The Fisheries MCS world meets in Bangkok  by Francisco Blaha

Like two years ago in Auckland, the people that works around the world on MCS (Monitoring, Control and Surveillance- which are the mechanism for implementation of agreed policies, plans or strategies for fisheries management).get together to a big jamboree were all share what are we doing and connect a personal level.

While is not very obvious at first, some of these powerpoints do help fisheries

While is not very obvious at first, some of these powerpoints do help fisheries

I’m not at all a meeting guy, but this one is quite specific and you get to catch up with people that actually know what you do. 

In my case is again an almost overwhelming experience… I had 42 people coming yesterday to say how much the enjoy this blog and the pictures I make… totally humbling! My biggest thank you to you all!!

Furthermore, I still surprised that with my background, I genuinely enjoy being in place where I’m pretty much the only fisherman surrounded by tons of fisheries inspector without having a hearth attack.

 The jamboree works in two separate meetings:

The Seafood and Fisheries Emerging Technologies Conference (SAFET)

This is the baby from my friend Bubba Cook, which has been a great supported of my blog and my work, so is great to see so many people attending, and lot of good talks going on.

The SAFET started with a modest vision to explore and discover the potential of emerging, and potentially disruptive, technologies that could be applied to improve the conservation and management of our world's fisheries.  The Goals of the SAFET Conference are:

  1. Improve and clarify the understanding of the existing MCS and supply chain traceability environment. 

  2.  Objectively review emerging and advancing technologies that might contribute to less expensive and more efficient MCS and supply chain traceability. 

  3. Advance future implementation of innovative emerging technologies in MCS and supply chain traceability applications where appropriate. 

 Check the list of task here, I’m not a speaker this time (but I took my job as question maker very seriously) but I’m moderator and speaker at a half day PEW Fundation supported workshop called “Effective MCS” and we will be dealing with some key aspects: 

  1. Availability and accessibility of technology/data – scale and scope of coverage, timeliness of data, ease of implementation, effectiveness of technology and affordability / cost?

  2. Path to conviction – how can technology help?

  3. Impacts to legal fishing – how does IUU impact legal fishing efforts, and how can technology help incentivize or encourage other fishers to operate legally. 

And I would be doing this with some very clever crew: Per Erik Bergh from Stop Illegal Fishing, my mate Vivian Fernandez from FFA and Deon Burger form Interpol 

So very much looking forwards to this.

The 2nd event starting next week is the:

6th Global Fisheries Enforcement Training Workshop

The theme for this edition is ‘CLOSING THE NET: Global cooperation between flag, coastal, port and market States for effective enforcement of international and domestic law.’

The GFETW is a biennial conference organized by the International MCS Network to improve and enhance capacity to enforce fisheries legislation and exchange of information and experience between MCS practitioners around the world. Sustainable fisheries can only be achieved when fishing is pursued in compliance with the applicable rules and, therefore, all fishing activities in the world’s oceans and seas should be subject to adequate levels of monitoring, surveillance, inspection and enforcement.

 For decades, globalization, modern technologies and demand for fishery products have placed increasing pressure on global marine living resources. Efforts to sustainably manage existing fish stocks are continuously undermined by enterprises engaged in IUU fishing. The pervasive trend of IUU fishing carries negative consequences not only for legal operators but also for the livelihoods and cultures of coastal communities dependent on fisheries and for food security. Furthermore, IUU fishing may be associated with other crimes undermining for example international labor standards.

The annual costs derived from IUU fishing activities globally has been estimated to range between USD 10 – 23.5 billion. IUU fishing undermines sustainable exploitation of fish stocks, in some cases, to the point where stocks are depleted, the ecosystem is irreversibly damaged and conservation of some species threatened. The International MCS Network supports efforts to build a culture of compliance among stakeholders and a level playing field for operators to the effect that only sustainably harvested and legal fish and fisheries products reach the consumer.

On this one I’ll be a speaker and presenting on what we are doing in Majuro and will be expanding on the details on my next blog.

But yes, even if the thinkers and “leaders” are here… most of the MCS practitioners I work with on daily basis are not here, they are in the wharves of the world doing the vital part of this work, while earning per month less of what we pay for our hotel this week. Please keep them in mind, because they are the real heroes in this job.

A trade restrictive measures for labour violations, the case of the TUNAGO 61 by Francisco Blaha

The use of trade restrictive measures (TREMs), as “trade sanctions“ enacted by a market-state has so far been limited to the IUU side of fisheries, either by closing the market to a country (as in the case of the EU with the red cards) or to individual vessel on IUU blacklist. 

picture from

picture from

These measures to certain extent have worked, even if just in the case of bringing general awareness to the issues at hand. But something that is new is to use the same system for closing the market fish from a vessel in relation to forced labour issues. 

This is quite momentous, as it adds a “end market” tool to an area where compliance based on the multiple players involved has been difficult to set up (these entries discuss the issue)

Last week the US Custom and Border Protection Agency (CBP) issued a withhold release order against tuna and tuna products from the Tunago No. 61 based on information obtained by CBP indicating tuna is harvested with the use of forced labour. The order is effective immediately as of the date of issuance.  

Under 19 U.S.C. § 1307 it is illegal to import into the United States goods made, in whole or in part, by forced labour, including convict labour, forced child labour, and indentured labour. CBP issues withhold release orders when information available reasonably indicates that imported merchandise is in violation of this statute.

The order will require detention at all U.S. ports of entry of tuna and any such merchandise manufactured wholly or in part by the Tunago No. 61. Importers of detained shipments are provided an opportunity to export their shipments or demonstrate that the merchandise was not produced with forced labour.

This is good news, I wrote about the case that may have started the process that got to this outcome. Tunago is well known name in fisheries and notorious flag-hoppers in between Vanuatu and Panama.

Whatever a vessel does abroad and whatever happens on board, is ALWAYS the responsibility of the flag state (and this is strongly engrained in international legislation - see at the bottom of the page) therefore here Vanuatu is ultimately the responsible state for whatever happens in that vessel. Doesn't matter if the owner, and masters of the vessel has no direct relation to anyone or anything in Vanuatu... if Vanuatu can’t take responsibility do to the many constrains they face, they should not be an open registry for fishing vessels. I really hope that this (and surely more forthcoming measures like this one), make Vanuatu rethink their fishing vessels flagging policy or invest in better control systems. 

Yet on the other side there is also responsibility by the Taiwanese vessels owners industry who consistently exploits the weaknesses of the Vanuatuan government and the attempt to whitewash (and spin off) the name of their vessels and their practices by participating in "Fisheries Improvement Projects".

And to a point from the taiwanese government, albeit its not officially their vessel or crew, its new regulations apply to their nationals even if outside their territory. See under Development 4: The incorporation of a labour component in a Taiwan fisheries legislation in that blog entry.

Human rights issues and IUU fishing are not the same and do not “automatically” go hand by hand, yet they work in parallel and exploit the same voids available.

Good one the US CBP for taking this measure, and I wish the best to the team working on more identification of these cases.

Additional information, including how to submit information to CBP may be found at and

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.

Our new fisheries building in Majuro by Francisco Blaha

I have been in Majuro for over a week now, as part of my work as “offshore fisheries advisor” for MIMRA (the fisheries authority). Yesterday was a big day for us here as we officially opened the new headquarters, with the presence of everyone from the country’s president to the kids of the staff.

Pic by my mate Garry Venus that was in the water at the time

Pic by my mate Garry Venus that was in the water at the time

Why the opening of a building would be such an event? Because I think (my personal opinion) that it means more than just a building, I see it as a statement of independence and institutional maturity from from one of the most progressive and assertive fisheries administration in the Pacific.

The revenues from fisheries in particularly since the set up the Vessel Day Scheme by PNA, have become the main income earner for the PNA countries, since they are rightfully the owners of the fish, while the DWFN are the “renters”. Yet the power was totally in the hands of the renters, and a lot of aid support was tied up to concessions in terms of fisheries access. The PNA secretariat changed that for good, and that shift is being further strengthened year to year.

Yet all the money coming in was absorbed by the many needs that Pacific Islands countries have, and very little was invested in making sure the fisheries administrators (as the custodians of the resource) had the space and tools needed to manage and control their fisheries.

made and paid by MIMRA

made and paid by MIMRA

Traditionally fisheries building in the Pacific were (and are) being donated or built with the support of developing agencies from the DWFN (that are not shy to then use their support to then get cheap access - with the honourable exemption of Australia -no vessels in the region- and NZ - only one)

MIMRA’s management decided to change that and stood firm in making sure that they have the place they deserve (literally) and invested in building their new headquarters, who was totally designed and built out of RMI’s own resources.

And this is (in my view) the statement I was talking above, no one has done this before in the region, and that is what is to be commended.

I said before that I enjoy working here because they have a progressive and independent attitude, they are not afraid to innovate and try different approaches. And that permeates from the leadership down. Glen Joseph (himself a marine scientist and former observer) has been at the helm of MIMRA for quite a few years and has been a champion on this “new” way to see fisheries in the Pacific.

I do appreciate the man both professionally and personally, he has been a total supporter of my works and presence here, (even if I wasn’t the obvious choice for this type of work: dyslexic, ex-fisherman, non-native English speaker) yet since I started working here I believe we have achieved a lot, and he asked NZMFAT to extend my contract for at least another year, which I really appreciated, as I don't take anyone's support of my work for granted at all.

And this appreciation goes to all the people I work with on daily basis, such as Berry (ladies 1st), Sam, Beau Bigler, Melvin, Helmar, Bernard, just to name a few… I’m not made feel as the foreign consultant but as one of the team… and that means a lot to me.

Anyway, enough of that banter! The new building is by far the best of its kind in the whole of the Pacific and I’m particularly happy with the Operations room that is state of the art, we have a direct feed from FFA’s regional picture over 4 massive screens and dedicates VMS and FIMS screens as well as direct link with the sea patrol. (All the technology you see in the pic below was bought under a World Bank Programme)

Glen (the boss) explaining the country’s President (in the yellow dress) the key elements of the control room

Glen (the boss) explaining the country’s President (in the yellow dress) the key elements of the control room

From the MCS and in particular PSM perspective is a bit a wet dream room. Being the busiest transhipment port in the Pacific this helps lot… and we have some big PSM developments for the pipeline that will be announced soon

But the best thing we have space and is amazing what this does to morale you can feel people being amped about their work and their workspace.

So yes, I’m loving the new place and the work I’ve been trusted by my colleagues to do, and if you are by chance in Majuro, come and check it out.

Here are some pictures from it and the inauguration.

From top left to bottom right: the oceanic division, Glenn in his office (he has to coffee machine!), the port operations whiteboard, welcoming flowers and the last two have a story, the minister in his opening speech challenge MIMRA staff to live after the expectation of the job, and we (I was invited to join) all went behind Glen to accept the challenge.

A Model of Mercury Distribution in Tuna from the WCPO by Francisco Blaha

By far the most read blog post I had last year was the one on the relationship of mercury in Yellowfin tuna with location of capture. It seems that more people is worried about eating them than around their sustainability, legality or the welfare of those that catch it… which is saying something!

Figure 1. Observed spatial variation in mercury concentrations (mg kg−1, dry weight) for bigeye, yellowfin, and albacore muscle samples captured in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean

Figure 1. Observed spatial variation in mercury concentrations (mg kg−1, dry weight) for bigeye, yellowfin, and albacore muscle samples captured in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean

In that post, based on an article I wrote for the SPC Fisheries news, my colleague Valerie Allain (who is a admirably smart colleague doing a lot of amazing work) advanced the news from a paper by a group she is part off, had a much bigger sample size and was focused on the Pacific.

That paper is out, and the findings are very interesting. I hope they put at ease the worries that many people have about the potential consequences on their health by eating a can of tuna or the occasional sashimi or tuna steak. 

I really like that the scope of the paper went beyond of the usual size and explored the Influence of Physiology, Ecology and Environmental Factors on the level in tuna

As usual, I’ll quote the abstract, introduction and part of the discussion (Hg Levels and Spatial Distribution), but please read the original paper, is always better!. (Unfortunately, is paywall protected, so unless you work in rich country and your employer has access to subscriptions or universities, I suggest you contact the authors or use legally grey alternatives such as this one


Information on ocean scale drivers of methylmercury levels and variability in tuna is scarce, yet crucial in the context of anthropogenic mercury (Hg) inputs and potential threats to human health. Here we assess Hg concentrations in three commercial tuna species (bigeye, yellowfin, and albacore, n = 1000) from the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). Models were developed to map regional Hg variance and understand the main drivers. Mercury concentrations are enriched in southern latitudes (10°S−20°S) relative to the equator (0°− 10°S) for each species, with bigeye exhibiting the strongest spatial gradients. 

Fish size is the primary factor explaining Hg variance, but physical oceanography also contributes, with higher Hg concentrations in regions exhibiting deeper thermoclines. Tuna trophic position and oceanic primary productivity were of weaker importance. 

Predictive models perform well in the Central Equatorial Pacific and Hawaii, but underestimate Hg concentrations in the Eastern Pacific. 

A literature review from the global ocean indicates that size tends to govern tuna Hg concentrations, however regional information on vertical habitats, methylmercury production, and/or Hg inputs are needed to understand Hg distribution at a broader scale. 

Finally, this study establishes a geographical context of Hg levels to weigh the risks and benefits of tuna consumption in the WCPO.


Mercury (Hg) is a global contaminant of primary concern to human and ecosystem health. These concerns stem from the physiochemical properties of the different chemical forms of Hg in the environment. Inorganic mercury deposited at the surface of the ocean represents a combination of natural geogenic (volcanic) and anthropogenic (fossil fuel combustion, artisanal gold mining) inorganic Hg sources emitted initially to the atmosphere.

Once deposited in the ocean, a yet unknown fraction of inorganic Hg is naturally converted to the highly persistent organometallic toxin methylmercury (MeHg). The balance between microbial methylation processes and demethylation reactions, dominated by photodegradation in the ocean water column, controls net methylmercury production and availability for the marine food webs.

Depth profiles in the open ocean consistently show that in situ MeHg production is highest in the subthermocline oxygen minimum zone. Further, differences in net MeHg production have been documented across the global ocean1 suggesting that MeHg availability and transfer pathways in marine food webs may also vary spatially.

Human exposure to MeHg occurs primarily through consumption of marine fish species. As MeHg is the dominant form of Hg that biomagnifies in food webs, open ocean pelagic predators (e.g., tuna and billfishes) contain high levels of MeHg, sometimes exceeding food safety guide-lines (e.g., 1 mg·kg−1 of fresh tissue).

Methylmercury in situ net production and availability, food web dynamics, and individual dietary intake and excretion rates are primary drivers of MeHg concentrations in fish tissue. MeHg concentrations typically increase with fish age and size because MeHg is taken-up at a faster rate than it is excreted. Due to the bio accumulative nature of MeHg, an organism’s trophic position can also positively correlate with MeHg concentrations in fish tissues, particularly when a large range of trophic positions are considered.

Species-specific Hg concentration patterns, documented among tuna and other pelagic fish predators, show increased Hg levels with deeper habitats. Increasing Hg levels in deep-dwelling tuna could likely be related to their foraging behavior, as they feed heavily on mesopelagic prey from deep oceanic zones where much of the MeHg is produced. Ferriss and Essington used contaminant models to determine if food chain length and/or baseline Hg variations could explain differences in MeHg concentrations in tuna from two ocean regions in the Central and Eastern Equatorial Pacific.

Data limitations impeded the ability to validate the regional food web models and thus to address the question of the relative importance of these two causal effects. Other studies also reported significant variability of MeHg concentrations in yellowfin tuna between and within ocean basins, but the underlying causes were not investigated.

The main objective of this study is to improve our understanding of regional patterns and drivers of Hg concentrations in three commercial tuna species (bigeye, Thunnus obesus; yellowfin, T. albacares; and albacore, T. alalunga) across the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).

The WCPO is a remote oceanic region, exhibiting strong geographical gradients in surface temperature, water column stratification and primary production. These gradients were previously shown to influence tuna distribution, foraging behavior, and trophic position in this region, and as such are likely candidates to affect Hg concentrations. Sub objectives include (i) model Hg at size to standardize the effect of fish size on Hg levels, and (ii) develop generalized additive models to map regional patterns in tuna Hg distributions and identify explanatory covariates among environmental factors (temperature gradient, primary production) and ecological drivers (trophic position).

Finally, an extensive literature review of Hg concentrations in bigeye, yellowfin, and albacore tuna is conducted to discuss broad-scale patterns from the global ocean in comparison to those seen in the WCPO.

Results and Discussion

Mercury Levels and Spatial Distribution. 

Mercury concentrations in our tuna muscle samples from the WCPO are relatively higher for bigeye and albacore compared to yellowfin. Similar differences in Hg concentrations between these tuna species were reported in the Northern Central Pacific Ocean and were attributed to their foraging depth.

Tuna species foraging at depth (bigeye, albacore), below the mixed layer and closer to where MeHg net production is the highest, exhibiting higher Hg concentrations than surface foraging predators (yellowfin). About 11%, 1.2%, and 0.5% of the sample data set for bigeye, albacore, and yellowfin in the WCPO region show Hg concentrations exceeding the food safety guidelines of 1 mg· kg−1 (ww) (estimated to 3.3 mg·kg−1 when expressed on a dry weight basis).

Mercury concentrations among the three tuna species are highly variable at the subregional level. Bigeye show he largest spatial variation in Hg concentrations

The highest yellowfin Hg concentrations (∼0.7 mg·kg−1) are encountered south of 15°S, in the southern part of ARCHm and the eastern part of SPSGm, respectively. 

Yellowfin from the Western Equatorial Pacific regions (WARMm and PEQD) show the lowest Hg concentrations (∼0.35 mg·kg−1).Finally, despite albacore occupying a more southern subtropical habitat relative to bigeye and yellowfin, a southward increase in Hg is evident. Albacore samples located between 15°S and 25°S exhibit higher Hg concentrations (∼1.2 mg·kg−1), relative to those north of 15°S(∼0.6 mg·kg−1) and those from much southern latitudes (30°S-50°S) in Australia/Tasmania and New Zealand areas (∼0.6 mg·kg−1).

