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Getting one step closer to sustainable tuna fishing

Did you know that 2 May 2017 is the first internationally recognized World Tuna Day? This is because in December 2016 the United Nations General Assembly voted to officially observe the Day.

The move underlines the importance of conservation management to ensure that we have systems in place to prevent tuna stocks from crashing.

In Pacific islands tuna is a primary source of revenue for governments and a key part of food security for island populations.

“Tuna” refers to some 16 different species, including Atlantic bluefin, Pacific bluefin, southern bluefin, bigeye, yellowfin, albacore and skipjack.

They are remarkable fish.

Tuna can jump high out of the water; they travel in huge schools; they are warm-blooded. They can live in the chilly waters off Newfoundland, as well as the warm tropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea, where they return to spawn every year. They have been known to team up with dolphins for protection from sharks.

Despite the amazing qualities of tuna, the fish are threatened by an overwhelming demand for their meat, mostly in the form of canned tuna and sushi.

In the Pacific region, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) have been campaigning to have the Day recognized globally since 2011.

PNA members are the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. Their combined exclusive economic zones control 25 per cent of the world’s supply of tuna.

The initial focus of the Agreement was on purse seine vessels but they have since put in place arrangements to cover long line fishing vessels.

A purse seine is a large wall of netting deployed around an entire school of fish. The seine has floats along the top line with a lead line threaded through rings along the bottom. Once a school of fish is located, a skiff encircles the school with the net.

Longline fishing is a commercial fishing technique. It uses a long line, called the main line, with baited hooks attached at intervals on branch lines.  Hundreds or even thousands of baited hooks can hang from a single line.

PNA innovations

The biggest innovation of the PNA is the Purse Seine Vessel Day Scheme, a unique scheme to sell a limited number of fishing days. This has advanced its sustainable management of tuna but has also doubled revenue to PNA countries. In 2015 PNA agreed an "Arrangement for the Long Line Vessel Day Scheme." 

PNA has also improved monitoring, reporting and enforcement by putting in place a regional fishing register, and a vessel monitoring system that tracks fishing vessels 24/7. It established a code of practice for fishing that is now applicable across all 14 Pacific island countries (not only the 8 PNA countries).

Measures benefiting sustainable tuna fishing

The PNA has:

  • Put in place measures to facilitate management in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction by decreeing fishing vessels will no longer be allowed to fish in high seas pockets as a condition of their licenses (latitude 10 degrees North and 20 degrees South).
  • Banned for set time periods Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs), which are used to attract tuna, often resulting in the capture of juvenile fish by purse seine fishing vessels. It continuously raises issues about the high numbers of FADs, and also a new generation of FADs that are used along with sonar to target large congregations of tuna.
  • Introduced catch retention to stop purse seine fishing vessels dumping lower value tuna overboard.
  • Promoted setting up of value added initiatives in Pacific island countries to enhance revenue, such as canning of non-export grade tuna (now kept because of the catch retention requirement) for domestic use.  

Growth in sustainably caught tuna

As a result of the above measures, the tonnage of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified sustainably-caught skipjack tuna dramatically increased from 6,896 to 59,586 in just one year. PNA forecasts that in 2017 there will be over 100,000 tons of skipjack caught without the use of FADs. The MSC and PNA Pacific sustainability label means this tuna will be sold at a higher price.

“I am a big admirer of the PNA. What it has done and what it continues to do is a great example for sustainable development and making market forces work to the islanders’ advantage,” says Sefanaia Nawadra, head of UN Environment’s Pacific Office. 

This year, PNA is encouraging more industry, government and non-governmental organization partners to get involved and use the Day to promote their engagement with tuna fishing.

The PNA will also announce the winners of the World Tuna Day Art and Talent Quest on World Tuna Day. With double the number of entries from last year, the Quest is becoming an important cultural event to highlight stories about Pacific Tuna in the wild, Tuna and local cultures and lifestyles, Pacific ways of fishing for Tuna, and Islanders working together to conserve and manage tuna. 

For further information, please contact Sefanaia Nawadra: Sefanaia.Nawadra [at] unep.org

Media enquiries: unepnewsdesk [at] unep.org

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