Excess fishing of bigeye tuna still prevails in the Western Central Pacific Ocean

The Wester n and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission strengthened the restrictive management measures for FADs operation by purse seine fisheries for next year by simply extending the closure period one month. Apparently, it did not follow the scientific recommendation to rectify the situation. Moreover, the most effective measures to stop excess fishing was not discussed at all in the meeting, according to observer who participated the meeting. Neither freezing nor reducing fishing capacity of large scale purse seine fishing vessels was put on the table of the discussion.

What is the meaning of the recommendation adopted in the joint meeting of tuna regional fisheries management organizations last July? Is it just a propaganda without any follow-up? Where have gone responsible advanced countries which supported the recommendation? Now, we only hope the multi-year recover y plan of bigeye tuna be established next year as declared and implemented, before it becomes too late.


Oct.10th is the Day for Tunas
“Oct.10th is the Day for Tunas.” This was established by Japan’s Tuna Industry in 1986 based on the old poem in Manyoshu (A Collection of Myriad Leave, the oldest existing anthology of poetry) compiled in Nara-era (A.D.710 to 794) in order to promote domestic consumption of sashimi grade tunas. The Day was buried because of the restructuring of the industry.

The industry is currently working on the revival of the Day in light of the fact that the fish demands are decreasing in Japan over all kinds of seafood including tunas.
When we look into the current excessive catch of major tuna species, I believe that it has a significant meaning to position “the Day for Tunas” from the global perspective as the day to promote cooperation among international society to ensure the sustainable use of the resource. How do you think about it?


Catch Quota of Eastern Pacific Bluefin

At the annual meeting of IATTC held at the end of Jun. in the U.S.A., the catch quota of Bluefin tuna in the Eastern Pacific Ocean was set for the first time.  The quota totals 10,000 tons over the 2 years, for 2012 and 2013.

At the annual meeting in 2011, the management measures for Bluefin tuna were not decided because Mexico opposed against the joint proposal submitted by Japan, the U.S.A., Canada etc.  However, the catch quota seemed to be adopted without any conflicts of interests at this annual meeting.  It is uncertain why Mexico changed her attitude, but I was impressed by how IATTC could manage to set the catch quota.  The catch quota, if it is once set, possibly leads into the declining trend gradually unless the stock condition shows recovery.  It is natural for fishermen to believe that they eventually face the strict regulation and they want to avoid such management measures.

Bluefin tuna harvest in IATTC water recently remains at the level of 4,000 tons annually while the harvest had reached to 7,800 tons in 2010 and down to 3,200 tons in 2011.  Thus, this catch quota does not cause any actual pain for fishermen.  In addition, most of the harvest is used for the farming business in Mexico which aims mainly to export the products to Japanese market.  This new quota is unlikely to reduce the supply to Japan.  Moreover, this regulation does not force to re-arrange the production or distribution.  However, this catch quota has a significant meaning as I noted below.

First of all, it has brought about the establishment of the conservation management systems for all waters which Pacific Bluefin Tuna migrates.  Pacific Bluefin tuna is a highly migratory resource which widely migrates from the east to the west in the North Pacific.  Thus, IATTC which manages tunas in eastern Pacific and WCPFC managing western Pacific need to cooperate and work together in order to manage Pacific Bluefin effectively.  Over highly migratory species, it is not effective to manage the resource only in the limited area.  The management measures need to cover the entire migratory area.

In 2009, WCPFC adopted measures to ensure that fishing effort of Bluefin tuna in western Pacific shall not be increased from the level of 2002-2004 based on the advice from International Scientific Committee.  In addition, it adopted the measures to reduce the catch of immature fish from the level of 2002-2004, as well as expressed the need to promote cooperation with the IATTC over the resource management of Pacific Bluefin tuna.  As IATTC set the catch quota this time, I expect that it stimulates the cooperation with WCPFC and establishes sufficient conservation measures for Pacific Bluefin Tuna.

In 2010, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was likely to adopt a proposal to designate the Atlantic Bluefin tunas as an endangered species and to ban the international trade completely.  On the background, there were strong doubts from resource conservation groups against the management ability of regional fisheries management organizations.

IATTC failed to settle the management measures of Bigeye and Yellowfin tunas a few years ago, but this time, quota setting for Bluefin tuna could be said to show the improvement of its ability to manage the resources.   Especially in the past, catch  quota was set after the resource level was fallen to the endangered level, but this time, the quota was set well in advance.  This approach would lead to restraint excessive increase of fishing capacity with no limitation.

On the other hand, what I am concerned is declining capability of WCPFC to manage the resource.  The revision of conservation management measure for Bigeye and Yellowfin tunas was shelved due to unsettled discussion at the last annual meeting.  In addition, it failed to restrain the increasing number of larger scale purse-seiners, drawing the abnormal situation.  WCPFC might need to settle this issue at the annual meeting to be held in Dec. this year.  It would be not such easy to overcome essential problems of WCPFC such as the conflicts between island nations in the South Pacific  and distant water fishing nations. However, if these issues are not settled, there is no doubt that all relevant parties including industries eventually find out themselves in pain. (This article is a translation from Minato Fisheries Daily in Japan.)


