems that FADs create, companies are increasingly constructing eco-FADs from biodegradable materials and non-entangling FADs are coming into use to help reduce bycatch. Several tuna commissions, including IOTC, IATTC and ICCAT, are requiring vessels fishing in their waters to transition to non-entangling FADs. The ISSF says that use of the non-entangling FADs as well as correctly handling and release of bycatch will reduce bycatch mortality by 15 to 20%. In addition, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement are continuing to lead the study of FADs and their operations using the Fish Information Management System (FIMS) to track FADs in the PNA tuna fishery.


Mapping nearly a century and a half of global marine fishing by Francisco Blaha

Fisheries has such a myriad of present issues and one is dealing with “every day trees” that never have the time of “looking at the forest”. Furthermore, fisheries data collection seems to be incomplete even today, that one wonder how can you say anything past a decade of activities. Yet I enjoy reading this paper by Reg Watson & Alex Tidd. Not only because I like my mate Alex Tidd, besides being a top data guy at fleet dynamics. He is a fellow biologist that appreciates good Dub, and this (at least in my book) means a lot.

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As usual when I like a paper I quote the abstract, and some of the key parts I like… yet nothing repleace reading the original.

Understanding global fisheries patterns contributes significantly to their management. By combining harmonized unmapped data sources with maps from satellite tracking data, regional tuna management organisations, the ranges of fished taxa, the access of fleets and the logistics of associated fishing gears the expansion and intensification of marine fisheries for nearly a century and half (1869–2015) is illustrated. 

Estimates of industrial, non-industrial reported, illegal/unreported (IUU) and discards reveal changes in country dominance, catch composition and fishing gear use. Catch of industrial and non-industrial marine fishing by year, fishing country, taxa and gear by 30-min spatial cell broken to reported, IUU and discards is available. Results show a historical increase in bottom trawl with corresponding reduction in the landings from seines. Though diverse, global landings are now dominated by demersal and small pelagic species.

Mapping industrial marine catch since 1869
Though the global geographic scope of industrial fishing was undoubtedly limited before the 1900s, the reporting was similarly poor. Records available include just three fishing countries: Canada, the USA and Japan (Fig. 2a above). Reported landings, even when adjusted for likely underreporting and discarding were much lower than the current intensity of fishing (note units for Fig. 2a and b are in kg whereas for Fig. 2c and d they are in tonnes).

By the early 1900s more countries were collecting national fisheries landings statistics (Fig. 2b) and ICES has a historical time series of landings in the European seas which still continues from that time. Most fisheries were coastal in nature and the majority of fishing vessels had a limited endurance because of a range of factors including the challenges of preserving the catch. There were exceptions such as the very long voyages for cod which was readily accepted salted.

Just before and since the 2nd world war (Fig. 2c) there was a vast expansion of global fishing fleets. Fishing intensified inshore but, moreover, fleets now pursued large pelagics like tuna species across entire oceans. Fishing deeper allowed fishing down the continental slope and to distant seamounts, however, some of these deeper stocks were not as productive as initially thought. It was then feasible to fish in polar regions but it soon became accepted that while some species such as krill appeared to have great potential, others were long-lived species requiring careful management. Many regional and international management agencies began during this period as fleets travelled increasingly greater distances, and deals were struck for access to the declared exclusive economic zones of 200-nautical miles that most countries claimed. During this time many poorer countries reduced their commercial fishing and allowed the access of foreign fleets but it was not always to their advantage to do so.

By 2000 (Fig. 2d), fisheries had generally intensified, particularly in the Asian region but also in many other locations. While management in some areas limited expansion, there was little control in other places as levels of effective fisheries management varied greatly. The increased use of waters along the African north-west and west coast by initially European fleets (sometimes involving reflagging) was compounded by fleets from Asia. Catches did not increase despite the additional fishing intensity and the increasing area of the oceans fished. A greater portion of the finite marine ecosystem primary productivity was directed to harvested seafoods than ever before Substantial increases to fish and seafood consumption was increasingly supported by expansions to marine and freshwater aquaculture, although feed for these farms often came from marine stocks – forage fishes. While important to farming fish these species, often small pelagics, have important roles in marine food webs and support marine mammals and seabirds.

In Fig. 2c and d it is clear that the inclusion of additional spatial information from tuna RFMOs and from the AIS satellite data more recently has allowed relative hot-spots of fishing on the high seas to be highlighted more precisely than previous attempts. Increases to spatial precision will have special significance to investigations of the interaction of fisheries and sensitive habitats and/or wildlife. Because fisheries can consume the same species as marine predators it is important to be able to make use of all spatial detail available as the energetics of foraging by some species are not nearly as generous as fossil fuels allow fishing fleets.

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 10.39.13 PM.png

Fishing gears associated with global catch
Although the association of fishing gear to reported landings could not be extrapolated back in time beyond the 1950s there had already been substantial changes in fishing practices since the 1880s. Sails and oars were replaced with steam and eventually diesel propulsion. Ice allowed longer trips and, with the introduction of freezers, vessel endurance and range greatly expanded. Vessels were faster and more powerful, and capable of facing the winds and waves of all seasons.

