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Sudden Increase In Mini-Longliners Triples Pacific Albacore Catches

OPTR (Organization for the Promotion of Responsible Tuna Fisheries) held its fourth yearly seminar in Akasaka, Tokyo, on the 10th of this month.
M.  Jiro Suzuki, the Pelagic Fish Section Chief of the National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries led the seminar with a speech about the mid-west Pacific tuna fishing industry. He discussed the sudden increase in long-liners and their effect on resources. Mr. Suzuki is especially concerned about the overfishing of albacore in these waters.
The Pacific Islands Tuna Fishing Association – PITIA, has also made announcements stating its grave concerns over the effects of overfishing on stocks of big-eye tuna and yellowfin tuna in addition to the depleting albacore resource.
In Japan in recent years albacore has been regarded as a relatively plentiful sushi ingredient and has sold well in supermarkets. The quantity of this fish imported into the country has risen sharply – in 2010 frozen albacore imports totalled 23,207tons compared to 8487tons the preceding year. With big-eye and yellowfin stocks declining, albacore has increasingly been filling the gap. Experts have been investigating the effects of this sudden increase on the mid-west Pacific fish resources.
In the South Pacific especially, the albacore catch is on the rise. Estimating such a resource is an approximation, however the CPUE is declining.  Mr. Suzuki believes that the current management of the WCPFC is over-estimating the resource.
In addition, Mr. Suzuki pointed out the lack of data on vessel numbers by size. The only reliable source of data – the IOTC - indicates that in recent years, vessels under 24 meters have increased greatly in number. They now outnumber the larger fishing vessels and the trend is increasing.
One circumstance which helps to explain this trend is the popularity of the modern refrigerated container which can be loaded onto a container vessel and transported like any other container. At -60°C  these ‘super containers’ can deliver big-eye and Bluefin tuna of the highest sashimi quality. Another class of refrigerated container – the ‘magnum container’ maintains a temperature of -35°C. These are used for lower grade sashimi product such as albacore. 
The refrigerated carriers used in the past are still in use, however, at their height where there were 70 now there are only 20 vessels. Refrigerated containers are a comparable cost to refrigerated carriers, however they hold many advantages.  They are manoeuvrable and versatile and are perfect for handling and delivering smaller quantities of product.  The use of such refrigerated containers is a perfect fit for smaller long-line vessels and helps to explain their growth.
Returning to the South Pacific fishing situation, Mr. Suzuki noted that many nations are now involved in fishing in this region. In the Solomon Islands albacore industry, there was an increase to 8000tons in 2010 after Taiwan entered the industry there and the Taiwanese are now in the process of building 50-60 vessels according to unconfirmed reports.
Small long-line vessels have been rapidly increasing their catching ability in recent years, and are substantially cheaper to build. Such a vessel can be built for around  90,000,000Yen compared to 650,000,000Yen for a large vessel built in Japan, without fishing gear.
According to Mr. Suzuki it is of vital importance to strengthen the data gathering abilities of RFMO.  Rapid action is required to regulate the industry in order to protect the resource from over-fishing by small long-liners. Mr. Suzuki believes that Japan should take the initiative in this area.