Fiji's Parliament agrees to the FAO PSMA by Francisco Blaha

It has been talked for a while but now is official, Fiji's parliament has agreed to sign the FAO Port State Measures Agreement. In a stark difference from the other Pacific Island States that signed, Fiji is a busy Port state for the Chinese, Taiwanese  (either own or using Vanuatu flag) longlining fleet, with a big chunk of them fishing in the high seas.

 She is going to be bussy!

She is going to be bussy!

Interestingly, as in the other cases, the drive to sign comes from the Foreign Affairs sector, more than from fisheries. 

In the case of Fiji, it would be interesting because it will take a big responsibility that is not reciprocated by the main DWFN that are using their ports: China (for lack of interest) and Taiwan (because by not being a member of the UN -  due to China’s opposition – it can’t sign, besides the fact that may not be interested in doing so anyway). 

Critics of this situation, may have point when they see it as (again) a developing Pacific Island Coastal and Port State taking an important responsibility (and costs) associated to PSMA, while the key Flag States (that subsidise their vessel way beyond the worst estimates of the value of IUU fishing in the region) keep not honouring their responsibilities over the action of their vessels.

In any case, Fiji has a solid MCS team I have worked over the years and is implementing many elements of PSM. And while I’m sure their work will be stretched by many of the additional components in the FAO PSMA, the signature also implies support to be provided by FAO in terms of capacity development and implementation. As usual, the more coordinated this work is with the existing work of FFA, the better for everyone. 

I have written in extent over PSMA over the years, and particularly under the principle that one size does not fit all... signing the Agreement is one thing, implementing it is a different game, and one that is exclusively lead by  the Fisheries Authorities (which in my opinion are vastly underresourced in the region), and not by Foreign Affairs, that sign and then go the next meeting..

And as I explained before, a lot of my PSM work in the region  is not explicitly aimed at implementing the FAO PSMA, instead, it seeks to achieve arrangements that are consistent with the purposes of the FAO PSMA so if a country decides to do so, a lot of the ground has been covered already. The decision to ratify the FAO PSMA or not, is the sole discretion of the governments, and that level of decision making is way above my pay level!

Working in Tuvalu on PSM, Transhipment Controls and Section 7 of the EU CC by Francisco Blaha

I have worked in quite a few places over my life, but hardly any get to the level of uniqueness of Tuvalu… While everyone was in Rome at what looks like a very successful FAO COFI 2018, the rest of the fishing world was just doing their jobs far from the limelight. In my case, I was working with my colleagues from the Tuvalu Fisheries Department.

 Uni, Tuvalu's transhipment guru has all under control.

Uni, Tuvalu's transhipment guru has all under control.

There is plenty of info on the web about the remoteness and the challenges faced by Tuvalu, so I’m not going to repeat what is there already. But from the fisheries perspective, it punches above its category, so I was very much looking forward to coming back.


My job was to support the Tuvalu Fisheries Department with a combination of PSM best practices, Transhipment Controls and Section 7 of the EU Catch Certificates under a mission for FFA (and also because as you can see on the right has the coolest logo in the world – designed by a former compliance officer).

With PSM, of course, I mean Port State Measures, which are requirements established or interventions undertaken by which a foreign fishing vessel must comply with or is subjected to as a condition for the use of ports within a state.  

Tuvalu with 163 transhipments in Funafuti during 2017 and 99 up to date in 2018 has an important role as a major transhipment port state in the Pacific.

The objective of this work is not explicitly aimed at implementing the FAO PSMA, instead, it seeks to achieve arrangements that are consistent with the purposes of the FAO PSMA. The decision to ratify the FAO PSMA, or implement alternative PSM arrangements, is the sole discretion of the Tuvalu government, and those decisions go way above my pay level!

Tuvalu already covers the key elements regarding logistics, capacity building, institutional presence, control systems and IT support required to meet the need for PSM best practices and the EU CC expectations for transhipments. And while it has robust systems in place for vessels arrivals and inspections, as in other countries in the region only the essential PSM elements of information analysis before vessel arrival and the conditionality of port use and further transhipment monitoring wasn't clearly established. 

These essential PSM requirements are enhanced by the recent (Dec 2017) WCPFC PSM CMM  to which Tuvalu will need to abide at some stage, so the 1st part of the work focused on the standardisation of port entry clearance and the operational logistics of the process. 

A big part of the challenge is to adapt the ideal concepts around these best practices to the realities of the technology available in Tuvalu (particularly in regards internet bandwidth) 

The 1st part of the work is somewhat linear since only vessels licensed to fish in Tuvalu, under PNA arrangement and US Treaty are allowed tranship in Tuvalu, so this narrows the issues of vessels identity for us.

The process starts with the masters announcing the intention of port entry to TVF with 48 hrs notice, and this is happening as planned. The only addition we did is the date and port of the last departure, which allows narrowing the compliance analysis of the trip we are to asses prior the vessel arrival.

Differently to other parts of the world, denying Port Entry per se would hardly ever occur (as vessels need to be licensed to fish to tranship here, and fish landing are highly unlikely) yet some scenarios were incorporated in the soP.

Then we trained on the procedures for developing an Arriving Vessel Intelligence Report that would be used for the authorisation of port use. This document is based on assessing the vessels trip information based on information available to the Compliance officers through FFA RIMF and iFIMS. This check includes among others: FFA VoI, risk index and VMS track for the trip length, licensing for the areas fished, eForms information (when available) and eObs (when available in particular Gen 3 data).

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

The arrival is then listed in the port operations whiteboard (see below) and communicate the approval back to the master, and the boarding is scheduled, and the boarding logistics set up. 