Tuna size appears as the primary factor influencing Hg concentrations within species, accounting for 77% and 42% of the total muscle Hg variations for bigeye and yellowfin respectively when fitted with a power-law relationship. Increasing Hg concentration with fish size indicates that Hg intake exceeds Hg excretion rates over an individual lifetime. 

Fish size explains only 34% of albacore Hg variation, but the restricted size range (42−108cm) available in the data set for this species provided less contrast to assess this relationship compared to bigeye and yellowfin. These results suggest that fish size strongly governs Hg concentrations in bigeye, and to a lesser extent for yellowfin and albacore. 

Mercury concentrations at the most southern latitudes in Australia/Tasmania and New Zealand areas are lower than those reported in the southern part of ARCHm. The consistency in these size-standardized geographical patterns suggests that spatially driven ecological processes, and/or local Hg sources, MeHg production and/or environmental factors may be important, additional contributing drivers.

This paper is good news, as gives us in the Pacific the chance to further sustain something we knew, our Yellowfin has very low levels of Hg, but most importantly, could argue for the reduction in the frequency of sampling and therefore the costs for the battled seafood safety Competent Authorities in the region.

Drifting FADs: Who arrives first, tuna or non-tuna species? by Francisco Blaha

I have a keen interest in drifting FADs (dFADS), and I mean everything about them: design, technology, monitoring, operation, functioning, materials, management, and so on… truth is that presently the tuna canned industry depends totally on them, “FAD free” alone will not maintain the present fleet numbers and supply volumes (not arguing that this is good thing at all!), yet “banning FADs” is rather utopic.

So we are stuck with them, and I find it almost bizarre that for a “tool/gear” that the canned tuna industry totally depends on, we still understand very little about them. 

each of these FAD sonar buoy has more “definition” than best SIMRAD sonars on the boat that I was in the 90s

each of these FAD sonar buoy has more “definition” than best SIMRAD sonars on the boat that I was in the 90s

Don’t get me wrong, fishing masters know a lot about FADs (and I love that the authors of the paper seems to have spent a lot of time talking to them), yet is all based on personal experiences and preferences. And as anything else in fisheries is very dependent on where and who with, as a fisher, you learn your trade. Different fleets and sometimes different fishing masters in the same fleet, do the same thing in different ways. 

With 3 to 4 dFDAs per km2 in some parts of the pacific, they don't only congregate fish, but chances are they are changing the schooling behaviour and who knows what are the long term consequences of this (for example: FAD aggregation behaviour could have an evolutionary disadvantage at present levels of FAD associated fishing pressure on skipjack, yet non aggregation can have impacts in terms of reproductive patterns)

So I’m always interested on any research that expands our understanding about them, my interests is both as a fisher and as a scientist. And here is paper by very well know researchers at AZTI in the Basque Country (a very autonomous part of Spain) that has partnered with the Basque purse seine fishing company Echebastar for this research in the Indian Ocean. It would be interesting to see if this research to be replicated for the pacific (and i know that SPC as is working on that)

One of the key criticism for FADs is the levels of bycatch, hence knowing the dynamic of fish species appearing underneath the FAD over time can help mitigate to an extent the issue. While the present generation of sonar buoys is getting better by the month in differentiating on the composition of the schools underneath, having an understanding of the non tuna to tuna “progression” does helps a lot.

As always read the original “Aggregation process of drifting fish aggregating devices (DFADs) in the Western Indian Ocean: Who arrives first, tuna or non-tuna species?” (free access), I will just quote here the abstract and the conclusions.


Floating objects drifting in the surface of tropical waters, also known as drifting fish aggregating devices (DFADs), attract hundreds of marine species, including tuna and non-tuna species. Industrial tropical purse seiners have been increasingly deploying artificial man-made DFADs equipped with satellite linked echo-sounder buoys, which provide fishers with information on the accurate geo-location of the object and rough estimates of the biomass aggregated underneath, to facilitate the catch of tuna. Although several hypotheses are under consideration to explain the aggregation and retention processes of pelagic species around DFADs, the reasons driving this associative behavior are uncertain. 

This study uses information from 962 echo-sounder buoys attached to virgin (i.e. newly deployed) DFADs deployed in the Western Indian Ocean between 2012 and 2015 by the Spanish fleet (42,322 days observations) to determine the first detection day of tuna and non-tuna species at DFAD and to model the aggregation processes of both species group using Generalize Additive Mixed Models. 

Moreover, different seasons, areas and depths of the DFAD underwater structure were considered in the analysis to account for potential spatio-temporal and structure differences. Results show that tuna species arrive at DFADs before non-tuna species (13.5±8.4 and 21.7±15.1 days, respectively), and provide evidence of the significant relationship between DFAD depth and detection time for tuna, suggesting faster tuna colonization in deeper objects.

For non-tuna species, this relationship appeared to be not significant. The study also reveals both seasonal and spatial differences in the aggregation patterns for different species groups, suggesting that tuna and non-tuna species may have different aggregative behaviors depending on the spatio-temporal dynamic of DFADs.

This work will contribute to the understanding of the fine and mesoscale ecology and behavior of target and non-target species around DFADs and will assist managers on the sustainability of exploited resources, helping to design spatio-temporal conservation management measures for tuna and non-tuna species.


Many studies have investigated the behavior of tuna [22364751] and non-tuna species [2932] at different spatio-temporal scales around FADs but few of them have investigated the aggregation process of species in detail [4243452]. This is the first-time, to our knowledge, that fishery independent data provided by fishers´ echo-sounder buoys have been used to explore at a fine- and meso-scales the aggregation processes of species at virgin DFADs in the Indian Ocean. The effect of the DFAD depth was assessed in relation to the first detection day and the aggregation dynamics, finding significant differences for tuna and not-significant effects for non-tuna species. The aggregation dynamics of tuna and non-tuna species generally showed an increasing trend during the first 30 days after deployment, but also showed specific seasonal and area differences per group. These differences suggest that tuna and non-tuna species may have different associative behaviors.

In recent years the potential use of DFADs as scientific platforms has been highlighted by the scientific community [2627]. Indeed, echo-sounder buoys represent a very powerful tool to continuously and automatically collect and stream information on thousands of DFADs in a very cost-effective manner. Considering that around 100,000 objects may be deployed annually worldwide [375354], these devices can provide acoustic data on the biomass of tuna and non-tuna species underneath them from all tropical oceans on a regular and effective basis. Fishers echo-sounder buoys have been very useful for the investigation of the aggregation process of tuna and non-tuna species at DFADs, so these data could also allow scientists to better assess several issues of scientific relevance related to DFADs, for example they could investigate the spatio-temporal distribution in relation to environmental parameters or could produce a fishery independent abundance index for stock assessment [55], among others.

The echo-sounder buoys used in this study provide a single biomass value without determining the species or size composition of the fish underneath the DFAD. Tuna are well known to engage in both horizontal and vertical movements around DFADs [515658] and, although overlap may exist in the vertical range of the three species of tuna, tagging data suggest differences in depth preferences between the species and the different sizes of these species.

Skipjack tuna schools tend to remain in shallower waters, as do small yellowfin and bigeye tuna that are found occupying similar depth ranges as skipjack. However large individuals of bigeye and yellowfin tuna are found at greater depths. This potential segregation has also been observed in the Indian Ocean by dedicated surveys around DFADs using scientific echo-sounders [33]. In addition to this segregation by species and sizes, the vertical distribution of tuna at DFADs may vary depending on different factors, including oceanographic conditions (e.g. thermocline depth or surface and subsurface currents) [5156], total associated fish biomass or number and size of species present at DFADs [36]. Recent acoustic research [59] has found a different frequency response for skipjack compared to bigeye and yellowfin tuna when analyzed simultaneously using multiple acoustic frequencies, based on anatomical differences (i.e. the skipjack does not have a swim bladder while bigeye and yellowfin tuna do).

Incorporating multi-frequency technology in echo-sounder buoys could help in more effective tuna species discrimination at DFADs, with obvious advantages for science and management. Having specific composition information before the fishing set could help to mitigate, for example, the catch of small bigeye, which is one of the most important concerns associated with DFAD fisheries in tunaRFMOs [18], thereby contributing to a more sustainable exploitation of the resources. Future studies should consider improved methodologies and buoy technologies to effectively discriminate between the three species of tropical tuna so that species-specific aggregation processes can be better understood.

In addition to this spatial competence by tuna species and sizes, overlap may also exist between tuna and non-tuna species that occupy different depth layers depending on the time of day or the area. To take this consideration into account, several options were considered during preliminary analyses to choose the time at which the acoustic signal is more representative of the biomass around the DFAD. For example, model the diel biomass estimated by the echo-sounder using general additive models and choose the maximum biomass value between the peak hours.

Another option was to choose the sample with maximum biomass value around sunrise (between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m.), since this is the time when tuna and other species are supposed to be more closely aggregated under the DFADs [6063]. However, due to sampling constraints (i.e. sampling frequency is not hourly), using these options would considerably limit the number of samples available in this study. Future studies with more data should consider the use of the above-mentioned options and compare results with current findings. Also, the position of the fish in relation to the echo-sounder beam and its detectability is something to be considered.

Some bycatch species are known to be more strongly and tightly attached to the DFAD (intranatant/extranatant species, see [64]) than tuna species (circumnatant) and thus, may be more easily detected. Besides, some species like tuna make longer excursions out of the DFAD when compared to most non-tuna species [243134]. However, the cone shape of the beam of the echo-sounder, with a larger area with increasing depth, compensates the detectability of tuna individuals. Ideally, future studies should combine echo-sounder buoy sampling around DFADs with dedicated tagged and monitored fauna to infer detectability rates per species and size and assist in acoustic signal interpretation.

First detection day
Our research shows that, in general, the average first detection of fish at DFADs occurs at around 1–2 weeks (~12.2±7.7 days). Previous studies in the field have shown different results. Some works observed a faster colonization of DFADs by tuna, generally in less than a week [52] while others have suggested similar aggregation periods. For example, fishers working with anchored FADs (AFADs) in the Philippines wait 11 days after the first deployment before checking for biomass aggregation [49]. AFADs may be easier to detect and colonize as they are fixed reference points located in areas close to the coasts. In general, the first group to be detected by the echo-sounder appear to be the tuna.

Some authors, based on interviews with fishers and other investigations, have stated that non-tuna species may arrive first at DFADs [1423]. For example, fishing masters of the purse-seine fleets working in the Western Indian Ocean suggested that 1–3 weeks are necessary to colonize virgin DFADs by non-tuna species [23]. However, for tuna, half of them said that aggregation process may not be time-dependent, and the other half said that at least one month is needed. Our results, using fishery-independent data from continuously monitoring DFADs since their first deployment, showed that this time may be shorter than expected. A possible explanation for this is that at the time of the interviews (i.e. 2007) they had just started working extensively with DFADs equipped with echo-sounders and, hence, were not able to accurately interpret echo-sounder buoy information in general, and in particular related to the aggregation process.

Another possible explanation is that non-tuna species may be easier to observe than tuna when fishers approach the object, as non-tuna species are strongly associated with DFADs [65] showing less frequent excursions out of DFAD [232534]. Future studies should consider consulting fishers again on this issue in order to determine whether their beliefs have changed through time due to the extensive use of these technological devices or fishing strategy changes. Indeed, fishing strategy changes may have been occurring in recent years in the Indian Ocean (i.e. smaller soak times before first setting) to try to reduce the potential steal rate of DFADs, and consequently, catches.

Although our results for the first detection day slightly differ from some of the previous works, the differences could be partially explained by the minimum detection threshold of around one ton that buoys have. If the amount of fish aggregated under the DFADs is lower than one ton (as for the conversion done by the manufacturer) during the first few days the object is at sea, the echo-sounder may not be indicating biomass presence, potentially biasing the analysis. This limitation may be significant in the case of non-tuna species, since bycatch species are normally found in lower amounts than tuna species at DFADs (i.e. in a range between 1–5 tons [256667]).However, we do not expect this to have implications for the final results as tuna usually swim in large schools [68].Moreover, Satlink buoys use a method that converts raw acoustic backscatter into biomass using an empiric algorithm based on the target strength and weight of skipjack tuna, which is the main target species of the DFADs’ purse seine fishery. Whereas the skipjack tuna does not have a swim bladder, the majority of bycatch species do.

Swim bladder species normally produce a much higher echo than bladderless ones since this hydrostatic organ, when present, is responsible for 90–95% of the backscattering energy [69]. Accordingly, one ton of the skipjack-based algorithm biomass may not necessarily represent the same amount of non-target species, but probably less, and thus the one ton threshold may not weaken the results and conclusions of this work.

Still, it would be very useful to be able to work without this detection threshold. To overcome this, there is a need to propose collaborations between buoy companies, fishers and scientists to develop a process for a routine, continuous, confidential and RFMO-supported raw data transfer, with reasonable delays, between the purse seine industry and research centers. Access to these raw data would provide scientists information without the threshold limitation, which could help in the investigation of sustainability and the management of the exploited resources.

Influence of DFAD structure on the aggregation process
DFADs’ characteristics can vary between fleets and oceans but in general they are composed of a raft and an underwater part hanging below the object [270]. The depth reached by the structure ranges from 15 to 80–100 meters and is ocean-specific (15-20m in the Indian Ocean, 80-100m in the Atlantic Ocean and around 30m in the Eastern Pacific Ocean) [37], although in recent years a trend toward deeper objects in all the oceans has increased [71].

The study has suggested a significant relationship between object depth and faster tuna aggregation. For non-tuna species, on the contrary, this relationship appeared not to be significant. These differences may be related to the vertical distribution of the species under DFADs. As non-tuna species usually occupy shallower waters (<25 meters) [34] the depth of the underwater part may not affect their detection ability, and consequently, the aggregation process. It may happen, however, that the shape or material of the floating part would be more important than the hanging structure in the aggregation of non-tuna species. Similar works should study non-tuna species aggregation process differences on DFADs with different features of the floating structure.

By contrast, tuna are usually found in deeper waters (i.e. > 25m) [3450517273], and thus, deeper objects might be easier to detect visually. Indeed, the eye is considered the main sense organ of tuna which is better adapted to low light [7475]. However, other senses may also help in detecting the object (e.g. sound, chemical) [7677]. Although the results of this study may suggest that the depth of the underwater structure could play an important role in the aggregation of tuna at DFADs, further studies should investigate in detail the aggregation-segregation phenomenon in relation to sensory cues, as understanding the key drivers of the associative behavior is crucial for the adequate management of exploited resources.

During the first 30 days of the object at sea, the tuna biomass follows the same biomass increasing trend for both DFAD depth categories. However, from that point onwards, there is a decrease of the tuna biomass in deep DFADs. The reasons causing the loss of tuna biomass in deeper objects after the first month are difficult to determine, as there is little evidence and information on the factors driving fish to leave the DFAD. Several hypotheses have been generated by the scientific community to explain why tuna and non-tuna species associate with DFADs [167] but none to elucidate why fish leave them.

The interviews conducted by Moreno et al. (2007) with fishers in the Indian Ocean, pointed out a change in the speed or direction of the drifting object, the presence of large predators, or DFADs entering the continental shelf as the main reasons for fish to leave a DFAD. Future research should combine echo-sounder buoy data along the trajectory of the object with environmental information to investigate the drivers of biomass dynamics around DFADs.

To our knowledge, this is the first time that the depth of the net hanging down has been related to the aggregation process. So far, the effect of the depth has been investigated in relation to the tuna catch species composition. Lennert-Cody and Hall [78] and Lennert-Cody, Roberts [79] found that the species composition of the catch varied with the depth of the net hanging down, suggesting there could be more successful bigeye and yellowfin sets on objects with deeper structures in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

However, similar works in the western Pacific Ocean [80] did not find such a positive relationship for bigeye tuna. Related to these investigations, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission considered the possibility of limiting the depth of the underwater part hanging below the FAD [81] in order to reduce the bigeye bycatch, although the measure was not ultimately adopted and it is not being implemented by the fleet. Therefore, since in this study we have found evidence that the depth of the object’s underwater part affects the aggregation of tuna, further studies should be proposed to help to design specific management measures for tuna species.

Aggregation process by periods and areas
The large quantity of data available for this work (42,322 daily biomass observations) provides a high spatio-temporal resolution to study the aggregation process across different seasons. The Indian Ocean is characterized by strong environmental fluctuations associated with monsoon regimes that affect ocean circulation and biological production [39]. Changes in biophysical factors associated with seasonality (i.e. chlorophyll, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen) may play an important role in the aggregation dynamic of tuna and non-tuna species. Our first detections were consistent for all the monsoon periods analyzed (i.e. tuna were always detected earlier than non-tuna species at DFADs).

The first detection days of tuna species at DFADs were statistically different across seasons, with a maximum difference of 2.5 days. Despite this result, when the analysis was made between seasons, we only found differences for arrival time among the winter monsoon and summer monsoon and autumn intermonsoon periods. In relation to the aggregation dynamics, the maximum biomass is reached later (i.e. after 40 days at sea) in summer and autumn periods in comparison to other seasons. These differences may be related to changes in productivity between periods. A strong upwelling occurs in the Western Indian Ocean in the summer monsoon season [82], where cold and highly saline waters with a high nutrient content are pumped up, producing an increase of primary production along the coast of Somalia [8384] which can spread more than 500 km offshore [85].

This productivity increase may make floating objects less attractive for tuna as enough prey concentration may be available in the surface environment. On the other hand, productivity is significantly lower during the winter monsoon [86], where not only both tuna and non-tuna species arrive earlier at the DFADs in comparison to other seasons, but the biomass also peaks earlier compared to the summer and autumn periods. It is known that the distribution of large predators, like tuna, is affected by productivity [87], but the relationship between productivity and DFAD attractiveness remains unclear.

