The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), for which Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) provides secretariat services, calls for 5% observer coverage on board longliners operating in the region.
However, lack of space on board smaller vessels, logistics and costs have limited human observer coverage to around 2%. Third party data are, therefore, lacking on longline target catch, non-target catch and overall operations.
These data are necessary to improve our scientific understanding of these fisheries, strengthen management tools, and promote better enforcement of existing national and regional conservation measures.
The use of modern technology to supplement the role of human observers offers real opportunities to overcome these challenges in tuna longline fisheries, making this an important and pioneering effort.
This highly collaborative project was developed and launched by Tri Marine, National Fisheries Developments (NFD), Yi Man Fishery Company, Satlink, the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), SPC, and Solomon Islands Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR).
Tri Marine and NFD are contributing to project management, and installation, maintenance and cost of the electronics. FFA, via the EU-funded DevFish 2 project, shares the equipment costs and plays a major role in overall coordination.
Satlink provides and partially covers the cost of the electronics, while also designating staff to installation, data monitoring and review. The Yi Man Fishery Company volunteered two vessels, allocating valuable time to facilitate installation, and providing vessel space and resources to accommodate the equipment and human observers.
MFMR has provided human observers to overlap with the electronics, while SPC assigned a field coordinator to assist with observer placement, data review, and project evaluation and reporting.
This multi-stakeholder effort will assess whether or not video cameras, electronic storage, and vessel monitoring systems (VMS), combined with at-port inspections, can generate information sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the WCPFC Regional Observer Programme minimum data fields.
Imagery collected will be reviewed after each vessel trip by MFMR, with FFA and Satlink involvement, using customised reviewer software. Human observers will also be on board, conducting regular observer duties, with results to be compared against those collected electronically.
The project is being done with two vessels for two fishing trips, which may last anywhere from six to ten weeks each, for a total of four trips.
Early results will be presented at the WCPFC Scientific Committee meeting in August, 2014, followed by a full report summarising the findings, including cost-benefit analysis and recommendations for further development and implementation.
Although the project is unique and innovative in its application to distant water tuna longliners in this part of the Pacific, it does fall within the broader framework of WCPFC electronic technologies development.
E-reporting to digitise and streamline data recording by vessel and fisheries department staff has been tested with NFD purse-seiners and is being expanded to other fleets.
E-monitoring, or EM, is already applied under VMS requirements, and is now being broadened to incorporate video systems like the one being tested with this project. This week, WCPFC is advancing these complementary efforts by hosting an E-Monitoring and E-Reporting Workshop at FFA headquarters in Honiara from 31 March to 1 April 2014.
The objective is to gain member input into promoting E-technology and developing a related proposal for the next Technical Compliance Committee Meeting.
An overview of the design and launch of this project will be presented at the workshop and, it is hoped, result in feedback to be applied to the upcoming second trips of the vessels.
Although tuna resources face growing pressure, collaborative efforts like this one between industry and fisheries managers provide tangible results that can guide improvements.
Modern fishing technology is often blamed for negative impacts on the marine environment, but strategic application of new innovations can also contribute to improved science, and the monitoring, control and surveillance needed for a more sustainable future.