Fishing at night became possible and, for some trawled species, finally allowed fishing to occur when predator-wary species like prawns were active and available. Trawling gears evolved to cover large areas of the bottom and drive small fish shoals into the nets. Sonar and radar guided vessels and fishing gear for safety and effectiveness. Available data only allows a brief glimpse into the important and complex development of fishing.

Association of fishing gear with catch shows that the relative use of fishing gears has changed since 1950 (Fig. 4b above). Proportionately, the most obvious change is the increase in bottom trawling while the use of seine fishing gear appears to have declined. Midwater trawling which requires guidance by newer technologies such as sophisticated sonar arrangements has also increased. This does suggest that although our use of energy to fish has been high for decades it may have continued to increase. Nevertheless, at least some fishing operations compare favorably with the energy expenditure required in land based food production systems. Bottom trawling has additional implications to marine habitats as it has high levels of non-targeted catch and is well known to often damage or even remove important substrates and sessile organisms.

Fishing has coevolved with humans and has been vital to our survival since prehistoric times. Our technologies have adapted and allowed fishing in all but the most extreme environments. Mapping global marine catch is very important for a variety of reasons, not least because the push to increase wild fish capture often appears to conflict directly with the accepted need to maintain marine ecosystems at their most diverse, resilient and productive causing much division in the marine science community. Perhaps best tackled at a smaller scale (national or less) it is nevertheless valuable to get an all-inclusive overview if possible, and to see how things have changed over time.

The challenges are great in inshore waters; however, they now increasingly extend to high seas areas and to greater depths. Indeed, of necessity, more and more fishing and marine conservation interests have become partners of mutual concern as marine resources are pursued by mining, petroleum and other industries. Who would have imagined that the petroleum industry's widely used seismic survey methods could kill the zooplankton vital to marine ecosystems ?

Though some estimate that our living marine resources such as mesopelagics may be huge, understanding marine food webs remains vital, including through detailed mapping, to avoid overestimating what can be safely removed. Man will have to know much more before it can be deemed safe to sequester greenhouse gases into the ocean depths. With climate change comes new challenges. The distribution and productivity of stocks currently supplying seafood and income to many of the world's populations will likely change. In all likelihood, there will be interest in adjusting ocean acidity and sequestering greenhouse gases in the oceans. These activities will have international, and as yet, poorly understood impacts on marine systems and the services mankind currently depends on.

Continued development and use of all technologies is required to maintain productive and diverse marine environments to safeguard the future food security that the sea can provide. The increasingly sophisticated data processing of AIS inputs is rapidly increasing their contribution to monitoring global fishing. Future surveillance will include greater use of satellite technology such as NOAA's Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) to add ‘night vision’ to the sophisticated repurposed data coming from other vessel signals such as AIS. Unique QR codes for valuable fish products, combined with block chain technologies will strengthen traceability and help combat illegal fishing. These technologies and more will also be vital if marine protected areas are used to protect offshore areas where patrols are costly or ineffective. Managing conflicting uses will be very challenging in remote areas because marine resources will only become more valuable.

Humans have had a long association with marine resources, indeed, they may have ensured our very survival in the past but our use of marine resources through fishing has changed remarkably since the 1800s. Much can be learnt from looking at historical patterns of fishing, and they can help make decisions vital to maintaining the marine resources and their environments that mankind all depends on - now and in an uncertain future.

The dataset used to create all these figures and maps are available to the public here.

Dr Seuss and "better recognising the imperative role of the state in governing fisheries"  by Francisco Blaha

I wrote in the past of the past about the Ghoti papers, and when I read the words in the title of this post on a paper, that on top of that has Dr Seuss, I was hooked. 

 We have lots of Dr Seuss type characters in the fishing industry!

We have lots of Dr Seuss type characters in the fishing industry!

The imperative role of the state in governing fisheries and seafood is something I have insisted for a long time now. Is part of my criticisms of ecolabels and the unrecognised role of inequality, the impacts of poverty and other social injustices that contribute massivelly to poor management and overfishing.

This paper from Megan Bailey and 4 other researchers, is the kind of research I would like to be involved if I had the financial backing of a salary!. She (to my total delight!) wrote phrases like this: “Despite all of the limitations, the sustainable seafood movement seems to exist in a fantastical world of self-congratulatory corporate speak”... which is the exact feeling I have when I hear a lot of the presentation in the seafood conferences I get invited to speak or in the seafood shows I don't go anymore.

They also tackle some of the limitations of traceability and the sad role of the US SIMP and the EU CCS… I would love to see some more on CDS there as potential way to overcome the limitations she mentions and the traceability out of the Seussian world … maybe is something we can work in a future paper ;-) (hint)

I just will quote the abstract and some of my favourite parts, but of course read the original. (If you not subscribed, there are ways to get papers for free even if in a grey legal area)

Approaches to counter the overfishing and aquaculture production crisis include those imposed by public governing bodies, as well as those implemented by businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). 

In the case of the latter, private actors govern fisheries consumption and production through corporate social responsibility (CSR). In this contribution, we focus on three key tools that businesses are increasingly turning towards in an effort to meet the one particular CSR goal of sustainable seafood sourcing. In this context, the key tools of certifications, fisheries improvement projects (FIPs) and traceability are reviewed, and their potential as well as limits in contributing to continual improvement in pursuit of global seafood sustainability are analyzed. 