This work hypothesizes that productivity and DFAD attractiveness may be inversely related. Future research at different spatio-temporal scales should link acoustic information with remote sensing variables, including chlorophyll-a, to analyze whether, and how, environmental conditions are related to the aggregation dynamics of tuna and non-tuna species at DFADs.

It is important to highlight the different trends that have been observed in the SE Seychelles from December to April-May, while for the rest of the year all areas showed similar trends. During the winter monsoon the fishery is usually located in the SE Seychelles and Chagos areas in search of FSC [88], where schools of yellowfin and bigeye tuna happen to be feeding or spawning in surface waters [89]. The difference in the observed aggregation dynamics in the SE Seychelles area coincides with the FSC fishery season, which could affect the species composition in the area and, hence, the aggregation dynamics around DFADs.

In addition to environmental features, other factors could also affect the aggregation process of tuna and non-tuna species at DFADs, such as the density and abundance of the population and of the DFADs. Robert, Dagorn [36] suggested that social interactions underlie aggregation processes. Because tuna biomass seems to increase after the deployment of a DFAD, we could interpret this to mean that tuna associative behavior may be dependent on fish density [90], and thus, an increasing abundance of fish at DFADs could lead to stronger attraction and retention behaviors [24]. Moreover, an overall saturation point observed after approximately 30–40 days may indicate that after a certain specific period, the aggregation of tuna could be compromised. Therefore, DFADs could contribute to the formation of large schools and the optimal school size [91] during the first 30–60 days at sea.

each of the cost around 2 tons of skipjack…

each of the cost around 2 tons of skipjack…


Fishing around DFADs has become the main strategy used by tropical tuna purse seiners in recent years [11]. The concern surrounding DFAD fishing generally comes from the uncertainty about the impacts it produces (e.g. a higher level of bycatch, alteration of tuna movements, impacts on the habitat, etc.). To consider new and alternative management options, it is necessary to improve our knowledge of the key factors driving the species aggregation-segregation processes with floating objects.

This study contributes to better understanding of the tuna and non-tuna aggregation mechanisms in relation to both the DFAD structure and deployment seasons. In summary, the first detection day of fish at DFADs was around 1–2 weeks and differed significantly between tuna and non-tuna species. Although fishers consider that deeper DFAD may favor faster and larger fish aggregations [2], this aspect has never been investigated in detail in relation to the aggregation processes.

The analysis showed a significant relationship between object depth and colonization of tuna, suggesting a faster tuna colonization for deeper objects. For non-tuna species this relationship appeared not to be significant. The Indian Ocean is characterized by strong environmental fluctuations associated with monsoon regimes and seasonal variability in fishing grounds [92] and catch [93]. Therefore, analyzing the aggregation process in different periods could help with designing spatio-temporal management measures for tuna fisheries.

The aggregation dynamics differed between monsoon periods in both tuna and non-tuna species. These differences could be explained by changes in the biophysical environment associated with seasonality, although there may be other social factors affecting the aggregation process of tuna and non-tuna species at DFADs, such as the density and abundance of the local tuna population or DFADs.

The results of this research can be used to assist in working for the sustainability of tuna fisheries and may help to design management measures for tuna and non-tuna species, such as optimization of fishing activities.


Back to Kiribati for the 1st job of 2019 by Francisco Blaha

Is always hard to restart with work after the festive season, my teenage kids are growing relentlessly and they would not be home in few years, and being a part-time dad and husband is never easy... (being a consultant is marriage killer). So getting on the ferry of my island heading to the airport is always quite anguishing for me. 

not the usual plane window scene

not the usual plane window scene

 I been now working with my colleagues from Kiribati’s fisheries authority under a NZ MFAT funded programme for almost 2 years on “fly in and fly out” basis, I do this work in coordination to my work in the Marshall Islands.

I’m not going to go into the challenges that small atoll countries face, as it could take days of writing… but just as a figure: look around you wherever you reading this and see all the things, services and goods you take for granted and they are part of your daily life… well.. none of them is granted here... Working in atolls has been a truly humbling experience and the level of resilience of my colleagues and the locals is beyond admirable.

My role here (as most of my work worldwide) is operational, I’m providing support on PSM, transhipment monitoring, market access guarantees and “EU Yellow card issues”. 

I written enough about the EU Yellow Cards so not going to repeat myself. Supporting countries to work themselves out of them has been a stable staple (and a bit of speciality) of my work for the last 6-7 years at least.

I have worked with Vanuatu, Fiji, PNG, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Thailand who successfully convinced the EU DG MARE that the reforms implemented were deserving of their unilateral approval. 

Kiribati is our last standing yellow card in the Pacific, and I’m hoping that after this one I can put this “chapter” of my work to rest. (I have chosen not to work with Taiwan -and will also not work with China if ever they get the totally deserved yellow/red card- as major DWFNs they should have enough capacity themselves, or go down)

A big issue for small countries is to understand all the scenarios around the Catch Certification process, as it is quite complex, particularly in function of the sidestep the EU took with the “weight in” notification in 2010 where it actually became a “export certificate” instead of real catch certificate. This transferred a massive “fish accountancy” structure back to flag and processing countries where fish would be processed and exported many months after being unloaded and small administrations would have to sort through tons of records to relate a particular landing to the fish being exported. (To understand the complexity feel free to look at the catch certification chapter on this book I wrote about EU Market Access)

Hence my work on this area has been to tie up and package operational SOPs and training on: Vessels arrival screening and clearing inspection (as PSM best practices), the organisation of transhipment monitoring, and the standardization of the Catch certification process, including the development of a certification database that brings into account all volumes and operations. And while not on DG MARE’s domain, then one has to link all this to the parallel issues of EU and Non EU Health Certification, eligibility, certification of origin and so on… 

Is worth to remember that the issue of Catch Certification is normally only a small element of the issues raised in the yellow card reports… all sort of higher level issues come up there to that need to be dealt at legislative and higher management level.

Off course is hard to argue that all of this good for the country and the DG MARE’s officer are trumpeting this fact worldwide at every conference I have been to…  My issue has been that is a disproportionally massive effort for a small development country to set all this up, since to an extent the development and implementation of the systems is independent of the volumes of usage. Many developed countries seems to struggle with it (i.e. Taiwan and Korea have got yellow cards) so imagine what is for challenged countries, with less than 40 years of being independent and managing their own affairs with very limited human and resource capacities. 

If it wasn't for the vital support of FFA (and now NZ MFAT) coupled with substantial local efforts, I doubt any of the Pacific the most yellow carded region in the world) countries would have managed to progress as they have done.

At a personal level, while I been a critic of the EU system, it has always been from a constructive angle, as it has been “revolutionary” and my aim was and is to make it more effective and fair (the promised 2019 online based structure - almost 10 years after announced - will help with that). Furthermore, my relationship with them has been very good, and in many cases as in the case of the retired boss there (Mr Cesar Deben), he has been a supporter of my work. 

Additionally, and I have always stressed this fact, the EU is the major donors for fisheries in the region and much of my FFA work has been funded by them, even if they only have a handful of vessels fishing around here… and their support is no tied up to nationality eligibility (i.e. you have to be a EU citizen) and one has to respect and knowledge that. In over 20 years in consulting I still have to work in a Korea, China, Japan or Taiwan funded program.

So yes I’m looking forwards to some weeks of work with my friends and colleagues here in Kiribati and keep sharing whatever I can do on my areas of work, and learning from their relentless resilient attitude, good spirit and hospitality.


Conflict Resolution in Fisheries Compliance Work by Francisco Blaha

I have quoted in the past articles from the INFOFISH Magazine (you should subscribe if you can), written by colleagues/friends about their work. This time is a bit unusual as will be quoting one that was written by my friend Vibeke Brethouwer, whom interestingly, I been married with for the last 18 years! The unusual element about this, is that she does not really work in fisheries, she is a graphic designer and mediator.

conflict is palpable

conflict is palpable

Just to give context, over the years learned that when you work in compliance, is not just about fisheries rules… is mostly about conflict in between people holding two very different position over one topic. Furthermore it get intensified by the fact that in the commercial fisheries sector in the pacific, that conflict takes on the substantial cultural differences en between industry (mostly people from DWFNs) and regulators from Pacific Islands. Just look at the body language in the pictures that illustrate this blog entry, if you have doubt about this reality.

I discussed this with my colleague, friend and almost brother Ratu Jope Tamani from FFA many times and we agreed that knowing how to deal with conflict is fundamental to the job, and that all the training we do need to involve this fundamental aspect of the job as part of the curriculum, so we decided to that.

So Jope said: “Vibeke would be great to do this training; she has the qualifications and experience in conflict resolution, has lived with you in various countries in the world with along my fisheries work, which gives her multicultural / fisheries context, and surely is good at managing conflict since she been married to a melt pot of nationalities and hard headed ex-fisherman like you for long time while bringing up your lovely kids!!” So yea… that kind of settled it. 

I have been to one of her 1 day sessions as part of a 3 week trainings and it was quite something! Way more participative and mobilising that any other session we had, it touches deep nerves about human interactions that are the basis of the jobs we do.

And I find it incredible that none of the fisheries inspectors or observers trainings i been involved for most of my life, do include a session of conflict management as vital part of the curriculum. Hopefully this initiative helps changing that.

When INFOFISH magazine knew about her training and work with FFA asked her to writhe the article I quote below, she wrote it in conversational tone, which is also something I like:


I have worked with the FFA in the past three years to provide a one-day workshop on ‘Managing Conflict and Challenging Conversations’ during their yearly Regional Competent Authority Fish Inspection training in Fiji.

Conflict resolution and fish inspection may seem like unrelated subjects but it turns out that talking about conflict and how to address the thorny issues that come up in the work of fisheries inspectors is a great way to help people become more confident and compassionate leaders in their workplaces, and this of course then benefits everyone involved.

At the start of the workshops, I often begin by defining conflict, a word that can be a little scary. It is important to note that conflict is not necessarily violence, but that violence is simply one of the ways in which humans (and animals) deal with conflict, and mostly not in a very productive way.

Conflict is simply any situation in which your concerns and desires differ from those of another person, or stem from    a disagreement between two or more people. We also immediately realise that conflict is possible within our own selves, as we have opposing desires or concerns in life on a daily basis. Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing (nor a good thing), it simply is a fact of life. This broad definition of conflict allows us to consider how it is that we try to avoid certain conflicts, but other types of conflict, we relish and we enjoy.

Sports games are a type of conflict, where two players or teams may have a conflicting desire, i.e. to win, but we all know that only one of them can do so. The conflict in this case is highly organised, there is a set of very strict rules  that both sides adhere to and it becomes something that we enjoy watching and doing. It seems that only when we don’t agree on the rules, we run into trouble, and in the heat of the moment it can be hard for the players on either side to come up with a fair solution since their desire to win may  be overriding their desire for fair game. Within themselves, these desires compete, and we are grateful for the referee who makes hard decisions. Away from the pitch, most players will agree that referees are necessary to make the game possible, but they may not always behave that way on the pitch under the high pressure.

I find that workshops such as the ones organised by the FFA are a great time at which to reflect how emotions, culture and conflicting values and ‘rules’ may influence our own ability to deal with conflict. It is a place where peers who work in different countries but who deal with similar  situations,  can discuss what are the moments in their working life in which conflict and misunderstanding occur. For example (unsurprisingly), fisheries inspectors have to step into situations where the other party may not be very welcoming as a lot is at stake for fishermen and fish processing factories when there are issues with compliance. Language barriers are an obvious problem, but this is often only the first thing to overcome. 

Different cultural frameworks 

The world of fisheries is by its very nature, one in which different cultures meet, trade and interact as we go on the water and cross our oceans to feed people and make a living. As fishing becomes more industrial and international, legal and trade regulations become increasingly complex. Fisheries involve people from different countries and from different cultural backgrounds who live and work together on a daily basis. 

Language is of course a big part of culture and one that is not only expressed through the spoken or written word. We discover how our body language can be very expressive as well as can be a huge source of confusion and when misunderstood, can be a source of conflict. 

Feeling respected or not respected may be the simple reason why information does or doesn’t get shared and this can be a great problem for authorities and workplaces. It is very helpful to discuss what is ‘respectful’ behaviour in different parts of the world. We know for example that looking someone in the eye while they speak may be a mark of respect and attention in one place, but very disrespectful and seen as aggressive in the other. In the workshop we discuss a lot of ways in which cultures differ, like our understanding of time, of individual choice or collective decision-making, what constitutes authority, and gender roles. If we can make the time to discuss what it is like ‘back home’, we often increase our understanding of why the other acts the way they do. It is hard to resolve a difference in values, but it is possible to find mutual respect for the fact that we all hold values and an understanding that these will inform our actions. 

It is said that culture is like the water the fish swim in. As a fish, you don’t notice it, until you are not in the water anymore. Then you realise it is hard to breathe and you don’t know how to do the simplest things. It helps to realise that outside of our own culture, we are all a little lost and we need to work that much harder to uncover each other’s true intentions. Working harder in this case means asking some questions, being genuinely curious and listening carefully. This takes courage and time, but all those things are great leadership qualities. 

gender and culture are major part of managing conflict

gender and culture are major part of managing conflict

Personal approaches to conflict 

A major part of the workshop is working out what our own approaches to conflict are, and how our personal and emotional reflexes may translate to the professional setting. Through discussing different reactions to conflict, from avoiding and accommodating, to negotiating, competing and fighting, we realise that in fact we employ a variety of strategies to deal with thorny issues. This is based on the Thomas-Killman model of conflict modes. Everyone has an instinctive reaction to situations in which we feel threatened or attacked. We may want to run and hide or we may want to fight and dominate. Either way it seems that someone or something loses. How we react may be informed by how we grew up, and what expectations were placed on us according to our gender or status.

Relating back to the previous example of the sports game, we are also conditioned to think in terms of winning or losing. Having a competitive person working for  you may  seem like an advantage for workplaces in a competitive business world. If that competition however turns on members of your own organisation, it can cause destructive conflict, as trust  is eroded through aggressive behaviour, information does not get shared and workplaces lose money, time and people when workplace conflict becomes destructive.

A fascinating aspect of the avoiding and accommodating styles of reaction to conflict is that these too have a destructive impact. It may be very destructive to the avoider for example, as they compromise their ability to do their own job, to raise important issues and it can even affect their health and self respect.

The ultimate and least destructive way to deal with conflict is collaboration, and this often requires a very important switch in perspective. From the aforementioned sports game, where it is clear that only one side can win, in a workplace the best outcome is usually the one where  everyone gets what they needs.

In the world of fisheries inspection it is clear that regulating authorities and the fishing industry often have competing missions, but underlying that is a shared need for clear rules and a healthy ocean with a sustainable resource. Both parties want to see a fishing stock not just for  today but also for the future as a way to make a living for the people of their country and survival of their companies.

Decisions in business may be informed by economics and financial reality, but there is an underlying need to provide for people and to do so in relative harmony and stability. This is often a prime need that businesses share with regulating authorities. Collaboration is therefore the most sustainable way forward to deal with conflict both within a workplace, and on the coalface of enforcement and regulation. Sharing information and listening to the needs of the other party will smooth the way to collaboration.

Listening is a key skill

One of the most important skills we therefore practice in the workshop is listening. I teach that the best way to deal with conflict, or to avoid conflict becoming destructive is to learn to postpone judgment, even for a little while and to listen for any information that may be new to you, before you make decisions.

In the workshop we go back to basics and practice how to listen ‘actively’ to others. We first practice it in a situation where there is no conflict; we simply share information and ask the listeners to repeat back the information that they have just heard, before they say their own piece. So often we are busy deciding what we are going to say, that we forget  to listen carefully enough to be able to repeat back what the other person had just said.

This may seem like a trivial exercise but I find that even for the most accomplished people it can be extremely challenging to reflect back what they had heard someone else say. Interestingly enough, as a mediator, listening and reflecting back what someone said is one of our main tools to help resolve a conflict. Hearing someone acknowledge in detail what you have just tried to express and perhaps have been saying for many years can truly help you move on from entrenched positions in very longstanding conflict situations.

So even the simple exercise of repeating back the information that someone has just given you can help you steer away from conflict before it even happens. The key is to make it an opportunity for the person you are listening to, to clarify if you had indeed understood what they were trying to say and to invite them to add anything else. With asking that open question of whether there is anything else they need to add, you are likely to find out information you had not thought of before and it may help you make a more considered decision.

Try to prevent conflict before it happens

In the heat of the moment, sadly it is only human to make snap judgments based on assumptions. When you are under direct physical threat this may be your best survival strategy of course, and we are biologically wired to react to threats. Most of the time in our workplaces, we are not under a direct physical threat, but our brains may momentarily tell us otherwise, so we do the opposite of what is needed and we stop listening and become caught up in emotion.

Participants in the FFA workshop do discuss situations in which they feel physically unsafe and they come up together with strategies to diffuse tension or avoid these from happening. It could be something as simple as providing back-up to each other and retreating out of unsafe situations. There is a big role to play for the organisations in question to ensure that fisheries inspectors and observers can work safely, in terms of providing the legal and practical means for enforcing the ability to do so. New technology often provides an opportunity to come up with safer ways of gathering data; this may be considered as a way of surveillance that is both smart and safe for the fisheries inspectors. As a mediator from New Zealand it is not my expertise, but I believe that discussions between participants can inform structural and institutional changes.

Even if I give ‘avoiding’ conflict behaviour a bad rap it is important to remember that there are ways in which workplace managers and leadership can prevent conflict from escalating to the point where it is costly to their organisations and their employees. To be able to do this, again, listening is an important skill. When a conflict situation comes up time and time again, it may be useful to review what can be done structurally in an organisation to have better communication and protect employees from recurring stress.

If managers and leadership are willing to listen to the reality and grouses of their workers they can design their systems  in a way that conflict is minimised. One example that was mentioned in the workshop was that of a competent worker who was being tasked  with a lot of jobs, but who was at   the same time, getting instructions from several managers and not getting support from co-workers. The problem was that there was no proper system to share the workload. A systematic approach to avoiding conflict therefore may be ensuring regular meetings to check off tasks as well as provide an opportunity to then decide whether some of the work can be shared. This avoids resentment, precludes conflict and increases collaboration.

