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Record Pacific Tuna Catch Could Spike Prices Next Year

The record WCPO catch in 2012 could have far reaching effects on the tuna markets globally in 2014. With Skipjack catches up 9%, the yellowfin and bigeye tuna catch in the western Pacific also climbed further to record heights last year. The catch of yellowfin tuna in the region hit an all-time high of 655,668 tons; while bigeye tuna climbed to its highest recording since 2004.

Ever-growing concern over the effects that high levels of the by-catch of juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna are having on tuna stocks prompted the issuing of a three month FAD ban by the Western and Central Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), which was also valid in 2012. Despite these reduction measures, increased catch of these species were still recorded.

In fact, yellowfin catch in 2012 grew by a significant 70,000 tons on the previous record year. Bigeye catch was logged at 161,679 tons and reached a peak since a volume record was set in 2004. The total value of the fishery jumped as a consequence of record global prices, with a purse seine revenue of USD 4 billion and a total revenue from tuna of all gears combined of USD 7.5 billion.

The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) outlines that for yellowfin tuna in the western Pacific “there is little or no room for increased fishing pressure on the stock overall.” The ISSF also states for biyeye that “WCPFC management measures in place are insufficient to end overfishing in the short term.”  

This year, the western Pacific tuna industry has already entered into an increased four month FAD ban implemented by the WCPFC. The ban began on July 1 and will run until October 31. The regulations rule out the use of FADs in purse seine fisheries, aimed to reduce the by-catch on baby bigeye and baby yellowfin.

If the 2012 trend of increased yellowfin and bigeye catches in the western Pacific continues into 2013, a stronger push from WCPFC members, NGOs and scientists to increase reduction measures to save these species may occur.

Since the majority of skipjack tuna catch comes from FAD fishing, further efforts into reducing the use of this fishing technique could result in falling catches of this species. However, the third highest skipjack catch for this region was recorded in 2012 when the ban was in action, suggesting somewhat an ineffectiveness and some say a possible non-compliance to the ruling.

The western Pacific Ocean produces the majority of the global skipjack catch. If stronger reduction measures were implemented in this region it is thought that there could be a substantial fall in the catch totals of this species, which is the main raw material to the canned tuna industry. With demand remaining stable such a squeeze could result in a higher competition for raw material, and consequently a spike in 2014 price levels steering it to new record levels.