We argue that seafood CSR has created its own whimsical and fantastical world, a Seussian world, in which company image has become more important than sustainability performance. We posit four important barriers that must be overcome to bring seafood CSR back to reality. 

Specifically, we suggest moving away from the business case for CSR, reducing accessibility barriers for small-scale and developing world fisheries, reconciling different labels and sustainability concepts, and better recognizing the imperative role of the state in governing fisheries and seafood.


In this contribution, we examine three key tools used to meet sustainable sourcing goals, including seafood certifications, fisheries improvement projects (FIPs) and seafood traceability. The impacts of these tools are reviewed, emphasizing and questioning their potential effectiveness and their limits in contributing to global sustainable seafood production. Despite all of the limitations, the sustainable seafood movement seems to exist in a fantastical world of self-congratulatory corporate speak. But major barriers to real sustainability exist, including lack of a business case for CSR, lack of equitable CSR access to small-scale and developing world fisheries, competing labels and concepts of sustainability, and a lack of engagement with public policy. In some way, seafood sustainability exists as an example of what Jasanoff and Kim (2009) have termed socio-technical imaginaries: collectively imagined forms of social reality reflected in the fulfilment of technological projects. Jasanoff and Kim were speaking specifically of nation-specific imaginaries, while here we are dealing for the most part with private and not public imaginaries. Regardless, the outcome of employing the tools reviewed here, and experiencing the shortcomings we outline without addressing them, is a Seussian world of seafood sustainability


Intuitively, the most important question to be asked about sustainable seafood certifications is: are the products they certify actually sustainable? With regard to fisheries and stock status, Gutiérrez et al. (2012) found that when looking at Principle 1 of the MSC standard (stock status and harvest levels), nearly 75% of certified fisheries were above biomass levels that would produce maximum sustainable yield (BMSY) and over 80% had an exploitation rate that would maintain the stock at, or rebuild it to, BMSY. Yet these results differ to those from a study published only three months earlier that looked at the same stocks, which found that only 44% of MSC stocks had a biomass level above BMSY and only 52% had an exploitation rate that would maintain BMSY or rebuild the stock (Froese & Proelss, 2012). This latter study also examined Friend of the Sea certified fisheries, with the result being worse, only about a third of certified stocks were “sustainable.”

These two different studies are in one way evidence of two parallel realities unfolding in the realm of seafood sustainability: the Seussian world that MSC is living in, versus the grounded reality that scholars and practitioners are living in. (I find this Delightful!)

Just short of 15% of total fisheries and about 5% of total aquaculture production is certified by MSC or ASC (Bush, Belton et al., 2013; Marine Stewardship Council, 2016). The criticisms reviewed above, coupled with the small volume of certified seafood currently available, and the low certifiability of future fisheries and farms globally (i.e., how much production will ever be certifiable? See Bush, Belton et al. (2013)), certifications may always remain on the periphery and not be a scalable solution for seafood sustainability. In the end, certifications will continue to be important because they help define how seafood is caught or produced but do not guarantee the most sustainable seafood (Jonell, Phillips, Rönnbäck, & Troell, 2013).

Despite this reality, an incredible amount of money, and business and scholarly attention (this paper included!) continue to be directed to certifications, leaving other important potential solutions to remain off the radar of those in the Seussian world.

Fishery improvement projects
Fisheries improvement projects are one way to increase the pull towards a certification defined threshold, and in this way, may be an important component towards continual improvement in seafood (M. F. Tlusty, 2012). However, FIPs can also erode progress when, through their CSR mandates, businesses use them to meet a sustainable purchasing goal. Fisheries in FIPs are not managed to the same rigorous level as those that meet a voluntary sustainability standard. Thus, companies that source seafood within a “certification or FIP” to meet volume needs have lowered their sustainability bar.

Furthermore, the success and effectiveness of FIPs have been mixed and uneven with reports showing a large number of FIPs in the early phases of improvement (i.e. workplan design), without moving on to the implementation phase (Sampson et al., 2015). The effectiveness of FIPs is limited to the extent that it is a top-down approach to improvement (based on market demand), is still subject to weak transparency and verification, and often lacks “fair” cost-sharing structures as middle and upstream actors often bear most of the costs. The business case for these upstream actors has yet to be demonstrated. Despite these limitations, FIPs hold potential for using market forces to drive improvements through a collaborative approach, particularly in small-scale and developing world fisheries.

Certain governments are tackling the current opaqueness in supply chains through data requirements for imported seafood products while some NGOs are running campaigns that aim to increase consumer demand for traceable seafood products (Bailey, Bush, Miller, & Kochen, 2016). Improving traceability in seafood supply chains is not without challenges as it requires intense sectoral and intra-sectoral collaboration across countries, cultures, and businesses.