A big part of port operations and PSM is to know what, when, where and who is doing what. The whiteboard is such low cost but a really useful tool that provides a snapshot of what is happening in the port to everyone in the office and the other agencies. There should be a total correlation of what happens in the lagoon and the wall… simple as that. I have set them up in many parts of the Pcific , and it does work. 

Below is the training example I use:

  Example of a port operations white board, all names are ficticious, for illustrative purposes only

Example of a port operations white board, all names are ficticious, for illustrative purposes only

Anyway, when the vessel arrives, the boarding party brings with them the details of the intelligence report, these are typically around establishing where manoeuvring consistent with fishing activities (inferred by speed changes and the manoeuvring patterns) are in EEZ that correlate to licensing, suspicious stops with proximity analysis, and so on, and contrasting all these with the information in the on-board logbooks, records, and so on… (not going to spill all the beans here 😎

Point is that if all is clear and the legality of the catch established, then the vessel is authorised to tranship catch, otherwise they are not allowed to use port until the situation is cleared up and if necessary the affected parties, i.e. coastal state where the alleged problem took place and flag state sort it out, there also is a role for the port state to be involved on behalf of the parties… but believe me that "don't let a vessel tranship" and "don't let them leave" hurts the bottom line a lot… sometimes more than a fine!

When transhipment is authorised, we deploy “Monitors” on board, the monitors are usually “off duty” observers that get to supplement their earning while not at sea.  While these monitors are Tuvaluan observers, they report to the Compliance Unit and not to the Observers Unit for this type work. The functions of the monitors are

  1. Record estimates of catch volume and composition
  2. Record the presence of species of interest
  3. Record potential MARPOL contraventions
  4. Provide the data to the compliance unit

Now regarding weights, these were usually "estimated weights” based on the estimations of the weight in the “slings” passing from the FV to the carrier.


Yet industry (mostly Korean vessels and some agents), are increasingly using crane scales such as the one in the image on the right. 

This option could be of particular interest to Tuvalu since their transhipment fees are based on charges per ton; therefore the better resolution, the better income, so over the near future we will be running a trial with these.

The set up is relatively straight forwards; port monitors hang the scale on the crane hook and switch it on. These scales have shock resistant steel frame and LED display, but most importantly a wireless remote control facilitates the weighing operations.

The remote control can send commands to the crane scale but most importantly monitors the scale’s status and displays the weighing information within 200 meters in line of sight.

Furthermore, many models have a non-volatile data memory of 1500 to 2000 weighing results and a summing function, all the necessary data can be transferred to a PC or tablet for further processing.

The equipment (to be owned by the TFD) can be carried on board before the starts of transhipment and locked to crane hook as a condition of transhipment. The remote unit can be used while the monitors are there or are locked away and keep operating while the monitors are not on board. 

The scale is “tared” by using putting all the cargo nets into one and weight them, and then dividing the total weight by the number of nets and using the average as tare (i.e. 10 nets come to a total of 80kg; hence the tare is 8kg). All the nets weighed are then “precinct” with a cable tire or some colour strings, and those are the only ones allowed to be used.

I have been proposing this setup, and I believe in it… It has quite a few advantages since it offers better data definition that relying purely on the logsheet (which impacts then stock assessments and management decisions), but I know that crew, captains and agents have a vested interest on this too… since wages depend on catch volumes, and as most of these loads would be only really “weight in” at the factories doors in Thailand or Vietnam in months time… knowing with better accuracy how much has been transhipped helps everyone.

Once transhipment is finished, the vessels (either PS and carriers) need to let fisheries know with 24 hrs their intention to depart as be cleared by the compliance guys. The clearance, besides checking on the conditions of vessels and observer, implies inspecting the wells and dry lockers for catch retained and not declared, if there is catch on board (some countries allow that others don't) then we record species and estimated volumes based on master’s appraisal, and have available on the system and record it in the vessels logbook, so the next port is aware.

In the case of Carriers, the departure procedure is a bit more complicated, since we compare the data for each of the Fishing Vessels that had transhipped to that carrier with our records and the mate's receipts and the pre and the post transhipment carrier’s hatch plan.

In case of differences officer investigates the reasons, and if those are not fully explained, it communicates with the Port Authority and stops the departure of the carrier until the differences are cleared. Otherwise, the vessels are free to go and gets off the whiteboard, and the data is all collected as to deal with section 7 of the EU Catch cert

Section 7 of the catch cert is a bit of a dog’s breakfast, to be honest… just when you read the section and It says “date” (like if transhipments are done in only 1 day) and “port of landing” while transhipment is actually defined (by the EU!) as in between two vessels, hence no actual landing is implied. Landing is putting the fish on land (even if not defined in the EU legislation).

The term “port area” is also not defined either but the general view on this is that it refers to being around a “port” where an anchored vessel is approached by another one to transship. However, no official explanation has been given to date.

While not clearly explained in the regulations or manuals, this is the only part of the CC that requires the signature from the Port State instead of the Flag State. So vessels flagged in Country “A” tranship at a port in Country “B”. Country “A” is responsible for the validation of the CC, but country “B “is responsible for authorising the transhipment.

The transhipment can occur before the CC certificates are raised and validated (because in many cases there still no firm buyer for the fish) or because the fish has not been landed or processed at the destination which may or may not be the Flag State.

This a difficulty for the Port State as if they were to sign Section 7 at the time of the transhipment, they’ll sign an “empty” CC, with information provided by the captain or agent. Unless the Flag State is really “onto it” and able to provide a validated CC based on reliable estimates provided by the captain via the logbook and/or observers, prior the transhipment (there is no evidence of this ever being the case).

