Ecosystem-based fisheries management in tuna RFMOs by Francisco Blaha

While working in FAO Rome, I trained on Ecosystems Based Fisheries Management (EBFM) and it was quite detailed and made sense… yet reality has a different take on good concepts. EBFM is a widely accepted concept and various international instruments require its application. However, its application at national level almost always brings about confrontations and resistance among managers, proponents, and stakeholders, which unless they all understand and accept the specific goals, the ecosystem approach will not succeed. So what chances are at RFMO level, which are hardly an example of common goals? 

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Interestingly, this is a question that Maria José Juan-Jordá, Hilario Murua, Haritz Arrizabalaga, Nicholas K Dulvy, and Victor Restrepo have tried to answer in a recent article for Fish and Fisheries: Report card on ecosystem-based fisheries management in tuna regional fisheries management organisations

The Abstract reads:
International instruments of fisheries governance have set the core principles for the management of highly migratory fishes. We evaluated the progress of tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (tRFMOs) in implementing the ecological component of ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM). We first developed a best case tRFMO for EBFM implementation. Second, we developed criteria to evaluate progress in applying EBFM against this best case tRFMO. We assessed progress of the following four ecological components: target species, bycatch species, ecosystem properties and trophic relationships, and habitats. We found that many of the elements necessary for an operational EBFM are already present, yet they have been implemented in an ad hoc way, without a long-term vision and a formalized plan.
Overall, tRFMOs have made considerable progress monitoring the impacts of fisheries on target species, moderate progress for bycatch species, and little progress for ecosystem properties and trophic relationships and habitats. The tRFMOs appear to be halfway towards implementing the ecological component of EBFM, yet it is clear that the “low-hanging fruit” has been plucked and the more difficult, but surmountable, issues remain, notably the sustainable management of bycatch. All tRFMOs share the same challenge of developing a formal mechanism to better integrate ecosystem science and advice into management decisions. We hope to further discussion across the tRFMOs to inform the development of operational EBFM plans.

The conclusions are clear:
All the tRFMOs, at best, stand half way towards delivering the ecological elements of EBFM. We find progress has been implemented in an ad hoc manner, in the absence of a long-term vision and a formalized implementation plan. While overall performance varied across the ecological components, tRFMOs have made considerable progress within the ecological component of target species, moderate progress in the ecological component of bycatch species, but little progress in both the components of ecosystem properties and trophic relationships, and habitats.

All tRFMOs have adopted a myriad of management measures to manage target species and minimize the effects of fishing on bycatch species, yet no measures have been adopted to account for and minimize the impacts of fishing on the trophic relationships and food web structure of marine ecosystems, and protection of habitats of special concern.

Furthermore, none of the management measures adopted for target or bycatch species have been linked to pre-established operational objectives, associated indicators and reference points, precluding them to be activated when pre-defined reference points are exceeded, with the exception of Southern bluefin tuna in CCSBT and for dolphin species in IATTC. These findings revealed that the hard but important tasks of actually managing both target and bycatch species with pre-established management responses linked to clear operational objectives, indicators and reference points needs to be urgently addressed.

All the tRFMOs face similar challenges of coordinating all ecosystem research activities, developing an effective mechanism to better integrate ecosystem research and advice into management decisions, and communicating them to their respective Commissions. If tRFMOs were ambitious about operationalizing EBFM, we envisage a practical next step would be to develop EBFM plans to set up a roadmap to guide and advance towards its full implementation.

Furthermore, we believe its implementation should be seen as a step-wise adaptive process which should be supported by the best ecosystem science. With this comparative review of progress, we hope to encourage dialogue between tRFMOs to solve many of the current challenges facing them to fully implement and operationalize EBFM. Next, we present a set of grand challenges accompanied with primary recommendations that in our judgement, if addressed, could accelerate the implementation of EBFM across the tRFMOs. We also try to highlight ongoing initiatives and opportunities that potentially could help overcome these challenges.

  • Grand challenge 1—Break with misconceptions of what EBFM is and who should be the main drivers of change
  • Grand challenge 2—Commit to operationalize EBFM
  • Grand challenge 3—Develop operational EBFM plans
  • Grand challenge 4—Conduct a prioritization assessment to guide research to advance towards becoming a best case tRFMO
  • Grand challenge 5—Establish mechanisms to coordinate and integrate ecosystem research and to communicate ecosystem advice to the Commissions
  • Grand challenge 6—Establish mechanisms to facilitate collaboration across tRFMOs
  • Grand challenge 7—Increase external collaboration to increase capacity and bring new expertise within tRFMOs
  • Grand challenge 8—Strength decision-making and dispute settlement processes for more effective implementation of EBFM and adoption of conservation and management measures

The 2018 International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conference (IFOMC) by Francisco Blaha

There is a lot of talk about observers at the moment, people making interviews, discussion in the media, etc. And this is a good thing! Observers are the key player in the fisheries world, yet one that faces a lot of challenges, some (like safety) are known and push trough media others are less discussed (like work progression – what career development options are there for an observer, or issues about contracting, unions, insurances, among other hundred topics.)

Guys on the job 

Guys on the job 

Yet by its nature observers don't get the set up that scientist or even less fisheries bureaucrats in terms forums and congresses to get together and exchange experiences and information… in fact I only know one: The International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conference (IFOMC) that this year will take place in Vigo, Spain.

Since 1998, this conference series has been the only one of its kind to specifically address the many issues surrounding fisheries monitoring programs. This conference is the premier international forum for working on the critical issues of fisheries observer programs, emerging monitoring technologies, and other approaches to fishery-dependent data collection and analyses.

Its vision is to improve fishery monitoring programs worldwide through sharing of practices and development of new methods of data collection and analysis, and to provide a forum for dialog between those responsible for monitoring fisheries and those who rely upon the data they collect.

To be considered successful, the 2018 IFOMC will:

  • Improve the quality of fishery monitoring data through sharing of best practices for collection and analysis of information.
  • Improve the use of fishery monitoring data to support sustainable resource management.
  • Improve accessibility to fishery monitoring data.
  • Support the development of new innovative data collection methods.
  • Support the development of international safety standards for at-sea fisheries observers.
  • Improve the training and safety of at-sea fisheries observers.
  • Support the development of fisheries observer professionalism practices on an international basis.

The conference call for presentations and posters from everyone that has something to say under the following theme sessions for this year:

1. Why monitor fisheries and what to monitor
2. Industry engagement with monitoring
3. Monitoring artisanal fisheries
4. New approaches to analysing monitoring data

5. Assessing bias from monitoring programs
6. Harmonizing and standardizing monitoring programs

7. Briefing and debriefing observers
8. Observer training, safety and mental health

9. Technology used by observers
10. Operationalizing technology-based monitoring: learning from programs around the world

11. The future of monitoring programs

I only work laterally with observers (and I’m not part of any organization) so I have never presented anything there, but no doubt is the top forums for those that work on observer and eM issues !

I had long and interesting discussions about the compliance elements in the role of an observer (dong read enforcement! I’m saying compliance), and I always take the opportunity to have chat with the observers when I do boarding… they know more about that vessels that any other “official” in the world, and definitively more than most officers in the flag state of those vessels.

Observers, in my opinion, deserve a more way more prominent role at any of the fisheries decision making bodies we have, and I would love to see Pacific Islands Fisheries Observers meeting / conference.

I get sometime a lot of negative comments about the observers performance and conduct, yet is important to understand that as any other group of people in the world have inherent variability in their work, attitude and ethics… from the young observer that presented to us in the Marshalls the four 100 dollars bills (a week of wages for him) given to him by a skipper to keep quiet on a FAD set, to the guy that was so drunk on board that he could not even stand, even less do the job he was getting paid to do, while breaking the rule of no drinking alcohol while on board.

And the same goes for officials, consultants, captains, crew, etc… and that variability is just part of the reality we need to deal with, pretending we are all ideal or all evil will never work…. And talking about it is the way to go

In any case this post was about IFOMC, and I wish them the biggest success, and looking forward to read about the outcomes 

2018 here we go! by Francisco Blaha

Suddenly we are we already in 2018. I’m slowly back into working mood after some great little holiday with my wife and kids. We went down to "the Catlins" in the South Island of NZ, escaping “the invasion” of the island where we live (Waiheke) during the Xmas and new years period, and besides awesome speafishing and surfing, we also did a 150 km cycling trip trough the Otago Central Rail Trial. In syntesis, I had almost 3 weeks doing things I love: cooking, being in the ocean, cycling and laughing with my crazy family.

one of my favourite activities: spearfishing. The ocean and me, no engines, nets, gears and just enough fish to feed my family

one of my favourite activities: spearfishing. The ocean and me, no engines, nets, gears and just enough fish to feed my family

Furthermore, I had a great Xmas present: Carlos Fernadez Arco from Trade Solutions surprised me by nominating me to the Seafood Champion Awards (Advocay) organised by the SeaWeb. This came as total surprise to me and is a really generous act by Carlos. Is a big event, PNA got the price a few years ago and my friend Mariah Boyle was a finalist.

He asked me for some references… normally one would expect to have only big names… But most of the people I really work with, are at the basis of the sector in boats and wharfs, the big names just contract me. Hence we contacted some of the big names in big organisations (including the winner and a finalist from previous editions) and some of my co-workers in ports, boats and offices all through the world.

It was very nice to see that all were really enthusiastic to support me, so thank you all! We shall see if I pass the initial selection and who they will contact.

Just show the big truth that is my favourite maori proverb (whakatuaki): 

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

So anyway, this post starts my 4th year of blogging, so thank you for allowing me to continue pestering your screens for another year.

End of 2017 by Francisco Blaha

After a very busy year, with over 220 days away from home, working  from Guatemala to Tonga and Myanmar to Kiribati, from publishing a FAO book to boarding over 60 vessels, I’m taking time off in NZ’s South Island and dedicating full attention to my family. 


Thank you very much for your readership during 2017. I really hope you all have a good festive season, and raise a glass  for those at sea during this time. 


See you all in 2018

The Western and Central Pacific tuna fishery: 2016 overview and status of stocks by Francisco Blaha

As usual, SPC publishes excellent material. Their latest overview and status of stocks is no exemption. Authored by Stephen Brouwer, Graham Pilling, John Hampton, Peter Williams, Sam McKechnie and Laura Tremblay-Boyer is compulsory reading is you have an interest in the WCP tuna fishery, hence download from here.

nah bro... this ones don't count

nah bro... this ones don't count

I just quote the introduction for easy reference (but nothing ever beats the original!)