Moreover, there are currently no agreed upon guidelines or standards delineating what constitutes a minimum set of data elements to be reported and or acceptable verification systems that make up a credible traceability system. Consequently, companies tend to develop their own systems resulting in a myriad of traceability systems and databases that may not be compatible with each other. Additionally, the United States relies on company to company traceability, operationalized through their new Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), while the European Union relies on country to country traceability, operationalized through the EU IUU programme. This lack of coordination has limited implementation, interoperability and impact of seafood traceability (Hardt, Flett, & Howell, 2017). My note: None of both programs tackle traceability in a meaningful way, read here)

To address some of these issues, WWF and the Global Food Traceability Center initiated a Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability (GDST) that seeks to develop a global framework for seafood traceability useable by businesses around the world. Beyond technological roadblocks, traceability is also challenging due to the unequal distribution of costs and benefits associated with its implementation. The perception is that benefits tend tobe higher for downstream companies in terms of increased legitimacy and reputation and costs carried by upstream actors (Bailey et al., 2017). Broadly speaking, traceability holds great potential for eliminating IUU fishing, combatting seafood fraud, and ensuring sustainability claims are verified but it is questionable whether consumers should be—and can be—the ones driving the demand for traceable and legal seafood products (Bailey & Egels-Zandén, 2016).

My note: Catch Documentation Schemes have a role to play here: See here and here, of just better read this book


Private governance, of which CSR is a part, is generally believed to have emerged in response to the difficulties that states have had in effectively regulating public marine resources such as fisheries.

By setting “higher” standards than state legislation, voluntary, often NGO-led, governance vis a vis certifications (Tlusty et al., 2015) is argued to incentivize governments to “ratchet up” their regulatory performance (Cashore, Auld, Bernstein, & McDermott, 2007). But it is not “either-or” when it comes to seafood governance. Rather, weare increasingly seeing a discussion of hybrid forms of governance, where states contribute fundamentally to how private governance is assembled and operates (Gale & Haward, 2011). Perhaps this hybrid approach is what can bring us back to reality, and away from the fantastical and whimsical Seussian world of pseudo-seafood sustainability.

There is still debate around the extent to which CSR programmes, particularly certified, labelled, and traceable products, are actually representative of sustainable fisheries. As is the case with the public management of fisheries, all private approaches come with their own set of challenges and criticisms. These have been highlighted here to provide some food for thought on avenues of future research. So: where to from here? Interactions between standards and approaches (such as MSC, FT-USA, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch), and between private and public actors are constantly evolving. Ideally, improved transparency in production and purchasing practices will promote a race to the top (Bailey & Egels-Zandén, 2016). It will be important to ensure the largest number of players can compete in that race, however, particularly those in the small-scale sector in the developing world.

Coming back around to the idea of socio-technical imaginaries (Jasanoff & Kim, 2009), it is likely harder to keep up the imaginary façade, as the number of participants increases; maintaining a Seussian world means continuing to keep sustainable seafood the purview of the few. Yet seafood sustainability is a “governance concert” (Barclay & Miller, 2018), and probably a symphony if it is to be at its best. Moving into the post-Seussian seafood sustainability era will therefore require all hands on deck to ensure that seafood CSR delivers in reality.

The CDS core function: Traceability along the value chain by Francisco Blaha

Following with the promised slow digests of our book, here is the 6th post (here is 5th one), since It is essential to understand what a well design CDS is trying to achieve.

Here we consider the basic CDS architecture and the ways in which traceability is designed and implemented in existing multilateral CDS. This is important in that it is the basis for appraisal of where and how country traceability solutions can support and enhance the performance of a CDS.

 Adapted from Gilles' original

Adapted from Gilles' original

The figure above shows the so-called “ABC graph”, which I adapted from the one sourced from Gilles' FAO TP596 Design options for the development of tuna catch documentation schemes and shows the following elements:

  • segments of the supply chain: national segments above the horizontal line and CDS traceability segments below;
  • possible stops in the national supply chain;
  • possible stops in the CDS-governed supply chain;
  • regulatory frameworks governing the segments; and
  • three notional countries – A, B and C – that model product flow along an international supply chain and through trade.

The figure models a simple fishing, transhipment and landing operation at the harvesting end of the supply chain. More complex events such as multiple transshipments and landings and mixed unloadings are omitted for the sake of simplicity.

The basic operation of the document system through catch and trade certificates is shown at the stops in the supply chain where the documents are issued and validated by the competent authorities.

The supply chain runs from left to right, from fishing operation, transhipment and landing to products entering country A and being processed before being traded on to country B and subsequently to country C and so on.

The part of the graph below the horizontal line represents the international dimension of the CDS, managed directly by CDS-related mechanisms. All harvesting operations before landing, export, import, re-export, import and re-export are subject to the regulatory mechanism of the CDS; all transactions are recorded by the CDS and stored in its central registry in the form of certificate copies or electronic data.

The CDS directly covers only the following international segments: i) all events up to landing and the issue of a catch certificate establishing the legality of the catch; and ii) every trade event that occurs when the product moves between countries, each of which involves the issue of trade certificates and the creation of links with source certificates. In this way system-bound traceability and accountability is maintained.

The upper part of the figure represents the national traceability segments of the supply chain, where traceability is limited to the national territory through which product moves. These segments are not directly covered by the CDS but by national traceability laws and regulations, with a few exceptions.