DG MARE in one of its notes proposes that the Port State signs the non validated CC; however this can be seen as a not showing sufficient due diligence by the Port State CA.

Alternatively, they need to keep the records of the transhipment authorisation on file, until such a time the processors of the fish that was transhipped request the CC from the Flag State who can then issue the CC which can then go to the Port State for section 7 signature.

In the original manual, the EU said that:

The EC would like to emphasise that at the stage of transhipment in port the catch certificate cannot contain information regarding the estimated weight provided in Section 3. However, all the other information provided in the Sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 should be made available by the shipowner/exporter.

Of course, we cannot modify any part of the EU CC, nor is our job to challenge whatever is written by the flag state in the cert, so we just keep all the records associated to the authorisation and request that the CC has Sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 complete

As it is now, in my opinion, the operational side of section 7 still requires either a level of jeopardy from the Flag State or from the Port State… and of course, my interest / work is to shield the Pacific island port states from any further problems with the EU.

Other than that, it was awesome to work with the solid crew from Tuvalu Fisheries Department, the officers are really focused and cool, their boarding boats are excellent and their attitude really positive and efficient. And it that wasn't enough, their new office is really nice.


Furthermore, I'm very thankfull to them for being totally cool for allowing me to do this mission with my daughter, it has been very special for her... what I appreciate the most of working in the Pacific is that the importance of family does not need to be explained.

 Not bad as a after work place to hang out every day...

Not bad as a after work place to hang out every day...

My 13 years old daughter Kika had a great time and loved the uniqueness of Tuvalu and its people!

Fakafetai Lasi Tuvalu.

Stretching out supplies of fish food to aquaculture species by Francisco Blaha

A lot of people normally tell me that aquaculture will "replace" fisheries, something that I usually dispute. Since many of the present commercially aquacultured species still depend on fish meal and oil for their feed. Hence in the best case scenario, they will complement each other. Yet aquaculture is not the only "user" of fish meal and oil, hence it "growth" also depends on the use by other food producers.

 (left) Consumption of wild-caught forage fish by species groups, showing how pigs and poultry still consume large supplies. (right) The dominance of mainland China as a consumer of forage fish feed

(left) Consumption of wild-caught forage fish by species groups, showing how pigs and poultry still consume large supplies. (right) The dominance of mainland China as a consumer of forage fish feed

The intricacies between these users were researched by Halley Froehlich, Nis Jacobsen, Tim Essington, and their coauthors, in the journal Nature Sustainability. Below I quote in this paper as reported by the University of Washington SAFS.

Some types of aquaculture-raised (farmed) fish and crustaceans rely on wild-caught fish as feed for omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients. But with the rapid and continuing rise of aquaculture, and the natural limits to the supply of forage fish (anchovies, herring, and their relatives), eventually this supply of feed will be exhausted.

This study now highlights ways in which the supply of fish food can be eked out further by:

  1. reducing the proportion of feed that is based on wild-caught fish and switching to crop-based diets such as soy;
  2. Increasing catches of forage fish to maximum sustainable levels, adding 30% more catch compared to 2012 levels;
  3. eliminating the addition of wild-caught feed to non-carnivorous farmed species;
  4. eliminating forage fish from pig and poultry diets;
  5. using trimmings from the processing of other wild-caught species as food for farmed fish; and
  6. Increasing the efficiency of farmed fish production.

These adjustments offer a variety of pathways to ensure that forage fish are able to support aquaculture growth beyond the year 2050.

 (top) Total mass of food produced from pigs, poultry, and aquaculture species fed using wild-caught fish.  (bottom) Dramatic changes over time in the use of fishmeal from wild-caught forage fish, showing how farmed fish are now the largest consumers of this feed source.

(top) Total mass of food produced from pigs, poultry, and aquaculture species fed using wild-caught fish.  (bottom) Dramatic changes over time in the use of fishmeal from wild-caught forage fish, showing how farmed fish are now the largest consumers of this feed source.

State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) 2018 by Francisco Blaha

While I’m in Tuvalu to do some work on transhipments monitoring (and hopefully celebrate with them that their yellow card is lifted), most of the people I work with is at FAO HQ in Rome at the Committee of Fisheries biannual meeting in Rome #COFI2018. This is the biggest fisheries event there, and I was lucky to have participated in one while being an officer there. They are really informative events

 mosty sustainable, but the unsustainable keeps creeping in

mosty sustainable, but the unsustainable keeps creeping in

A lot of work also goes in the publication of the biennial State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) report.  Since 1994 @FAOFISH publishes it to provide a comprehensive, objective and global view of capture fisheries and aquaculture. Today the released #SOFIA2018 as part of the COFI activities.

 no comments

no comments

This report is an Xray of where we at in fisheries worldwide (which does not mean that is the same case at every location, but rather a worldwide average). It is compulsory reading if you have a keen interest in fisheries and is the product of a mammoth effort by many of my former colleagues in Rome. The original and a very informative website are available here 

A really succinct bullet point summary of its findings is below:

Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 5.55.08 AM.png
  • Global fish production in 2016 rose to 171 mT. 88% (151mT) were used for human consumption (a record). Aquaculture contributed 53% of fish produced for human consumption.  
  • Per capita fish consumption grew to 20.3 kg in 2016. The highest consumption, >50 kg/year, is found in SIDS. Between 1961 and 2016, the average annual increase in global food fish consumption outpaced population growth by a factor of 2.
  • Global capture fisheries production was 90.9 mT in 2016 (79.3mT from marine capture), a small decrease from 2015, largely due to anchoveta, under the influence of El Niño. China, Indonesia, USA, Russia and Peru are the top producers.
  •  Average annual growth in aquaculture was 5.8% in 2000–2016. China has produced >50% of world’s aquaculture every year since 1991. In 2016, 37 countries produced more farmed than wild-caught fish- Collectively they account for 50% of the world’s population
  •  In 2016, global aquaculture production has been recorded for a total of 598 “species items”. In comparison, over 2,100 species are fished in the wild, demonstrating the huge biodiversity in aquatic systems
  • The fraction of marine fish stocks fished within biologically sustainable levels has exhibited a decreasing trend, from 90.0 % in 1974 to 66.9 % in 2015 (it was 68.6% in 2013). This threatens our capacity to achieve SDG14 targets 
  • The fraction of marine fish stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels has increased from 10% in 1974 to 33.1 % in 2015 (it was 31.4% in 2013). The Mediterranean and Black Sea, SE Pacific and SW Atlantic have over 60% of assessed stocks fished at unsustainable levels
  • In 2016, about 35 % of global fish production entered international trade. Exports rose to USD 143 billion in 2016, 54% for developing countries – exceeding revenues for meats, tobacco, rice and sugar combined.
  • Loss or wastage between landing and consumption decreased but still accounts for an estimated 27 %  of landed fish.



On a more personal note, I'm totally delighted that my 13 old daughter Kika asked to come with me to Tuvalu to see what I do for work and to learn about one of the smallest countries in the world and at forefront of sea level rise.

She is a keen photographer, so I'm also looking forward to seeing the country and its people tough her eyes!

Ideal Processing State Configuration by Francisco Blaha

Following on my post on the Ideal Coastal State set up for a CDS, I follow here the same principle but for a Processing State, based on what I wrote in our recent FAO book for a CDS and that I adapted a bit for the Pacific context for a report I have done for FFA.

 Way more important than you think

Way more important than you think

The “processing state” concept is not yet recognized in international fisheries law – yet it is the most important state type in terms of country-level traceability solutions in support of a CDS.

While many Processing States are, by de facto, Port states, this is not always the case. Yet the responsibilities as a processing State are supplementary to those as a port State. The processing State can also be a part – or a specific form – of the market state, such as the end-market state in which products are consumed and from which they do not re-emerge in trade. 

For a CDS, it is important to distinguish the functions of the processing state from those of the port state and end-market state, so that functions can be assigned to a specific state-type overseeing transactions in parts of the supply chain under their purview, and to present them without repetition of each state type. In doing this, it must be borne in mind that any territory may be a flag State, a port State, a processing state and an end-market state concurrently. 

In simple supply chains (as in most of the Pacific Islands with processing industry) where the 1stbuyer is also the processor and the exporter, and no splits occur after importation, the CDS collects the information that enables tracing of the product. 

In more complex supply chains (such as the one in Thailand or Vietnam), where products are imported into national markets and where changes of ownership subsequently occur, are fully not traced by the CDS. This implies that exporters will be different from importers, which is where challenges emerge.

A CDS must be able to detect mass-balance violations at the country level – more product being exported than was imported – by means of certificates. But in complex national supply chains, where products under single certificates are split among several buyers, the CDS cannot establish what action, seller, buyer, processor or exporter is responsible for a mass-balance inconsistency detected at the time of exportation. 

The CDS can only detect problems with the balance of products intended for export, which may result from simple clerical error or from a laundering attempt somewhere in the national market system.

In complex national supply chains, which are the norm in advanced processing states, tools must be developed to trace the movement of products from the entry gate to the exit gate so that inspections can establish where anomalies occur and who is responsible for them. Without such traceability tools it may be impossible for a competent authority to establish the nature and cause of discrepancies.

Processing state authorities organization
The involvement of fishery authorities in processing is recent, and many older fishery regulatory frameworks are concerned only with fishing and landing, though a few require export permits largely for statistical and revenue-gathering purposes.

Processing is generally the preserve of food safety authorities, for whom traceability is important in terms of consumer safety, information and product origin. Such authorities already have data records, traceability systems and control structures in place.

Another set of fishery-specific controls with a different focus is therefore needed, which may be challenging in the processing environment. The focus of fisheries inspectors has hitherto been harvesting and landing operations, so their work often ends at the dock. But even trained fisheries inspectors who understand processing operations and can investigate company records, inventory systems and processing practices are limited in the range of their knowledge. It is therefore important that fisheries authorities collaborate with food-safety, health and customs authorities in joint working groups and inspections.

Authorization of imports
In a CDS it is important to differentiate between fish landed by fishing vessels and imports arriving through commercial ports, which may have been partially processed beforehand.

Requests for approval of importation should ideally be made before shipment and definitively before arrival. This enables processing states to establish the legality and acceptability of products in accordance with their system of checks and approval.

In most countries, importers must be registered for customs and tax purposes, and hence records are available. In some jurisdictions, only licensed importers under the control of the processing state are allowed to import seafood products against a set of requirements, that establish the identities of businesses and physical persons, ensure that records are maintained of inbound shipments, receipts, inbound lot IDs, lot splits and contact details of suppliers and buyers. 

Registration and licensing of storage and processing premises
Regardless of whether fish are imported or landed, in most countries fish storage and processing premises in the export value chain are licensed and under the control of health authorities; particular conditions apply according to type of processing.

Many of the license conditions refer to the safety controls, traceability of raw materials and market access requirements to be met for certification. An existing comprehensive traceability and record-keeping system at the industry level provides a favourable environment for CDS.

