Purse seine bycatch utilisation in Pacific Island transhipment ports / by Francisco Blaha

Every two months the FFA Trade and Industry News* gets published and is always good reading (if you are into Tuna news of course!). This edition has one article that I will reproduce, since is a topic I'm quite interested, does not really gets much attention, and is related to "leakage" an effect of transhipping I wrote about before.

The utilization of purse seine bycatch that is unloaded during transshipment in Pacific Island country ports is a relatively small, but important aspect of transshipment that provides benefits to PICs. The ports of Majuro, Tarawa, Pohnpei, Rabaul and Honiara have hosted the largest volumes of transshipment activity in the WCPO, roughly one million tonnes in total in recent years**.

The utilization of purse seine bycatch (rainbow runner, oceanic triggerfish and others), as well as that of small target tunas, including those damaged during fishing or freezing operations, can provide various benefits to Pacific Island locations where transshipment takes place.

Activities relating to utilization of these segments of the purse seine catch are usually unrecorded and are for the most part unregulated. Recent estimates have put the total annual volume of bycatch and undersized or damaged target tunas that are unloaded for local consumption in the five major transshipment ports at between 1,000 to 1,500 tonnes***.

Cash or barter transactions with vessel captains, crews, middlemen and others creates a “grey economy” that can provide seasonal employment and income to the participants, as well as an additional protein source for consumers. On the negative side, unregulated transfer of bycatch from fishing vessels may have some detrimental social impacts relating to women trading sex for fish, as well as food safety issues.

The various means of unloading, distributing, marketing and otherwise disposing of this unwanted (by the vessel) catch depends on a variety of factors, some of which are unique to the port concerned. In Majuro for example, the local preference for reef fish means that brine frozen bycatch and unwanted tunas have a very limited local market. By comparison, the estimated 600+ tons unloaded annually in Solomon Islands finds a ready market in an urban population that includes a large number of low wage earners and a large central market in close proximity to transshipping activities in Honiara. In Rabaul and Pohnpei the apparent suppression of or lack of interest in regularized marketing has resulted in back-door ‘leakage’ that nevertheless finds its way to local consumers by a variety of means. One of the main concerns in Tarawa has been competition with local fishermen that has been addressed in the past by allowing only one marketer of unloaded bycatch and designating certain areas on the atoll that are off-limits to its marketing.

There are several hurdles to improving the benefits to PICs from bycatch and small tuna unloaded in transshipment ports, not the least of which is a lack of data on these activities at almost every level. In spite of most transshipment ports being in or near urban areas, these locations are small on even a regional scale and are relatively isolated from potential markets for value-added products. The loining plant in Majuro for example identified high freight costs to world markets for its fish meal as one of the major factors that make the product only marginally profitable.

Currently, the further development of reliable supply chains to local markets are also hindered by several factors, including the impacts of FAD bans which can lower bycatch volumes and changing fishing conditions that can alter transshipping patterns amongst the ports concerned. At least one organization, ISSF, has undertaken studies on a global basis to address some of these issues and has funded one pilot project in the region to help identify means by which benefits to PICs can be increased****.

It is clear, however, that ‘one size will not fit all’ situations and this needs to be kept in mind when regulatory or other controls on unloaded bycatch are considered.

* Prepared for the FFA Fisheries Development Division by Dr Liam Campling, School of Business and Management, Queen Mary University of London, Dr Elizabeth Havice, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Mike McCoy, independent consultant, all Consultant Fisheries Trade and Market Intelligence Analysts, Fisheries Development Division, FFA.

** Unpublished return port data; author’s own analysis

*** A. Lewis, pers. comm.; author’s own analysis

**** A. Lewis, Exploration of Market Viability for the Full Catch Retention of Non-Tuna Species in Purse Seine Fisheries: Interim Report, ISSF Technical Report 2014-12, ISSF, December 2014. Available at: http://www. iss-foundation.org