The VDS vs. QMS saga / by Francisco Blaha

Has been a lot of talk on the media about NZ pushing a QMS (Quota Management System) type system in the management side of the Purse Seine Fisheries in the Pacific, as a replacement of the PNA’s Vessel Day Scheme. So various people asked me my opinion

Already in September 2015 I was asked about this, as I worked in compliance with the NZ QMS (I worked for Sanford and Simunovich before getting into overseas work) and I also know about the PNA VDS from the compliance side.

My opinions still the same: I'm an operational guy. I like to think about new systems but always based on the operational side. For me (my opinion only) the QMS (as operating in NZ) is impossible in the Purse Seine Fisheries for various reasons... but the biggest one is how and where would be the "Licensed Fish Receivers" established and how would they be controlled? (Imagine Thailand, Vietnam, Ecuador and increasingly China as processing states playing ball with the Pacific, yeah right).

Purse Seine Fishery is highly mobile, situations where the flag state, the coastal state, the port state and the processing state are all different, are more the norm than an exemption. So while in principle, something like the QMS could be possible, from the reality perspective as the industry is now, no way. If all the tuna captured in the Pacific was to be landed/transhipped in the Pacific Islands and all of the countries were to be operating under one standardised system… then maybe. But we are a loooong way from that.

Another area where people could see potential is the biological principles of the determinations of the biomass for sustainable harvest under an Ecosystem Based Management approach, but this is what is what SPC does and to a very good level! In fact, many of the fisheries scientists that are and were in charge of stock assessment are New Zealanders that worked for NIWA or MPI.

That biological assessment in the NZ QMS case, becomes the basis for the determination of the status of fish stocks, so they are maintained at or above a level that can produce the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY).  MSY reflects the greatest yield that can be achieved over time while maintaining a stock's productive capacity, having regard to the population dynamics of the stock and any environmental factors that influence the stock.  Controls are set so that the biomass level can support the maximum sustainable yield (BMSY).  This provides the conditions to maximise the yield of the fishery without compromising sustainability.  Once the BMSY is identified, the TAC of a stock at that time can be determined.

Let's set aside that I already have a BIG problem with MSY… A quantity that has been shown by biologists not to exist, and by economists to be misleading if it did exist ( Dr. John Allan Gulland)

MSY was designed as a political construct more than a fisheries management tool. Is a theoretical construction known as maximum sustained yield (MSY) exists in three realms: as science, as policy, and as a legal concept. Despite substantial criticism by scientists and economists, MSY still remains at the heart of fisheries science and fisheries management (read Carmel Finley, 2009. The Social Construction of Fishing, 1949) and Maximum Sustainable Yield: The Worst Idea in Fisheries Management by Dr. Sidney Holt

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

Anyhow… once that TAC (or whatever name you want to put on it) is determined it becomes the basis of the allocation of quota. This is not too dissimilar in principle as to become the basis of the total amount of vessels days (under the assumption of how much a vessel of x size can catch in day), this vessels days are then allocated to the countries (as if it was a quota).

That allocation process is where I believe synergisms are possible.  Hence from my perspective the potential synergies are at the biological and allocation basis, but not at the operational ones.

In fact, the VDS can work under a precautionary principle and keep “buffer days” in the bag. Let me explain, trough iFIMS the fishing days under the VDS scheme are administered, and we are working hard on the integration of all vessel data for CDS purposes; this includes the e-forms (e-logsheet) that the vessel provides electronically in "near real time."  Hence, the accumulative estimated catch volumes can be compared to the so-called ‘reference points’, to see how the fishery is performing and if things are right those buffer days could be sold or kept if the catches are to close to the reference targets.

Anyway… my take and ranting on this!

People in fisheries tend to be larger than life and with a lot of mana and pride, so they tend to react accordingly when they feel someone else is pushing into their house. I see here where the tradition of an "offering" and a soft approach to exchanging ways is the way to go. I never have seen this issue as an "either/or" but as a "let's learn from each other" opportunity.

No fisheries management tool is perfect… they are all perfectible.