Majuro, Marshall Islands: As the Pacific’s dominant fisheries bloc gears for its annual policy meeting in Kiribati later this month, the over-riding theme for the 10-day gathering is “how to enhance control of the fishery,” said the group’s chief executive officer.
In recent months, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) has seen its management system for the multi-billion dollar tuna fishery in the western and central Pacific criticized by some governments and industry. This has focused on the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS), an “effort” control system that has stabilized fish catches in the zones of the eight PNA members, while increasing revenue for the islands from US$60 million in 2010 to an estimated US$400 million last year.
While the New Zealand government is currently funding a study on fisheries management for the region and has promoted switching from an “effort” to a “quota” management system for the huge and multi-species PNA fishery, a detailed new study on the VDS by an independent New Zealand fisheries consulting firm will be a key part of the PNA discussions in Kiribati.
“The purse seine VDS is a very successful fisheries management regime by any real world standard,” concluded the report commissioned by the PNA Office in Majuro. The report adds: “There is no clear benefit from changing the VDS from a day scheme to a catch scheme now or in the near future.”
The eight PNA members control waters where half the global supply of skipjack tuna is caught, and also significant tonnage of yellowfin and bigeye tuna.
PNA CEO Dr. Transform Aqorau said the new report on the VDS, to be tabled in Kiribati, is helpful in light of last year’s decision by Pacific leaders urging a move from an effort to catch-based management system. “If island leaders want to move to a catch-based system, then they need to understand the implications and do so carefully,” said Dr. Aqorau. “The VDS is a package of integrated systems that include a fishery information management system, on-board observers, tracking of fish aggregating devices (FADs), the Marine Stewardship Council certification (of free school caught skipjack and yellowfin), and other measures. Dismantling it will have huge consequences.”
Significantly, too, PNA has extended the VDS to the longline industry beginning last year as part of its effort to control and sustainably manage fishing activity in its zones.
The newly-issued report by Toroa Strategy Limited of New Zealand goes into detail on the key issues of the VDS effort system and compares it to quota system management.
Another important report that will be presented in Kiribati to PNA officials concerns “effort creep” in the fishery. Prepared by the Pacific Community, this analysis will “help us understand where in the fishery it is happening,” said Dr. Aqorau. But, he added, effort creep — a term that refers to increasingly sophisticated fishing technology, bigger boats and so on — is “not necessarily bad. We want vessels to be efficient and profitable and to get rid of the inefficient boats.”
These reports on the VDS and effort issues will underpin PNA members discussion of the “total allowed effort” for the entire PNA fishing area, as well as the allocation of VDS days for the individual members, which is known as the “parties allowed effort.” The PAE — which provides each of the eight member nations with a certain number of fishing days to sell for the year — is the basis for how they earn revenue through the VDS.
PNA’s fishery management is moving to develop harvest control rules governing stocks. These include setting “limit reference points” in order to maintain tuna stocks at sustainable levels and “target reference points,” which are a guide for triggering measures to ensure the size of the tuna stock is not reduced. The meetings in Kiribati will review draft harvest control rules. The aim, said Dr. Aqorau, is to present these harvest rules to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission for review and adoption at its annual meeting in December.
Because of the WCPFC’s inability to adopt measures promoted by PNA and other countries to enforce greater control of high seas fishing, Dr. Aqorau said PNA intends to focus greater attention on national management programs of its members and PNA sub-regional arrangements.
The annual meeting in Kiribati, which starts March 28 and runs through April 8, is focused on maintaining sustainability of PNA’s fishery management system and expanding island control of the fishery, said Dr. Aqorau.