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Rapid Expansion Of Small Tuna Longliners Overlooked By RFMO’s

In the Mid-West Pacific Ocean, where 60% of the world’s skipjack tuna stocks are harvested it is now clear that use of small and mid-size long-liners has increased dramatically in recent years. Small and mid-size long-liners (50-150tons) equipped with super-refrigerated storage capacity, targeting albacore, are increasingly prevalent. 

If the Island nations that form the nucleus of this fishery do not take action to reduce the pressure on the resource, stocks of bigeye and yellowfin tuna, the mainstay of the Japanese sashimi trade, will be severely damaged.

At the OPRT seminar on February 10 Jiro Suzuki - the Pelagic Fish Section Chief of the National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries -announced the results of a recent study. The tuna fishing industry is rapidly escalating in strength, with the increasing fish-catching ability of small to mid-size long-liners leading the growth. Considering this fish-harvesting potential Mr. Suzuki stressed the need to look closely at how the existing regulations are working, and to strengthen them to protect the fishery.

The backdrop for this change is the combination of the smaller, cheaper fishing vessel and refrigerated shipping containers.  This combination has become an internationally competitive new business model with a worrying effect on the operation of Japanese fishing vessels. 

The impetus for this study was a declaration the OPRT received last year from the PITIA (Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association) of the following points;

-In the South Pacific the catch of albacore and the number of fishing vessels has increased dramatically.

-The use of refrigerated containers maintaining -60°C and small long-line vessels equipped with super-refrigerated storage capacity is a prominent trend.

-Depletion of bigeye and yellowfin tuna resources, taken as by-catch is of very serious concern.

On receipt of this declaration the OPRTs Professor Suzuki instigated an urgent study by consulting experts in the various RFMOs.

The results of Professor Suzuki’s investigation announced at the OPRT Seminar are as follows;

- Statistics provided by the worlds RFMOs are utterly inadequate, with the one exception being the IOTC.  According to their figures there are 1500 vessels under 24 meters and 600 vessels over 24 meters. Referring to Japanese foreign trade estimations of unloading statistics from Chinese, Taiwanese, Micronesian and other countries’ vessels – small fishing vessels are on the increase, and albacore are being landed in increasing numbers.

-Small long-line vessels (50-150ton class) equipped with on-board super-refrigeration capacity  are being built in the shipyards of Taiwan and Fiji.

-At the fishing ports in the area traditional refrigerated carriers are increasingly being replaced by super-refrigerated containers.  Such containers are versatile and well suited to handling and delivering small consignments.

-With operating costs of refrigerated containers becoming increasingly economical and the increasing fish catching ability of small long-liners; these vessels are now operating throughout the WCPFC area. Increasing pressure on bigeye and yellowfin tuna resources is also very worrying with these species, taken as by-catch, representing 8-10% of the total catch of these vessels.

-It is necessary that fishing industry committee members understand the operations of different types of fishing vessels. In the past the small long-liner has been regarded as a minor player and largely ignored, however it is now clear that they have developed fish catching abilities equivalent to large vessels. Measures are required to prevent over-fishing and Mr. Suzuki appealed to the Japanese government to show initiative in this area.

After Professor Suzuki’s presentation, members of the audience voiced their concern over the worsening economics of operating large long-liners, compared to the competing smaller vessels, in combination with refrigerated containers. Increasing oil costs serve to exacerbate this problem, according to many in the audience.