Four of the six PICs countries that have processing facilities are authorized to export to the European Union. Because of the EU system for granting seafood import authorizations, these states are in practice processing states, and traceability is hence part of their regulatory frameworks.

The authorities responsible for seafood safety in each country must guarantee that all operators in its supply chain comply with EU requirements, of which traceability is one. EU market access conditions require that all elements of the production chain under the control of the competent authority are uniquely identified and that all product lots are traceable at all stages of production, processing and distribution. This ensures that the components of the production chain can be tracked through lot splits and mixing.

Many of the KDEs reflect those needed in CDS. When implementing the EU regulation governing traceability and labelling, for example, the following data must be made available:

  • identification number of each lot;
  • external identification number and name of the fishing vessel;
  • the FAO alpha-3 code of each species;
  • the date of catches or the date of production;
  • the quantities of each species by net weight in kg or number of individuals; and
  • the names and addresses of suppliers.

An additional regulation requires the following:

  • the commercial designations of species and scientific names;
  • the production method – caught at sea, caught in freshwater or farmed;
  • the FAO sub-area where the product was caught or farmed;
  • the category of fishing gear used;
  • whether or not the product has been defrosted; and
  • the date of minimum durability, where appropriate.

With regard to regulatory control by processing states, the EU imposes controls to be followed by local authorities and food business operators to ensure that all production chain components are compliant with its rules. This establishes that the competent authority automatically carries out official controls with a frequency based on risk assessments. The controls can be imposed at any stage of the production chain.

Fish storage and processing premises involved in the export supply chain need to be licensed and under the control of the fisheries authority. Non-compliance with license conditions should automatically result in sanctions, enforcement measures and even suspension of the licence.

Control over distribution and transfers
Control by fisheries authorities over the distribution and movements of fish is critical in that the volumes declared must be identified, taking into account splits of lots and sub-lots along the distribution chain. It is hence important that transactions between licensed processors or cold stores are controlled and approved by the authorities.

Control of storage and processing premises
In principle, “processing” means any action that substantially alters an initial product. It can be as simple as transforming a fish from “whole” to “gutted” or “filleted” and includes changes by processes such as cooking, canning, drying and extrusion or a combination of such processes. In some cases “non-transforming” operations such as grading and packing are referred to as processing, but they have no effect on product or unit weight. By-products of processing such as guts, frames and heads should be included in national traceability systems because they are usually sold for pet food, rendering or fishmeal processing.

Because processing implies a change in weight from “unprocessed” to “processed” product there are opportunities for laundering by introducing IUU fish into processing and then declaring inflated processing yields or declaring deflated processing losses.

Fishery authority controls should ideally be established in two areas:

  • Cold stores and stock inventory. As previously discussed, in a CDS it is essential to identify the “ownership” of all stored raw materials and products, whether they are in processors’ premises or off-site storage facilities. Most companies have inventories that enable rapid identification of location, type of product, species, volumes and number of pallets, bins or boxes. Fishery authorities must regularly inspect processing establishments and cold stores to verify the accuracy of records and inventories, either jointly with the health authorities or under a Memorandum of Understanding that provides for action on its behalf.
  • Processing yields are critical in a CDS to enable estimates of the weight of product at different stages of processing. There are two important uses of yield factors: 
    • stimating the volume of round fish caught if on-board processing alters the original volume, this is particularly important as a catch-monitoring tool. Figures obtained from back-calculation can be cross-checked with logbook entries to monitor their accuracy and consistency; and
    • monitoring processing yields throughout the supply chain to ensure that laundering of non-originating material into the supply chain can be detected: this enables fishery authorities to detect non-originating materials being laundered as an operator processes unreported raw product into finished products, giving rise to unusually high processing yields.
  • Without the reporting and monitoring of yield factors, supply chains are open to fraud because laundering attempts cannot be detected automatically.

Health regulations require operators to identify and check products or raw materials to be dispatched and to record the details of what leaves the premises independently of destinations. Regular joint verifications by fishery and health authorities before dispatch and physical checks of consignments loaded are a simple way to ensure traceability and confirm that the correct volumes and species are recorded.

In many countries exporters must be registered and licensed, and health certificates required by national or foreign markets and certificates of origin for trade and tariffs must accompany seafood exports. The issue of health and origin certificates must be carried out in compliance with the relevant regulations. The identification of consigners is essential.

These certifications include KDEs shared with CDS such as species, volumes, origin, and type of processing, so it is essential to work in coordination with health and customs authorities. Data can be verified against shipping and commercial documents such as bills of lading and insurance papers during validation of export trade certificates regardless of product category or degree of processing.


The four key rules of fisheries politics by Francisco Blaha

I have only done once work on recreational fisheries, this was over 13 years ago here in NZ… and it was a pretty toxic experience. Hence, I don't take sides in this (I think useless) fisheries debate… when both sides argue, it seems to me that they are very selective in cherry-picking their arguments. For me in fisheries, we all have to do better… end of story.

 I'm a keen spear-fisher my self, but once I a while I don't mind burning lots of fuel to catch a few fish.

I'm a keen spear-fisher my self, but once I a while I don't mind burning lots of fuel to catch a few fish.