Like in any industry, the fisheries industry is one where conflict happens and it is a daily task for those working in it to manage it well.

I applaud FFA for putting conflict resolution skills on the menu for workshop participants. It is a huge privilege to work with diverse groups as these and seeing the personal courage, wealth and depth of leadership skills within this industry in the Pacific.

As decision-makers and leaders in the industry I am sure you are all used to the practice of making quick decisions, which is an admirable skill. If you find you run into conflict and miss out on the input from others however, I highly recommend doing a little active listening practice. Even five minutes a day to repeat back what you had heard your spouse or child say, may improve your management skills and decision-making. Good luck


Vibeke Brethouwer ( lives in Auckland, New Zealand and is a mediator, conflict resolution trainer and designer. She has worked with the Peace Foundation and with the Resolution Institute in New Zealand in mediation training. She enjoys working through tricky problems with empathy and a step-by-step approach that provides solutions that everyone party to the problem can live with. She does the same with her design clients. She has a strong interest in the Pacific, the world of fish and its people

And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive! (1894) by Francisco Blaha

I always maintained that I'm a very fortunate man, and for many reasons. Just one of them is that I have the opportunity to know brilliant and capable people, and somehow manage to make a good enough impression, as for them to remember who I am, and then be very helpful and communicative with me.

And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive! 1894 .  Oil on Canvas Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. ©Museo del Prado. Madrid

And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive! 1894. Oil on Canvas Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. ©Museo del Prado. Madrid

Shelton Harley is one example of those very smart people I refer above. I wrote about him before in these posts. After leaving SPC he came back to NZ, and he is the Manager Fisheries Science at Fisheries NZ. In any case, he was in Madrid last week and during his walking through the "Museo del Prado" (one of Europe's most important art museums) a painting caught his attention and “out of the blue”, he contacted me with a link to it.

The info he sent me indicates two things to me: 1) How thoughtful he is and 2) how ingrained (i think) is the issue of crew welfare, on all of those that been at sea and/or work around issues of fisheries sustainability, independently if it is stock assessments, MCS, policy, oceanography, etc. even if utile recently not much has been done.

The painting he was referring me to, is called "And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive!" and it was painted in 1894, and you can read about it here.

The description is timeless and could be happening today in many parts of the world:

“… shows a scene inside the hold of a fishing boat, where a young sailor, barely a boy, is lying on the ground after an accident at sea. On his naked torso hangs a medallion, a protective amulet to guard fishermen against misfortune. The young man is treated for his injuries by two old fishing companions, both with serious concentration on their faces. One holds him by the shoulders, whilst the other, wearing a traditional Catalan cap, applies a compress to the wound, which he has just wet in the pot of water in the foreground. The three sailors are surrounded by fishing tackle, whilst in the background is a pile of fish, caught during this unfortunate day’s work…”

For me personally is very poignant, albeit the fact that fisheries was and continues to be perhaps the most dangerous occupation in the world, I was once the youngest in the crew... and after one broken knee, a broken jaw with 3 molars gone forever, at least 12 "hooks in flesh and face" and "head against bulkheads” scars, two shipwrecks, some collisions, fires, massive gear malfuntions and other shit that happened in the last 30 years… I still around, and this continually remains me what I said on my first sentence above, I'm a very fortunate man.

While H&S in fisheries has advanced a lot in developing countries, I believe we haven't moved forwards it in the same extent than forestry and mining, for example, have done... and that is a significant inside debt we have. Wich grows exponentially bigger when you get to know the realities of less developed countries and flags of convenience.

Yes, fishing is no doubt is a dangerous job, and perhaps there is a natural limit to how “safe can it be”, but that inherent danger was the main reason why 30 years ago I was getting paid more per day than anyone else my age and my limited qualifications at the time... but those days are gone, the job may be a bit less dangerous today in some countries, but the payments are abysmally lower in comparison.

As I mention I was doubtful about "branching out" into labour issues, from my usual "pure fisheries" work... yet the support I had has been amazing. From people contacting me with ideas and information up to small but very mindful gestures like Shelton's one in this case...

And yes, unfortunately, 125 years after this painting was made, not much has changed and many people "still say fish is expensive!"

Some good stuff that has slowly been happening on the topic of decent labour in fishing vessels by Francisco Blaha

James Sloan is a barrister at law in the English jurisdiction, but based in Fiji and running a law firm for quite a few years for now. But as most of the people I appreciate and admire, their job does not just define who they are… James’ life includes running, the environment with a particular focus on the ocean, governance systems and how to promote good decision making, providing a good working environment, travel, amateur photography, good science fiction and family. Hence we have quite a few overlapping interests!

A great smile and hope for the best

A great smile and hope for the best

He publishes an Ocean Law Bulletin I have been following for years (and you should too). He invites sometimes specialist in the region to co-write them and is always top reading.

So I was really honoured when he asked me to work on a piece on some of the updates and good stuff that has slowly been happening in the region and worldwide on the topic of decent labour in fishing vessels.

I’ll transcribe the article here below, but you also can read it in his page.

Unfortunately, offshore fishing is an industry that has become synonymous with poor working conditions and human rights abuses when compared with other ocean industries like shipping. This is because some of the activity of fishing itself takes place outside of the legal jurisdiction of any nation State, on the “high seas” and within EEZs where no State has sovereignty to make and enforce laws.

In effect it is an industry where bad players can get away with being unregulated and through the regime of flag State registration effectively claim "immunity" from legal oversight in relation to working conditions. This is not to say all offshore fishing vessel operators are bad players but those fishing vessel operators who do want to comply with good employment standards do not compete on a "level playing field".

The awareness raised by civil society organisations (CSOs) and stakeholders has led to various recent developments, including the development of a specific International Labour Organisation Convention (“ILO”) (Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188)) (“C-188”) being developed and entering into force in November 2017.

Six months ago, in Cape Town, South Africa, the provisions of C-188 were brought to bear by South African authorities against a foreign owned fishing vessel (a link to ILO’s report on this story can be found here).

The problem exists because some flag States who do have the legal jurisdiction to enforce labour standards on vessels on the high seas that are registered to that flag State lack the ability or willingness to regulate offshore fishing vessels that "fly their flag". Effective and universal flag State regulation is an issue of oceans governance and this is same issue that underpins Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (“IUU”) fishing on the high seas and within coastal States’ EEZs.

Solving this ocean governance issue in the fishing industry would likely lead to direct benefits for Pacific Island States both because employment opportunities would improve for Pacific Islanders and because those fishing vessels that are well regulated are more likely to comply with conservation and management measures put in place to protect the Pacific’s essential fish stocks.

In this extended legal bulletin we summarise the international law problem of unregulated labour standards in the offshore fishing industry and consider recent efforts that provide steps in the right direction to bring an end to a shameful problem that should no longer be tolerated in the 21st century. 

After all, as things stand, on the high seas (areas beyond national jurisdiction) the transportation of slaves by sea is an international crime and is regulated by the law of the sea framework. Contrast this with forced/slave labour and human rights abuses on people “employed” on fishing vessels in the same areas of ocean, and who fall outside any effective regulatory law of the sea framework and as a consequence find themselves outside the reach and protection of the law. To change this may require an overdue shift in general international consensus to amend the current law of the sea and governance framework. 

Six months ago, the competent authority in South Africa relied on its Port State jurisdiction to take enforcement action against the fishing vessel that had docked in one of its ports (South Africa is currently one of 10 signatories to C-188). Unfortunately the “long list of problems” that South African authorities found on board the fishing vessel “including lack of documentation, poor accommodation, insufficient food for fishers, and poor safety and health conditions on board” and overall “very poor” health and safety conditions is not unusual in the industry. In terms of employment standards there was not a crew list on the vessel and only two of the crew members were found to have employment agreements. The failure to keep a crew list may seem innocuous but in the context of reported issues that have happened at sea it is, in fact, a chilling reminder of how vulnerable undocumented and unrecorded crew members are.

However, lack of regulation in the offshore fishing industry is not a simple problem with a simple solution. As with many issues of oceans governance and fishing in particular the solution is not as simple as relying on new legal instruments or policy documents. Rather, solutions can only be found through a joint effort involving the industry, regulators and civil society collaborating within the existing legal and governance framework and calling for fundamental change. Above all nation States that register/flag vessels must step up or be compelled to step up to their legal responsibilities to bring the fishing industry employment standards in line with what is expected in the 21st century. 

The issue of forced labour and work in fisheries has been the subject of the latest UN General Assembly Resolution (UNGA) on Fisheries - agreed in December 2017. Paragraph 172 of the UNGA Resolution provides:

(the UN General Assembly) Calls upon flag States to effectively implement their duty under the Convention with respect to labour conditions, taking into account applicable international instruments and national laws, and in this regard encourages States that have not yet done so to consider becoming parties to the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188), and to implement the Guidelines for port State control officers carrying out inspections under the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) and the Guidelines on flag State inspection of working and living conditions on board fishing vessels”… This paragraph is actually copied from last year's UNGA fisheries resolution paragraph 169 – i.e. this is the existing view of the UN General Assembly.

By calling on flag States “to effectively implement their duty…” the UNGA has recognised and gone to the heart of the knotty international law problem that affects many areas of Oceans Governance.

In summary the problem is:

  • The legal jurisdictions of nation States (sovereignty) only extends to a maximum distance of 12 nautical miles from their coastlines (assuming that the State is a coastal State).

  • Once any vessel/ship (including a fishing vessel) is beyond that distance, generally speaking, only the State that the vessel is registered to (the flag State) has any regulatory jurisdiction over the vessel.

  • As a consequence, for any worker aboard that vessel/ship he or she must rely on the flag State to protect his or her legal rights including employment rights.

  • This principle of jurisdiction recognises the ancient principle of freedom of the high seas, is part of customary International Law and is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (“LOSC”).

In effect, if the fishing vessel owners and operators are not interested in providing adequate working and health and safety standards aboard the vessel (a bad player), and the flag State is not capable or interested in regulating those standards, then the worker aboard that vessel is outside effective regulation and is vulnerable to exploitation without legal rights or effective recourse.

This problem is exacerbated by the ability for States with no interest in regulatory standards to offer open registries where the international law requirement contained in LOSC to register the vessel is fulfilled in exchange for a registration fee. This currently accepted practice of registries of convenience produces vessels/ships that fly “flags of convenience”. There is also nothing to prevent a vessel from registering in new jurisdictions to fly a different flag, although under LOSC a vessel/ship cannot be registered in two jurisdictions at once as it is then deemed “stateless” (without nationality) and has no protection as it is not under the “jurisdiction” of any flag State and loses its effective flag State "immunity".

These open registries are well known and perhaps operate only to collect a registration fee. Generally speaking, they seem to have no interest in regulation, and are often in jurisdictions with inadequate employment protection (this fact may have attracted the registration in that jurisdiction in the first place as unscrupulous vessel owners will know that their operations will face little or no legal scrutiny in all areas beyond national jurisdiction).

This situation has led to many calls for a change to the governance framework based on LOSC that relies on flag State regulation to be effective. However, since its coming into force in 1982 there has been no amendment to LOSC, and in any event, the emphasis and approach of international law and LOSC is to seek solutions via universal cooperation and agreement/consensus among all nation States.

This unresolved and difficult international law governance problem presented by flag State jurisdiction remains the major barrier to change and effective enforcement despite the large number of international agreements and voluntary standards that vary in their scope and adoption in this area. Remember, South Africa were able to take action because the offending fishing vessel had docked in one of its ports and therefore had submitted to South African sovereignty/jurisdiction.

For example, prior to C-188, the ILO and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) established a number of binding legal instruments to improve fishers’ safety and working conditions. This included:

  • the IMO’s Torremolinos Protocol and the IMO’s Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F) which entered into force in March 2013; and

  • non-binding recommendations and codes, some of which were developed jointly between the ILO, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the IMO.

As mentioned at the start of this piece the ILO has in recent years turned its focus to the fishing industry through the adoption of the C-188 (read more about it: Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188).

In brief, C-188 seeks to ensure decent standards for all fishers regarding conditions of service, accommodation and food, occupational safety and health protection, as well as medical care and social security. The Convention came into force in November last year when the 10th country ratified it. C-188 is supplemented by the accompanying Work in Fishing Recommendation (No. 199) as well as two sets of Guidelines for flag States and port States carrying out inspections under the Convention.

On the safety side of work at sea, there is the 2012 Cape Town Agreement (CTA), adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which also outlines fishing vessel standards and includes other regulations designed to protect the safety of crews and observers and provide a level playing field for the fishing industry. The CTA updates, amends, and replaces the Torremolinos Protocol of 1993, relating to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977.

Neither the Torremolinos convention nor the protocol will enter into force themselves, but the CTA reflects provisions contains in them. Once in force, the CTA will set minimum requirements on the design, construction, equipment, and inspection of fishing vessels 24 meters or longer that operate on the high seas. Its entry into force would empower port States to carry out safety inspections that could be aligned with fisheries and labour agencies, to ensure transparency of fishing and crew activities. The treaty consists of minimum safety measures for fishing vessels that mirror the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)—an internationally binding treaty on safety for merchant vessels that entered into force in 1980. It also calls for the harmonised fisheries, labour, and safety inspections.

The CTA will enter into force 12 months after at least 22 states with an aggregate 3,600 fishing vessels of at least 24 meters in length operating on the high seas have expressed their consent to be bound by it (China alone gets to this number)

To date, 10 countries have ratified the CTA so there is still some way to go until the CTA enters into force, and at present, until it is in force, there are no mandatory global safety regulations for fishing vessels. The slow pace of ratification of these conventions inhibits effective control of safety and labour standards in the offshore fisheries sector.

It has been suggested that the “stagnancy” relating to finding a solution is due to a lack of a “pressure driver” around industry, governments and civil society, and as consequence it undermines important opportunities to prevent and detect instances of labour abuses. To some extent this must be right, however, in terms of international law, it is hard to make effective change when a universal consensus is the generally preferred or only method of change.

It should also be noted that as well intended as they are, neither C-188 or the CTA alone are capable of making this change to the underlying international governance issue related to flag States, where those flag States are not interested to, or do not, “implement their duty”.


However, there have been four interesting, recent and separate developments that may lead to some positive outcomes in the area of decent labour in fishing vessels. These changes are well-intended, specific and targeted, and I hope will lead the way towards, and set the standard for a fundamental change in the international consensus and approach in this area.

Development 1: FAO’s Development of a Position Paper on Decent Labour for COFI:FT in 2019

The COFI Sub-Committee on Fish Trade (COFI:FT) of the Food and agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has a specific mandate to:

  • promote social sustainability in fisheries value chains,

  • promote the recognition and protection of human and labour rights in national and international value chains, and to

  • collaborate with international partner organisations – such as International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and others.

FAO Member countries through the COFI:FT session in 2017 recognised the complexity of addressing social issues relative to human and labour rights in fisheries value chains, recommending that FAO collaborate with interested partner organisations and stakeholders to develop a guidance document to assist fish value chain actors.This aims to improve the implementation of existing instruments and measures that encompass responsible business conduct, human rights and international labour standards.

At its thirty-third session in July 2018, the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) decided that the guidance on social sustainability should be developed in cooperation with relevant stakeholders, including industry and fish worker associations, through a process known as the Vigo Dialogue. The aim is to improve the sector and move towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Vigo Dialogue will also focus on measures for social responsibility in the fisheries and aquaculture sector as strategic approaches to combat abuses of human and labour rights in fish value chains. The overall objective is to facilitate an open discussion to enable feedback and input from stakeholders in order to address the challenges and complexity of this topic.

In particular, the Dialogue will focus on the mandate from COFI on social responsibility and the process and roadmap for the guidance development and stakeholder involvement. The final outcome of the guidance development process will be presented to COFI-FT in 2019 and COFI in 2020.

This process is underway under the combined efforts of one of my friend and seafood labour specialist Katrina Nakamura, and myself.

Development 2: The Tuna from Responsible Fisheries Standard - UNE 195006:2016

The 2016 “Tuna from Responsible Fisheries” (Spanish acronym: APR) standard (UNE 195006:2016)by the Spanish Association for Standardisation (AENOR) is the first certification associated to an national normalization body, aimed at tuna fishing that incorporates crew labour issues.

It was prepared by the Technical Committee AEN/CTN 195 “Capture fisheries” whose Secretariat is held by AENOR. The standard is intended to guide the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) in the development of standards for tuna imports in the European market. The APR seal was granted to seven firms belonging to the Organisation of Producers of Frozen Tuna (OPAGAC) to certify that their tuna was caught with sustainable methods by fishing vessels that do not violate their workers’ rights. Together these 7 fleets own 39 boats fishing in the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, their crews total approximately 1600 workers.

The APR seal certifies that the tuna offered to retailers and end consumers complies with all the relevant standards, which in terms of labour standards is based on ILO’s C-188 (Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188))

In order to grant the APR seal, AENOR audits the tuna fishing boats for compliance with standard UNE 195006: ‘Ethical Tuna Fishing. Purse-seine Fishing Boats and Freezer Vessels’. This standard regulates occupational safety and social issues, as well as maritime and health controls.

The approach taken by this private sector group was to approach AENOR as the organisation legally responsible of development and diffusion of technical standards in Spain, and base their official compliance assessment as a state guarantee of impartiality that goes beyond the usual model of private certifications and ecolabels. This approach sets a baseline of good practices that could be replicated by industry groups based on one flag State as in this case or on various flag States under common beneficial ownership.

Development 3: WCPFC Resolution on Labour Standards for Crew on Fishing Vessels

At the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) 15th Regular meeting in Honolulu in December 2018, Pacific Island States as FFA members and through their representative Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (FFA) tabled a proposal for a Resolution on Labour Standards for Crew on Fishing Vessels. This was the first time that a labour proposal was tabled in any Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) on the global/regional stage.

Although this measure proposed by Pacific Island States was criticised by some for being ambiguous and uncertain in its effect it was adopted as a non-binding resolution (meaning that Members of the WCPFC are not, as yet, obliged to incorporate it into their legislation).