Good old days when bluefin tuna abundantly captured by beach seine net

I have seen a picture depicting giant bluefin tuna caught by beach seine net flooded all over the beach. The picture was drawn in the medieval period in Cadiz, a famous historic town located close to the Strait of Gibraltar. Almost identical pictures can be seen in Japan. The pictures were actual photographs taken before the World War II in the beach of Sanin region in the western part of Japan facing Sea of Japan. In addition, I have heard of anecdotal story that southern bluefin tuna once captured by beach seine net.  There could be two kinds of interpretation about this picture, one is that there used to be a plenty of bluefin but now this kind of fishing is impossible due to depleted stock level, the other is that this kind of fishing became impossible due to avoidance of bluefin coming to close to the beach because of hazardous noise, lights, degradation of general beach condition created by human being. I tend to agree the second interpretation because it is a well known fact that bluefin repeats a big fluctuation of stock size caused by natural environmental changes. Beach set net targeting bluefin tuna may return someday.


Repeated question - Is Atlantic bluefin at the brink of extinction?

 My answer to this question frequently asked is “No”.  This seems to be supported by the recent information that the bluefin tuna is now full to the brim in the Mediterranean and East Atlantic, just one year after the dispute in CITES . You will recall the species was about to be designated as an endangered species for extinction at CITES COP 15 in 2010. The present situation also remind me of the ambiguity of the definition of “extinction” by CITES and IUCN. Let us wait and see what kind of result will be provided this September by scientists who update stock assessment of the Atlantic bluefin based on scientific analysis not by emotion.


Countermeasure to Confine PS Fleet Increase

The world tunas catch is 4.4 million tons, of which 2.9 million tons or 65% were caught by purse-seiners according to the statistic as of 2009. Since 1980's, the catch has been rapidly increasing till now as the purse-seine fleets are becoming larger and their fishing efficiency has been improved. Unlimited increase of the purse-seiners' catch and by-catch of juvenile tunas would cause harm to sustainability of other tuna fisheries unless some immediate measures should be implemented. This concern is rapidly intensifying among the inter national community.
On Jun. 8th, International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) released the measures as the resolution aimed to address excess fishing by the global large-scale tuna purse seine fleets. According to the release, there is a clear necessity to reduce excessive number of tuna purse seiners which cause negative impact over tuna resources, but the first step is to prevent additional new vessels from being introduced into the already over-crowded tuna fisheries. In details, by Jan. 1st 2013, all processors, traders, importers, transporters and others involved in the seafood industry must refrain from transactions in skipjack, bigeye, and yellowfin tunas caught by large scale purse seiners that are not actively fishing for tuna December 31, 2012. This is not applicable for newly constructed vessels as replacement of older existing vessels and for those vessels under contract for construction.
The main members of ISSF are from the U.S. canned tuna industry, thus this boycott measure would have effects if they actually take action. The fishing industry would not be able to survive if they lose the market. This boycott has high potentials to prevent additional new large purse-seiners. In fact, Japan has already proved the efficacy of this boycott measure.
A total of 250 flag of convenience (FOC) large scale tuna long-liners, who operated fishery free of obligation from international resource management, were driven to withdraw because of the international embargo of FOC tunas which was supported by the Tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs). Tunas caught by FOC fleets had been concentrated into Japanese market, but the product was shut out when the measures to prohibit the international transaction of such tunas were strictly conducted. As a result, the FOC tuna long-liners were eliminated.
There have been some calls for preventing increase of large scale purse-seiners, but no one could actually stop the increase of the number. We expect that the measures ISSF resolved have their actual efficiency, if implemented globally. However, since there are markets for canned tunas worldwide such as the U.S.A., Europe, Central and South America, and so on, it would be not easy to elicit cooperation for the boycott measure from all relevant parties in the world who supply canned tunas.
We are afraid that the effect would end up less effectively if the boycott was activated only in a specific market. As for the FOC tunas, only Japan should have strong attitude because Japanese Sashimi market was the de facto only market in the world for them. From this perspective, to promote global boycott for the canned tuna should encounter many difficulties beyond any imagination.
In addition, developing countries possibly introduce large scale purse-seiners as their tuna fisheries develop. The development of tuna fisheries in those countries is respected as a legitimate right, and therefore it would be not easy to take boycott action by denying their development. The idea has been discussing to allow the developing countries to increase the purse-seine vessels by reducing number of large scale purse-seine vessels owned by the developed countries. However, no international agreement has been concluded yet in order to carry the idea into effect. Without the international agreement, it seems difficult to stop increase of new large-scale purse seine fleet in the developing countries.
There are many difficulties of the task ahead in order to make the ISSF's resolution effective not as being just propaganda. We hope it continues its efforts for the greater cause, sustainable tuna fisheries in the world. (This article is a translation from the Minato, fisheries daily in Japan.)