So when I read this paper in “Fisheries Research” but written by a member of the Canadian Sport Fishing Advisory Board, I was intrigued. Gerry Kristianson resumes the tone of his article quite well in the abstract:

Advocates for recreational fishing, public servants charged with fisheries management, and scientists and other experts who provide objective advice, all need to understand the nature and dimensions of fisheries politics. Accusing someone of “playing politics” usually is intended as a criticism, even an insult. But politics is the social process by which differences are expressed and resolved. If you don’t have differences, then you don’t have politics. A political situation, whether it is in a family, the workplace, government administration or a contest for public office is the process through which differences are discussed and settled. Fisheries politics takes place at many levels. It determines the resources available to manage fisheries and understand their impacts. It defines the relationship between conservation and extraction. It determines the allocation of harvest between competing interests. It sets the international rules between nations for the conservation and sharing of migratory and straddling stocks. Underlying these political relationships are rules and norms of political behaviour that can be learned and practised by those who wish to maximize their influence over how fisheries are managed and practised.

And while aiming to the industry vs recreational debate, his conclusion of four key rules of fisheries politics are of much wider applicability, and I wish people from the NZ recreational lobby all the way to the RFMOS were to remember them. I’ll resume my take-home messages but read the original here.

The four key rules of fisheries politics:

The resource must come first
Whether the discussion is domestic or international, my first rule of effective fisheries politics is to remember that the resource must always come first. The debate must be about ensuring sustainable fish stocks, not arguing about who gets to harvest the last fish. Anglers, like all other harvesters, must be conscientious participants in the collection of catch data so that there can be effective stock assessment.
Recreational catch statistics must pass the “red face” test as must an accurate understanding of the impact of angler encounters on fish that are not retained. Government fisheries managers, competing harvesters, and other interested parties must be satisfied with the accuracy of recreational numbers. While there will be differences in the way data is collected about the impact of hundreds of thousands of individual anglers as distinct from much smaller numbers of commercial vessels, there must be trust in the numbers.
Science is important – but must be understandable
A second rule of effective fisheries politics is to remember that while knowledge is essential to good management, the basis of scientific advice must be clear, understandable and relevant. Harvesters have a right to demand that jargon is kept to a minimum. It helps, when confronted by yet another set of numbers whose accuracy is being justified because the Bayesian statistical approach was applied, to remind the speaker that after his death in 1761, the Reverend Thomas Bayes’ comments on solving the problem of inverse probability were used as the basis for proving the existence of God! It also needs to be said that anglers can and should participate directly in science through things like DNA collection and the maintenance of detailed catch logbooks.
Politics is about people: civility is key
Politics is a human social process. Since its purpose is the resolution of differences between people it should not be surprising that civility is a key component. Treating others as you expect to be treated seems a simple maxim, yet frequently forgotten when politics devolves into ideological position-taking or when commonly held prejudices or preconceptions result in the pejorative description of other participants.
Demonizing other groups of harvesters isn’t conducive to reaching intersectoral consensus on fisheries management. Demeaning the role of conscientious public servants by disparaging them as “bureaucrats” isn’t likely to earn their trust or support. I choose to call myself a “Fisheries Politician” as a way of making clear to elected officials that I think politics is a noble calling and admire those who have chosen to put themselves forward for election and thereby are best able to claim they represent the public interest. It is their role to adjudicate between those of us who in a plural society have both a right and an obligation to advance our private interests through reasoned civil discourse.
Murphy is always around
Finally, it needs to be understood that politics, as a human social activity, is subject to circumstances that cannot always be controlled or predicted. The adage frequently cited as “Murphy’s Law” applies. If things can go wrong they usually will. An important lesson for anyone attempting to organize harvesters as part of a campaign to influence fisheries management decisions is that many of the potential participants would rather be fishing!
 Now my brother Alex Blaha, he really is the ultimate recreational fisherman...

Now my brother Alex Blaha, he really is the ultimate recreational fisherman...

We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works (D. Adams) by Francisco Blaha

Last Saturday I shared the stage on a discussion panel on New areas affecting trade – Value Chain Transparency during the FAO / FFA / SPC / NZMFAT organised "Pacific Regional Workshop for SIDS" in Auckland. It was an interesting event where pretty much everyone was my boss since I work for all of those four organizations!

 maybe he is right... and that is what is all about..

maybe he is right... and that is what is all about..

A lot of the focus was on the new technologies and the surge of partial value chain (as not the ones that cover a whole fishery) initiatives particularly those based on blockchain architecture.

I have been a bit low in positivity later, which happen sometimes… when I feel that other than making a living for me and my family, there is not much that I (and the wonderful people I work with) are achieving.

My aims around common good, inequality, re-empowering the fishery resource owners, my sense of social justice, my belief in long-lasting fisheries that can help people to achieve a better life (as in my case) and so on… collapse when I see images like the one in the picture above. This is a young man waiting for a bus in Auckland a few days ago. Maybe what I believe is not really possible anymore and I live in a hippie past… 

I started my presentation with the phrase in the title because I really believe it contains a lot of wisdom:

“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.” Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

I believe the traceability systems we design rely too much on ideal (and rich) people... yet the willingness of any player in the seafood value chain to be part of any system that adds transparency is based on the perceived economic benefits arising from its use and/or the fear of regulatory consequences of its "not use".  (Assuming the government agencies responsible have the mandate, willingness and capacity to enforce the rules, which does not seem to be the case in many DWFN)

The recognition (in our book) that Blockchain technology may eliminate the need for central registries and is therefore likely to reduce the complexity and cost of transnational traceability systems in a CDS is based on the obligatory nature of a CDS along the entirety of a value chain, from all the vessels, from all fags in a fishery, via all coastal, port, processing and market states those initial capture go to... OK, yes is ambitious, but I don't see another way, other than to have that regulatory imposition as the final objective of any CDS.

Independently of the programming architecture of the systems involved, the compliance functions enforced through a CDS central registry need to remain in place to identify fraudulent transactions in blockchain systems and environments. The difference between a central registry and a blockchain approach to CDS data is a matter of form, not function.