The tuna fisheries in the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO), encompassed by the Convention Area of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCP-CA), are diverse, ranging from small-scale, artisanal operations in the coastal waters of Pacific states, to large-scale, industrial purse-seine, pole-and-line and longline operations in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Pacific states and in international waters (high seas). The main species targeted by these fisheries are skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), bigeye tuna (T. obesus) and albacore tuna (T. alalunga).

The current fishery characterisation includes updates to historical data, which show that the highest catch year was 2014. We expect revisions to the 2016 catch estimates in next year's report, as catch estimates in the most recent year are preliminary.

Annual total catch of the four main tuna species (skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye and albacore) in the WCP-CA increased steadily during the 1980s as the purse-seine fleet expanded, and remained relatively stable during most of the 1990s until the sharp increase in catch in 1998. Since then there has been an upward trend in total tuna catch, primarily due to increases in purse-seine catch with some stabilisation since 2009.

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The provisional total WCP-CA tuna catch for 2016 was estimated at 2,686,203 tonnes (t) - a small drop from the record high of, 2,883,196t experienced in 2014. In 2016 the purse-seine fishery accounted for an estimated 1,832,761t (68% of the total catch), a drop from the record high of, 2,059,007t experienced in 2014 for this fishery. The pole-and-line fishery landed an estimated 199,081t (7% of the catch - a drop from the highest value (415,016t), recorded in 1984).

The longline fishery in 2016 accounted for an estimated 235,500t (9% of the catch) - a decrease from the highest value (284,782t) recorded in 2004. Troll gear accounted for 5% of the total catch (141,046t), a record catch, this was mainly due to a separation of the Indonesian troll catch from their combined artisanal gear catch.

The remaining 10% was taken by a variety of artisanal gear, mostly in eastern Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, which is a drop from the highest value (311,123t), recorded in 2015.

The WCP-CA tuna catch for 2016 represented 79% of the total Pacific Ocean catch (3,384,604t) and 55% of the global tuna catch (the provisional estimate for 2016 is 4,860,736t).

The 2016 WCP-CA catch of skipjack (1,786,463t - 67% of the total catch) was a drop from the highest value (2,002,512t), recorded in 2014; a decrease of 1% from 2015. The WCP-CA yellowfin catch for 2016 (649,446t - 24%) is a record catch. The WCP-CA bigeye catch for 2016 (150,884t - 6%) was a drop from the highest value (192,564t), recorded in 2004, and a 10% increase over the 2015 catch. The 2016 WCP-CA albacore catch (65,959 - 2%) was a drop from the highest value (84,949t), recorded in 2010.

The 2016 purse-seine catch of 1,832,761t was lower than the previous year.

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The 2016 purse-seine skipjack catch (1,372,923t - 77% of the total skipjack catch) was 2% lower than the 2015 catch. The 2016 purse-seine catch of yellowfin tuna (394,262t) was a 30% increase from 2015. The purse-seine catch estimate for bigeye tuna for 2016 (62,066t) was 14% lower than in 2015, and represented 41% of the total 2016 bigeye catch. Catches of all three species have declined due to a 10% decline in purse seine effort in 2015. However, it is important to note that the purse-seine species composition for 2016 will be revised once all observer data for 2016 have been received and processed, and the current estimate should, therefore, be considered preliminary.

The 2016 longline catch of 235,500t represents a decrease from the highest value (284,782t) recorded in 2004. The recent longline catch estimates are often uncertain and subject to revision due to delays in reporting. Nevertheless, the bigeye (63,197t) catch was low relative to the previous 15 years, while the yellowfin (89,028t) catch for 2016 was the highest since 2004.

The 2016 pole-and-line catch of 199,081t was low, and represented an 8% decrease from the 2015 catch. Skipjack accounts for the majority of the catch (85%). Yellowfin tuna (13%) make up the bulk of the remaining pole-and-line catch. The Japanese distant-water and offshore fleet and the Indonesian fleet account for most of the WCP-CA pole-and-line catch.

The 2016 troll catch in the WCPO of 141,046t was 34% higher than the 2015 catch - most of the catch being skipjack tuna. South Pacific albacore are also taken by troll gear. Since 2007 New Zealand (averaging about 2,338t catch per year) has had the most consistent effort in the south Pacific albacore troll fishery, with the United States landing a small catch (average 266t per year) in the south Pacific.

Inquiries regarding this report or other aspects of the work program of the OFP should be directed to:

Chief Scientist and Deputy Director FAME (Oceanic Fisheries)
Pacific Community
98848 Noumea Cedex
New Caledonia

ILO Work in Fishing Convention No.188 enter into force by Francisco Blaha

I wrote about ILO Convention 118 before, in the context of the Pacific. Now it came into force on November 16, consolidating the efforts to improve working conditions for millions of workers in the fishing sector. The Work in Fishing Convention sets the basic standards of decent work in the fishing industry... But from what I see on daily basis on my work in many ports, we still have a long way to go.

Brother... I wish your boat's Flag State labour rules were as cool and hardworking as your are

Brother... I wish your boat's Flag State labour rules were as cool and hardworking as your are

Over 38 million people work in capture fisheries, which is considered to be one of the world’s most hazardous occupations. Hundreds of millions of dependents and others depend on the sector for their livelihoods.

Though many fishing vessel owners treat their crews well, there are two dimensions to the challenge faced by fishers:

Firstly is the job itself, as it is with no doubt, the most dangerous job in the world, due to weather, seasonality and the generally hazardous nature of working in the marine environment. Add to that informal work practices and lack of a culture of safety and the results are to be bad. And while this culture of safety is changing, the change is mostly in the rich countries. Tor the rest, well… when you earn very little, you have very little to lose, hence to take massive risks and don't complain.

And secondly are the cases of forced labour, human trafficking and the exploitation of migrant labour in fishing worldwide. Laws and regulation protecting fishers are often non-existent or unclear. Or fall in the traps that at the end of the day, a vessel is an extension of the Flag state, hence they are to be responsible. But we know they are not, furthermore as a fisheries office you have no mandate to get into labor issues but then, the labor bodies (if existent) in many port or coastal states, don't see as their responsibility (or have no powers) to act on anything that does not affect their local mandate… so from any angle, is a quite complex and unfortunately difficult area.

I said before many times, that for me the real race to the bottom in fisheries is on the crew side… and I see it EVERY day on ports worldwide, the DWFN and many flag states fleets to maximize their profits (since they are fishing at loss) employ crew from more and more desperate background and nationalities, paying then very little money while sucking on their own countries subsidies. Is quite pathetic really.

Welcome to your private space for the next year. This is the standard sleeping area shared by the 10 crew (and sometimes a Pacific Islands observer) in a Taiwanese or Chinese longliner fishing in the Pacific. Of course, the crew sleeping here are not from the flag state nationality... in most cases they are Indonesians, Vietnamese and sometimes Nepalese. 

Welcome to your private space for the next year. This is the standard sleeping area shared by the 10 crew (and sometimes a Pacific Islands observer) in a Taiwanese or Chinese longliner fishing in the Pacific. Of course, the crew sleeping here are not from the flag state nationality... in most cases they are Indonesians, Vietnamese and sometimes Nepalese. 

In any case Convention No. 188 sets out binding requirements to address the main issues concerning work on board fishing vessels, including occupational safety and health and medical care at sea and ashore, rest periods, written work agreements, and social security protection at the same level as other workers. It aims to ensure that fishing vessels are constructed and maintained so that fishers have decent living conditions on board.

The Convention helps prevent unacceptable forms of work for all fishers, especially migrant fishers. It provides for regulation of the recruitment process and investigation of complaints by fishers, and hopefully in this way prevent forced labour, trafficking and other abuses.

States ratifying Convention No. 188 commit to exercising control over fishing vessels, through inspection, reporting, monitoring, complaint procedures, penalties and corrective measures, and may then also inspect foreign fishing vessels visiting their ports and take appropriate action.

And that last issue is important, because as in the case of PSMA, give us some tools to act over foreign vessels in the ports of a signatory party to the agreement.

And while all this is good news… the unfortunate reality is that only 10 (out of 187!!) members of the ILO have ratified C188 to date. The countries are Lithuania, Estonia, France, Angola, Argentina (strong union), Bosnia and Herzegovina (almost no commercial fishing there!), Congo, Morocco, Norway and South Africa… so none of the ones that fish in Asia and the Pacific has done and I doubt will do.

Ratification of an ILO Convention is an important commitment. Once ratified, a State must periodically report to the ILO how that convention is being implemented through laws, regulations or other measures. The ILO’s system for the supervision of standards reviews these reports and will guide the State towards full compliance. It is therefore essential that all States involved in the fishing sector ratify Convention No. 188 and make this commitment.

The Convention is supplemented by the accompanying Work in Fishing Recommendation (No. 199)  as well as two sets of Guidelines for flag States and port States carrying out inspections under the Convention.


These were all developed through discussions among representatives of governments and fishing vessel owner and fishers representative organizations. Recognizing the great differences among States and fishing vessel operations, the Convention provides for some flexibility in its implementation – but only after tripartite consultation at the national level.

So yes… good news, but with only 10 countries playing on it, what real impacts can it provide? Yet... I think we could come up with a "Work in Fishing CMM" proposal, based in C188 and pushed by some responsible members in the different RFMOS, then work the "name and shame" game with ones opposing it so they could slowly come into it.

Such strategy worked this year for PSM in the recent WCPFC… so there is a precedent.  

What does the Offshore Fisheries Advisor (OFA) do in Majuro? by Francisco Blaha

I’m always struggling to find time to 1) publish posts, but 2) choosing what to post about, since there quite a lot in my backburner. But I’m finishing my 2nd input of 4 weeks as a OFA here in Majuro, so I decided to write about what I do in this job since it touches many areas of what I normally write, and more importantly I’m working with people that are at forefront of sustainability, the fight against IUU, fisheries data capture, observers safety, while at the same time being victims of sea level rise, the constant remnants of the nuclear past and being catalogued as a tax heaven. And for them is not just discussions in social media… for them is real every day life.

Part of the daily routine... boarding and clearance

Part of the daily routine... boarding and clearance

Let's start by saying that I been to a couple of tax heavens… and I can tell you that Majuro does not look like one of them, but let us focus on fisheries…

I wrote in the past about Majuro being the front of Pacific tuna fisheries since is the busiest transhipment port in the region, forty tuna transshipments in Port Majuro during November increased the overall number for the year to 434. This is, however, down from 2016, when 561  transshipments were recorded. Last year, Majuro averaged over 46 transshipments per month.

The highest number of purse seiners in Majuro during November were Taiwanese, with 12 visits. RMI and Chinese flagged vessels were second with seven each. FSM, US, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands flagged purse seine vessels contributed to the total.

