Record Pacific tuna catch prompts calls for more protection | Pacific Beat

Record Pacific tuna catch prompts calls for more protection

Record Pacific tuna catch prompts calls for more protection

Updated 14 August 2013, 19:08 AEST

Latest figures show the Pacific's tuna catch in 2012 was the biggest on record, with the numbers of at least one species being described by scientists as dire.

The Pacific is the world's healthiest tuna fishery but there are concerns that it too may be acting too slowly in response to growing industrial fishing.

Scientists from the 24 nations that are members of the body tasked with managing the stocks have been meeting in the Federated States of Micronesia.

Presenter:Jemima Garrett

Speakers: Greenpeace's, Dr Cat Dorey, Dr Shelton Harley, Principal Fisheries Scientist, Secretariat of the Pacific Community

GARRETT: A report by scientists from the Secretariat of the Pacific community, the region's leading stock assessment authority, says more than 2.6 million tonnes of tuna were caught in the central and western Pacific in 2012.

That is 59% of the global catch and 12,000 tonnes ahead of the previous record set in 2009.

Dr Shelton Harley, the reports author, says 2012 was also a record year for industrial purse seine fishing which landed more than 1.8 million tonnes most of it skipjack tuna.

HARLEY: The strong increase in purse seining in the region is being driven by very high prices for skipjack. Five or six years ago they were getting less than $500 a tonne for skipjack and now the price is up around $2000 a tonne. And some of the profits that these vessels are making are very high. So purse seining is a very lucrative business to be in in the moment and that is probably driving the increase in vessels in the region.

GARRETT: Until now skipjack numbers have been of least concern to scientists but Dr Harley says a 4 month hiccough in the catch in 2011 has given them pause for thought, especially with the technological arms race being deployed by the distant water fishing fleets.

HARLEY: There are some reports of quite big increases in the use of technology by some of these vessels. They all have helicopters and sonars and various things to help them increase their ability to find schools so there is certainly a concern that these fleets may becoming more effective.

GARRETT: The Central and Western Pacific Commission is the body tasked with managing the fish stocks. It brings the powerful distant water fishing nations together with Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands to decide on conservation measures.

At its next meeting in the north Queensland city of Cairns it will have a lot on its plate.

Bigeye and yellow fin tuna - species already of concern to scientists - also recorded record catches in 2012.

Yellow fin was up 25% and bigeye 6%.

Greenpeace's, Dr Cat Dorey says more must be done to protect them

DOREY: We've already seen over at least the last 8 years that bigeye has been declining and if we don't get this under control it will reach a level where it will struggle to maintain the population.

GARRETT: So what action would you like to see from the Tuna Commission meeting in December in Cairns?

DOREY: We will certainly be calling for much stronger cuts to fishing across all fleets targeting these species, particularly the purse seine fleet which uses fish aggregating devices because these are the ones that catch the high numbers of juvenile tuna.

GARRETT: Dr Shelton Harley says the tuna species of most concern is the Pacific Blue Fin.

It is facing even worse pressure on its juvenile stocks.

HARLEY: That assessment says there is only 4 per cent of spawning biomass of Pacific Bluefin remaining. So it is a very dire situation and, in fact, the Japanese delegation reported to this meeting that they were seeing some quite disturbing trends in the fishery in 2012. So for the commission meeting in December this year we would certainly hope to see some strong action on Pacific Bluefin.

GARRETT: So when you say strong action what do you mean exactly?

HARLEY: Well, one of the key features of the Pacific Bluefin fishery is the large catch of very small bluefin, fish that are in their first or second year of age, or years of life. So one of the key things that is going to need to happen is some measures put in place to reduce the fishing impact on these smallest fish.

Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.