The Oceanic Fisheries Program at the Secretartiat of the Pacific Community prepared the assessment for a meeting of the scientific committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which begins in Busan, South Korea, tomorrow. (TUES 7th Aug)
The Commission brings the powerful distant water fishing nations together with the Pacific Islands to decide on conservation measures.
The assessment of striped marlin stocks is the first for 6 years.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Dr John Hampton, Manager, Oceanic Fisheries Program, Secretariat of the Pacific Community
HAMPTON: The stock does appear to be fairly heavily exploited at close to what we would consider maximum sustainable levels so management authorities need to be careful about the overall levels of longline effort and catches of striped marlin. So the advice hasn't really changed. It is close to being fully exploited.
GARRETT: How much of decline has there been in numbers of striped marlin compared with the pre-fishing effort?
HAMPTON: Well, this assessment suggests that we are down to about 40 per cent of pre-exploitation levels of population and that obviously means 60 per cent of the stock has been removed, as it were, mainly by commercial fishing activities.
GARRETT: There has been a large decline in the marlin catch in some of the Japanese longline fleet. Is that a sign of better conservation or are there simply less fish out there to be caught?
HAMPTON: I think it is more the latter. As the fish stocks themselves decline obviously the catch declines as well. In the case of striped marlin, it is really a by-catch and not something that is generally targeted. It is caught in some areas more than others and it is caught mainly in the very surface layers of the deep ocean. So changes in fishing practices, in terms of targeting and so on, can also impact catches of these different species.
GARRETT: When it comes to tuna, most of the focus has been on the tropical tuna such as bigeye and yellowfin. You've just completed an assessment of south Pacific albacore stocks. Where do they stand compared to pre-fishing effort?
HAMPTON: Albacore is a very important species for the Pacific Islands, particularly those in in the South Pacific - the likes of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and others. Albacore has a long history of fishing in the region and we are now down to about 50 per cent of the pre-exploitation spawning stock, so more moderate impacts of fishing for that species.
GARRETT: you say that the albacore tuna is at or approaching fully-fished. What needs to be done to prevent it tipping over into over-fished?
HAMPTON: Well, I think the Commission needs to consider adopting specific limits. At this point in time we don't have specific limits for albacore. There is an existing measure that is fairly loose. It limits the number of vessels fishing for South Pacific albacore but it doesn't make more specific limits on catches, and specifically the amount of effort in different places. So I think there is a lot of tightening up that could be done by the Commission, in terms of regulating the fisheries that are targeting South Pacific
GARRETT: Up until now the South Pacific countries that own much of these fish stocks have not been as organised as the tropical countries that are party to the Nauru Agreement. What do the South Pacific countries need to do to make sure the management measures get up at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission?
HAMPTON: Well, the South Pacific countries collaborate and co-operate very strongly amongst themselves, primarily through the Forum Fisheries Agency, and they develop common positions with respect to management, taking into account their interests and, of course, conservation interests on these stocks as well, because without that they really have nothing. At an industry level, as well, the south Pacific countries are becoming much more involved. It is not just a matter of them licensing foreign fleets to come and fish for these species anymore. There are substantial numbers of locally-based vessels in the likes of Fiji and Vanuatu and others. And the industries are getting more organised and they are quite aware of the need to conserve, not only for the biological reasons which underlies this all, but for their own economic survival. In the case of albacore, that is probably the thing that is going to suffer first, is the economic viability of the industry before any biological concerns arise.
GARRETT: What action would you like to see the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission take on the South Pacific striped marlin?
HAMPTON: Well, as I said, striped marlin is a by-catch. It is one of many species that are taken in longline so it has to be managed really in the context of the overall longline fishery in the South Pacific. We are seeing continual upward movement in terms of fishing effort, by longliners in the region so I think the Commission needs to consider limiting the growth of that fishing effort certainly, not only for striped marlin management but for other target species as well.