Any flow takes the path of less resistance, fisheries are no different... so why we expect the operators there to act differently than any other cutting corner business? An accountant that finds ways to save taxes to the wealthiest clients, is heralded as a champion, yet a fisherman that does in principle the same and plays with the rules with ut breaking them, is despicable... from an ethical perspective, both are equally as bad.

Hence, until there is a global commitment to value chain transparency tools like CDS (based on any technologies) we are just tinkering along the sides. 

By providing transparency to the value chain of responsible operators (who in reality did not need them in the first place - otherwise they would not have volunteered to be part of the pilot project), we are showing it is possible, but we are not solving the issue… the ones outside the systems being implemented are the problem.

For me, the big issue is that we have not formalised the incentives system by which the ethical and legal operators are rewarded and the non-ethical are punished by regulators and consumers*.

And that is not going to be changed by any App or traceability tool (Independent of the type of programming tool its used) implemented voluntarily by some operators or institutionalised only by some countries, while the competitor operators or countries (or the DWFN fishing on them) do not take part. 

* Finally, for me personally, the whole argument that the ethical consumer will reward the good practices and transparency with their choice or a price plus, maybe a truth for part of the 29% of the world population the earns more than 10 USD a day

Unfortunately, my life experience has shown me that "ethics" is a very shifty ground... But then, I have grown up and spent a significant part of my life (all the way up o migrating to a wealthy country) being part of the 71% that lived below that threshold… and I really could not afford to care.



New Zealand commits NZD 4.9 million to develop a CDS to control IUU in the Pacific. by Francisco Blaha

It has been a long-term coming but finally here! Thanks to NZMFAT and FFA (particularly by the combined work of my friends and bosses Joanna Anderson and Pam Maru!) this big Catch Documentation Scheme project has been given a green light.

 My mate Matt (right) the new FFA DDG starts with a biggie!

My mate Matt (right) the new FFA DDG starts with a biggie!

The funding agreement was signed during the "Pacific Regional Workshop for SIDS" that I'm participating here in Auckland. In one way or another, the next few years of my work would be related to this project that is very close to my heart and expertise, but key for me is that run by very good people I trust and like.  

The FFA press release says:
In a move to enhance tuna fisheries management in the Pacific, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) committed NZD 4.9million to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) yesterday.

This funding will be used by FFA to support a project that will establish and enhance catch documentation schemes (CDS) for FFA members over the next five years. The new Grant Funding Agreement was signed by Fletcher Tabuteau, Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, New Zealand and FFA Deputy Director General, Matthew Hooper.

“FFA Members work collectively to effectively manage their Pacific tuna fisheries, and this project will support members to access high-value export markets while tackling illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing,” said Mr Hooper on accepting the funding support.

The project aims to ensure FFA’s Pacific Island members maintain market access for their fishery products, by improving traceability along supply chains through the integration of fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance systems, the implementation of electronic reporting and the development of technological solutions to strengthen national capacity.  

The project provides support for the development of national and regional CDS frameworks, national regulatory and policy frameworks and the development of CDS tools and associated training and capacity building.

The agreement follows almost two years of preparation and builds on work being undertaken to strengthen port state measures in the Pacific and complementing the existing comprehensive regional monitoring, control and surveillance framework implemented by FFA members.


Ideal coastal state configuration by Francisco Blaha

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

 Is it your fish or mine?

Is it your fish or mine?

The rights and obligations of coastal states are set out in UNCLOS, but in most CDS systems their rights are not currently represented. Coastal states may have no role in the CDS, or they may have no capacity to object to the validation of catch certificates by flag states. It follows that catch certificates can be issued and validated by a flag state for catches in its waters even if the coastal state suspects infringements, and opportunities to address the issue with the parties concerned before unloading and first sale into the supply chain are hence denied.

The following requirements for good governance of fisheries in coastal states are generally recognized: 

  1. a strategy for effective fishery management; 
  2. adequate laws and sanctions; and 
  3. cooperation with the appropriate RFMO and other regional and international fisheries bodies, particularly when it comes to licensing and access agreements for foreign fleets.

For the Coastal States among the FFA membership, the harmonized minimum terms and conditions for access by foreign fishing vessels (HMTCs) facilitate this role. Provided a vessel meets the requirements laid out in the registration application including proof of a type approved MTU, a foreign fishing vessel in the FFA regional register automatically obtains a "good standing" status. Should it lose its good standing as a result of a violation of conservation and management measures of any FFA member, the vessel will be denied access to the waters under the jurisdiction of any other FFA member. This creates a powerful incentive for compliance.

In discharging their obligations with regard to fishing vessels, coastal states do not automatically act as flag states. Coastal states must, therefore, create tools and mechanisms that enable it to collect information from and oversee foreign fishing fleets operating in their waters. These must be part of a robust and cohesive regulatory framework implemented by a well-resourced and capable fishery administration.

Licensing and access agreements
Vessels operating under coastal state jurisdiction must be licensed and must comply with the responsibilities of license holders or operators with regard to national laws and conservation and management measures.

A common approach is to make access subject to agreements with flag states that detail the responsibilities of a flag state with respect to fishing by vessels flying its flag. Such agreements should at least commit flag states to penalise any of its vessels that violate the terms of access, and could also commit flag states to:

  • assist MCS work by coastal states;
  • make violation of coastal states’ fishing restrictions a violation of flag state laws; and
  • remit to coastal states any fines that flag states collect for fishing violations committed by its vessels in coastal state waters.