However, despite the criticism, Pacific Island States through their representative FFA have made it clear that this is an important issue for Pacific Islanders and this provides the opportunity to further pressure future meetings of WCPFC to make this a compulsory Conservation and Management Measure (CMM) at some stage, hopefully, in the near future.

After all, it is not a difficult stretch to make the link between fishing vessels registered to flag States who are interested in good regulation and workers’ rights with compliance with fisheries conservation and management measures. A formal CMM would also demonstrate leadership at an international level.

Therefore, in our view this is an important step, as an expression of what is important for Pacific Islanders who have the exclusive rights to the largest and most valuable EEZs globally. Further, it is significant and right (in our humble opinion) for a fisheries management body to express the importance of workers’ rights and health and safety issues that has also set a precedent for other RFMOs to follow.

Development 4: The incorporation of a labour component in a Taiwan fisheries legislation

Taiwan is a substantial player in world fisheries, and significant in the Pacific. Taiwan’s complex relationship with China has an impact on the way that Taiwan conducts its fisheries and meets its responsibilities as a flag State. Furthermore, its vessels and nationals have in the past been associated with the most notorious cases of labour abuses.

Partly because Taiwan was identified as a “non-cooperating state” in terms of IUU fishing by the EU who imposed a “Yellow card” in late 2015, Taiwan has revamped its legislation framework and included a labour component in its 2017/2018 Act for Distant Water Fisheries (link to translated version) where Article 26 reads:

Any distant water fisheries operator intending to hire abroad any foreign crew member shall obtain permission from the competent authority. Such hiring shall be done by the distant water fisheries operator itself or through domestic intermediaries or agents (hereinafter referred to as the agents).

The agents referred to in the preceding paragraph shall be authorized by the competent authority and shall deposit a certain amount of guarantee bond.

Regulations on the qualification of the foreign crew member, conditions for permission, required documents, rights and interests of the distant water fisheries operator and the foreign crew member, contents of contracts, conditions for authorization of the agents, period, management, conditions for revocation, rights and interests of the agents and the foreign crew members, contents of contracts, management responsibilities, the certain amount, submission and refund of the security, and other requirements as referred to in the preceding two paragraphs shall be prescribed by the competent authority.”

The Taiwan Fisheries Agency as the Competent Authority then endorsed the “Regulations on the Authorization and Management of Overseas Employment of Foreign Crew Members” which at least on paper makes substantial progress towards safeguarding the rights and benefits for foreign crews on distant water fishing vessels, and show other flag States what is possible

The regulation indicates the principle of “overseas employment, operation, and repatriation” is adopted due to the nature that Taiwanese distant fishing vessels conduct fishing activities in distant fishing grounds for a long period of time, and usually employ foreign crew members at foreign ports.

As the wage and other working conditions of these employed crew members are governed by the mechanism of the international labour market in principle the Taiwan government recognises it may not be the same as the domestically employed foreign labour in Taiwan to whom the Taiwanese Labour Standards Act is applied.

The 36 articles and forms of the regulation include quite advanced provisions to safeguard the rights of crew, such as the increased wage and specified working hours among others. Some of its main requirements include:

  • Minimum monthly wage is set as USD 450 per month (for reference purposes it is known that Vietnamese crew working in someChinese vessels make around USD 150 per month) and shall be paid directly to the crew member in cash or into the bank account designated by the crew member

  • Minimum daily rest time is set as 10 hours, and at least 4 days off per month is required. The vessel operator must also respect the need of the foreign crew member for religious holidays

  • The foreign crew member must have the accident, medical and life insurance, and the insured amount of the life insurance shall not be less than NTD$1,000,000. When a crew member is injured or sick during carrying out the duties, the vessel operator (master) shall arrange immediate medical treatment and shall pay the medical fees and other related expenses

  • The vessel operator shall cover the transportation costs of the round trip from the home country of the foreign crew member(s) to the port of embarkation and repatriation.

The Regulations also require that the vessel operators should provide easily accessible channels for crew for complaints filing, including a hotline for labour issues for the crew members on distant water fishing vessels. If any violations are detected, the Competent Authority will or should assist the crew members in retrieving their lawful benefits from the vessel operator and take punitive actions accordingly.

In addition, if any suspected violation of the “Human Trafficking Prevention Act” is found, the case will be referred to the judicial authority for investigation and due punishment, whether the vessel is registered to Taiwan or elsewhere but that owned (even partially) and operated by Taiwanese nationals.

The Taiwanese regulations include a series of forms that must be carried by vessels and operators, that will be useful and may be required in any event, for port and coastal States to assist in assessing compliance.

So far, these regulations have been implemented in the case of the vessel Fuh Sheng No.11accused of violation of ILO Work in Fishing Convention in Cape Town, South Africa. The investigations resulted in fines to the operators.

While the legislation by Taiwan is ground-breaking, it is too early to determine how far Taiwan will go to enforce the legislation.

Of course, despite the developments more solutions need to be found before working conditions on fishing vessels can be guaranteed to improve

Again, the above initiatives will not solve the fundamental problem of legal jurisdiction on areas beyond national jurisdiction where a flag State remains unwilling or unable to enforce standards.

Further problems exist for Pacific Island States because there are not uniform employment standards, including minimum wage standards, across all Pacific Island jurisdictions.

As well as these issues, there is the perennial and worrying problem of uninformed or misinformed crew members entering the fishing industry. In many places crew members are recruited who are unable to access any form of formal advice in relation to offers of work. The brokers or agents who recruit crew members may not be regulated under their own jurisdiction and as such the recruitment of crew members is another unregulated activity.

This may or may not be the case depending on the Pacific Island jurisdiction, with Fiji for example, making it compulsory for each foreign contract of service to be approved by the Ministry of Employment. However, this is not a uniform requirement across all Pacific Island jurisdictions and even where it is a required workers may still “slip through the gaps”, as it is well known that the crew members themselves may be distrustful or wary of authority during the recruitment process.

A 1998 FAO publication Social Issues in Fisheries - FAO FTP 375 expands on this problem:

10.3 Attitudes towards institutions and authorities

People’s attitudes to authority will also play a major role in shaping their responses to efforts to manage their fishing activity. Fishers the world over are renowned for being independent and suspicious of authority. This is as true in modern, industrialised fisheries as in artisanal fisheries in less developed countries.

In order to gauge what responses to different types of fisheries intervention might be, managers need to look at the history of management and assess how stakeholder communities have reacted to these interventions and also assess current opinions and attitudes towards authorities concerned with fisheries.

These attitudes towards the institutions responsible for fisheries can have a major influence on the extent to which future fisheries interventions will be observed. If a particular institution is commonly perceived by fishers as being either untrustworthy or dominated by particular sets of interests which are not necessarily sympathetic to the needs of fishers, co-operation is likely to be reduced. On occasions, the same set of fisheries interventions might succeed or fail simply depending on who it is that is seen to be enforcing them.

The brokers/agents working with prospective crew members may range from legally-regulated job placement agencies to informal setups (sometimes associated with people-smuggling and trafficking). In most cases, brokers/agents charge a fee to be paid against future earnings, which without good regulation may become a basis for debt bondage.

Further it is not uncommon for crew to be transferred from one broker to another, or brokers may source fishers for recruitment agencies or fishing vessels directly. Many crew may come from non-ocean fishing countries (i.e. Nepal, Laos) and will not be aware that they will be working on fishing vessels and what are the conditions until they find themselves in the harbour.

In relation to the practice of brokers/agents, it is important to understand the process of recruitment which usually starts with:

  1. The crew member signing up with an agent in their home State/jurisdiction based on various promises and assurances that may or may not be committed to writing (in any event the crew member may or may not be illiterate)

  2. An agent may then take the crew member to a vessel in a different State - X

  3. The crew member may then join a vessel owned and operated by a company from a different State - Y

  4. The vessel may be registered and therefore regulated by a different State - Z

At the end of this process the crew member may not have been provided with any accurate information during the recruitment process regarding his or her employment contract, working conditions and rights. As the crew member’s vessel leaves port, it is easy to see how vulnerable his or her position now is.

Importantly, the new Taiwanese legislation does include certain responsibilities and obligations relating to the crewing /recruitment agent or broker (if that agent is also Taiwanese) who is a key figure in the crewing sphere of the fishing industry and who usually is not bound by legislation/regulation.

Finally, a further area of interest is the role of the port State that (as in fisheries) can have a role if and when the vessel chooses to dock at the port State. At this point, port State jurisdiction applies and working and health and safety conditions on the vessel may become regulated by the port State. This is demonstrated by the recent South African enforcement proceedings.

However, this is still not a guaranteed solution because first, a vessel may choose not to enter a coastal/port State jurisdiction remaining outside these areas for years on end with their crew using other ships to dock with it to collect caught fish and refuel/restock. Secondly, many Pacific Island States, are not be sufficiently resourced to regulate foreign owned shipping vessels on issues around labour, nor is fair to expect them to do so.

The reality is that certain richer nation States, and New Zealand is a good example, can find ways to enforce standards in their own EEZs (NZ require all foreign fishing vessels to re-flag to NZ and require the fishing vessel to dock in NZ), but even then this does not extend NZ jurisdiction to areas beyond national jurisdiction. 


As in many other aspects of fisheries and indeed in all situations that present a complex problem, there is no “silver bullet” that will solve the problem.

Only the coordinated collaboration arising from state, industry and civil society working towards a common goal can have a positive impact in this problem.

While all of the above initiatives discussed above represent steps in the right direction, more must be done in this area to achieve a full international consensus and change to improve the rights of workers on fishing vessels. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Maintaining pressure at UN body levels in relation to this issue - i.e. there is international consensus against the transportation of slaves, why not for forced labour and human rights abuses aboard fishing vessels? Is there a minor amendment that could be made to LOSC?

  • Other States should follow the Taiwan example, sign up to and implement C-188 into domestic legislation

  • Continued collaboration between flag flag, port and coastal States supported by regional organisms and CSOs

  • Continued good work at the RFMO level - to follow the leadership of the FFA and the WCPFC to make compliance with labour standards (C-188) a CMM measure - this also links with better fisheries management

  • Incorporating minimum labour conditions (MLCs) on Licence Conditions, or as in the case of the FFA members, agree to MLCs (based on C-188) to be added to the Regionally-harmonized Minimum Terms and Conditions (MTCs) for access by fishing vessels

  • Blacklisting vessels, agents and skippers/masters found to be associated with labour abuses

  • Industry voluntary adoption of minimum labour conditions consistent with at least C-188 (MLCs) as part of their verifiable standards

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but for change to happen collaboration is essential, and at an international level, forced/slave labour and human rights abuses should no longer be tolerated as part of the international law framework.

Thailand's deserved lifting of its "Yellow Card" by Francisco Blaha

I wanted to start 2019 with a good fisheries news, and even if it was on the cards for almost a month know, the news came out yesterday that DG MAERE lifted its “yellow card” card on Thailand.

PSMA for carriers in action

PSMA for carriers in action

And this is good news, not only for Thailand but for fisheries in general and for Tuna in particular. Let me explain:

Back in April 2015, I agreed that that it was a “good” yellow card, Thailand is perhaps the most complex fisheries country of the 58 ones I worked* … it it's a flag, coastal, port and processing state at once and for tuna is “the processing state”, add to that an incredible amount of private ports and thousands of processing establishments from all sizes, which make managing these fishing country as one of the most difficult ones in the world.

Add to that all the issues of eligibility around the DG SANTE side of seafood processing, plus the labour issues arising from migrant issues on and the scenario gets even more difficult

Imagine having to put ALL of the recommendations for Flag, Coastal, Port and Processing State I posted about.

Yet this is pretty much what my friend Dr. Adisorn Promthep, Director – General of the Thailand DoF and a cast of literally thousands did in less than 4 years.

And is no small feat… this is like getting an elephant trough a crystal shop… you know from the begging that there would be a lot broken stuff and really pissed off people that would like to have your head on a plate.

And here they are… they have done it!

well deserved smiles by my colleagues!

well deserved smiles by my colleagues!

I wrote about the bit of work I did with them last year, and how fast and far have they move and how positively surprised I was.

But for me the key issue to celebrate is that Thailand's DoF has shown to the world that with vision, leadership and guidance the most complex fisheries realities can be changed. And if owning the changes wasn’t good enough they have taking on board two massive international commitments on the adherence to the FAO PSMA and ILO 188.  

My biggest take from all this is that, if Thailand with all its intrinsic and unique complexities managed to work it out… then there are no real excuses for any other countries not to do the same.

I can only send my warmest regards for this long awaited, hardly fought totally deserved good news to all the colleagues and friends I worked with there… from PSM to catch accountancy, from VMS and IAS to EU eligibility, from licensing to landing controls… to all of you:  ขอแสดงความยินดี! (Congratulations!)

don’t be fooled… looks simple but there are 6 international jurisdictions in this image! Nothing is simple in Fisheries

don’t be fooled… looks simple but there are 6 international jurisdictions in this image! Nothing is simple in Fisheries

*(may be China would be more complex… but for different reasons)

An end of the year blog post about 5 years of writing this fisheries blog by Francisco Blaha

Last week was the 5th anniversary of my 1st blog post, and as you may see here, it looked very different then (even if the topic still as present as then). In fact the only reason I did that one was to see how it worked, as the Squarespace template in which I developed my website has as part of the package an image gallery and blog… hence if I’m paying of it, I better use it was my take. So here is blog about writing this blog 

If someone had told me then that 5 years later 61700 unique visitors would have 117000 page views! I would have just laughed out loud and asked for a bit of whatever they were having… but yeah those are the numbers.

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I honestly had no idea that so many people had an interest in fisheries, 24400 in 2018 alone… I'm sure it is less… I don’t know if it counts people visiting more than once as separated… in any case, I would have never thought that an abysmal writer like me would ever be a blogger (even I was presented as a blogger recently!!)

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Reality is that all this blog thing started as a way to disseminate information I think is important, also to show that while a lot of things are wrong, there is a lot of people trying to do the right thing. Finally also to express my personal view on topics from an angle that is not usually covered. I’m quite lucky to have had vessel experience and I spend lots of time on the wharves and offices of the people that are at the beginning of the fisheries value chain. I guess the fact that I don't get paid to write this or have a “paid” angle to promote, keeps me “independent”.

A few months ago a student from a well known fisheries school contacted me and told me that when with his friends they have assignments, they do a search on the topic on my blog search engine, and use it as reference source! It blew my mind!

The other massive surprise is the geographical coverage of the readership. For 2018 I just counted IPs of 182 countries and territories including Syria and Mayotte for example! Interestingly my most significant readership is in the country I work the less: the US with 25% of the readership, followed at a distance by the UK Australia and NZ all with a bit more of 5% each, and then it goes wide open with the Philippines, Spain, India, Canada, Fiji (8th biggest) all around 3 to 2%.

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So yeah wholly humbled by this, mainly because this is nothing that I planned or even tried hard, I had no idea of “new media” or anything like that when I started… and now I have been proposed for something called the Seafood Champion Awards under the advocacy category

Btw… if you feel like supporting my nomination before the 15 January, use the link above (or here) and fill the gaps with some nice words – otherwise contact me and I sent you the blurb that my nominators (who want to remain anonymous have written), they (and myself) will appreciate if you could donate some minutes to support me. Thanks

Back to the blog… I have no idea for how long I will maintain it, decidedly people read it. There are more sources of material to present than I ever could go through… B

But the best thing is the number of people that either personally or electronically have contacted me and say: Hi I’m so and so, and I read your blog and just wanted to say hello! That makes my day (and my years now!).

To all of you that read this fishy blog, a huge thank you!! I Hope you all have a good break and start 2019 in great style.

My thankfulness and respect to you all!

Management of Tuna Fisheries for Sustainable Development in the Pacific Islands by Francisco Blaha

One of the most read blog posts I have are two called Governance and Tuna Related Institutions in the Pacific part 1 and 2, that I wrote in September 2015. These posts explain the roles of the WCPFC, PNA and the roles of FFA and SPC, as well the place national fisheries administration have in these “system”. I was asked to update it a few times and also describe the Vessel Day Scheme that is run by PNA.

But such task takes time and care, with is exactly what my ex-boss in FFA Mike Batty and my friend and colleague there Viv Fernades have done. I have tons of respect for both, and Mike batty was one of the fist people that trusted me with important jobs in the region decades ago when he was in charge of the DevFISH1 project. I always been very thankful to him for that.

There is where my future is going

There is where my future is going

Viv has been with FFA only for a few years, but it has been great to get to know him and work with him, he has very unique background in environmental law and a passion for MCS, hope to keep working with him for along time

In this excellent paper “Management of Tuna Fisheries for Sustainable Development in the Pacific Islands” they explain how the cooperation by Pacific Island countries in the management of tuna fisheries is an important means of achieving sustainable development of these shared resources, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Life Below Water). The Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) tuna fishery is the largest tuna fishery in the world and two examples of arrangements based on regional cooperation are provided:

  • The purse seine Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) is a fisheries management system that is being implemented through the cooperation of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which regulates harvesting of tuna in line with SDG 14.4. The scheme also establishes rights in the shared fishery for small island developing states, increasing economic returns in support of SDG 14.7.

  • Regional cooperation in fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance is a unique collaboration between the members of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) to address illegal, unreported and unregistered (IUU) fishing in support of SDG 14.4. A range of regionally agreed systems and tools is applied.

I will quote the description of the institutional arrangements (from the intro of the paper as an update of “who does what” in the Pacific) and the discussion and conclusions. But I said every time, nothing beat the original, in particular the excellent description of the two examples with very good evaluation of their successes… this paper a compulsory read if you interested in Pacific tuna fisheries

I know the paper is paywall protected, yet with a bit of initiative and know who to ask or which websites to use you can get them for free (Personally I don’t have the budget to be subscribed to them, so I improvise and normally ask authors for the paper

Institutional Arrangements for International Cooperation in the Fishery

Tropical tuna and associated species are highly migratory, and the stocks ex-tend throughout the Pacific Islands’ EEZs and beyond. This shared nature of the fishery, the limited scientific and technical resources of the Pacific Island Countries, and the common issues faced in managing and developing their fisheries, has resulted in the establishment of a number of regional organisations to assist countries to cooperate in the management and development of the resource. The main regional organisations, in order of increasing geo-graphical extent, are the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Pacific Community (SPC), and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). An overview of each, including their roles and objectives, is provided below.