. Once the fish leaves here is gone for good… so we need to do quite a lot of work with a small team. 

As I explained here, I’m here paid by my taxes to the NZ government with the aim to be a trainer the officers and an advisor to MIMRA in general and to my friend (and boss) Sam in particular, and also to Glen that is the big boss here.

I have a work plan with some agreed activities that I follow, so I explain my work based on parts of the plan and the people I’m working with.

One of the big thematic areas is Technical Inputs and capacity building and it does follow with some activities, here are some of the ones I work this time:

Review and provide technical input into technical documentation
As most countries this days, RMI has a IUU NPOA, yet the feeling I always have with this documents is that they are “made to be read by others”, and not applied by the beneficiaries and it should be the opposite.  Furthermore, I look at these big documents with 2 frames in mind, one says: “separate what is nice from what is necessary” and the other says: “don't let the perfect get on the way of the good”. So I’m slow progressing a review from a “bottom up” approach, taking in consideration the capacities to deliver, and not only the expected results.

from a small boat, to the medium then lifted to the bigone

from a small boat, to the medium then lifted to the bigone

Design and Implement an agreed Oceanic Division training plan
This is the part I like the most. We divide this one, on formal and informal training settings and mentoring by going on boards the vessels and working on finding inconsistencies, explaining the potential tricks to be played, looking at the vessel tracks during fishing operations, so the officers can better recognice them when on VMS and pointing out best practices by the vessels in full compliance.

Prepare and support a vessels’ inspection plan
While we had all the legal powers and the rest sorted, and the was a routine… a formalised “plan” setting out the processes to follow during the inspection framework, wasn't available.  So we got on and did one.

The plan is an operational document consistent with the national, sub regional, regional obligations, but we also included some of the latest information on the “real” issues quantified in the region. The sources for the framework are:

  • RMI Fisheries Licensing conditions
  • FFA Harmonised Minimum Terms and Conditions (HMTC)
  • VDS/VMS monitoring requirements.
  • WCPFC CMMs and Port State Measures
  • 2014 National Plan of Action (NPOA)
  • 2016 FFA Evaluation of the Regional FFA MCS Framework
  • 2017 FAO PSMA Strategy documents
  • 2016 FFA. Towards the Quantification of IUU Fishing in the Pacific Islands Region.
  • EU Catch Certification Scheme

Not coming strictly from an enforcement background, but more from practical perspective, I’m happy to take a “fresher” approach by using a lot of visual elements like the decision trees to follow when doing intelligence analysis of arriving vessels (see above) and tabulated SOPs, but as well focus not only on the legal side of fish but on the real numbers getting off the vessels.

Some of the activities finish overlapping, for example: Facilitate the integrated use of new Apps and technologies and Support MIMRA to implement effective regional anti IUU initiatives such PSM and CDS.

I love planning tools, mechanisms and incorporating the opportunities of technology into the challenges of work and at the same time, I’m very involved in PSMA and CDS via FAO and FFA. And my “vision” in these areas are totally complementary so it does not make any sense to work them separately.

So I been working with Ron (a truly gifted IT and programming specialist here in MIMRA) in the development of “Port Entry App” which is loaded at the vessels agents’ computers that communicates directly with the MIMRA’s IMS.

So from January 2018 all actions for port entry clearance are to be made via a “Port Entry App”, ideally I would love to have the “port entry request” triggered exclusively from the PNA FIMS eForms as the way to assure that is being used, but we are not there yet…

I any case, the request gets loaded into the system under a unique identification in order to be processed by Compliances Officer. Then procedural intelligence analysis (following the decision tree) are used for the determination of port entry authorization based on assessing the vessels trip information based on information available to the Compliance officers through FFA RIMF and iFIMS. This info check includes among others: FFA VoI, risk index and VMS track, FIMS Licensing for the areas fished, eForms information (when available) and eObs (when available). These information sources provide the required intelligence, which along the compliance risk identification related to the type of vessel will determine the scope and depth of the inspection when the vessel arrives.

was all good, so everyone is happy

was all good, so everyone is happy

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).

The boarding party will bring on with them the details of any investigation they want to pursue on the vessels and follow the SOP. Only after clearance by the boarding and inspection team the “Port Use” is authorised and coded.

Anyway... long story short… the ultimate vision for Majuro is to a fishing port that is paperless, interconnected and uploading directly into national and regional databases, ready for an eCDS.

A further big thematic area to keep me busy is Institutional Support. Under this, I been working on this trip on facilitating the “development of a Competent Authority (CA)” in terms of Seafood Safety as a precondition to gain access to the EU Market has been long term but never really tackled ambition of RMI. And this is no small task, the EU obliges compliance to its own requirements, and thus requires the 3rd country to prove that it operates a control structure applicable to its seafood exports that are equivalent to those existing in an EU member country, meaning than RMI has to prove that has seafood safety systems and controls equivalent to those of Germany for example.


Of course we cannot tackle this alone, and in an interesting synergy, FFA is moving ahead with Regional Support Unit for CA, which is a concept I developed for them back in 2014, and they are keen to test here.

At the same time, and as part of another activity where I "provide advice to MIMRA staff attending WCPFC", we been measuring the potential impact of the FFA – Japan PSM proposal that has just been incorporated as a CMM. Operationally we are already doing more than the PSM CMM will request us to do, but we also see regionally beneficial outcomes, as it standardised the minimal requirements for all transhipment countries, hence cutting off the chance for the fleets to cherry pick ports.

Finally I been working with my wantok Bernard on the "Development of a Standardised SOP for the operations of the Observer program" here in RMI, furthermore, I was asked to come to the graduation ceremony of the latest course provided with the CMI, and say something “motivational”… I just repeated something I wrote many times before.

Most of the colleagues I respect and value in this job, either have been observers themselves or have spent time at sea doing observer type work. Observers are the unsung cornerstones of our industry. Below you see Bernard, the EM section, and the debriefing "room" at the back of the office for the obserbers that just came back. Total respect for this guys.

And there is plenty of other stuff beyond the work plan itself, things like a MoU to deal with the transhipment authorisation under section 7 of the EU CCS that I’m developing, or some work with ER and EM tools, because basically I'm here to help, end of story

So yes…  this is part of what I do for work here… and as I don't really need a car here, the rest of the little time left I’m cycling everywhere, checking the tides to go for long swims and running in the morning… and of course enjoying some of the cheapest and nicest sashimi in the world.

best way to go around in majuro (if you not afraid of dogs)

best way to go around in majuro (if you not afraid of dogs)

Less than a month for the US Government Seafood Import Monitoring Programme (SIMP) by Francisco Blaha

As I wrote before, the US SIMP is kicking in on the 1/1/18, but the fish being caught now has to start complying. Reality is that does not seems to be too hard to comply (or cheat), particularly because it does not involve any form of verification by any authority in the flag, coastal or port states where that fish went through... which in my opinion is a pity. 

We don't really need your government (shouldn't be surprising, heard that one before)

We don't really need your government (shouldn't be surprising, heard that one before)

NOAA will "audit" the records of the Importers in the US to verify the system. Yet imagine the pile of records back to perhaps 20-50 landings for the import of a dozen containers of tuna cans... furthemore what does prove that the records are real (I see a bussines opportunity here) when there is no state verification? How this may stop laundering (any reference to yields monitoring)?. It seems to me like a total lost opportunity!. 

In any case here is a reminder of what it is and what you need.

The United States Government Seafood Import Monitoring Programme (SIMP) establishes, for imports of certain seafood products, the reporting and recordkeeping requirements to prevent illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing and/ or misrepresented seafood from entering the United States commerce.

SIMP is administered by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

SIMP requires harvest data to be reported at the point of entry into the United States commerce, or retained by the importer of record for imported fish or fish products identified as priority species due to the risk of IUU fishing and seafood fraud activities.

The importer of record is identified to United States Customs and Border Protection on each entry filing.

The United States importer of record will be required to obtain an International Fisheries Trade Permit (IFTP) from NOAA to report certain harvest information at the time of entry filing, and to keep records regarding the chain of custody of the fish or fish product from harvest to point of entry into the United States.

The effective start date for implementation of the SIMP is 1 January 2018. However, the United States importer of record needs to provide the required information for all seafood products covered by the SIMP entering the United States market from 1 January 2018, even if it was caught before that date.

Species covered by the first phase of the SIMP

(1) Thirteen species will be covered by the first phase of the SIMP, which is intended to expand in the future to cover all seafood:

  1. Abalone (Paua)
  2. Atlantic Cod
  3. Blue Crab (Atlantic)
  4. Dolphinfish (Mahi Mahi)
  5. e) Grouper
  6. King Crab (red)
  7. Pacific Cod
  8. Red Snapper
  9. Sea Cucumber/Beche de Mer
  10. Sharks
  11. Shrimp
  12. Swordfish
  13. Tunas: Albacore, Bigeye, Skipjack, Yellowfin, and Bluefin

Note: implementation of the SIMP requirements for abalone  and shrimp is delayed until further notice

 Information to be collected

  1. Harvesting or Producing Entity (company)
    1. Name and flag state of harvesting vessel(s)
    2. Evidence of authorisation to fish (permit or license number)
    3. Unique vessel identifier (e.g. IMO or international/national vessel registration number)
    4. Type(s) of fishing gear. Note: the fishing area and type of fishing gear should be specified per the reporting convention and codes used by the competent authority exercising jurisdiction over the wild capture operation. If no such reporting requirements exist, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) fishing area and gear codes should be used.
  2. Harvest Event –  what, when and where
    1. Species – FAO 3 - Alpha Species Codes Note the species and their FAO 3 - Alpha Species Code can be found here
    2. Harvest date(s)
    3. Product form(s) at time of landing – including quantity and weight of product
    4. Area(s) of wild - capture or aquaculture harvest. This should either be the EEZ of the country licensed or applicable FAO area where the product is not harvested within a EEZ
    5. Point(s) of first landing, whether that is the first port the product is landed into, or another vessel
    6. Name of entity(ies) to which the fish was landed or delivered.

Note: in cases where the imported shipment is comprised of more than one harvest event, each event that is relevant to the shipment must be reported. However, the importer does not need to link a particular fish or portion of the shipment to any one harvest event.

    3.Importer of record (in the US)

  1.  Name, affiliation and contact information
  2. NOAA issued IFTP number
  3. Importer of record is responsible for keeping records regarding the chain of custody detailed above
  4. Information on any transhipment of product (declarations by harvesting/ carrier vessels, bills of landing)
  5. Records on processing, reprocessing, and comingling of product.