No existing CDS traces product movements through national distribution chains: the only CDS records generated in the supply chain after landing and first sale relate to the entry of product into national supply chains and its subsequent exit – in other words the entry of product into and out of international trade.

The first and last transaction records in the national supply chain – entry and exit – overlap with the transactions recorded by the CDS and are hence captured in both national and CDS records.

With regard to national supply chain segments, none of the current multilateral or unilateral CDS have their own mechanisms to trace movements of products through the national segments. This is regarded as best practice because: i) the mechanism works for the CDS currently in operation; ii) the alternative option of covering national segments though a CDS-bound traceability mechanism would introduce so much complexity that the system could fail; and iii) many countries would reject the idea of mandatory recording and tracing of national transactions under multilateral CDS.

Hence countries are dealt with as “black boxes” by the CDS. The CDS creates certificates recording of what enters and what exits a country, but it is blind to transactions inside a national supply chain.

The CDS is nonetheless capable of stablishing important indicators for any country such as: i) imported species, products and volume; ii) exported species, products and volume; and iii) the balance between them.

To be relevant to the CDS these balances must take processing yields into account  because the form and volume of products change during processing. Failure to accountfor processing yields provides an opportunity for non-originating product to enter thecertified supply stream.

A well-designed CDS will automatically detect a discrepancy when trade certificates are prepared for products to be exported. What the CDS cannot do is identify the individual operator who has caused the discrepancy – unless the exporter is the only importer of products covered by a given certificate and the same products have not changed hands in the national supply chain. The latter – a national transaction – is typically not recorded at the CDS level.

If national transactions were recorded and links were enforced by a CDS, certificate fraud could be detected at the level of the individual operator. In the absence of this mechanism in current CDS and limited enthusiasm among RFMO members to consider it for the future, it is for national competent authorities to maintain the integrity of national supply chains under a CDS. Although a CDS can identify fraud-related discrepancies with respect to individual certificates, state authorities are responsible for investigating any such discrepancies and identifying and sanctioning individual perpetrators.

Another four weeks in Majuro by Francisco Blaha

Back in December I wrote about what I do in Majuro as a NZ MFAT paid Offshore Fisheries Advisor to the government of the Marshall Islands, as I just finishing my 3rd four week visit, so here is update of what we have been up to in Majuro.

 Beau off to perform a cmpliance boarding on a rainy Sunday afternoon... these guys are the sustainability leaders, not the ones in the meeting rooms

Beau off to perform a cmpliance boarding on a rainy Sunday afternoon... these guys are the sustainability leaders, not the ones in the meeting rooms

My favourite advance is the implementation of our Vessel Inspection Plan grounded on PSM. 

Operationally the plan is set up under the following scheme; the vessel arrival request gets loaded into the MIMRA IMS under a unique identification in order to be processed by Compliances Officer. Then, a procedural intelligence analysis (following a decision tree) is used for the determination of port use authorization, based on assessing the vessels trip information based on information available to the Compliance officers through FFA RIMF, regional VMS and FIMS.


This info check includes among others: FFA VoI, risk index and VMS track, Licenses for the areas fished, eForms information (when available) and eObs (when available). These information sources provide the required intelligence, which we compile on an Arriving Vessel Intelligence Report (AVIR).

The arrival is then approved in the port arrival system, which communicates the approval back to the agent and the boarding is scheduled and the boarding logistics set up. In the case of various arriving on the same day, the order of boarding is established in accordance with the FFA Compliance Index (1st green vessels, then yellow, then red... i like the idea of incentivising compliance by clearing the good people first).

The boarding officers bring the AVIR as to guide any investigation they want to pursue on the vessels. Only after clearance by the boarding and inspection team, the “Port Use” is authorised and the transhipping (or sometimes unloading) monitors (off duty observers) come over to monitor operations and account volumes. Only once they are on board, the operations can start.

We are not totally there yet (good things take time) as some elements are not totally in final form, for example:

 Off to clear a carrier with Melvin

Off to clear a carrier with Melvin

Forms: Are still in draft since they will be incorporated into MIMRA’s IMS Portal along the policy of having the PSM process standardised and electronically based. At this stage the e- vessels arriving portal is functional, and the development of the Arriving Vessels Intelligence Report (AVIR) is being incorporated.

Volumes monitoring: at this stage monitors (land based observers) either evaluate the volumes transhipped via educated estimations or in some cases using winch scales that the agents set up. MIMRA already started the procurement of our own set of scales to bring on board. These would be able to connect to tablets, so monitors can accurately record the weights of the fish being transhipped and their focus can be aimed to monitor catch composition in the net loads being transhipped.

Departure Clearance Inspection: at the present we don’t have the full capacity in terms of personal and resources to fully implement this important step every time a vessel laves. While in principle staff could be recruited and trained, there is presently no physical office space to host them, this situation if to change as soon as our new MIMRA building is ready (planned for August 2018) so we can close the circle of the vessels activities here in Majuro.

Part of importance of the vessels clearance is that we know then if there is any fish left on the vessel when they go out, or in the case of carrier how much fish is there, from which donor vessels and where is it going.

