Bali, Indonesia 30 November 2015: Use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) in Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) waters will come under closer scrutiny at this year's Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting as figures show FAD closures have not reduced the bigeye tuna catch as intended.
PNA members have discussed the fact that whilst closures have been applied in their waters as part of WCPFC conservation management measures, nations like the Phillipines and Indonesia have continued to keep their fishing grounds open to FAD fishing, leading to overfishing of bigeye tuna.
PNA Chief Executive Officer Dr Transform Aqorau said the number of FAD sets has declined in the area where the FAD closure is being applied and purse seine effort within PNA efforts had decreased under the Vessel Day Scheme as a result of increased demand for fishing days. But, despite this, there has been no decline in the overall catch of bigeye in the purse seine fishery.
"I think what concerns us most is the fact that the purse seine effort in the high seas has increased and we have seen the bigeye catch triple despite the FAD closure. The FAD closure is not being applied in some EEZs, the catch of bigeye in sets reported as free school sets has remained at higher levels since the FAD closure was introduced, and there is scope for improving some aspects of the FAD closure.”
The PNA is proposing a hard limit on high seas purse seine effort at the 2010 level, compatible with the limits being applied in PNA EEZs.
"We also propose a pre-dawn set ban during the FAD closure to reduce the risks of sets being made on FAD associated schools, the application of the FAD closure to cover deployment and servicing of FADs by tender vessels and other support vessels, carriage of observers by support vessels, and a requirement for all observers on purse seiners to be independent observers sourced from other countries," said Dr Aqorau.
He said within some of the FAD-reliant nations of the PNA bigeye tuna would be managed by FAD charging as a means of replacing FAD closures.
"The PNA proposal on longline fishing on the high seas is also expected to target a reduction of fishing of bigeye tuna as we have known for the last two years that the species is now overfished," he said.
Dr. Aqorau pointed out that the WCPFC needs to step up to fix the gaps in bigeye tuna management on the high seas.
Tuna catches in the eight PNA 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs) have remained stable over the past five years, while catches on the high seas have increased dramatically over the same period for lack of control, he said.
“Effort in the high seas has more than doubled in 2015,” Dr. Aqorau said.
The anticipated large increases in bigeye catch on the high seas during 2015 “can be expected to substantially damage the WCPFC’s bigeye conservation efforts,” Dr. Aqorau said.
While a significant portion of the growth in fishing effort in the high seas is from vessels flagged in PNA nations, this is because of an exemption given to small island developing states (SIDS).
“PNA members have repeatedly requested the Commission to exercise proper management of purse seining on the high seas by setting a hard limit for purse seine effort that would apply without a SIDS exemption,” he said.
“The Commission has failed to respond and PNA has had no choice but to allow their fleets to have equitable access to the high seas, which is still at a much lower level per vessel than some other fleets.”
On its own initiative, PNA is launching tracking and charging for the use of FADs from January 1, 2016 in PNA zones.
“This is a PNA response to the need for alternative measures for bigeye management because of the failure of the Commission to adopt effective measures and the failure of the Commission to address the disproportionate burden transferred to many small island developing states by the current bigeye conservation measures in non-compliance with the WCPFC convention,” Dr. Aqorau said.
NOTE TO EDITORS: The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) are eight Pacific Island countries that control the world’s largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery supplying 50 percent of the world’s skipjack tuna (a popular tuna for canned products). They are Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.
PNA has been a champion for marine conservation and management, taking unilateral action to conserve overfished bigeye tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, including closures of high seas pockets, seasonal bans on use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD), satellite tracking of boats, in port transshipment, 100 percent observer coverage of purse seiners, closed areas for conservation, mesh size regulations, tuna catch retention requirements, hard limits on fishing effort, prohibitions against targeting whale sharks, shark action plans, and other conservation measures to protect the marine ecosystem.