The PNA are the eight countries whose EEZ’s contain the majority of the WCPO purse seine fishing grounds: Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. Established in 1982 as a group that faced common issues in their relations with distant water fishing nations (DWFN), the PNA implement two mutually agreed arrangements. The Federated States of Micronesia Arrangement (FSM Arrangement) is intended to support the development of domestic tuna industries and provides for vessels of a member country that meet certain criteria to have access to the EEZs of all other parties on terms no less advantageous to those provided to vessels of other countries. The Palau Arrangement provides for management of the tropical tuna fishery. In the case of the purse seine fishery, this was originally managed through an agreed limit on the total number of vessels, but has since been replaced by the purse seine VDS, which is discussed below. The New Zealand Territory of Tokelau, although not a member of the PNA, is a party to the Palau Arrangement.

There are also three implementing arrangements (IA) which provide a framework for compliance that are incorporated into national legislation or licence condition. These cover minimum terms and conditions of licencing and include: a requirement to carry observers on board purse seine vessels, requirements for vessels to be on good standing on a shared register of vessels, reporting and inspection requirements (the first IA); mandatory position reporting through a satellite based vessel monitoring system (VMS),  reporting of activities port-to port (i.e. including on the high seas) and a prohibition on transhipment at sea (the second IA); as well as a prohibition on the use of Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs) for part of the year, and a ban on  the discard of tuna. Many of these requirements have also been adopted by the broader FFA membership.

FFA is an international organisation established under the FFA Convention in 1979. Its formation was directed by the leaders of the Pacific Forum, who recognised the need for a specialist agency to advise on the establishment and management of 200 nautical mile EEZs during the later stages of the negotiation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Members include all of the PNA members, as well as Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu; as well as Tokelau (the only member that is not an independent country). For the non-PNA members, their main fishery is the Southern longline fishery which mainly targets albacore. FFA provides a range of advisory services to its Pacific Island member countries on all aspects of tuna fisheries management and development, assists members develop a common position in the WCPFC and also manages the regional fisheries surveillance programme, discussed below.

SPC, formerly the Secretariat of the Pacific Community was established more than 70 years ago by the colonial powers in the region. Its membership includes the independent Pacific Island countries, the territories of France, Great Britain, New Zealand and the United States of America, as well as Australia, France, New Zealand and USA in their own right. SPC provides technical services to members in a range of areas. Its Oceanic Fisheries Programme is particularly relevant to the tuna fishery. This programme has conducted applied research and stock assessments of the regional tuna resources for many years and is the shared repository of all operational fisheries data for its members. SPC works directly with members, as well as with FFA and PNA, to meet members’ needs in the area of tuna fisheries science. It is also the scientific services provider for the WCPFC.

The WCPFC is a tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organisation  (t-RFMO) established in accordance with the United Nations Agreement for the Implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 0  December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (un Fish Stocks Agreement). It is governed under a convention, which was ratified by most members in 2004. In addition to the FFA member countries, which worked as a bloc during the negotiation of the convention and comprise one of the two voting chambers, the WCPFC membership includes Indonesia and Canada, as well as the DWFN active in the Pacific region: China, Chinese Taipei, France, European Union, Japan, Republic of Korea, Philippines and the United States of America, some of whom are also coastal States in the convention area. The extent of the WCPFC convention area mainly corresponds to FAO area 71.11 Boundaries are to the south of New Zealand in the South and enclose the EEZ of French Polynesia in the East, and while not precisely defined to the North and West, are considered to enclose part of the EEZ of Indonesia and extend up to the waters of Japan and Korea.

Thanks for your fish!

Thanks for your fish!

Discussion and Conclusions

The implementation of purse seine VDS and cooperative arrangements for MCS in the Pacific have been shown to contribute to efforts to effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (SDG 14.4) and increase the economic benefits to SIDs and Least Developed Countries in the region (14.7). The VDS has effectively capped fishing effort in what is by far the largest tuna fishery in the region, and halted some thirty years’ of growth in catches in PNA waters. None four of the main tuna stocks in the region are overfished or subject to overfishing. Since the scheme was introduced, government revenues from access fees have quadrupled, and the number of domestic fishing vessels and their share of the catch (in a fishery that has always been dominated by foreign fleets) has increased.

These cooperative approaches are tangible examples of how the Pacific Is-land countries are successfully moving towards achievement of these SDGs through progressive improvements in management of the purse seine fishery for tuna in their EEZs, and a growing ability to enforce the management regime through MCS. Regional cooperation between these small and economically vulnerable nations has been essential in achieving these gains.

The VDS has also illustrated that two goals of sustainable management and increased revenues are compatible. Just as SDG 14.6 argues for the elimination of subsidies which allow fishing to continue on depleted stocks, so the ability to charge high access fees (the opposite of a subsidy) is helping to ensure that stocks are maintained at levels which allow a profitable fishery. Indeed, it is likely that the recent decline in fishing effort recorded reflects the economic impact of high access fees. The number of purse seiners operating in PNA waters has fallen from around 275 from 2010–15 to only 259 in 2016 and 2017 as less efficient vessels have withdrawn from the fishery.

This final section aims to draw some general lessons from the experience of the Pacific Island countries with the implementation of the zone based management regime of the VDS and cooperative MCS strategies; consider to what extent it may be possible to replicate their success in other parts of the world; and review some threats and opportunities for the future.

The development of the VDS and regional cooperation in MCS has not been quick or easy. Both the PNA and the FFA have been in existence for nearly four decades, and each agreement to take a major step forward has required consultation to develop consensus, and follow-up at the national level for implementation and capacity building.

The success of the purse seine VDS reflects some unique characteristics of the WCPO fishery. The extent of the PNA EEZs and their importance as fishing grounds for the purse seine fleet gives the member countries considerable leverage and is in contrast to other oceans where much of the tuna fishing takes place on the high seas. The diversity of interests in the fishery allows for competition for the limited opportunities for access, while its economic profit-ability has allowed a large increase in fees.

In contrast, efforts by PNA members to develop a tropical longline VDS – for a fishery that is less profitable and is practiced mainly on the high seas –  have been less successful to date. Opposition by some of the major distant water fleets has seen many vessels restrict their operations to the high seas.  FFA members whose waters provide most of the catches of albacore have committed to the Tokelau arrangement, which aims to introduce zone based management to this important, albeit smaller, fishery. However, reaching agreement on a catch management scheme has proved challenging; while proposals by FFA members to introduce a target reference point in WCPFC that would lead to reduced catches and improve the profitability of the fishery have also not been accepted. Longline fisheries remain an area for further work.

The principle of zone-based rights established by the purse seine VDS – that allocation of fishing opportunities in a shared fishery should reflect the interests of the coastal States in whose waters fishing takes place – is an important one. It has found support from coastal States in the Indian Ocean, and has even been proposed as a basis for a new allocation of fishing quotas to Great Britain after Brexit. As shared tuna fisheries face growing pressure, and the need to limit catches or effort, one can expect the development of a strong view that the allocation process should not exclusively favour the distant water flag States. These fleets have already benefited from many years of access to the resource, and been responsible for the depletion of stocks to date.

Looking to the future, there would seem to be opportunities to further increase returns from the VDS. There are inefficiencies in the transferability of days between zones; and current practices of negotiating access arrangements for an entire national fleet mean that fees may be set at the level that is affordable by less efficient components of the fleet. There is also a risk that the least profitable vessels will continue to withdraw from the fishery, resulting in reduced competition for fishing opportunities. Ideally, days would be sold to individual vessels through a system such as a Dutch auction, which could match fee levels with ability to pay and ensure all days are sold efficiently.

The VDS has contributed to the growth in Pacific Island national fleets, which are taking a growing share of the purse seine catch. While the development of domestic fisheries, as opposed to  simply licensing foreign vessels, is a long-held ambition of many Pacific SIDS, there are also both threats and opportunities in these arrangements. In the best circumstances, these provide employment, economic opportunities for a range of supporting industries, and supply tuna to onshore processing plants which create jobs and exports. At worst, they may amount to little more than re-flagging to secure lower access fees, and actually reduce the contribution of the sector to gross national income. The capacity to analyse the economic benefits of such arrangements is not always present in Pacific Island administrations, where the governance arrangements around concessions for domestic vessels can also be weak.

Higher access fees, and restricted fishing opportunities in EEZs, also create incentives to avoid payment, either through fishing on the high seas or by fishing illegally. Since the introduction of the VDS, three fishing nations have negotiated increased opportunities to fish on the high seas through the WCPFC. Together with the high seas effort of Pacific Island flag vessels, there has been a steady growth in purse seine catches outside PNA waters since 2011.

While there is so far little evidence of increased illegal fishing, the validation of non fishing days is a potential area of abuse; and can be expected to result in increased pressure on fisheries observers. There is currently interest in detecting purse seine fishing activity from the VMS record, as well as the possibility of supplementing human observers with electronic monitoring through on-board video recording.

While it is believed that no other regions share the level of international cooperation on MCS seen in the Pacific, the transnational nature of much IUU fishing is driving a more coordinated international response to the problem in other parts of the world. 

There are now arrangements to share information and coordinate efforts between coastal states in West Africa and the Indian Ocean; and market based measures such as the EU IUU regulation and the EU Seafood Import Monitoring Programme may also assist in combating the problem.

While FFA members can have confidence in regional MCS systems for the tuna fishery, it is clear that the region is still a long way from the SDG goal of eliminating IUU fishing. Quantification of the relative importance of unreported catches necessitates more attention to this area, with opportunities for greatly increased use of electronic reporting and monitoring in the fishery. At the same time, the relatively low level of unlicensed fishing cannot be taken for granted, and systems to identify ‘dark targets’ using increased aerial surveillance and satellite imagery, remain a priority for FFGA.

In conclusion, while much remains to be done, the achievements of Pacific SIDS through cooperation in the management and sustainable development of their shared tuna resources gives grounds for optimism, and can perhaps provide some useful ideas for other regions.

How commercial fishing effort is managed by Francisco Blaha

Always when I meet people outside my fishy circles (or sometimes in them) the question arises around what you I do for a living. Then is slow process of explanations that I work around fisheries management issues and in particular combating IUU fishing in function of the management strategies being used. 

 Besides the “ohh wow how interesting” the next issue is… “what you mean with fisheries management?” And is true… most people have no concept on how that works or thinks that is just a set of rules and people policing them. 

For those situations, I should keep a copy of this paper named as in the title of this blog entry. Written by cast o thousand, all of them from the School of Aquatic and Fishery  Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, including my friend and FAO colleague Jessica Sanders, that is also doing her PhD there.

Table 1:  Summary of behavioural changes observed under each approach to effort management, with associated economic, ecological and community outcomes. Background shading indicates generally negative (red), mixed (yellow) or positive (green) outcomes; gradients reflect outcomes depend on other features of management

Table 1: Summary of behavioural changes observed under each approach to effort management, with associated economic, ecological and community outcomes. Background shading indicates generally negative (red), mixed (yellow) or positive (green) outcomes; gradients reflect outcomes depend on other features of management

The key thing I like of this paper is that reinforces at really high level that one “size does not fit all’, “that are many way of pealing an orange” and my favourite “every has advantages and disadvantages”… even at that really highest level of fisheries decision making as is management.

One of the last paragraphs in the discussion synthesise it perfectly: “Even among biologically effective approaches, methods differ in how they trade off harvesting at low cost and paying many fishermen, and how they distribute the benefits of fishing among industry and community stakeholders. How best to strike these balances in any fishery is ultimately not a question of science, but rather one of the politics: scientists’ role is to advise the decision- makers recognized by civil society on the most likely outcomes of alternative approaches.”

This really interesting paper provide a synthetic overview of three approaches that managers use to sustain stocks: 

  1. regulating catch and fishing mortality, 

  2. regulating effort and 

  3. regulating spatial access. 

Within each of these approaches, they describe common restrictions, how they alter incentives to change fishing behaviour, and the resultant ecological, economic and community-level outcomes.

For each approach, we present prominent case- studies that illustrate behaviour and the corresponding performance. These case- studies show that sustaining target stocks requires a hard limit on fishing mortality under most conditions, but that additional measures are required to generate economic benefits. 

Different systems for allocation allow stakeholder communities to strike a locally acceptable balance between profitability and employment.

As usual I’ll just quote here the discussion where I love the options matrix with a colour scheme (a tool I been using a lot lately), but of course nothing beats reading the original.

Historical attitudes towards fishing were that resources were avail-able for access and that over- exploitation was impossible. While this may have been true with the technology and market conditions that prevailed for much of history, advances in harvesting technology such as mechanization and refrigeration have led to widespread over- exploitation in the absence of limitations on catch. There is building evidence that science- based management methods are reducing the incidence of biological overfishing (Worm et al., 2009), and in many cases, stocks are recovering (e.g., Murphy et al., 2015). This is largely the result of moving from management systems which less effectively restrict catch, towards the centre of Figure 1 to systems that enact biologically informed regulatory practices. But even in fisheries with good biological management, harvesters often still struggle to make money and support their communities (World Bank 2017).

Table 1 facilitates direct comparisons of the observed triple bot-tom line outcomes across management approaches. The left column relates the economic outcome to the behavioural change induced by the management approach. The behavioural changes observed in the fisheries reviewed above underscore that economic success requires more than selecting a target biomass which maximizes profit often called BMEY in the bioeconomic model given a fixed industry- wide cost and market structure. Rather, effort management induces behavioural responses to the need to compete for fish, which change the economic and social structure of the industry in predictable ways, at any target biomass. With open access or harvest guidelines, summarized in the top two rows, there is no restriction on entry, and additional harvesters enter whenever there is profit to be made. As with the post- WWII New England groundfish fishery, entry drives the fishery towards bioeconomic equilibrium, unsustainable levels of effort, and low or no profits. Simply presenting scientific estimates of harvest guidelines, without regulations or enforcement to limit mortality, does not change these incentives, as efforts to manage Atlantic sailfish demonstrate. In these cases, declining stocks are un-able to support those who entered when fish were more abundant, leading to community disruption. With a well- designed spatial component (bottom row of Table 1), stock collapse can be averted, but Galapagos Marine Reserve demonstrates that the economic tragedy of the commons remains.

Limited access (third row of Table 1) and input regulations (rows four and five) attempt to control the effect of increases in effort through new entry, but fail: as in the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, limiting entry still induces incumbents to try to increase their share of the competitive harvest by capital stuffing. However, these competition- driven investments in vessels increase costs, and any biological benefit arises because the point where additional investment is no longer profitable is reached at higher biomass. Eigaard et al.’s (2014) survey concludes that the biological success of effort- based management controls is highly dependent on the ability to anticipate input substitution and changes in catchability attributable to technological change. New England groundfish’s efforts with limited access and days- at- sea demonstrate that sufficiently comprehensive controls are elusive, especially as transferability reallocated effort to those who could capital stuff more effectively, so that social and economic outcomes mirror those in unregulated fisheries.

When a hard total allowable catch is implemented (sixth row of Table 1), additional effort, through new entry or capital stuffing, does not result in additional mortality. As in British Columbia halibut, an appropriately set and enforced TAC ensures biological sustainability, even in the face of increasing capital. With a spatial component, when the scale matches the range of the target species’ life history, stock health can be improved, as in Japanese snow crab. However, harvesters must race to fish to effectively compete for a share of the catch, so they invest in more capital, engage in risky fishing practices and erode value through poor handling and flooding markets; those who refrain from the derby will lose market share to those who participate. Harvesters invest until the additional profits from more investment are less than its cost: a bioeconomic equilibrium at the TAC, with a combination of higher costs, lower revenue, increased employment volatility and reduced safety.

The competition for fish that drives overcapitalization and value- dissipating behaviour can be eliminated by determining the allocation of TAC among fishermen through IFQs or ITQs (rows eight and nine of Table 1), or through a catch share programme (row seven). Unable to increase their catch through additional effort, harvesters instead focus on maximizing profit from their fixed allocation by reducing costs and maximizing value. This shift from choosing effort to capture more, or a greater share, of the fish means the bioeconomic model, and the prediction of bioeconomic equilibrium, no longer applies. Correctly set and enforced TACs ensure biological sustainability, and the focus on maximizing profits makes the fishery economically successful. This is exemplified by the British Columbia halibut harvesters’ development of a fresh market that more than doubled the value of the product and dramatically increased profit-ability. Less intensive harvesting can affect the structure of the crew labour market, often reducing the number of short- season jobs in favour of fewer longer term, higher paying and safer jobs.

The Bering Sea crab fishery demonstrates that allowing the transfer of quota facilitates the compensated exit of high- cost operators, further enhancing fleetwide profitability. However, transferability also lets the market determine who benefits from fishing, which often leads to adverse social effects. Smaller, more isolated communities, which are often more dependent on fisheries, may have less well- capitalized harvesters and higher cost processors, leading quota to flow to other communities where operations are more profitable. Although the boat owners who are typically initially allocated quota sell voluntarily, their local crew do not have a choice in the sale decisions that erode an essential employment base within a community of people or of place. Further, the additional profits may accrue to active fishermen, as in Alaska halibut, or initial quota holders can choose to collect lease payments without fishing, as in Bering Sea crab.

Catch share programmes mitigate these adverse community outcomes by allocating quota to groups rather than individuals. Allocations to fishing groups provide incentives to coordinate on harvest effort and joint marketing as in Chignik, and catch timing and by- catch management as in the Rhode Island fluke sector. Such groups can also collaborate to manage “choke” species or by- catch species that limit the harvest of otherwise abundant species, by sharing information and establishing avoidance incentives (e.g., Holland & Jannot, 2012). Catch shares empower the community of incumbent harvesters, rather than markets, to determine allocations. Quota can be additionally allocated to non- harvester community groups, as in the Alaskan CDQ programme, to generate local fishery benefits, giving other stakeholders control over who fishes and receives fishery benefits.