The confirmation of volumes is vital because the receiving country of the carrier, lets use Thailand as example, in it role as a signatory of PSMA is responsible for assessing the legality of the fish in the carrier, but they have rally little chances to access the compliance information of vessels that fish ¼ of the world away, furthermore… how they know that the carrier did not stop half way there and got unreported fish from someone else, mixed with the reported fish and try to launder it that way.

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If the Thai DoF was to access our arriving and departing vessels clearances reports for legality and volumes, once the fish is “weight in” at the factories there, they verify if what we check leaving here, is what they are getting there

On the other side of the coin, we in the Pacific only have estimates of fish that has been caught via logsheets, observer estimates and soon the scales. Hence having access to the verified “weight in” values would be a unique way to confirm the accuracy of logsheet reporting and our transshipment estimations, which in turn could allow for better-targeted inspections on vessels that are potentially misreporting and/or underreporting their catch.

So why we don't swap that data, and we have one of those win-win situations?

Hold my beer…. and watch the space ;-) 


At a personal level it has been quite an interesting 4 weeks.


Firstly i'm staying at house of my my friend Dr. Sergio Bolasina (in the picture to the right) and his family... we know each other since 1983 when we started university and been friends ever since, a friendship nourished by a very cynic sense of humour and the love of music. He started a position as the head of mariculture here at Marshall Islands College last January. Besides the pleasure of living with his family (which soothed the pain of missing my own one) I still pinch my self when I see him around... of all the places in the world we could have ever think about living when we lived in Mar del Plata, Argentina... Majuro definitivelly wasn't in the list!. 

Secondly, I got revive my old Search and Rescue swimmer skills when saving a drowning man a couple of weeks ago... ‪I was walking home along the road by the lagoon near Lojkar, and I see people screaming and pointing into the ocean. Everything happened really fast after that... it was obvious that a man was drowning over 100 mt away, then the trained instinct kicks in and i had a long swim out while measuring the current, once I got to the man it was easy to see that he was drunk and barely breathing, so I stabilised him. He says something about another one yet I don’t see anyone else... the current is pulling us, so I tackle a angle that would get us back to shore in a accessible area. Luckily we land there, he spits some water but is ok and quite shaken. People come to us... some cry, others hug me. All seems to happened so fast. Someone handle me back my bag, a bit confused I walked home, had a shower and started to think about how much could have gone wrong... it was all very intense, but I'm thankful to my training over 30 years ago and my love of swimming. We both got to live another day.

Thirdly, we had a well know documentarist following our work for 3 days, and this is all a bit nerve wrecking (even if authorised by the management) as one does not want to be portrayed in light of someone else angle or agenda. My job is based on the trust people have in me if that is ruined, I;m ruined. As I said in an interview last year: I'm just a fisheries specialist that provides technical and practical advice to countries and organizations. I don't take sides in the fisheries arguments, we all need to do better... end of story. But I'm a humanist, and I believe that only people can me make the difference, yet as long as everyone thinks that only their views are the only truth, we all fu*kt.


And finally going fishing with the family of Beau, one of MIMRA's fisheries inspector near Arno Atoll... We work with IUU fisheries during 6 days a week and then go catching fish on the 7th... can be monothematic... but we love it. 

The key part of fisheries that sometimes people forget by Francisco Blaha

The fisherman...

 anonymous crew on a purseiner

anonymous crew on a purseiner

Not the vessel owners, the big companies, the international organisations, the NGOs, the ecolabels, the regulatory bodies, the traders, the agents, the consultants like my self, the companies, the marketing guys, the trade fairs, the executives and everyone in the value chain... We all have a job, just because the fisherman.

Beyond the cases of forced labour and abuses, most are just hard working people putting their loved ones ahead of their comfort and well being... and doing it with a smile on their faces.

They are not the ones involved in miss-reporting or setting over species of interest, or the rest... they are doing their job and they are the biggest part of this industry.

I do miss the simplicity and camaraderie of that life somedays... yet I grow up in a different fishing era, where crew nationalities and flag-states were related. Cost cutting and competition has changed that. This shift has been bad for fishers from richer countries but good for the poorer ones, so I'm always in two minds about it.

In any case, you all have my outmost respect and thankfulness. 

 anonymous crew on a purseiner

anonymous crew on a purseiner

The “name and shame” of countries as a strategy for dissuading IUU fishing by Francisco Blaha

While the EU “yellow and red card” of some countries in relation to their persuasiveness to IUU fishing has received substantial media attention, the US has done something similar since 2009 by identifying countries in their the biennial reports by the NOAA to Congress filed under the provisions of the MSRA, and a regulation under development to track and certify the legal source of imports of certain fish species “at risk” from IUU fishing. (I covered the 2017 one here)

While their ways and modus operandi are entirely different, one could argue that their final objective is the same. So how they compare over countries and regions? One is to assume that countries that are persuasive to IUU fishing would be similar under both systems, yet no one has made that comparison until it was tackled by my friend Gilles Hosch in a study he published in 2016 and that I blogged about here.

It took me a while to get to the details, which I resume and quote here, but I recommend you read from the original, since what he writes is always good and solid stuff.