Recommendations for exporters

It is recommended that exporters take the following action before the SIMP comes into force:

  1. Clarify who their importers of record are, confirm that importers have an IFTP, and proactively communicate with importers about the rule;
  2. Review the model certificates (available on the NOAA website – see links below) for traceability and ensure that they can provide all required information. Note that these model certificates are not required and that importers are free to develop whatever data collection format works best for their purposes, as long as they provide all required information;
  3. Work with the importer of record to determine a method for recording and submitting the required information;
  4. Where possible, encourage importers and brokers to test their import system prior to the start date of the rule to anticipate and correct any problems; and,
  5. To the extent possible, ensure you collect the required SIMP data as soon as possible, so that you are able to provide the information for exports that enter the United States on and from the 1st of January 2018. This rule applies regardless of when the product was caught.

More Information:

(1) A Compliance Guide for the SIMP can be found here

(2) Model forms can be found here: Simple and Aggregated


A big day for me, both profesionally and personally by Francisco Blaha

Not much of an emotional guy my self, or at least not in public. Boarding school, armed forces, commercial fishing aren’t very conducive to expressing (and exposing) your inner (softer) sides. But today is a truly special one since my professional and personal life comes together in the publication of an FAO "green book" that has my name on it. Hosch, G. & Blaha, F. 2017. Seafood traceability for fisheries compliance – Country level support for catch documentation schemes. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 619. Rome, Italy.

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I need to explain the personal part a bit… as you all painfully aware from reading this blogs, being dyslexic and writing are not good bedfellows.

Back in the days of my schooling if you didn’t write well, then you were “dumb”… even many of my marks were good enough, because I love reading, had a good memory and like science. Still… that “dumb” brand was (still?) a hard one to walk off from, and was in part why I turn to fishing and physical work (boat building, lifesaving, etc.)

And maybe because of that “fisherman thing”, where we push the limits and react to authority just because we are told that we can’t (or are not good enough) to do something. Is that only later on, I pursued my first university degree, then migrated to a part of the world I had no connections with, I did a 2nd MSc in a different language, became a consultant, and in some way... a writer via this blog.  I guess it is my nature to give things a go, just because I know I'm not good at them... 

In any case, it was quite early in my “career” that I discover those “green books” of FAO at the fisheries libraries of places I study and worked. There have always been excellent references on many areas of fisheries, and over the years got quite a collection that I treasure. On my first day as a Fisheries Officer in FAO Rome, I went straight to the fisheries library, and I could not believe that I was actually working at the place that contracted the authors and published those books!  It was a big thing for me!

So, to be contracted to write one of those FAO "green books" that I look up to, was quite humbling to say the least… and I have no shame to admit that my eyes were teary when I got today a mail saying that it has been published.

So enought of the personal stuff! 

I co-authored this book with my friend Gilles Hosch, someone whose name and CDS are getting hard to separate. Over a year ago while in a conference in India we were approached Dr Victoria Chomo from FAO with the idea of writing a complementary book to Gilles’ FAO Tuna CDS Study

From the start it was evident to us that while we all discuss the CDS details, we forget that the success of a CDS is at it roots, on a minimal set of support mechanisms that correlate MCS and traceability at each type of State (flag, coastal, port, processing and end market), along the fish product value chain. 

I’m a visual learner and always seen it as: “the CDS is the roof, that needs to on solid columns at each of the states along the value chain”. We are all working and talking about that roof, but neglecting the catalogue of what are the essential MCS and traceability elements to be taken care of each type of state for a CDS to work. And as we didn’t find a document that catalogued all those mechanisms we knew necessary... we wrote this book about them.

We both appealed to our complementary strengths and expriences in different parts of the world, our long-term (albeit frustrating sometimes) involvement with EU CCS and the various initiatives we been individually involved over the years.  Gilles is highly analytical and studied in "excruciating" detail the structures and limitation of all the CDS presently in operation, while I could complement that with practicality from experience at the operational and MCS level, as well as the understanding the traceability expectations associated to processing and the food-related regulatory framework of fisheries. 

He is an accomplished writer with quite a few FAO publications in his name, while I really struggle… so he not only had to do his parts but then also try to figure out what my ones mean! Hence it was totally logical that he would be the lead author, and I’ll be eternally grateful to him for encouraging and insisting I'll be the co-author, knowing from prior work we did together, how frustrating it can be. Gilles, you are a brother, thank you!

I’m totally proud of the FAO "green book" we wrote, it catalogues and explain all the MCS and traceability related mechanisms you need in place at each type of state before attempting a CDS. It has boxes with examples of best practices (many of them quite dear to me from the Pacific) and if that wasn’t enough, it has in the cover one of my photographs taken during work with my colleges in Noro, my favourite fishing port in the world.

I’ll be posting over the next while part of the book, but in any case please download it, share it, use it… that is what it is intended for.

The Abstract says:

This document explores ways in which individual countries in seafood supply chains can, in their capacities as coastal, flag, port, processing or end-market states, contribute to maximizing the effectiveness of catch documentation schemes.

The focus is on the traceability of seafood consignments, but the authors also explore other important compliance mechanisms that lie beyond traceability and that support the effective implementation of catch documentation schemes at the country level.

The document explains which traceability mechanisms are built into catch documentation schemes, and which additional support mechanisms must be provided by individual countries along seafood supply chains.

The study finds that traditional fisheries monitoring, inspection and sanctioning mechanisms are of primary importance with regard to flag, coastal and end-market states, whereas effective country-level traceability mechanisms are of particular importance in port and processing states.

The text is segmented into three parts:

  • The first part – Chapters 1 to 3 – introduces the study and the methodology used, and describes the functioning of catch documentation schemes.
  • The second part – Chapter 4 – provides findings with regard to country-level support mechanisms for catch documentation schemes for each state type participating in seafood supply chains.
  • The third part – Chapter 5 – provides conclusions, recommendations and policy guidance on the basis of the findings in the second part.

Summary of WCPFC Technical and Compliance Committee meeting (TCC13) by Francisco Blaha

As usual, the FFA Trade and Industry News is full of goodies, you should subscribe if you are not already. I quote below the Summary of WCPFC TCC13 outcomes that took place in Pohnpei, FSM. The meeting was attended by around 170 delegates representing 29 Commission Members and Cooperating Non- Members ( CCMs) and 6 observers. The recommendations will be taken up at the WCPFC’s Fourteenth Annual Session to be held from 3-7 December in Manila.

the standard relationship in between the resource users (big boat) and resource owners (small boats)

the standard relationship in between the resource users (big boat) and resource owners (small boats)

Following is a summary of some key outcomes from this meeting: 

  • No new vessels were recommended by TCC13 for addition to WCPFC’s IUU Vessel List; three existing longline vessels will remain on the list.
  • Applications for Cooperating Non-Member (CNM) status for Ecuador, El Salvador, Liberia, Mexico, Panama, Thailand and Vietnam will be presented to WCPFC14 for consideration; Ecuador, El Salvador and Mexico have reiterated interest in becoming full Commission members; compliance status of CNMs will be taken into account when assessing CNM applications and associated participatory rights. 
  • The Compliance Monitoring Review (CMR), during which CCMs’ compliance with obligations in WCPFC’s conservation and management measures (CMM) is assessed, was conducted for the seventh year and in closed session. An independent review of the Compliance Monitoring Scheme (CMS) is currently underway, resulting in a TCC13 recommendation to extend the existing CMS measure for one additional year (CMM 2015-07), which is due to expire on 31 December 2017. 
  • An agreement was made to form an inter-sessional working group to address the need for CCMs to obtain copies of regional observer reports for their vessels in a timely manner for investigating possible violations; currently, considerable delays are experienced by some CCMs in receiving these reports. 
  • A recommendation was made to WCPFC14 to consider draft electronic reporting standards for observer data; TCC13 noted draft electronic reporting standards for high seas transhipment declarations and notifications. 
  • CCMs are recommended to comply with the existing data and reporting requirements for transhipment (CMM 2009-06), particularly those who have made a determination of impracticability regarding transhipment in port for large-scale longliners, who are required to submit to the Commission a plan detailing what steps are being taken to encourage transhipment to occur in port in future. 
  • TCC13 supported an SC13 recommendation that as a first step in FAD marking initiatives, the Commission considers introducing a buoy identification scheme, with field tests undertaken to determine the optimum configuration for future development of a full marking system; there is also a need for FAD data to be provided by observers for all vessels involved in FAD activities. 
  • TCC13 requested the Secretariat prepare draft terms of reference for the development of a comprehensive shark and ray CMM, which may consolidate and build-on multiple existing shark CMMs; TCC13 recommended a range of points that could be considered relating to full utilisation, data relating to non-retention policies, guidelines for safe release, mitigation measures, use of wire leaders and shark lines, submission of shark management plans and consolidation of reporting requirements. 
  • A US paper was noted on potential amendments to the existing sea turtles measure (CMM 2008-03) covering longline mitigation measures, development of specifications for non-entangling FADs and additional sea turtle-related observer data fields. 
  • New Zealand proposed amendments to the existing seabirds measure (CMM 2015-03) regarding seabird mitigation measures, recommending use of a hook-shielding device as an alternative stand-alone mitigation option, changes to specifications for tori lines on small vessels less than 35 metres and line weighting in line with best practices. 
  • TCC13 discussed technical and compliance issues relating to the new bridging tropical tunas CMM to replace CMM 2016-01. Discussions briefly covered issues including retention of MCS provisions, exemption clauses, frequency of VMS reporting requirements during the FAD closure, responses to non-compliance, stronger control of limits through robust monitoring, review of charter provisions and inclusion of non-ambiguous language. 
  • Marshalls Islands introduced a new draft CMM proposal on marine pollution urging CMMs to ratify MARPOL and the London Protocol. The proposal also prohibits vessel discharges of waste (oil/fuel, garbage, sewerage, fishing gear), includes annual reporting requirements to WCPFC on marine pollution, calls for research on fishing-related marine pollution, adequate port facilities to receive vessel waste and retrieval of abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear. 
  • Korea introduced a new draft CMM on a standard of conduct for Regional Observer Program (ROP) observers which sets out requirements for observers while on duty and actions to be taken against observer misconduct. Unlike the existing Code of Conduct for observers, Korea’s intention is to have a binding CMM which is subject to review under the Compliance Monitoring Scheme. 

Let see what will happen next week in Manila.

The Tuna Longline Industry in the WCPO and its Market Dynamics by Francisco Blaha

FFA published many landmark publications done by very capable colleagues over the years. These are publications I keep referring back since they are wide in scope and thoroughly researched. My very well respected colleagues (and very nice people) Mike McCoy, Antony Lewis, and Liam Campling have just released a new jewel, and I'm sure is going to be one of those reports I keep coming back to. An excellent study that can be downloaded from here.