These new tools allow participants to strike a locally accept-able balance between sustaining broad participation that provides high levels of social benefit, and providing high levels of economic benefits to participants. The collective experience in different management methods is that there is a trade- off, whose resolution de-pends both on the priorities of regulators and on the structure of the fisheries: social benefits accrue differently based on whether vessel owners, crew, processing owners and their workers reside in, and spend their income in, the fishing community of concern, and on where benefits are created in the supply chain (Branch et al., 2006).

Approaches that require limiting access, in particular, often engender controversy because designating a group that has the exclusive right to fish implies designating a group that does not. This is often minimized by granting access to all incumbents. However, in some fisheries, there are loosely invested people, or people who leverage access only when other resources (e.g., other fisheries or agriculture) are performing poorly. In areas with diverse employment opportunities, forcing harvesters to specialize within the portfolio of fisheries in which they have participated in the recent past in-creases their exposure to risks of biological and market variations in those fisheries (e.g., Kasperski & Holland, 2013). In poorly integrated economies, fisheries are sometimes viewed as an “employer of last resort” for coastal residents who need subsistence food or income in the event of crop failure or personal financial shocks, and limited access exchanges better outcomes for incumbent fishermen for a social safety net.

Community- based management approaches are not separately included in Figure 1, because community management refers to who has the right to regulate access and harvest, not the approaches to regulating effort analysed here. Regardless of how incentives are established, we expect a community- based management process selecting any of the effort controls discussed to observe the same outcomes. However, involving the regulated community in the management process may still improve outcomes through two mechanisms. First, involving the community in management draws on their expertise about the actual operations in the fishery, and provides managers a sense of what types of measures will meet management goals at least cost. This increases the legitimacy of management and increases compliance and effectiveness (Jentoft, Mccay, & Wilson, 1998; Kuperan & Sutinen, 1998). Second, communities may be able to work together to establish a political consensus around more effective management methods. Both the Chignik co- op and Rhode Island Fluke Sector, which achieved significant triple bottom line successes for their fisheries, were discontinued following disagreements by non-participating harvesters, reflecting the importance of community acceptance of even very effective measures. 

The economic effectiveness of catch share programmes leads to a perverse argument that selling access and harvest rights makes it more difficult for new entrants to participate in the fishery. Fishing quota and permits are valued, like all assets, as the present dis-counted value of the stream of profits to which the permit provides access. Entering open access fisheries is free, but that right also has little value because open access fisheries generate little profit. The value of a limited entry permit in a fishery where limited entry is binding is the present discounted value of the profits from fishing in that fishery. The value of an individual quota share is the present discounted value of the profits from fishing that quota. Therefore, if entry is more expensive in individual quota- based fisheries, it is because they are more profitable, which is likely to be the case given the incentives for maximizing market value and minimizing costs established by individual allocation. In fact, quota which subdivides the fishery rents into more units may make participating in ownership more accessible, as younger fishermen can slowly acquire shares, in-creasing their desirability as crew, without purchasing a critical mass of capital to have a fully independent business. Auctioning these permits or quota allows the government to capture much of the fishery’s rent, rather than harvesters; allocating permits to community leaders, rather than members of the fishing industry, allows local political processes to determine who benefits.

Over the last three decades, fisheries management has demonstrated the ability to attenuate overfishing and sustain stocks and global catches around 90 million tonnes (FAO, 2016). However, not all approaches to management lead to ecological success in all cases. Some are easily circumvented in most applications. Others may be effective for highly fecund species with a weak correlation between spawning stock size and the number of young (e.g., shrimp, forage fish), but not work with more structured stocks. Still others may sustain stocks in geographically isolated fishing communities, but not be robust to the pressures of globalization.

Even among biologically effective approaches, methods differ in how they trade off harvesting at low cost and paying many fishermen, and how they distribute the benefits of fishing among industry and community stakeholders. How best to strike these balances in any fishery is ultimately not a question of science, but rather one of the politics: scientists’ role is to advise the decision- makers recognized by civil society on the most likely outcomes of alternative approaches.

Scientists should help decision makers draw the correct lessons from data, models and past experiences. That different sustainable approaches support different suites of outcomes provide a powerful policy lever that enables policymakers to select the fishery benefits that best suit the needs and values of their stakeholder communities.

A good WCPFC 15 by Francisco Blaha

As I mention last week, most of the people I work with where in Honolulu for the 15th WCPFC meeting. And from the feedback I had was good one! Better than in other occasions.

finally, one for them at the WCPFC!

finally, one for them at the WCPFC!

Two of the issues I was quite invested were agreed:

The draft for a Minimum Labour standards resolution. I have to admit that this one surprised me! I was ambivalent, on one side I know that many of the DWFN would not be keen, but on the other side there has been a lot of media on the topic, and honestly what we asked wasn’t much! And it went trough, even if in a diluted way, as a non-binding resolution, and as a an exercise in constructive ambiguity, but is there now! And pressure can be built upon from now on all meetings. Furthermore, this is the first RFMO to take this critical step for addressing labor standards for crew on board fishing vessels. 

Which if you think, is quite incredible… A maori proverb says it clearly:
He aha te mea nui o te ao (What is the most important thing in the world?) 
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata (It is the people, it is the people, it is the people)

The other one I’m personally pleased is the revision of the present (2009) transhipment measure, which is totally inadequate (as I discussed here). This will need a lot of work since my collages in MIMRA volunteer to co chair (with the USA) the inter-sessional working group to review the current transhipment measure. And as my work in RMI has been extended, part of my work will be to deal with it.

Another big ones are:

  • The adoption of the South Pacific albacore Interim Target Reference Point, this has been long time coming, and open the doors for other species to come.

  • The extension of the provision of the Tropical Tuna Measure arrived at a compromise worked out late on the last day of the meeting.  This includes continuation of provisions for a three-month prohibition on use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) by purse seiners in exclusive economic zones and high seas areas between 20°N and 20°S from July 1-September 30, and an additional two-month prohibition on FAD use on the high seas. By consensus, these FAD closures were extended for an additional two-year period, through the end of 2020. As part of the compromise, PNA members agreed to compromise language regarding the definition of FAD sets in 2019 and agreed to work with others on this broader issue.

  • The decision to provide compulsory funds to the Special Requirements Fund, which will help boost participation of Small Island Development State representatives in the decision-making processes of the Commission. 

  • The adoption of a measure for the Compliance Monitoring Scheme. This will allow for continued monitoring and assessment of compliance by all Commission Members with the Commission's obligations.

Big part of the “success” relates to the work of the Pacific Island delegates to the meeting and FFA during the year, but also the very able leadership of outgoing Chair my friend a colleague Rhea Moss-Christian after 4 years in that complex role… she has been awesome. 

So everyone goes home and chill till January, when the fisheries routine starts again… Congratulations to all my colleagues that made all this good news possible, and enjoy your time off with family!

CDS for deep-sea fisheries in ABNJ by Francisco Blaha

Those who read this blog would know the I have a lot of respect for my friend and college Gilles Hosch, and our friendship goes back to over 20 years. The fact that we both work on CDS and MCS is based on our common views on the fisheries world we love, while coming from very different backgrounds.

Gilles’ 3rd book dives deep into the CDS hardest fisheries, just like the guys in the picture

Gilles’ 3rd book dives deep into the CDS hardest fisheries, just like the guys in the picture

What ever he writes, you know is carefully crafted and deeply researched, and therefore compulsory reading. His lates CDS book Catch documentation schemes for deep-sea fisheries in the ABNJ - Their value, and options for implementation tackles the hardest fisheries from a CDS design angle abut also from a fisherman perspective. (as someone that fished Toothfish and Orange Roughy, I can give attest that!).

Back in 2016, he wrote the definitive volume on tuna CDS, and why some in the fisheries world may not agree with the scope and extent of what he proposes, but one must know that any Tuna CDS below the standards he sets in his book will be, literally, a substandard CDS.

In 2017 we co-authored what could have been the 1st CDS book, since from the start it was evident to us that while we all discuss the CDS details, we forget that the success of a CDS is at it roots, on a minimal set of support mechanisms that correlate MCS and traceability at each type of State (flag, coastal, port, processing and end market), along the fish product value chain

He now put its name to the 3rd book on the series, Catch documentation schemes for deep-sea fisheries in the ABNJ - Their value, and options for implementation. A book I was honoured to be a reviewer.

This new book discusses the potential value of catch documentation schemes (CDS) in deep-sea fisheries (DSF), and the implementation modalities that have to be envisaged, to ensure the effectiveness of this trade-based tool to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The paper argues that CDS are indeed capable of directly addressing a number of IUU fishing practices known to occur in DSF, and that their adoption would improve compliance with fisheries management requirements.  

Key infringements that may be directly detected and addressed through a CDS include – but are not limited to – violations of closed areas harbouring protected vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) in the deep ocean, and quota overfishing. 

The paper also establishes the notion that partial coverage of given species through a CDS at the level of individual RFMOs is incongruous from a trade monitoring and control perspective, and that CDS should be considered as either/or propositions with regard to species coverage.

With most DSF species having broad distributions straddling many RFMOs, the implementation modality that avails itself as the most suitable option, enabling the operation of an effective CDS, is that of a centrally operated electronic CDS platform – called a super-CDS – shared by a plurality of institutional and state players.

As before, Gilles Hosch dives deep and does not leave stones unturned. You’ll be ill-advised to work on CDS without reading this book. And while eyebrows may be raised at the concept of a “super CDS”… just think that every time you take money from any ATM in any place in the world, you are using a system and a set of technologies that don’t go too far on its principles from a “worldwide CDS” but for money.

Chapter 1 introduces deep-sea fisheries  and catch documentation schemes . While deep-sea fisheries have been the object of a series of UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions, catch documentation schemes find their origin in voluntary instruments such as the 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the 2001 International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA-IUU) – and most recently in the Voluntary Guidelines for Catch Documentation Schemes adopted by the FAO Conference in Rome in July 2017. The paper establishes whether a catch documentation scheme (CDS) would be useful when applied to deep-sea fisheries (DSF), and it what form (i.e. under which “implementation modality”) execution should occur.

Chapter 2 provides an overview of the 2008 FAO International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas and their thrust, followed by an overview of deep-sea fish, associated ecosystems, and their fisheries. 

Chapter 3 introduces catch documentation schemes, starting with a summary of what schemes are currently in existence. The recent (2017) FAO Voluntary Guidelines for CDS are introduced, and their purpose and content is discussed in detail. The paper then delves into an assessment of the benefits and limitations of unilateral and multilateral schemes, setting the stage for the discussion of multilateral CDS approaches in DSF, and as applied within the context of DSF management rules. The latter part of the assessment highlights which management measures a CDS is able to implement directly or in combination with other for monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) tools, establishing their value as a tool to combat IUU fishing in DSF. The latter part of chapter 3 introduces harmonised CDS, and presents the rationale for such harmonisation. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is briefly described, presenting its certification scheme, and its use of a single platform and set of rules to cater for the trade certification of thousands of different species of animals and plants – including fish – under a single scheme. The notion of the global “super-CDS” – the logical end-point of harmonisation and acceptance-of-equivalence efforts – arises from this discussion.

Chapter 4 illustrates how DSF management frameworks are sensitive or conducive to CDS implementation, what typical IUU profiles are found in DSF, and what the capacity of regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) is in terms of developing and operating stand-alone (or “RFMO-specific”) CDS. The standing and consideration of CDS systems in RFMO performance reviews is assessed, in order to gain an understanding in how far the adoption of such systems by regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) covering DSF has been considered in the past, and what arguments have been advanced in favour of, or against such systems.

Chapter 5 deals with the  trade in DSF, as trade conditions the relevance and the success of a trade-based tool to a very large degree. The paper establishes that the current Harmonized System (HS) classification of goods does not allow to confidently identify consignments of deep-sea species in trade documentation – with the exception of toothfish – and that a deeper analysis of DSF product trade flows in the absence of CDS data and/or enabling HS classification is very difficult. The role of customs and border inspection agencies is introduced, and CDS and their related paperwork – and the potential multiplication of individual schemes that could occur – is assessed in relation to those agencies. It is argued that a potential multiplication of schemes covering only modest amounts of total global fisheries product trade is unsustainable and likely to face implementation challenges at this critical level.

Chapter 6 lists key findings regarding the value and options for CDS implementation. The overall conclusion, arguing that the individual CDS in DSF (based on the classic RFMO-specific implementation modality) is both unsustainable and likely to fail. It highlights the benefits of a multilateral global “super-CDS”, catering for the needs of many species (throughout their global distribution ranges), a plurality of RFMOs and many states – based on a single platform provided by a central service provider. The chapter closes by suggesting a way forward to exploring and bringing about such a modality.

The 15th Regular Session of the WCPFC by Francisco Blaha

While I start another of our great NZ cycling rides with my family as our holidays, many in my “fisheries family” are all in Honolulu where the 15th WCPFC session starts tomorrow. Is the biggest thing ins Pacific fisheries… ridiculous amount of people, money and work gets put into this marathon meeting.

He is never going to be at WCPFC meeting, yet the people there is deciding on his life and future

He is never going to be at WCPFC meeting, yet the people there is deciding on his life and future

In a totally unfair table coastal states (mostly developing countries) sit in the table with massively rich and subsidising countries and suppose to find “consensus” on measures that are mostly the interest of the coastal states (is their fish and life) against the wishes and desires of the DWFN. 

I been invited by my host in RMI to be part of their delegation… but I had enough with TCC this year. While the politics, backroom deals and pure hypocrisy of many delegates can be very interesting, it totally frustrates me. Furthermore 5 days in a room does take a toll on me. I know is part of my job and future, but as a consultant I’m out of the picture there. The meeting is for the countries and the regional organisations.  

One thing that has kept me alive in the consulting business is being totally honest about my limitations... and those jobs hits me right in on the two biggest: meetings and writing.

I do well with reading, strategies, training, getting into the guts of boats, finding out the tricks vessels masters do (I used to do them too), sitting with the App programmers and then doing beta testing, and quite a few more things... but I suck at writing big documents and at dealing with people that bulshit in meetings, (i.e. TW, CN saying that their Longline fleets would be economically collapsed if they were agree to ban on at sea transhipments… yea right! I could have jumped on their desks and said “how dare you!!!”)

I see these guys (mostly DWFN long term bureaucrats!) making massive decisions that stop advancements and condemn fishers and coastal countries to be the “working poor” and they never been on fishing boats, they have no idea of what is to work like a mule to earn in year what they spend in hotels coming to this meetings, while they are thinking they know everything about fisheries… really pisses me off! 

I guess my diplomatic skills have a way to go before i feel i can be usefull in these meetings.

Anyway… The agenda shows you the variety of topics to be dealt with: but some of the ones I’m more keen to see passing (yet I know is low chance dire to that hypocrisy I talked before are:

Strengthen management of at-sea transshipment for longline vessels to address non-compliance with existing WCPFC measures. FFA Members' long-term objective regarding transhipment regulation has been to facilitate all transhipments in the Convention Area occurring in port. This is consistent with Article 29{1) of the WCPF Convention which provides that 'the members of the Commission shall encourage their vessels, to the extent practicable, to conduct transhipment in port'. However, the current levels and regulation of high seas transhipment activity are inconsistent both with Article 29(1) and the objective of the WCPF Convention. Furthermore the DWFN transhipping on the high seas have not provided evidence regarding their efforts to encourage their vessels to tranship in port. 

The review of Transhipment measure is long overdue. The measure was negotiated a decade ago and, more importantly, there have been notable deficiencies in its implementation and ability to sufficiently regulate transhipment activity in accordance with the WCPF Convention.

The other one I’m personally interested (since I had a bit to do with this proposal) is the FFA proposal for a Resolution on Labour Standards for Crew on Fishing Vessels. This another one that has been long overdue.

This is the 1st time that a labour proposal is tabled in RFMO (which is incredible). And while I know that this is as my friend Transform said: “an exercise in constructive ambiguity, and the problem with getting a measure like this through is to make it ambiguous so you are seen to be doing something when you are not really doing anything”. I like to think that at least is on the table and obliges people to talk about it and hopefully identify who will be opposed and then let public opinion work on that! I’m encouraged that is on the table (and is more and more on the big decision taking bodies) and then with time it can be adjusted... otherwise is the status quo... which is obviously not working.

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 The other areas of key need for the region that need to be dealt for ensure long-term sustainability are:

  • Accelerate the development of harvest strategies of all tuna species

  • Avoid increasing bigeye and yellowfin fishing mortality

  • Strengthen FAD management by adopting mandatory use of non-entangling designs, complete reporting of FAD tracking data, science-based limits on FAD deployments

  • Reform the WCPFC compliance assessment process

  • Increase longline observer coverage to 20% and ultimately 100% (human/electronic) consistent with the requirements for the purse seine fishery.

I can only wish lots of strength to my friends at WCPFC meeting in Honolulu to keep the good fight, and to suggest the delegates to look into the eyes of the fisherman in the picture and spare a thought for the ones like him, that will never go to any WCPFC meeting (or any fisheries meeting really) yet their life depends more than almost anyone else, on the decisions being taken there.

Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them by Francisco Blaha

Getting to the end of a long year does not always help concerning mood and willingness to travel. Yet going to a place that you love, have friends and have seen grow immensely over the years does always help. So when I was asked by FFA to come to Noro in the Solomons to assess the systems and controls we put in place during 2016-17, I jumped to the opportunity.

the newest ideas may start by next to a open fire kettle

the newest ideas may start by next to a open fire kettle

I said many times that Noro is what fisheries should be in the Pacific, locally caught, processed and exported. I have been coming here since 1998 and the only canned tuna I eat comes from there. They have the only MSC certification I wholeheartedly agree with, and they are going towards “Fair Trade” certification as well. In between NFD (the fishing company) and Soltuna they employ over 2500 people of which less than 15 are expats.