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The EU began identifying the first countries at the end of 2012, through a procedure which is now widely referred to as the “yellow and red card” approach. As part of this procedure, the EU Commission has initiated “dialogues” with as many as 50 countries. The list of countries the Commission formally engages with is not public. These dialogues take place pursuant to Article 51 of the EU IUU Regulation, and are initiated as “mutual assistance requests.” Under this process, a country may receive a visit by a delegation composed of EU Commission and/or European Fisheries Control Agency staff, who may then issue a report regarding their findings to the EU Commission.

Based on these reports, the Commission decides on whether it is satisfied with the third country’s performance regarding IUU fishing. If it is not, the EU Commission may request that the third country implement changes that the EU Commission deems necessary in order to avoid formal identification under the regulation. If this dialogue is successful, the third country may avoid entirely a formal identification under the regulation. While this dialogue process appears to be very consultative, it is not particularly transparent: none of these bilateral exchanges or reports are made public, so gauging their effectiveness is impossible.

If mutual assistance requests formulated by the EU Commission and bilateral dialogue do not produce results that the EU Commission deems satisfactory, then it will formally “pre-identify” the country, by issuing a formal Commission decision listing the third country’s shortcomings (i.e. issue a “yellow card”).

The Commission’s pre-identification decisions are public and establish fairly long lists of shortcomings, which collectively serve to identify the country’s failure in addressing IUU fishing and provide the justification for the identification. While the design of the identification system suggests it can be linked to non-compliance with the CCS requirement, in the first Commission decision of 15 November 2012, none of the shortcomings listed in respect of the eight countries related to non-compliance with the EU CCS.

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The US approach limits the definition of IUU fishing to operations in international fisheries in which it is directly involved, either as a member of an RFMO or as a party exploiting a high seas resource not yet managed by an RFMO. The US definition, with its focus on US interests, stands in stark contrast to the broad FAO definition adopted by the EU, on the basis of which the EU can identify a third country for failing to adequately manage fisheries resources within its own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The rules for identification and certification are provided for in the MSRA (Section 609), and are further detailed through the final rule published in the Federal Register in 2011 (Vol. 76, No. 8). A country is “identified” if, in the view of the US administration, it has vessels under its flag engaged in IUU fishing. The “certification” which follows can be positive, in which case the identification is lifted, or negative, and trade restrictive measures (TREMs) may be imposed (Mexico was the first one to get such joy in 2017). This procedure is similar to the yellow, green, and red card approach of the EU, with the difference that the identification under the MSRA (equivalent to an EU yellow card) is a formal step in a regulated process.

Under the MSRA, the process starts with identification, and a two-year consultation and cooperation process follow “for the purpose of encouraging such nations to take appropriate corrective action with respect to the IUU fishing activities described in the biennial report” (Federal Register 2011). Identification can only relate to IUU activities that occurred over the preceding three years. In EU law and practice, no such limitation applies and consultations in the form of less formal or more formal cooperative dialogue are conducted at all stages.

Potential TREMs under the Moratorium Protection Act may be issued in relation to specific fish or fisheries products from given countries that have been negatively certified. This implies—potentially—that the scope of US TREMs would be limited to specific products, rather than a blanket embargo on all fish products.

Since 2009, 28 countries have been identified under the MSRA as having had vessels engaged in IUU fishing. Some of these countries, including EU member states, appear on the list several times, indicating that there is no immediate limit on how many times a country may be identified, delisted, and re-identified. The reasons for the identification are published in the biennial reports to Congress and are posted online. With very few exceptions, reasons provided for the identification pertain to established and documented infringements of fishing vessels to specific RFMO conservation and management measures.


In any case, the contrast in the geographical focus of the identifications could not be starker. For the EU it seems that the hub of IUU fishing was the Pacific Island countries (we have only two left*) and only recently started to move towards Asia, while for the US is mostly South America. How come each system has identified such different regions is perplexing.

The EU "card system" has catalysed positive changes in many countries, and in an unexpected twist in my opinion, it has been more successful than the Catch Certification system itself. I have written at length about this. 

Furthermore, and I always make this point, while the EU impose the rules - beyond how good they are - they also fund the assistance to help comply with them. No one else does that.

*Kiribati and Tuvalu

The two fundamentally different CDS models by Francisco Blaha

Following with the promised slow digests of our book, here is the 5th post (here is the 4th one), since It is essential to understand the two models of CDS we have: multilateral and unilateral.


Current CDS are multilateral schemes founded on international treaty law establishing RFMOs and their rule-making powers, with the exception of the EU CDS, which is a unilateral scheme based on the EU IUU Regulation. (See at end of page, why we don't think the US SIMP is a CDS)*

The fundamental difference between the EU IUU Regulation and current RFMO-based schemes is that it limits the range of action open to the EU in regulating the operation of its CDS. Limits to the EU’s regulatory reach apply specifically to fishing vessels, waters, territories and trading partners that are outside the jurisdiction of the EU.

Because no country or block of nations can impose internationally binding rules, the EU decided in 2008 to regulate the types of fisheries products that could or could not enter its territory. It ruled that fisheries products sourced from IUU fishing would be denied entry into the common EU market as of the beginning of 2010.11 The EU market – and not any particular fishery or fish stock – is the basis of the EU CDS.

