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Competition Between Artisanal And Industrial Tuna Vessels – True Or Imagination?

Following recent reports outlining the growing competition for tuna between large industrial vessels and small, local, artisanal fisheries, it seems that this problem is large scale and is affecting most of the Pacific Island countries and their catch.

Dr. Shelton Harley, head of the Oceanic Fisheries Programme’s Stock Assessment and Modelling group at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) said: “SPC has 22 Pacific Island Country and Territory (PICTs) members and when we asked the Heads of each fishery department what issues were important to them – a very clear majority rated this issue as the most important one for us to look at and they all had it in their top 3. So clearly the issue, or the perception of the issue, is wide-spread across the region.”

Oceanic Fisheries Programme’s Stock Assessment and Modelling group at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC)

The competition between the industrial and local fishers has meant that there are less fish in the water to catch, and the use of fish aggregation devices (FADs) is meaning that the larger vessels’ by-catch includes increased numbers of tuna species important to the artisanal fisheries.

Dr. outlined that after the SPC was requested by the Heads of Pacific Islands Fisheries Departments to observe the situation, initial investigation included seven of the member countries where the problem was looked at in two ways.”  First we flipped the increasing commercial landings and increased catches in PICT waters on its head. While these are good news for governments seeking revenue from fisheries – how does this look from the perspective of a small scale artisanal fisherman? Second, for many PICTs there is some data collected for these small-scale fisheries and we examined this to look for how much interaction there might be in terms of species caught and where fishing was occurring.” He said.

“Unfortunately data for these small fisheries is nowhere near as complete as what we have for industrial fishing so it is mostly about looking for where interactions might occur rather than being able to quantify the exact impact of catches for the small scale fisherman.”

The SPC identified a range of different ways they may attack the problem, and even though without the hard data to indicate the impact, knows potential is there to better the issue.

Dr. Harley outlined the steps to be taken to find a solution to the problem: “First and foremost for us is the need to collect better data on what these small scale fisheries are catching and what is the contribution that it is providing to communities in terms of social, economic, and food security benefits. If you are making a trade-off, you need to know how much you are trading off,” he said.

“Second, when you are setting license conditions for industrial fleets, consider putting a buffer between them and the small scale fleets.

“Third, consider putting out nearshore FADs close to shore to help keep any fish  hat are close to shore there for longer. This should assist the small-scale fishers.
“Finally, the Tuna Commission’s legal documents provide specific reference to the importance of small scale fishers and communities so you have a right to have your concerns heard and the Commission can choose to take decisions to protect these communities.”
With these solutions he indicated that SPC and other regional agencies and donors in the region can provide support to the countries most affected by this increasing competition in tuna fishing.