A lot of this uniqueness in compliance and sustainability drive comes to the attitude of the Wickham family that had been a the steering of the company since the beginning and the positive support of Trimarine their capital and distribution partner. The Wickham family has treated my family and me as part of the extended family so coming over feels like visiting family.

And this feeling is enhanced as I was again a guest of my friend and colleague Dr Transform Aqorau… I say again because I stayed at his house in Majuro, while he was the head of PNA. (if you think you know about tuna fisheries and don’t know who Transform is, you don't know tuna fiheries).

After leaving PNA he took on a series of other wide-ranging commitments that are all based on a common goal we share… innovation.

Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.” And we have been trying to work out problems in fisheries with the similar mindset that created them. Yes, I agree, the arsenal of tools and technology has expanded… but the core seems to be the same. We need to open the field and thing differently.

And that is the reason I like having long conversations and sparring of ideas with Transform, but even more so when on his ancestral family land in Rakutu. Sitting on the outdoor kitchen, with an open fire and having some kava, we discussed changes and ways to deal with the present set of problems but under a traditional and culturally respectful approach.

Francis Hezel, in his seminal book “Making sense of Micronesia” (2013) said: “Changes may have to be made, as they must in any culture, but we outsiders should at least understand some of the broader contexts of Island culture before we begin leading the charge for change according to our own formulas”

And this for me always has been a hint that we are trying to fix problems with the same mindset that created them. We need to try different approaches… the solutions from aircon meeting rooms haven’t entirely worked… so why not try ideas coined by the open fire next heating water in a black kettle?

I was 12 by the time I first lived in a place with electricity. Living without it and under shared spaces in “not foreign” to me, so while this life may be “new” (by being old) to most of my colleagues from “developed” countries, it totally felt like home to me; hence I’m very thankful to Transform for his hospitality.

The irony of sorts is that while in his open kitchen we discuss a lot a joint project we have that is called eNoro. The objective of this project is to pilot test the digital integration of all port MCS related activities in the port of Noro, Solomon Islands. The data to be integrated will include the requirements of the WCPFC PSM CMM, unloading monitoring, factory “weight in” and processed product volumes exiting Noro. The system is to ‘mass balance” inputs and outputs and be ready for an eCDS. The system would be using tablet-based Apps under the present capabilities of PNA FIMS, SPC and FFA platforms


Hence we are using a high tech yet totally holistic approach while enjoying traditional life… also, we are keen on exploring incentive-based compliance and way to change the present model of selling fishing rights towards owing fish all the way to the product end.

He is (and has been) an innovator, but what I have respected the most is that while being the head of PNA, he decided to spend time on a purse seiner as to understand fishing from its roots, I yet have to know any other manager at his level to have done that.

If it were only for that, he would already have my full respect!

A further trait we share is that you can still appreciate and like someone, even if to disagree profoundly with some of his ideas… and this is also something I’m always keen to stress.

In any case, this was a short but beneficial mission that had a huge human element to it, something a fully appreciates. So thank you Transform, Cynthia and Edmond, Dave and the extended families of each of you for again making me feel at home while trying to do my job the best I can!

Framing social responsibility in fisheries by Francisco Blaha

It has been quite busy lately, full last week of my yearly visits to Majuro and preparing a workplan full of new challenges and gear for our port operations there, followed up by over 22 hrs flight (each way) to Namibia to do a workshop on the minimal MCS elements for even start talking about a CDS and the ways to overcome the shortcomings of the EU Catch Certification Scheme by building up your domestic systems at home.

good luck my friend

good luck my friend

Yet I’m slowly diving into my “new” contract for FAO as a Senior Expert in Social Guidance and Fishery Value Chain. Is strange to be invited to work on a topic outside my usual specialities, that is the reason I was so doubtful… I can imagine how shitty must feel to people that has been working on this for a long time, and then some ex fisherman / become consultant that work on IUU on tuna and writes a blog, get to be responsible to make position paper for FAO. 

I guess the reason is because people at FAO know me and trust me, and as far as I know they asked around and most people was happy to see me involved, I can only assume that is based on a realistic and unbiased view of my sector.

I think that when people are in my present position, you have two choices: either I surround yourself with people that are less knowledgeable than me so I look smart, or I look for people that really know their stuff, then you listen, learn and make sure that the doors to the decision makers I have access too (from all these years in fishing) remain open, and perhaps a bit of “these guys are with me” when getting looked down by part of the sector that may resist change. 

The 1st option has been always a no, so the 2nd one was the way to go. Hence I contacted Katrina Nakamura, whom I have known now for a few years and recently published a brilliant paper I blogged here, if she was keen to work with me on this, and I’m really happy she accepted.

Since getting on the job, I been reading a lot and trough Katrina and Jack Kittinger (whom I also recently meet) and I was quite taken by this little one sent to Science “Committing to socially responsible seafood”, was written by by a cast of thousands and I only so far I got to a few of them (besides Katrina and jack) I know Aurora Alifano and Mariah Boyle from fishwise and Jonathan Peacey from NZ that used to be with Conservation International at the time.

 In any case, they developed a comprehensive framework for social responsibility, responding to a need for alignment around a shared, transdisciplinary approach, informed by a strong scientific basis to support policy and practice. 

I quote parts below, yet read the original

 Policy instruments such as the International Labour Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Small-Scale Fisheries, and the UN’s guiding principles on business and human rights are already being used by governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations as the basis for action on specific issues, such as human rights and labor. Our framework unites a diverse set of social issues that have heretofore been fragmented and is informed by social science research on human rights, natural resource management, and international development.

Our framework is also informed by practical experience from organisations and experts that work in the seafood sector and is supported by a strong legal and policy basis for implementation, as indicated by review of international law, policy, and guidance (table S1).

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Over the past several decades, the scientific community has invested sizeable effort in determining key elements for environmental sustainability in fisheries standards. A similar effort is now needed for social responsibility, yet comparatively little research effort has been invested in the social dimensions of seafood sustainability. 

As a result, the seafood sector has largely been in a reactive stance, responding to visible issues associated with slavery and human rights. Although these egregious violations must be eliminated, social responsibility encompasses far more, and a narrow focus overlooks other pervasive issues that have real-world impacts on billions of people.

 The framework comprises three components:

  • (i) protecting human rights and dignity and respecting access to resources,

  • (ii) ensuring equality and equitable opportunities to benefit, and

  • (iii) improving food and livelihood security.

Protecting human rights requires that fundamental human rights are respected, labor rights are protected, and decent working conditions and safety standards are provided, particularly for at-risk groups. Human rights violations range in severity from the most egregious, such as slavery, to less acute but pervasive practices such as abrogation of wages, poor working conditions, and restrictions on freedoms. Violation of these rights in the seafood industry has been observed in both developing and developed economies. 

A largely overlooked, but critical, aspect of human rights is rights to resources, including traditional tenure and access rights. These social, economic, and cultural rights are central to many indigenous management systems and are especially relevant in small- scale and customary fisheries that supply most of the catch for direct human consumption but where regulatory institutions to protect fishers’ interests are generally lacking. 

Ensuring that seafood is equitably produced requires that benefits derived from its production accrue to all participants in the supply chain (e.g., fishers, processors, and distributors), not just those with not just those with financial or political power. 

Ensuring equality requires that workers receive appropriate recognition, voice, and engagement, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, nationality, culture, or socioeconomic status. Marginalized groups, such as women, are often discounted in terms of their role, knowledge, or influence in fisheries, and the high prevalence of migrant labor in the seafood industry can create conditions ripe for discrimination. Failure to recognise issues of equity and social justice can result in misguided policies, often with consequences for small- scale producers, minorities, or women.

Improving food and livelihood securityrequires that ocean-dependent communities, some of the most vulnerable people in the world, do not suffer from the global seafood trade. In coastal fisheries in Africa, for example, extraction by foreign fleets is reducing the availability of fish, the main source of animal protein, affecting both nutritional and income security. Such practices place vulnerable populations at risk and run counter to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Businesses are obligated under international policy to ensure that their practices do not undermine food and livelihood security, including providing fair access to markets and preserving capabilities for workers to generate income in the face of social and environmental change. Businesses can do more than mitigate their impact and should seek to improve livelihood conditions where they operate and ensure food security where seafood is a critical component of diets .

This framework can aid in global alignment among governments, businesses, civil society and nonprofit organizations, driving integration of social responsibility into policy, practice, and ultimately performance in the sector. Here, we identify opportunities for the scientific community to support this transition by providing relevant knowledge to inform actionable approaches toward social outcomes.

First, ocean science must evolve, incorporating a stronger focus on social dimensions and their linkages to environmental issues. Social science is embedded in sustainability science, but key social science concepts such as agency, inequality, and social justice are missing from many sustainability efforts, and social science research capacity in the sector is woefully inadequate. 

Environmental challenges -including habitat destruction, overfishing, and resource collapse- threaten the viability of livelihoods and food security and create conditions for discrimination  and subversion of human rights. Social and environmental issues often overlap in the same geographies, such as Southeast Asia, a hotspot of overfishing and labor issues. In these areas, slavery and forced labor depress the true cost of extraction, which distorts the market and promotes overexploitation. 

The research community can play a timely and important role in assessing the linkages between environmental sustainability and social issues, bringing necessary expertise together to inform responses by businesses, government, nonprofits, and communities. The UN SDGs explicitly recognise the link between ecosystem health and human well- being, but more integrated approaches need to be developed to address these issues in the fisheries and aquaculture sector.

Second, the scientific community has a major role to play in research, monitoring, and analysis of the seafood sector, including developing rigorous, objective approaches to evaluate performance. Evidence-based assessments are needed to understand the scale of social abuses and the efficacy of approaches, particularly as governments begin to translate existing international laws, policies, and guidance (table S1) into domestic laws, regional initiatives, and regulations to improve industry practices. Social science provides a strong foundation for these approaches, and existing performance indicators and tools need to be adapted to meet this challenge. 

The research community can also integrate social responsibility indicators into globally accepted performance standards for sustainable seafood by ratings and certification schemes, reducing the prevalence of social abuses and risks for businesses. Continued development of research approaches, tools, and technologies will be critical, particularly to ensure transparency and accountability, to reduce risk and secure market incentives for businesses, and to produce credible information while considering the sensitivity and risk associated with researching these issues.

Third, the research community must be responsive to real-world needs. The current level of commitment to integrating the priorities of stakeholders and decision-makers into research is inadequate. This requires more than simply training and hiring more social scientists in the sector, it requires a shift in 

  • the way social and environmental research is conceptualised and conducted together with stakeholders, 

  • the expertise prioritised in the development of research capacity and initiatives, and 

  • the level  of resources directed toward these issues. 

This requires prioritising the coproduction of knowledge with the scientific community engaged together with stakeholders in a participatory approach to develop re- search initiatives that have a clear pathway for implementation in practice. The ocean science community can benefit from experience in other production sectors -including agriculture, forestry, energy, and mining- that have addressed similar challenges by investing in shared strategies, a strong multidisciplinary evidence base, and collaborative institutional arrangements and global research networks.

By 2030, the oceans will need to supply 152 to 188 million metric tons of seafood to nourish a growing population. Fulfilling this demand in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner will require increased investment from public and private sources, so that the level of resources and expertise committed is commensurate with the scale of these challenges. Across the sector, organisations that work on environmental sustainability issues will need to work more closely with socially focused organisations, as these issues are intrinsically linked and require joint investments. 

The global conversation about social issues presents an opportunity for the seafood sector to take steps to ensure that a healthy ocean will support human well-being, now and into the future.

Back to Namibia (after two decades) by Francisco Blaha

When I was working in Mozambique with my family in 2002 when I left someone told me “you can leave Africa, but Africa does not leaves you” and while for me that rings a bigger bell with the Pacific (instead of Africa). I have to admit that I was quite happy when I was asked to come to Namibia, even if it was to run a workshop on an area that I become a reluctant specialist… the EU Catch Certification Scheme.

The cold and grey Atlantic… where my fishing life started

The cold and grey Atlantic… where my fishing life started

It is organised by SADC, WWF and my friends at Stop Illegal Fishing, so is good to work with people one likes.

I have a couple of rules in my job, one is to do at least two jobs outside the pacific every year and the other is to go to new places, and even if I was in Namibia in 97 during a Orange Roughie foray with a NZ fishing company and is a beautiful country. It must look very different after 21 years and I already did work in Asia and the US this year… besides I also miss the cold and grey Atlantic (as you see in the picture) which is my first ocean love. Also one of my favourite songs ever is called Namibia.

Yet Swakopmund where I’ll be working is a rather strange city since has a lot of German colonial architecture. It was founded in 1892 as the main harbour for German South West Africa, and a small part of its population is still German-speaking today, and the local supermarkets are full of germat type food

Interestingly is a capacity development workshop on the EU IUU Regulation in the South West Indian Ocean but done by the Atlantic… there you go with development logics…

Is a 21 hrs flight from Waiheke, but it just feels right to do some work here and meet new people that may get some benefit from my work based on these two documents (MCS for CDS and EU Market Access) I wrote in the last couple of years.

Vessels Agents and Port State Measures by Francisco Blaha

As I commented here, port agents have a busy life in some ports in the Pacific. They are the nexus in between the land and most of the necessities of the fishing vessel and the fish, from engine parts to certificates for the fish, from helicopter fuel to the observer accommodation while waiting for the vessel.

Business is always good for the agent

Business is always good for the agent

But critically, they are the ones that let authorities know the vessel is coming to port and often provided all of the information required to the fisheries administration, should any be required at all.

These processes and a lack of real time reporting during the trip provide opportunities for vessels to hide offending. Ideally the vessel should request entry via e-reporting tool. This would give the fisheries administration key advantages as it would oblige the vessels to use e-reporting tools of their choice, provided it was compatible with the administrations system, otherwise they cannot notify their arrival and request entry to port as required by Ports State Measures and subsequently they would not be able to unload.

If vessels were to request port entry via an App, inspectors in port would be able to use this time for advance notification to interrogate the logsheets in advance of arrival. They could analyse volumes, positions, days of unusual fishing and this would allow verification and the development of intelligence through the use of other tools such as VMS, AIS and e-observer (if they have it).

The "advance notice for port entry element in the Apps" has been talked about, but for now, as a whole, most regions in the world depends on the agents, and very little information is captured on these Agents, on the whole, especially for a group that are so influential in the movement and vessels and product.

Despite there being little knowledge held on these agents, there is currently no past or future study in the Pacific that has assessed and considered agents as a unique and vital player in the industry.

Value to PSM

In principle there is no role assigned to agents in law. However in practice they are the nexus in between the arriving vessel and the fisheries administrations and therefore vital for PSM and CDS. Yet a more fundamental issue is whether some of the services provided by agents are in fact needed for PSM?  The role of agents has become so valuable partly because of the deficiencies of national fishing authorities port management structures. 

Should the national authorities be able to organise and communicate with vessel themselves? Why is it that agents are used to transmit and sometimes collect data from fishing vessels? 

If the argument for the use of agents is based on the view that working with opaque and bureaucratic governments is too complicated and time-consuming for the industry, the answer lies in improving government services, not in establishing a lucrative business sector for well-connected, but ultimately unaccountable intermediaries.

Ideal Structures to Close the Gaps Around Vessel Agents

Operationally, this gives us two options: either their formalisation or the removal of the use of vessel agents for as a reporting intermediary.


There should also be a public registry of agents, a minimum amount of information to be provided and responsibilities to be assumed under an established way to communicate with the fisheries administrations. Port entry should be requested via the Web Portal/IMS of the port state, with the same data fields than the App plus all the compliance elements (i.e. licenses, volumes on board, etc) but the vessels agent would impute the data and upload the required information

No involvement

For this concept to work on a e-based system, it should be a port entry function (yet to be built) on the ER Apps for licenced vessels (foreign and domestic) to request port entry to the central fisheries authority of the port state and from then to the identified port of entry. 

As vessels using the App are licensed, hence port access (as requested by WCPFC CMM PSM) is granted, by the simple fact that they are using the tool and reporting catch.

Under the present ER App all important details from PSM are covered (i.e. VMS, local and regional licence, volumes on board, port of last call, etc.), so the vessel request is sent to the intended port of call for the vessel screening and authorization (or denial) of port use, including the need of full or targeted arrival inspections. This information could also be shared with the port authority, other line agencies and notify coastal and flag States as appropriate.

In the case of vessels not using ER (such as some longliners) and carriers, port entry should be requested via the Web Portal/IMS of the port state, with the same data fields as the previously discussed application plus all the required compliance elements (i.e. licenses, volumes on board, etc). In these cases the vessels agent would be required to input the data and upload the required information on behalf of the vessel. If the vessel is on an IUU list port entry will be denied and enforcement and other State agencies advised.

For vessels that have been approved entry, the screening of the vessels would take place incorporating all available data streams and a decision is made on the requirement for more detailed vessel inspection, or not, prior authorising port use. 

For the region

As noted earlier, very little information is captured on Vessel Agents, on the whole, across the Pacific and especially for a group that are so influential in the movement and vessels and product. In some situations, MCS staff from fisheries administrations are dependent on vessel agents for facilitating access (both literally in terms of getting to the vessel and operationally in terms of timings) to vessels for inspection, thereby removing the independence and autonomy of the administration and their regulation of the industry.

Agents across the region vary in their backgrounds and associations with the vessels, some are independent, others relate to the traders, some to vessel operators or business conglomerates on shore. Most agents are foreign nationals and not Pacific Islanders, but this is not the rule.

In some cases, agents are actually quite close and familiar to the fisheries administrators, since they interact with them on a constant basis. Yet they can be quite opaque in their accessibility, even if they have fundamental information that can be of benefit for the authorities and fisheries economists.

Currently in the Pacific these vessel agents fill a need, but it is a self-perpetuating need and more work needs to be done to formalise the role through licensing, or remove these agents from the vessel reporting requirements that are so pivotal to CDS and PSM. 

And as I said many times, this is an area I love to investigate… so feel free to contact me if it is something you keen to research and have funds available.

Disclaimer: This text is a small part of a bigger job I did with my colleague Damian Johnson