A study has found that simply closing off areas of ocean to try to protect bigeye does not work.
Rather a fish modelling study has found that zoning, combined with other measures would be a more effective way to try to protect bigeye populations.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Mike Batty, director, Fisheries Division, Secretariat of Pacific Communities
BATTY: This study looked particularly at the impact of closing certain high seas pockets to fishing, and this has been a good move for a number of reasons. It's increased licensing revenues in the neighbouring Pacific Island countries, and it's been important in cutting down what was suspect was misreporting and possibly illegal fishing by vessels that were operating mainly in the high seas.
COUTTS: So what does this do?
BATTY: Well what it hasn't done is unfortunately it hasn't tackled the key problem of bigeye tuna over-fishing. And the reason for this is, is of course that the bigeye themselves move around a lot and the fishing fleets haven't stopped fishing, they've simply moved their efforts into neighbouring exclusive economic zones.
COUTTS: So what needs to be done now to look after the bigeye?
BATTY: Well the study looked at two measures in particular, one is reducing the purse seine fishing around fish aggregation devices, and there's already a partial closure in place and there are opportunities probably to expand that closure, because this fishing catches a lot of small under-sized bigeye tuna. And the second part of the fishery, which is hitting the bigeye tuna, is the long-line fishery, this is often targetting bigeye tuna which are a valuable species, and there's really a need for reduced fishing effort in that fishery as well.
COUTTS: Well the distant water fishing nations who are basically the purse seiners, what response do you think they'll give to this attitude now, and they're not likely to give it up easily?
BATTY: Well it's difficult yes and of course fishing around fish aggregation devices is more efficient in many ways. Although we have found that catching a lot of small fish, which tends to happen around the FADs, is not as economic as sometimes the larger fish that can be caught in free school sets. So there are benefits and losses through that management measure. But it is difficult as you say to get people to accept any reductions in fishing effort and efficient fishing methods like FADs.
COUTTS: And why didn't closing off areas work?
BATTY: Well mainly because the fishing boats simply went and fished somewhere else, and this is often a problem with marine protection areas, you can protect a small area but unless you can reduce the fishing effort on the total stock then the impacts in terms of conserving the resource are likely to be fairly limited.
COUTTS: Well you're advocating then to open up the areas but just take out the purse seiners?
BATTY: No we're not advocating opening up the high seas areas necessarily. As I say I think it's been a good measure for the Pacific Islands in terms of generating licensing revenue and in terms of reducing the risk of illegal fishing. But we need additional measures to tackle the problem with bigeye.
COUTTS: Have too many licenses been issued?
BATTY: This is a good question. I think the growth in fishing capacity is something that's a big concern and this is obviously came about because there are more boats fishing than there used to be. And I think one other method of tackling the problem would be to look at limiting fishing capacity.
COUTTS: Well sometimes these studies take a while to be absorbed and taken up, but in the meantime what needs to be done in the immediate future for the bigeye?
BATTY: Well there'll be a meeting of the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission next month and we're optimistic that new measures will be put in place at that meeting to improve the conservation of bigeye tuna.
COUTTS: And how under threat are they?
BATTY: Well the indication is that we really need a reduction in fishing effort of about 30 per cent in order to get this stock back up to a level at which you could get the maximum yield. We have to remember also that just getting the maximum yield is not necessarily the best economic option. It may well be that the fishery would be more profitable if we could get stocks up to higher levels.
COUTTS: And do you think that the Pacific as a whole who are now starting to reap the benefits of fishing from the licenses and the catches will be on board with this?
BATTY: I think that everybody sees that in the long term we can't pursue a development of a fishery which is not sustainable. We're looking at something which even in the case of the bigeye stock we're looking at something which will take years to rebuild because of the over-fishing that's occurred, and we don't want to see the rest of the fishery go the same way.