Successfully locally run longlining operations like this one in Tonga are the minority unfortunately 

Successfully locally run longlining operations like this one in Tonga are the minority unfortunately 

This report provides industry and market intelligence regarding the current status of the tuna longline industry in terms of distant water fleets (DWF) and other companies involved in the global value chains that these fleets supply. The study examines the DWFs of China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The primary focus is on industry dynamics, that is, key companies and organisations, industry organisation and corporate strategies; and the secondary focus are on markets and marketing strategies.

I quote below some of the key messages I found:

In 2015, the total global longline tuna catch was around 450,000 mt. WCPO accounted for around 56%, EPO 16%, AO 15% and IO 13%. Bigeye accounted for 38% of total global catch by species, yellowfin 30% and albacore 32%. With the exception of 2012 when global longline catch exceeded 500,000 mt, annual catches were fairly stable at around 450,000-460,000 mt during 2011-2015.

The most significant distant water longline fleets operating in WCPO (and EPO) are China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan in terms of fleet size, catch volumes and bigeye catch quota allocation (hence, these four countries were selected as case studies for this study).

Collectively, China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan’s longline vessels have accounted for 75-83% of the total number of longliners active in the WCPO from 2011-2015.

In the WCPO, there are two longline fisheries – the southern and tropical longline fisheries. The tropical longline fishery typically consists of large-scale distant water vessels fishing between 20ºN-20ºS, which target bigeye and yellowfin for sashimi markets, with smaller volumes of incidentally-caught albacore. Vessels operating in the southern longline fishery are typically smaller (<100GT) and target albacore for canning markets in sub-tropical waters below 10ºS and have small volumes of incidental bigeye and yellowfin by-catch.

With advancements in freezer technology, particularly for the smaller vessels, the distinction between the tropical and southern longline fleets has become less obvious, with some vessels now having the ability to switch targets depending on seasonality, fishing location, stock abundance etc., moving between both fisheries. The southern longline fishery has developed significantly over the last 10-15 years, largely in association with growth in the number of Pacific Islands’ domestic-flagged and chartered longline vessels.

The WCPO tropical longline fishery has had a long-term trend of below average economic conditions which has resulted in a declining number of vessels, particularly distant water vessels from Taiwan, Korea and Japan. It is projected that the fishery will continue to follow a declining trend from 2017 to 2026, resulting from a forecasted increase in fuel cost and a decline in catch rates, primarily bigeye, which will more than offset projected above-average fish prices.

Economic conditions for the WCPO southern longline fishery have also declined. Persistent low catches continue to impact negatively and if prolonged, will result in below average economic conditions for the fishery in the coming years.

High seas transhipment of catch is the norm for authorised vessels in the large-scale tropical longline fishery that spans both the eastern portions of the WCPO and EPO. The large Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Taiwanese vessels in this fishery spend up to a year or more at sea, obtaining fuel from tankers at sea, as well as bait and various supplies from refrigerated carriers. These practices are integral to the economic viability of the fishery, where fishing activities take place over a wide range of the WCPO and EPO, often in areas that are far removed from ports that might otherwise be used for transhipment. However, there are concerns that given challenges relating to monitoring, control and surveillance, high seas transhipment increases opportunities for illegal activities, such as IUU fishing, human trafficking and smuggling.

Regulatory mechanisms shaping industry operations are layered. They work at multiple scales – regional, sub-regional and national – and at multiple points in the global value chains for longline products. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) has a number of conservation and management measures (CMMs) in force which apply to the WCPO tropical and southern longline fisheries. The Conservation and Management Measure for Bigeye, Yellowfin and Skipjack Tuna (CMM 2016-01) is the primary management measure for tropical tuna stocks in the WCPO, establishing flag-based longline bigeye catch limits and requiring WCPFC commission and cooperating non-members (CCMs) to take measures to not increase longline yellowfin catches. CMMs (other than small-island developing states and Indonesia) are also required to not increase the number of longline vessels targeting bigeye above 2010-2012 levels. The Conservation and Management Measure for South Pacific Albacore (CMM 2015-02)requires CCMs to not increase the number of their vessels actively fishing for South Pacific albacore south of 20°S above 2005 levels or average 2000-2004 levels.

At the sub-regional level, in 2014 eleven Pacific Island countries agreed on text to establish the Tokelau Arrangement (TKA). The TKA is a voluntary in-zone-based management arrangement for the South Pacific Albacore Fishery comprised of a Catch Management Agreement (CMA) for longline vessels fishing within their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) for South Pacific albacore, as either a target species or as by-catch. The CMA has been actively negotiated since 2014 and is nearing the stage where each member will need to make critical decisions whether to bring it into force or not. It provides for the setting of an overall Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and allocation of that TAC amongst parties.

In 2014, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement’s (PNA) Longline Vessel Day Scheme (LL VDS) also came into effect under the Palau Arrangement. As PNA waters largely fall within the WCPO’s tropical zone (20°N- 20°S), the LL VDS is a management scheme covering the tropical longline fishery, targeting bigeye and yellowfin. The LL VDS establishes a total allowable effort level (TAE) for fishing in all parties’ waters, which is then allocated amongst the parties as party allowable effort (PAE). Following a trial period for several years, the LL VDS was formally implemented on 1 January 2017. At this time, seven out of eight PNA members had signed on as participants, plus Tokelau.

In recent years, labour standards in the fishing and fish processing sectors have gained increasing attention, particularly with the uncovering of serious human trafficking and labour rights abuses in Thailand’s seafood fishing and processing sectors. This has prompted major players in the industry, including US and EU retailers, brand owners, processors and traders, as well as governments to respond. Labour issues will be particularly challenging to address for large-scale distant water longline fishing vessels which are away at sea for long periods (up to 18 months at a time), employing foreign crew who work very long hours under difficult conditions.

Women in the Seafood Industry by Francisco Blaha

Wrote in the past (here, here) about how little we have moved in the fisheries sector in recognising and strengthening the role of women in the Seafood Industry. One in two seafood workers is a woman, but I have yet to see that representation at any fisheries event I ever been. So I was more than happy in taking part of a survey organised by WSI - Women in the Seafood Industry. This global survey is aimed at seafood workers, of both sex, working at all positions and I will really appreciate if you could be part of it. 

a colleague doing a good job on board... there should be way more like her

a colleague doing a good job on board... there should be way more like her

WIS would like to hear the voices of the fisheries people. It only takes 5mn. The questionnaire is available in English, French and Spanish.

If you are interested, they will share with you the results, when analysed (February/ March 2018)

My insistence is this topic is not based on some new age discovery I had, is just the fact that they are not equally represented in any statistics from management positions to earnings in most sectors. And for me that is just not right... and we need to change it. 

Marine Fish biodiversity loss in the Pacific Islands under climate change by Francisco Blaha

A lot of discussions are "out there" on the impact of climate change on fisheries. I should be posting more about this topic (and I will!). Is a difficult topic to grasp, yet the key message I find again and again is that "change is inevitable" and we need to figure out how to deal with it.

Maps of projected Maximum Catch Potential (MCP) during different periods. (a) Mean MCP for the 1980–2000 reference period. (b) Change in MCP during 2040–2060 and 2080–2100 under Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) 2.6 and 8.5 in comparison to the reference period.

Maps of projected Maximum Catch Potential (MCP) during different periods. (a) Mean MCP for the 1980–2000 reference period. (b) Change in MCP during 2040–2060 and 2080–2100 under Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) 2.6 and 8.5 in comparison to the reference period.

This paper read quite worryingly, yet I have not enough knowledge to provide fair criticism, yet I suppose that the reviewers of Marine Policy have done that. I quote some aspects out of an entry of the Nereus Program webpage and the paper itself. Read it and I leave it up to you to make your own conclusions.

The paper highlights state:

  • Under the RCP 8.5 scenario, tropical Pacific temperature will rise by ≥ 3 °C by 2100.
  • This is accompanied by declines in dissolved oxygen, pH, and net primary production.
  • This will lead to local extinctions of up to 80% of marine species in some regions.
  • 9 of 17 Pacific Island entities experience ≥ 50% declines in maximum catch potential.
  • Impacts can be greatly reduced by mitigation measures under the RCP 2.6 scenario.

The Pacific Islands region is the warmest of the global ocean. It’s also an area where there is less seasonal variability — it more or less feels like summer all year. Because there are no drastic seasons, the animals in the tropical Pacific may find changing conditions to be more of a shock.

The authors examined the effects of climate change on more than a thousand species, including those that live on reefs and those that live in open-water habitats. Both groups underwent declines in local biodiversity, but the rates of decline were higher for the open-water species.

These changes would be detrimental to Pacific Islanders, who are highly dependent on marine species for food, economic opportunities, and cultural heritage. Additional threats come from sea level rise and increasing major storms. Also, these are often developing countries with less resources available for societal adaptations to climate change.

Changing environmental conditions are anticipated to alter the marine environment surrounding PICTs in a multitude of ways. Increases in SST and declines in surface oxygen, pH, and NPP are projected throughout this region with these impacts accelerating throughout the 21st century, especially under the RCP 8.5 scenario.

Under RCP 2.6, these physical and biogeochemical changes are projected to be similar, albeit less severe. Together these changes in temperature, pH, oxygen, and NPP alter the ecological niches available to commercially important fishes and invertebrates. This results in high levels of local species extinction under both climate change scenarios as species either move towards more suitable habitats or as abundance potentially drops among species that are not capable of migrating.

The species that become locally extinct are not replaced by as many new species moving into the area because relatively few species are adapted to the novel environmental conditions projected to occur in the western tropical Pacific by the end of the 21st century. When taken together, these factors result in a decline in MCP that exceeds 50% across much of the tropical Pacific under the RCP 8.5 scenario. Climate mitigation measures can serve to drastically improve this projected outcome, with fewer areas experiencing large decreases in MCP under RCP 2.6.

Graves in Majuro

Graves in Majuro

Study on Operational Planning for Shark Biological Data Improvement by Francisco Blaha

My friend and colleague Dr Shelley Clarke, is a well know an respected shark fisheries specialist that is working with the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Pohnpei, FSM. The WCPFC is calling for Call for Proposals from Interested Parties and providing Terms of Reference for a Study on Operational Planning for Shark Biological Data Improvement. 


The circular with all the details is here.

Yet in the meantime, I quote some of the main text below. Aas it is a really interesting project and something I would not mind to be involved, had I the time and the expertise! 