Access agreements of this sort can foster partnerships between coastal and flag states for preventing, deterring and eliminating IUU fishing. To be effective, however, any access agreement should only provide access for vessels registered in the state seeking access.

The FFA regional register recognizes that most fishing vessel operators wish to operate in waters under the jurisdiction of more than one FFA member. FFA members undertake to ensure that any access agreements they negotiate will include all the requirements in the harmonized minimum terms:

  • no foreign vessel will fish in a member state’s EEZ unless a standard licence is issued;
  • purse seine transhipments at sea are prohibited; they are permitted only in designated ports; longline vessel transshipments can occur at sea, subject to application and approval by the licensing state;
  • foreign fishing vessels must release logbooks and catch records to officers from the licensing state;
  • vessel operators must maintain and submit catch logs for operations in an EEZ and adjacent high-seas areas; these must be released to the licensing state within 45 days of any fishing trip;
  • vessel operators must provide regular catch records for the licensing state while operating in any EEZ;
  • vessel operators must carry observers to verify reports; they must have access to appropriate parts of the vessel and must record their observations;
  • vessel operators must maintain a local agent;
  • fishing gear must be stowed while transiting an EEZ;
  • vessel operators must comply with the orders of licensing states;
  • operators must mark their vessels in accordance with the FAO Standard Specification for the Marking and Identification of Fishing Vessels; and
  • vessel operators must register automatic location communicators on the VMS Register of Foreign Fishing Vessels.
  • Compliance to the HMTCs is discussed below in Section, yet two elements arise as best practices for PSM and CDS

Monitoring harvesting operations in the EEZ of coastal states
Before fishing starts the coastal state must create and maintain a record of authorized foreign-flag fishing vessels in waters under its jurisdiction, and ensure that they are controlled by their flag state. This process starts with pre-fishing inspections of the vessels by the coastal state authorities, either at the vessel’s home port, a port in a third-party port state or the coastal state.

These inspections involve checking a vessel’s ID and operational capabilities against the documentation presented for licensing. If compliance is proven, licences are issued and the vessel is bound by the licensing conditions, which may include:

  • communication of location and EEZ entry and exit times; and
  • VMS, AIS and logbook regimes enabling coastal state oversight using data legally submitted by masters in log sheets or e-Reports.

These capabilities enable coastal states to oversee the legality of catches in their jurisdiction. Their enforcement capacities, however, are limited when vessels unload in other jurisdictions with which the coastal state has no formal linkages.

Blocking certification capacity
Even though coastal states’ rights and duties are enshrined in international law, mechanisms reflecting their rights are absent in current CDS. The Pacific Island countries defended coastal states’ rights in international fora, not least because unilateral schemes affecting them directly ignore their rights and their natural role in certification and validation.

It is essential that coastal states help to determine which catch certificates can be validated on the basis of information they collect about foreign fishing operations in their EEZ – which is often available to them alone. A new mechanism is required, but it must be grounded in the monitoring by coastal states of foreign fishing operations in their EEZ.

When a commercial fishing vessel is nearing the end of its trip and the certificate is being logged on the CDS platform, all coastal states in whose EEZ the vessel has been operating should be notified that the certificate is being applied for. Some coastal states may be overburdened by the tasks of reviewing and verifying every catch certificate, and counter-validating them in real time to enable transhipments, landings and trade to proceed.

As Coastal States should be monitoring vessels that are active in their sovereign waters, there may be opportunities to tie the initial stages of the catch certification process by Coastal States to the zone exit notifications that are standard across the Pacific Island countries. This therefore could set a number of parameters that need to be tallied and verified by the Flag State, if individual further Coastal State verification is not possible in the busy Pacific administrations.

However, the best option is likely to be a system of “non-objection” with regard to validation of catch certificates by coastal states. In such an arrangement, catch certificates validated by a flag state for catches harvested at least in part in a coastal state EEZ trigger an automatic notification to the coastal state, which has the option of reviewing the certificate: if it has no objection within a set period of time, no action is required and validation by the flag state stands. If the coastal state suspects an infringement, however, it can block the certificate in the system, bring the matter before the parties concerned and investigate the suspected IUU fishing event. It is important in this system that more onus is placed on the Flag State to complete a robust assessment as part of the certification process, using all available data including available zone entry and exit notifications, observer and VMS data targeting slow speed events. 

Deploying a Fisheries Observer on a Purse Seiner  by Francisco Blaha

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

 Munua (from Tuvalu) logs in.

Munua (from Tuvalu) logs in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good trip Manua!





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Malo's picture from her work in the SPC article

Malo's picture from her work in the SPC article

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

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

 Boss Glen acknowledges her contribution to our work

Boss Glen acknowledges her contribution to our work

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

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

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

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

The environmental cost of food production by Francisco Blaha

Update: a interesting and tought provokin presentation on this paper by the author is filmed here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Energy & Greenhouse Gasses

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

Nutrient runoff & Air Pollution

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

An interesting takeaway:

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

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

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

The economics of fishing the high seas by Francisco Blaha

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

 Fig 2. Global patterns of fishing in the high seas

Fig 2. Global patterns of fishing in the high seas

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spatial fishing patterns and profitability

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

 Fig. 4 National patterns of fishing in the high seas

Fig. 4 National patterns of fishing in the high seas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All tables and aditional data is here

Kiribati shows how it can be done! by Francisco Blaha

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideal port state configuration by Francisco Blaha

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below is the abstract, and here is the original

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

The main categories of marine fishing in the area are:

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

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

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

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

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

The 2018 World Tuna Forum in Bangkok by Francisco Blaha

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Ideal Flag State Configuration by Francisco Blaha

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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