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Massive Rush Of Chinese Longliners Hit Pacific Albacore Fisheries Pacific Islands Nations, August 17, 12

The Pacific Islands tuna industry says fishing pressure on the vital Southern Albacore tuna is much more severe than scientific data suggests.

The Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association, which has members in 14 Pacific countries, says a rush of new Chinese boats has made it impossible for local fishermen to join the industry.

The Association estimates that in the last 2 years between 200 and 250 new Chinese vessels have arrived in the fishery.

PITIA Chairman, Charles Hufflett, told Jemima Garrett the subsidies the Chinese pay their fleet are having a damaging effect.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Charles Hufflett, chairman, Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association

Hufflett: In the last couple of years we have seen a rapid rise in the number of mainland Chinese and some Taiwanese vessels fishing in the Southern Albacore fishery. There are now about 590 vessels actually fishing in this fishery.

Garrett: You say that the Chinese fleets get big fuel subsidies that make it impossible for the Pacific Industry to compete with them. What sort of subsidies are they receiving?

What happens it that the Chinese vessels, any cost of fuel above USD 700 a ton is subsidized. The current cost of diesel fuel is about US$1200 a ton at the moment so they get a subsidy of USD 500 a ton.

How much impact is the large number of new vessels having on the fish stocks?
Well, as the western and Central (Fisheries) Commission has said we are still not fishing to maximum sustainable yield. They say that the sustainable yield is 85,000 tons and we are catching, currently, 81,000 tons but that is only half the story. The problem is there are too many vessels catching too little fish and that the catch each day is below that which is economic for an unsubsidized fleet to fish.
So you say that, in fact, the scientists should be imposing a Maximum Economic Yield catch limit rather than a Maximum Sustainable Yield limit. How does that differ exactly?
Well, as it implies the Maximum Economic Yield is that level of catch at which you can economically, sustainably catch in that fishery. If you have an MSY, Maximum Sustainable Yield, and you put a thousand vessels in there, for example, catching 85,000 tons a day, that is totally uneconomic.
So that will exclude the Pacific boats, you say?
That is right because the subsidized ones can continue fishing at these low catch rates but the unsubsidized ones obviously can’t.
The other issue that you raise is about the data that the scientists use to tell if the fish stocks are being overfished and you are worried about a time lag. Can you explain what you mean exactly?
Well, industry is usually about two years ahead of science. That’s not the fault of the scientists. It is just purely gathering information and peer reviewing and so on. We have had now three successive years now of lowering and poor catches in the Southern Albacore fishery. That information is still not filtering through into the science process.
So what action would you like to see from authorities to deal with these issues?
Well, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission already has a conservation management measure for Southern Albacore south of 20 degrees south. That restricted the increase in vessel numbers. This has not occurred. The numbers have increased regardless of that. That is one issue. The other issue is you need a level playing field. If you have got a subsidized fleet fishing, then the unsubsidized fleet clearly cannot enter or stay in that fishery, and so subsidies have to be removed.
How important are tougher catch limits to solving this problem?
Very important! It is catch limits or vessel numbers that is really the answer. You simply have too many vessels fishing in that fishery and so long as they stay there is no chance, or little chance, of the Pacific Island nations fishing capacity increasing.