The WCPFC has committed to a programme of work designed to identify the data deficiencies that inhibit shark management and propose strategies to obtain better shark data through field studies and better information return from fisheries.

This work has included development of a Bycatch Data Exchange Protocol to standardize bycatch data summaries across the t-RFMOs, a study of shark post-release mortality using pop-up archival tags, and a Pacific shark life history expert panel workshop to review and advise on appropriate life history parameters for WCPFC key shark species.

The Pacific shark life history expert panel’s report (Clarke et al. 2015) urged the t-RFMOs to be more proactive in setting a research agenda for life history and stock structure research. For the Pacific, in particular, it noted the need for further shark life history studies across species in the areas of length-weight/length-length conversion factors, ageing calibration and validation / verification exercises, and reproductive studies. It also identified reproductive studies of shortfin mako shark, ageing studies of hammerhead sharks, and a comparison of Eastern and Western Pacific silky shark life history parameters as specific priorities.

Following on from the workshop, the Common Oceans (ABNJ) Tuna Project prepared a concept note on operational planning for shark biological data improvement for the consideration of WCPFC’s Twelfth Scientific Committee (SC12) in August 2016. The project was not designated as a high or medium priority by the SC that year but was proposed again at SC13 in August 2017 and was designated as a “required” project which should precede any biological work under the WCPFC’s Shark Research Plan.

Funding is available under the Common Oceans (ABNJ) Tuna Project to support the project, therefore, it is not necessary to obtain a WCPFC funding authorization at the Commission’s annual meeting in December 2017.

The objective of this study is to compile, review and prioritize a list of biological data gaps for the WCPFC key shark species and propose a practical plan for filling them. While several important data gaps have already been identified, this study is designed to take the next step by outlining specific and practical proposals which can then be costed and used as the basis for seeking funding. As there is little point in designing studies for which samples cannot be sourced, the starting point should be how samples can be collected, transported and stored with a final consideration of where and how those samples could be analysed.

These terms of reference recognize that WCPFC’s regional observer programme and the Pacific Community’s (SPC’s) tissue bank provide opportunities for sample collection and access which can support broader, potentially Pacific-wide, efforts to study highly migratory shark species. The consultant should however also explore other opportunities such as working with national fisheries agencies, academic and research organizations, industry, and other t-RFMOs to source or share samples. The logistics of sample provision or sharing must also be carefully considered, particularly in light of the listing of most of the WCPFC key shark species on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the associated permitting requirements for importing and exporting samples of such listed species. In some cases, for example vertebral samples, it may be possible to digitize and share image data rather than biological samples and thus streamline the exchange of scientific information. In addition, the costs and complexities of working in remote areas of the Pacific with limited access to refrigeration/freezer capacity on vessels at sea, in port and post-collection shipment routes must also be considered.

Again. the details and ToRs are here

Otherwise, requests for additional information relating to this consultancy and submissions of bids should be directed to:

Dr Shelley Clarke
Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission
P.O. Box 2356
Kolonia, Pohnpei State, 96941
Federated States of Micronesia
Phone: (691) 320 1992, Ext: 107

Happy world fisheries day! by Francisco Blaha

I owe my life to fisheries. A hard job, full of good people and some real as**oles. Where politics are too involved and we forget that should be about people, food and fish. May my kids live in a world where fisheries day is in their present and not in their father's past.

An unconventional approach to estimating crew remuneration in fisheries by Francisco Blaha

As a former fisherman, and from a human perspective I feel (and wrote) that the real “race to bottom” in fishing, has been at crewing level. I don't believe that a young guy that starts fishing today could make enough money to pay for a place to live and his university studies like I was lucky to do. Hence I'm always interested in research on crew earnings and the different strategies to pay them, and this recent paper by D. PinelloaJ. Gee (FAO) and K. Polymerosa in Marine Policy has been a good read. I hope the authors don't mind that I only quote the abstract and the conclusions, for the rest: read the original!

Took this picture while fishing in Coastal trawlers in the Gulf of Bengal in 2008. Marge shares for many days fishing... Really a hard life for those guys

Took this picture while fishing in Coastal trawlers in the Gulf of Bengal in 2008. Marge shares for many days fishing... Really a hard life for those guys

Fishing is a labour-intensive activity and consequently labour is one of its primary costs. Labour costs refer to remuneration, which is almost universally paid by means of some kind of crew-share system. At the same time, remuneration is the most challenging socio-economic information to collect, owing to a combination of complexity, sensitivity and the frequency of informal transactions.

Data on remuneration, when paid by means of crew-share systems, does not adequately capture the real value of income derived from fishing because it is collected as a singular monetary value. Furthermore, the remuneration of fishers’ labour, as recorded in vessel or company financial statements were generally found to be underestimated.

The main aim of this paper is to provide insight into the remuneration of fisheries labour so as to improve accuracy when estimating remuneration; the focus is on both the formula used for the calculation of remuneration and the data required, and an unconventional method that replicates the fishers’ methods is proposed.

This method allows for the sensitivity around discussions about remuneration, and the informal nature of these transactions, to be circumvented. The result is improved data quality. When remuneration is estimated in this way it naturally becomes an indicator for economic performance and livelihoods derived from fishing.

Fig. 1. Distribution of reported use of crew-share system in fisheries around the world with countries identified in the literature shown in dark grey. Back in Argentina we had a minal salary (thanks to the union) plus catch shares

Fig. 1. Distribution of reported use of crew-share system in fisheries around the world with countries identified in the literature shown in dark grey. Back in Argentina we had a minal salary (thanks to the union) plus catch shares

In most fisheries worldwide, remuneration is made through a form of crew-share system rather than as a fixed wage. The crew-share system is prevalent in fisheries because it allows for risk and rent sharing, enhances productivity by providing incentives − particularly when the owner cannot monitor the fishers − and is also a traditional system that reflects the straightforward nature of effort inputs and catch outputs.

The prevalence of the crew-share system is also a reflection of the on-the-deck conditions of fisheries; fisheries activity and its accounting are relatively simple, even though activity levels and outputs are highly variable. When a crew-share system is in place, it is proposed that remuneration be calculated indirectly using the same formula applied by the fishers themselves. A comparison of ledger values versus formula values was made in four Italian fisheries and a clear underreporting of remuneration in the ledgers was recorded. Using the formula to calculate remuneration values also allows for the occurrence of the owner working on board the vessel to be accommodated in the data, and for the complexity, sensitivity and frequency of informal transactions to be considered. This results in the derivation of more accurate data on remuneration.

Enhanced quality of data on crew remuneration is important for the assessment of a fishery for two reasons: it provides a tangible measure of the financial contribution that fishing provides to the livelihoods of the fishers; and, when crew-share systems are in place, crew remuneration is a straightforward indicator of the overall economic performance of the activity − crew-share payments are not separate from the gross profit of the fishing activity, but rather they are correlated to it so that better economic performance results in better remuneration for the crew. In this context, crew remuneration should not be considered as a classic input, but rather as an output of the activity.

The methodology outlined above enables improved collection of remuneration data and contributes to better data quality for socio-economic assessments. The indirect calculation of remuneration allows for a shift in focus to the collection of the other elements and, in particular, revenue data and this provides the opportunity to also focus on improving the quality of that data.

Finally, good quality data on remuneration and associated indicators is critical for improved management, decision-making and policy-making.


The effect of hook spacing on longline catch rates by Francisco Blaha

As I said more than once, I like reading scientific papers (having time to do it is more the issue) this one got me thinking, and again I see science confirming stuff you talk on board with people that have been doing the job longer than you: “hooks compete with each other”. And while the job was done in Halibut, I wonder how it would work on toothfish, ling and/or long tail snapper as species closer to my experience.

my strongest memories of longliners... the cursing when the mainline started to mess up

my strongest memories of longliners... the cursing when the mainline started to mess up

The paper is on the dense side for the non initiated, so I hope the authors Cole C.Monnahan and Ian J.Stewart don't mind I only quote the abstract and the discussion.

Catch per unit effort (CPUE) is a widely used index of population abundance for informing stock assessments for the purpose of estimating population status and setting fishing policies. However, for CPUE to be an unbiased index, influences that are not related to population abundance (e.g., spatial variation in effort and temporal changes in gear efficiency) must be accounted for in analyses known as CPUE standardization. In longline fisheries, one important factor that can affect CPUE is the spacing between hooks (‘spacing effect’), which influences effective effort and has largely been ignored in previous analyses. Here, we use the Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) long-line fishery as a case study to explore the spacing effect.

Both commercial and experimental (fishery-independent) data with hook spacing, and a survey-based CPUE series, are available for this fishery. It thus provides a unique opportunity to explore the effect of hook spacing and its effect on CPUE trends. We quantify this effect using non-parametric and parametric relationships inside a spatially-explicit (geospatial) CPUE standardization model for commercial data, and non-linear mixed-effects model for experimental data.

We found a clear non-linear spacing effect (i.e., hooks were less effective the closer they were), but accounting for space had a larger effect on CPUE trends than accounting for hook spacing. For this stock, it is likely the effect of hook spacing on CPUE was minimal due to little variation in average hook spacing over time. Regardless, historical and future trends in hook spacing can have important effects on longline CPUE standardization, highlighting the value of collecting this information. Accounting for hook spacing effects in other fisheries may improve estimates of trends in relative abundance and lead to better management.

We found clear evidence for reduction in hook fishing power (or effectiveness) at smaller spacings, supporting the hypothesis that nearby hooks compete for Pacific halibut. This implies that for CPUE analyses, the relevant unit of effort is an effective hook.

We also found that the parametric form was a reasonable approximation for this relationship. Further, the parametric model fits to both the fishery-dependent and experimental data sets were fairly consistent, demonstrating this relationship can be estimated directly from commercial data, without the need for a controlled experiment.

Estimating effective hooks in the CPUE standardization has the added benefit that the uncertainty in the spacing effect is propagated into the trends of relative abundance. Lastly, despite a clear hook spacing effect, we found limited effects on standardized CPUE trends. This was likely because although there has been a temporal shift to different gear types, on average the hook spacing has changed slightly over the time period examined. Comparisons among other regulatory areas with systematic differences in gear usage may be much more important to the interpretation of Pacific halibut trends. Further, in other stocks managed with longline CPUE with significant temporal trends, ignoring hook spacing may mischaracterize abundance trends and lead to poor management decisions.

