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“Excessive Capacity Needs To Be Weeded Out”; Pacific Tuna Purse Seining

Last week has seen the Pacific mark World Tuna Day. The event has again prompted debate over just how ‘sustainable’ the tuna industry really is.

Interview by: Geraldine Coutts – Radio Australia

With speaker: Duncan Leadbitter, researcher, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP)
Leadbitter: Well I think there’s still a need to generate a lot of focus on what’s needed in terms of management reform, whether it’s tuna or lots of other species. And the world’s tunas are not out of the woods yet, when it comes to excessive fishing pressure.Coutts: And what about the Pacific stocks, where do they stand?Well in terms of stocks things are generally OK, but there are still excessive fishing capacity which needs to be weeded out of the system and so when that excess fishing capacity is still in place, there is still the potential for fishing pressure to get out of hand.Will the Pacific’s leading the way in a number of areas. They’ve got a quota program now. But the certification of catches, the Pacific’s leading its way there. Can you explain that?There’s been a number of certified fisheries or MSC certified fisheries in the Pacific going back about five years, so the first one was the American troll fishery for Albacore and that was followed up by a Japanese fishery for Pole and Line skipjack. But they were relatively small in terms of volume, and most of that fish went to high value products. It was the certification of the PNA Group Fishery for School set skipjack, which was a game changer in terms of enabling a canned tuna product to be made available to consumers and that potentially able to put a lot of fish in front of a lot of people with sustainable message on the cans.
And which is also good news and certification, if we can stick with that for a moment is part of the reason for its success that it was for and by the Pacific, rather than imposed from outside?Well that’s right. The genesis of this goes back about oh, at least eight or nine years and some very early discussions about how to attract attention to the hard work that was being done in the Pacific to get catches under control and to tap into the growing market for certified fish, which has boomed in the last ten to 12 years. And so it was driven by originally the Forum Fisheries Agency and there was quite a lot of investigations done as to the most suitable fisheries certification. P&A Group picked up their component and you’d be aware that recently, the Fiji Long Line Fisheries was another one in that sort of stable of FFA covered fisheries.
Well, there are data bases now tracking the sustainability, not just of tuna, but of fish stocks generally. What are those data bases telling us now?
Well, it’s a mixed picture. There are some fish stocks which are doing very well, there are some which are in recovery and there are some which remain problematic. There’s quite a bit of geographical variation as well and so certainly in South East Asia, that remains a problem hot spot, but it really depends upon where you look as to exactly what the situation is.Is enough being done, have we turned the corner in making tuna in particular, sustainable, and how much of the future will be of the tuna stocks will be determined by fish farms?No, there is still a lot to be done, there is still a lot of excess capacities, excess fishing capacity, which needs to be taken out of the system, so things are still precarious even for species which are in relatively good shape. There’s still work to be done to make sure that if there is a decline, from some natural reasons, then it’s not exacerbated by fishing pressure. So we’re not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination. I mean things aren’t terrible, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

I don’t see fish farming becoming a major contributor to the bulk tunas, like particularly, skipjack. It’s still too abundant and too cheap for fish farming to be worthwhile.

It’s certainly been worthwhile for bluefin tuna, where it’s high value and scarce. It maybe appropriate for yellowfin, although that’s still relatively abundant, but honestly, I don’t see it being a major contributor for many years to come.
Are the partners to the Nauru agreement now reaping the rewards, are they actually, they’re getting a lot more money and a lot more earnings than they have before, but are they getting their rightful share at this stage?Well, they’ve actually been very smart in the way they’ve gone about this and one of the issues with the certification program is there’s no guarantee that any price premiums go directly to the producers, so it could be that say a retailer is picking up a price premium, but it’s not being passed onto a producer.

What the PNA Group did was set up labelling, like a homegrown label through Pacifical. It enables them to benefit their members directly and they’re also seeking to ensure that more fish are processed within the countries. So if you look at, say any primary product, the value is not in the actual production, but the returns to the producers are quite small. The value is in the value adding, so the canning or other processing and in the past, most of the fish have been caught in the waters of the island states and then taken somewhere else for that value to be added. There’s been a long battle going on over the last 20 or 30 years to reverse that to make sure that the value added is captured by the people in whose waters the tuna swim.