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“ISSF Should Take Precautionary Approach - Not Hide Behind Science” Pacific Islands Nations, January 25, 13

Brownjohn says the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), which is made up of leading tuna processors, scientists and the WWF, does not take decisive action on resource issues – such as by-catch in purse seine skipjack tuna fisheries – or even accept that these problems exist.
ISSF, the global organization set up to promote tuna sustainability, is “out of touch with conservation,” says Maurice Brownjohn, commercial manager for the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). The 8 PNA countries hold about 25% of the world tuna stocks in their Pacific waters, and have MSC certification for their MSC free school skipjack fisheries.

“They are sadly out of touch with conservation, are driven by commercial interest and adopt a lame approach by burying one’s head in the sand and hide behind research,” he says.

Chris Lischewski, Bumble Bee CEO and ISSF chairman, recently told Undercurrent News that fish-aggregating devices (FADs) are not as evil as environment groups make them out to be, citing low by-catch rates of non-target species.

“While FAD fishing generates a higher level of by-catch [compared to fishing on free schools], it is still far below most other fisheries. You are not going to find many fisheries in the world that have a by-catch rate as low as 1.7%,” said Lischewski. According to Lischewski, the by-catch rate for purse seiners fishing on free schools is 0.3%.
Brownjohn says these percentages are not a reflection of the real issue.
“Suggestions that by-catch on FADs and free schools are 1.7% and 0.3% respectively is not the real issue that is important, but with the sheer level of effort in the fishery, this percentage extrapolates to a significant tonnage and portion of threatened by-catch stocks impacted,” says Brownjohn.
“The percentages themselves disguise the real FAD issue and mask the controversy,” he adds.
According to scientists at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), FAD fisheries in the Western Pacific Ocean catch ten times the number of silky sharks than free school, about 90,000 in total. They also catch about 3,400 oceanic whitetip sharks, which is three times the damage found in unassociated sets.
FAD fisheries also catch bigeye and yellowfin tuna, when skipjack tuna is the main target species, and the vast majority of these bigeye and yellowfin tuna are juveniles – 94% and 74% respectively – which dangerously reduces these species’ chances of breeding and affects their future stock health. FAD fisheries catch 6.8% bigeye tuna, compared to less than 1% in free school catches, according to the SPC.
Lischewski said of the 1.7% by-catch, more than 90% are species that are not at any environmental risk. He acknowledged concerns of higher catches of baby yellowfin and overfishing of baby bigeye in FAD fisheries, as well as the negative impact on the two shark species, and told how ISSF is addressing the issue.

“There is by-catch of two species of sharks where stocks have been negatively impacted and the tuna industry is working, through ISSF, to implement improvements in fishing practices and gear modifications,” Lischeswki said. “At ISSF, we are putting our money where our mouth is and are investing in research on best practices while also testing new fishing technologies to reduce the by-catch of these two shark species.”

Brownjohn, however, says the group’s plan to focus on research is side-stepping the problem, instead of addressing it directly.

“What is clear is with ISSF working on ‘researching the problems’ is that they apparently don’t have proven strategies for conservation and management they can apply and no way of ensuring their members comply, and evidently are not even accepting resource issues exist. So rather than a precautionary approach to conservation, which is the international norm, they opt to defer the issue and call for more research rather than take decisive action which may have commercial ramifications to themselves.”

The by-catch problem led the PNA to initiate a three-month ban on FADs, which was later adopted and extended to four months by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the regional fisheries management organization.

The PNA is home to a purse seine free school skipjack fishery that is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and its sustainable tuna is cobranded Pacifical.