Our results support the hypothesis that hooks compete with each other, at least under the densities observed, and conditioned on the specific foraging behavior of Pacific halibut. However, the commercial data used here only contained information on retained legal halibut and set-level characteristics, and did not include key factors that certainly affect catch rates. For example, we were not able to account for the effects of environmental factors nor halibut size structure and density. Neither we were able to account for multispecies competition, which also has important influences on longline catch rates (Rodgveller et al., 2008). Thus, we caution against a biological interpretation of our results, and against applying our estimates to other species or situations, as foraging behavior may vary widely and lead to fundamentally different relationships (Fig. 1). For instance, initial captures of sablefish do not affect subsequent captures leading to a random distribution of occupied hooks, while Pacific halibut tend to cluster (Sigler, 2000). Future lab experiments on Pacific halibut or other species, while controlling for environmental and other key factors, would provide valuable corroboration and further insights in the relationship between individual foraging behavior, hook competition, and the resulting population-level hook spacing effects.

The assessment of Pacific halibut uses CPUE that excludes snap and autoline gear due to concerns over confounding between gear type, hook spacing, and changes in density (Stewart et al., 2016). Our analysis provides a method for including all gear types in future analyses and improving the information on which management is based. Although our analysis is specific to Pacific halibut, similar analyses for other stocks assessed, at least in part, with standardized longline CPUE could use a similar approach. For instance, hook spacing for sablefish is known to be important from experiments, but is not consistently reported for commercial catches and thus cannot be directly used in the CPUE standardization (Sigler and Lunsford, 2001). Likewise, CPUE analyses for bigeye tuna account for hooks between floats and hooks per set, but the length of sets are unreported and thus the effect of hook spacing is unknown (e.g., Hoyle and Okamoto, 2011). Our results demonstrate the potential value in collecting hook spacing for commercial longline catch data, and suggest incorporating this information in the future, especially for stocks with temporal or spatial trends hook spacing over time.

Efforts to estimate fish stock status from longline CPUE trends while ignoring spatial effort have been widely criticized (e.g., see debates in Hampton et al., 2005; Myers and Worm, 2003; Walters, 2003). As a consequence, incorporating spatial strata into standardizations is commonplace (Maunder and Punt, 2004). However, these improved methods still typically ignore spatial correlation among cells, and can be sensitive to cell resolution (Ichinokawa and Brodziak, 2010; Tian et al., 2010). One promising new method for accounting for space in standardizations is hierarchical spatiotemporal models (Thorson et al., 2015). Hierarchical models have become increasingly popular tools across a wide range of applications in fisheries science (Thorson and Minto, 2014), and their application for spatiotemporal models provides a natural approach for dealing with spatial complexities when estimating fish densities. In contrast to data collected using a random design (e.g., surveys), the preferential sampling of commercial data (i.e., high density areas are targeted; see Conn et al., 2017; Diggle et al., 2010) remains an open issue when using these methods.

We did not attempt to address this issue in our simplified model, here used as a proof of concept and to investigate hook spacing effects, but note we were encouraged that our estimates closely matched a survey CPUE trend (Fig. 6). However, before using these methods for management, we suggest future studies more closely investigate the effects of preferential sampling, in addition to other factors ignored here (e.g., zero catches and anisotropy), which may have an important influence on some stocks. We expect development of these models to continue being an active area of research, and will eventually be applied widely to analyze complex spatial fisheries data.

Trends in CPUE may not accurately reflect true trends in abundance due to a wide variety of confounding factors. Accounting for all such confounding factors is thus critical for successful fisheries management, but is a difficult proposition and will be a source of continued research.

For longline gear, in particular, the spacing between hooks clearly effects the effective effort leading to observed catches. This highlights the value in collecting hook spacing data on longline sets, particularly if there is the potential for an annual trend in hook spacing as gear configuration evolves in a fishery. Fortunately, the effective effort implied by hook spacing can be estimated within a spatially-explicit CPUE standardization model fit to commercial catch data. Including this effective hook relationship will likely lead to improved trends in relative abundance, and hence better management for other species caught by longline.



The 2017 FAO Voluntary Guidelines for CDS by Francisco Blaha

A recent and long overdue set of international guidelines on catch documentation schemes was adopted by the FAO Council in July 2017. My friend and colleague Gilles Hosch, did a thorough analysis of this document and its implications. It was published by Infofish magazine, and I quote below some of the key parts.

legality and acountancy

legality and acountancy

Following extensive stakeholder consultations (in which we participated) on how to prevent illegally harvested fish from slipping into global food supply chains, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) came up with new Guidelines which provide formalised guidance as to what Catch Documentation Schemes are, their aims, and how they should be designed and operated. The Guidelines could now provide a first step in the development of a more precise benchmarking tool for CDS.

Today, there are four CDS in existence. Three of these are multilateral CDS operated by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs), and one is a unilateral CDS operated by the European Union (EU) in its capacity as a market State.

Catch Documentation Schemes are a politically sensitive topic owing to their trade-related nature and their potential to impact and disrupt trade in fisheries commodities between trading partners and nations. With this in mind, the resulting Guidelines represent a cautious first step in describing the scope and nature of CDS, their objective, and laying out general principles and functional elements around which CDS ought to be built.

The objective of the Guidelines is

“to provide assistance to states, regional fisheries management organisations, regional economic integration organisations and other intergovernmental organisations when developing and implementing new CDS, or harmonising or reviewing existing CDS.”

This confirms that CDS can be developed through either multilateral or unilateral enterprise.

The term ‘CDS’ is defined as follows;

“Catch Documentation Scheme” means a system with the primary purpose of helping determine throughout the supply chain whether fish originate from catches taken consistent with applicable national, regional and international conservation and management measures, established in accordance with relevant international obligations, hereinafter referred to as “CDS”.

CDS are thus systems spanning the entire supply chain, allowing the industry for ascertaining the legal origin of the product throughout all stages of production.

Six basic principles and their application

The Guidelines enunciate a range of basic principles that should be followed when developing CDS, namely: a) be in conformity with the provisions of relevant international law; b) not create unnecessary barriers to trade; c) recognise equivalence; d) be risk-based; e) be reliable, simple, clear and transparent; and f) be electronic, if possible.

Harmonisation of CDS is a goal that may be pursued in the future. This particular point, explicitly mentioned in the objective of the Guidelines, finds resonance in the principle that equivalence (between schemes) should be recognised.

In addition to the notions of harmonisation and equivalence, the six principles introduce the important ideas of reliability – interpreted to mean that a CDS ought to be designed in a way that it is able to effectively achieve its objective – and transparency. Transparency is increasingly gaining traction in supply chain management, not only for monitoring and compliance purposes, but also serving the commercial goal of building consumer trust through the marketing of products claiming social and environmental responsibility; such claims may be more easily verified through ever more transparent and verifiable sourcing frameworks. Limiting the risk of reputational damage is part of private sector interests in pushing for more supply chain transparency, which will in turn facilitate the development and operation of future CDS.

The Guidelines lay out the de facto objective of a CDS in the following manner:

“Every effort should be made to ensure that CDS are only implemented where they can be an effective means to prevent products derived from IUU fishing from entering the supply chain.”

This mirrors the objective pursued through trade-related measures as provided in the 2008 FAO International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries in the High Seas: “adopt […] measures to prevent products from IUU DSFs from entering international trade.” It also reflects the provisions of the 2001 FAO International Plan of Action to Combat, Deter, and Eliminate IUU Fishing on the same topic: “[…] to prevent fish caught by vessels identified […] to have been engaged in IUU fishing being traded or imported into their territories.”

The notion that a CDS must be able to effectively prevent IUU-derived product from entering the supply chain is key, and must be emphasised. In other words; if mechanisms inherent in the CDS do not allow for the detection of IUU fishing operations, and IUU-derived products are able to gain certification and to migrate as legally certified products along supply chains towards their end-markets because of this, then the CDS cannot contribute significantly to eliminating IUU fishing. The capacity of the CDS to detect (and eliminate) fraud at the beginning of the supply chain is key, and ought to precede the decision of whether a CDS is an appropriate tool to implement or not.

With regards to the CDS objective, the Guidelines also provide that CDS should only be implemented “from within the context of an effective fisheries management regime”. This consideration is critical, since the relative lack of regulatory substance regarding the exploitation of given stocks implies a relative lack of substrate for a CDS to act upon.

Another element of critical importance regarding the principles and their application is the development and use of secure electronic systems for the operation of CDS in order to forego the risk of falsification. The Guidelines provide key attributes and functions that electronic systems should be endowed with, including the following:

  1. Serve as the mechanism for issuance and validation of catch certificates
  2. Function as the repository of catch certificate and supply chain data;
  3. Allow verification of information;
  4. Ensure that accurate and verifiable information is available along the supply chain;
  5. Be based on international standards for information exchange and data management;
  6. Minimise the burden on users;
  7. Provide functions for uploading scanned documents;
  8. Provide functions for running data queries;
  9. Define roles and responsibilities for data input and validation;
  10. Provide secure access via logins and passwords; and
  11. Define system levels that individual users or user groups have access to.

Certificates should hence be issued and validated through an electronic system, which serves both CDS functions of data generator/validator and data warehouse (points 1 and 2 above) allowing data to be linked (point 5) and to remain available and accessible along the entire supply chain (point 4).

This embodies what is more commonly referred to as a central registry (or central data repository). The central registry is the centrepiece that provides a basis for effective supply-chain traceability, and allows a CDS to effectively meet its objective. It is this instrument that enables meaningful verification of information (point 3), either in manual or automated fashion, along the entire supply chain from harvesting of fish to the final point of importation of fisheries products, and provides the ability to detect (and to deny) laundering attempts. In the absence of a central registry, verification of information becomes difficult, and in longer supply chains, operators and regulators may become unable to establish the validity of the paperwork accompanying consignments delivered to premises, or – in the case of authorities – imported into territories. Both CCAMLR and ICCAT operate such electronic central registries today.

"weight in" and "weight out"

"weight in" and "weight out"

Cooperation, notification, functions and standards

Other attributes and functions provided for in the Guidelines – generally relating more to CDS development and implementation modalities –include the following;

  1. States should seek wide multilateral engagements in the development and implementation of CDS;
  2. Cost-effectiveness considerations should guide […] the development and implementation of CDS;
  3. Multilateral or regional CDS are preferred;
  4. The objective of a CDS should be clearly defined;
  5. The CDS should be designed to meet its objective;
  6. Applicable Harmonised System (HS) classifications should be listed;
  7. In the validation process, different roles of relevant states to authorise, monitor and control fishing operations and verify catch, landing, and trade should be fully recognised;
  8. Validation of catch documentation information should be done by a competent authority;
  9. All relevant states could take part in the verification of information in the catch documentation

It emerges that multilateral approaches are preferred in developing CDS (points 1 and 3).