In all other cases the fishery and stocks under the purview of an RFMO are the basis of the CDS, and the CDS is legally established through an RFMO CMM that is binding on its members and has the force of international law. The CMMs cover the harvesting and trade dimensions of the CDS and are applicable to the entire fishery, all the trade regardless of supply chain length and permutations, and – by logical extension – all stakeholders that deal with the products in the fishery or in international trade.

Current RFMO-based CDS cover the entire stock unit throughout its global range, and must therefore also be understood as a fisheries-management measure that supports the conservation and management of the species as a whole. Any stock harvested under an RFMO-based CDS is subject to the protection conferred by the CDS.

Another major difference between the EU scheme and RFMO-based schemes is that under the former fish from any fishery are to be certified if it is eventually to be exported to the EU market. Under RFMO schemes, on the other hand, all harvested fish is subjected to certification regardless of its final destination.

The EU scheme thus protects its market from the importation of illegal products, whereas RFMO schemes protect entire stocks from IUU fishing. The EU scheme would only effectively protect stocks from IUU fishing if the entire harvest from an individual fishery was traded to the EU – i.e. if “inclusivity” was maximised.

Although the EU is one of the most important global import markets for fishery products, there is no fishery from which all catches are traded to the EU. Indeed, there are few fisheries from which most harvests are exported to the EU, of which none in tuna fisheries.

The three major world markets for tuna are the EU, Japan and the USA; a number of emerging markets are gradually gaining in importance. The importance of a market varies according to the product that is being traded: the Japanese market, for example, is significant for sashimi-grade tuna, whereas the US and EU markets are more important for canned or canning-grade tuna.

In view of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, which guides FAO work in fisheries, it is essential that fisheries management measures be applied to the stock unit as a whole to achieve the desired effect.

If particular tuna stocks are to be protected through CDS, and if the impact of the CDS is to be maximized, these systems should apply to the stock unit as a whole, all harvests should be subject to certification and all trade should be covered. It follows that, ideally, tuna CDS should apply to individual species and their stocks, and be multilateral in nature.

We accordingly explore the multilateral CDS option as the most appropriate mechanism for designing tuna CDS, and it highlights experiences and lessons learned from the EU IUU Regulation where appropriate.


The SIMP does not foresee the development and implementation of a certification system in the classic CDS sense, and validations of scheme-specific paperwork will not normally be provided by competent authorities along the supply chain upstream of final exportation to the US market. The onus to collect supply-chain information establishing the supposed legality of imported products would largely rest on importers under the SIMP

Why Traceability is critical for a CDS by Francisco Blaha

Following with the promised slow digests of our book, here is the 4th post (the 3rd is here), since It is essential to understand why traceability is such a critical element of CDS.

 paper may fade, but i doubt it will disappear&nbsp;

paper may fade, but i doubt it will disappear 

The objective of a CDS is to keep illegally sourced fish out of legally certified supply chains and prevent them from reaching the market. To achieve this, legally certified fish must be identified and quantified at the beginning of the supply chain, and the “laundering” of illegally caught fish into any stage of legal supply chains must be prevented. A CDS must hence be capable of detecting laundering as it is being attempted.

The only tool that enables this is a well-designed traceability mechanism, which must span an entire supply chain from harvests to landings and to trade. Fish legally entering a supply chain at the harvesting end must be quantified and qualified (form of the product: round, H&G, fillets, etc) and the quantity of fish – which will be separated into thousands of individual catch certificates – must then be traced step-by-step throughout the supply chain by means of the issue and re-issue of export or re-export certificates – i.e. trade certificates – that link the traded products to their previous certificate.

The hard links between subsequent certificates makes it possible to monitor mass balance integrity as fish products move through the supply chain. The serial linking of certificates is the central concept in a CDS traceability mechanism.

The cardinal rule is that the sum of products recorded on child certificates – mother certificates show the source of a consignment and child certificates show the products derived from it – must never exceed the volume of product on the mother certificate (Taking into account processing yields and losses).

A CDS must be capable of monitoring and enforcing this as fish move through the supply chain. In the absence of a traceability mechanism that provides for hard links between mother and child certificates, the origin and legality of product batches along the supply chain becomes an unknown.

The laundering of fish is then undetectable and the CDS cannot achieve its objective; worse, opportunities for fraud are created because IUU fish can easily gain certification and market access through laundering.

If the traceability function in a CDS is well designed, however, and the CDS is implemented correctly by the parties along the supply chain, all laundering attempts can be detected, the perpetrators can be identified and sanctions applied, and the financial benefits of fraud can be forfeited. In this scenario the CDS is certain to achieve its objective.

A CDS is not a forensic tool such as a genetic test applied to a sample to establish whether a consignment actually contains the claimed species of fish. A CDS is a traceability instrument applied to an entire fishery, and in order to be effective it must be able to trace products through the supply chain and automatically detect laundering attempts as they occur.

A well designed CDS will forestall laundering because automated accounting routines can trigger an alarm, or can deny the issue of a certificate when mass-balance integrity rules are breached