Points 4 and 5 – notwithstanding their obviousness and logic – are important also. With a single exception, none of the existing CDS clearly define the objective of the scheme, and are hence prone to meander, to add functions not in support of the (putative) objective, and therefore become more burdensome, more ineffective and less cost-effective over time. CDS functions can only be developed effectively when an agreed and clear objective is being pursued.

The definition of the HS categories (point 6) to which the scheme applies is also important, and sometimes embodies an alienating factor for fisheries practitioners. However, since the CDS is a trade-based tool, and is largely implemented through the action of border control agents and the customs agencies they respond to, the translation of fish species and fish products into customs codes is of essence to ensure the smooth implementation of envisaged controls at the level of international trade. This, in turn, assists in identifying the need for developing more detailed HS codes in specific fisheries and supply chains over time.

Another key point relates to the state-types responsible for verifications and validations of certificates (points 7 and 9). Under all currently existing CDS, and with few exceptions, the flag state has the exclusive competence for the verification and validation of catch certificates. However, under international law, both the coastal state and the flag state have shared responsibility to oversee fishing operations in the EEZ.

Expanding verification and validation competence in future systems serves the purpose of limiting the primacy of flag state validation in the CDS landscape. Such primacy is inconsistent in the context of a trade-based tool, bearing in mind the historically pervasive and documented failures of flag states to discharge their duties under international law.

Trade-based and port-state measures – the latter enshrined in the 2009 Agreement on Port State Measures to Combat, Deter, and Eliminate IUU Fishing (PSMA) – ought to be understood as efforts to overcome the shortcomings of flag state jurisdiction and enforcement, and to spread duties and responsibilities for combatting IUU fishing more evenly among concerned state parties. One consideration, inter alia, regarding expanded verification and validation responsibilities under a CDS would be for coastal states to be endowed with a statutory catch certificate validation function for catches made in their EEZ – in cases where the flag and the coastal state are not the same.

Finally, an act of validation of catch documentation (i.e. a certificate) by a designated competent authority is a hallmark of catch documentation schemes (point 8). This has implications as to whether the impending US Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) – due to enter into force in January 2018 – will qualify as a CDS system, or will eventually be relegated into a category of trade-based measures of its own standing. 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.


Seventeen years after the coming into existence of the first CDS globally at CCAMLR, the 2017 FAO CDS Guidelines enter the spotlight and provide much needed and formalised guidance as to what a CDS is, what it is aiming to achieve, and how these schemes should be designed and operated. This should help in dispelling general misconceptions about what the functions and objectives of these schemes are, and should also be instrumental in better focusing current efforts at RFMO level to develop such schemes.

The Guidelines could also embody a first step in the direction of developing a more encompassing and precise CDS benchmarking tool, which would allow assessing and revising existing schemes against an agreed standard and on the basis of which new schemes could be developed faster, more effectively, and with much more confidence

Thailand is working hard to revert their situation by Francisco Blaha

I wrote in the past on Thailands' PSMA signing and the impact of the EU's DG MARE yellow card and DG SANTE bad report on the Thailand's fisheries sector. Add to that the forced labor issues, Greenpeace campaigns, and the lot... the picture wasn't a pritty one.

Inspecting the full content and papers of 10 PS transhipped into a carrier, plus the carrier trip from the Pacific to BBK. Don't get fooled by the youth of the lead inspector on the left, she can be a bulldog. I'll have her on any boarding team... smart, tenacious, resurcefull.

Inspecting the full content and papers of 10 PS transhipped into a carrier, plus the carrier trip from the Pacific to BBK. Don't get fooled by the youth of the lead inspector on the left, she can be a bulldog. I'll have her on any boarding team... smart, tenacious, resurcefull.

And as I said last year: I'm not going to even try to dissect the whole tangled mess. But yes... Thailand has not been particularly clean, but then, they weren’t been pushed to be clean (quite conveniently) by the international community, nor their clients. They have a very efficient and effective production system, but their fisheries controls have been kind of the opposite.

I think a red card was actually never on the agenda, since tuna imports from Thailand to the EU would have not been affected, since the IUU Regulation is a flag state measure. This means that for the purposes of imported foreign-caught raw materials, Thailand is considered a processing state rather than flag state, and the regulation is not explicit about processing state responsibilities in terms of addressing IUU fishing (they only require the completion of an annex to EU Catch Certificate regarding processing - "the processing statement").

Having worked here before, I was quite happy to be contracted by the Thai Department of Fisheries and Ocean Mind (that has been working with DoF on PSM support by doing intelligence analysis via IAS on the Advance Request Entry to Port -AREP that Thailand requires from all carriers coming to unload).

Ocean Mind has been working with DoF on PSM support by doing intelligence analysis via IAS on the Advance Request Entry to Port -AREP that Thailand requires from all carriers coming to unload. My job was to evaluate Thailand's systems and improvements, they contacted me by a recommendation of the Papua New Guinean government, who were quite happy with the work I did with them during their yellow card period.

After having helped 6 countries to get off their "Yellows" and having been a dodgy fisherman (in a past I'm not too proud of), I have become some sort of a IUU control systems and the EU Catch Certification systems designer and beta-tester for many countries. And this was the role I was asked to perform over two "full on" weeks around ports, factories, offices, border crossings and container ports in across Thailand, trying to "hack" the system and then providing feedback on the issues found. 

Finding issues and inconsistencies in peoples' work is not a role I enjoy, yet that is what IUU operators do. So I always start these jobs explaining the situation and asking them to see me as "mother in law" who's nature is to find the 1 thing wrong among the 99 that are right.

I'm not going to go into the details, but I was pleasantly surprised with the advances and scope of their systems. Their commitment to a better management of its fisheries resources, control over its fisheries, as well as the legality of its fishery imports is to be recognised. It never felt "fake" to me, or that they were trying to put on a "performance" I was given full access to anything I needed.

The country has upgraded in a very short time its control systems with the aim to be at international best practices, and its fishery administration has gone over a generational shift, I worked with many young and committed people in positions of power, which really was quite refreshing. 

While there are issues that still need more attention, most of the recommendations I provided refer to the strengthening and refinement of existing tools and initiatives, and not the creation of completely new ones, which would have been the case only a few years ago, when I last work there. It has been a remarkable turnaround.

In fisherman talk: "3 years ago they had no boat, today I was discussing gear improvements and the boat finishing details, while we all were standing on it doing sea trials".

I’m totally aware (because advising on these type changes is my job) of the level of effort and commitment required by the fisheries sector (government and industry) to get to this stage. So it did not surprise me to learn that no one in DoF had holidays in the last 18 months and working till 9 pm on a Saturday night, did not raise an eyebrow (other than my ones!)... I have never seen that in any Fisheries administration in my life.

I can only congratulate all involved and keep working the weak angles identified as to sustain the efforts into the foreseeable future, no one wants to come back to what it was 2-3 years ago when I last evaluated your (lack off) systems.

Obviously (albeit unfortunately) the “name and shame” strategy of the EU, has been an effective catalyser to get things into action. Yet in any case, the fishing world wins with a Thailand living up to its responsible fishing nation capacities. The battle they are winning there, has massive repercussions to the tuna industry, both in terms of Illegal but also unreported fishing.  

would not have trusted the legality and eligibility of this load a couple of years ago... now I do

would not have trusted the legality and eligibility of this load a couple of years ago... now I do

Safety at Sea and the Cape Town Agreement / Torremolinos Protocol by Francisco Blaha

I wrote before about the safety of fishers, fishing is the most dangerous occupations in the world, with an annual fatality rate of 80 lives per 100,000 fishermen.  

more than just payment is needed...

more than just payment is needed...

There is a long-standing cooperation between the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and FAO, in particular in improving safety at sea in the fisheries sector.

This long-standing collaboration has resulted in the development of a number of binding and non-binding instruments that address the safety of fishing vessels and their crews. Thanks to this cooperation, there are now international instruments in place that apply to fishing vessels of all sizes and the personnel working on board those vessels.  

One of the binding instruments is the Cape Town Agreement of 2012 on the Implementation of the Provisions of the Torremolinos Protocol of 1993 relating to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977, which was adopted on 11 October 2012 in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Agreement applies to fishing vessels of 24 m in length and over, operating on the high seas, and will enter into force when it has been ratified by at least 22 States, with an aggregated fleet of at least 3 600 fishing vessels of 24 m in length and over.

The safety of fishing vessels concerns not only the technical elements of the design, construction and equipment of the vessels but also a number of social and economic factors.

Overcapacity and overfishing of coastal resources has led to high competition to catch limited resources.  Pressures on owners and skippers to ensure economic survival can result in cost cutting on vessel maintenance, safety equipment and labour with negative consequences on safety.

Safety in fishing operations cannot, therefore, be separated from fisheries management and this is recognized in the provisions of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries which addresses safety and health in the fisheries sector.

The Committee on Fisheries (COFI), which is one of FAO’s governing bodies, has repeatedly welcomed the ongoing cooperation between IMO, ILO and FAO. During a recent meeting of the Committee, many Members recognized that there is a link between safety at sea, forced labour and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and they referred, in this regard, to the 2007 ILO Work in Fishing Convention and the Cape Town Agreement. 

These legally binding instruments will not only improve safety at sea in the fisheries sector and working and living conditions on board fishing vessels, but will also be useful tools in fighting IUU fishing, together with the FAO Port State Measures Agreement.

It is the responsibility of the flag State of a fishing vessel to ensure that the vessel meets internationally agreed standards, such as the Cape Town Agreement, the STCW-F Convention, the ILO Work in Fishing Convention and the FAO Port State Measures Agreement. 

Port State control/measures is a supplement to flag State control and a cost-effective tool to fight substandard fishing. When a fishing vessel, which falls under the scope of one of the above-mentioned legally-binding instruments, is in a port of a Party to that instrument, other than its flag State, it will be subject to inspections, carried out by an inspector, duly authorized by the port State authorities, on matters related to safety, working and living conditions on board and matters related to fishing equipment and fishing operations, in order to confirm whether the vessel complies with the requirements of the relevant instrument. 

If the condition of the vessel or its operation does not correspond to the requirements of the instrument, the inspector can require the deficiencies to be rectified before the vessel leaves the port and, in more serious cases, detain the vessel. 

It is, therefore, expected that port State inspections will considerably reduce the chances for unscrupulous operators to get away with bad behaviour, such as undertaking IUU fishing using unsafe vessels with unacceptable labour conditions.

IMO, FAO and ILO have emphasized that in order to achieve good results, in improving safety at sea and labour conditions in the fisheries sector as well as in the fight against IUU fishing, it is essential to have close cooperation and coordination at national and regional level, in particular between the maritime, fisheries and labour administrations.

Source here