Five questions for: James Movick, Director-General, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency

Control of foreign fishing vessels in international waters is the biggest threat to the South Pacific tuna industry, according to James Movick, Director-General, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency. He tells Business Advantage PNG that plans to increase aerial surveillance will help detect illegal fishing.

Business Advantage PNG (BAPNG): How would you describe the state of the tuna fishing industry in the South Pacific?

Forum Fisheries Agency’s James Movick warns the tuna industry is at risk.

James Movick (JM): Tuna is by far the biggest fishery in terms of catches and catch values for the region. The good news is that all of the four major tuna stocks—skipjack, yellowfin, albacore and bigeye—are being fished sustainably.

None of the main stocks, according to the scientists, is being overfished.

The bad news is that longline fisheries, which mainly target high value tuna for sashimi, are facing difficult economic conditions and falling catch rates. This has had a very negative impact on many domestic fishing companies in Pacific Island countries.

BAPNG: What’s the biggest influence in determining the state of the industry?

JM: Maintaining the sustainability of the stocks is obviously the key to securing a fishery that will continue to provide benefits for Pacific Island people into the future and is the top priority of FFA and its member countries.

However, biological sustainability is not always enough to ensure a viable fishing industry; this depends on catch rates, global tuna prices, fuel costs etc.

At the moment, the purse seine fishery is generally profitable; the longline fishery is a lot less viable.

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The biggest single threat to the tuna fishery is the lack of control of mainly foreign vessels operating on the high seas.

When fishing in our 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), they are subject to regulation and a robust fishery management regime; outside, it is pretty much a free-for-all—and tuna do not recognise the boundaries of our EEZs.

BAPNG: Who are the main offenders?

JM: The Vietnamese blue boats have been a major threat to maritime security in the west of the region in recent years, but it is important to realise that they are targeting coastal reefs, mainly for sea cucumbers and not tuna.

In the tuna fishery, surveillance operations continue to show a high level of compliance by all vessels operating in FFA member EEZs.

A Taiwanese longline fishing vessel in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Greenpeace

I would prefer not to single out a particular national fleet, as there are good and bad operators in all fleets, but it is important to understand the nature of the problem.

Most people think of pirate vessels fishing illegally in our waters but this is a small minority of offences. Technical non-compliance by legal vessels comprises the vast bulk of violations, such as misreporting, illegal transfer of fish between vessels, lack of verification of transhipments and illegally retaining sharkfin and other prohibited products.

BAPNG: What has been your biggest success in the last year, and what do you see as the main thing that will help the fishing sector over the next few years?

JM: 2017 was the first year of the new US Tuna Treaty, after a long and challenging negotiation.

This arrangement provides for competitive access for all Pacific Island Countries in return for providing more flexibility of fishing access for the US fleet.

I am very excited by the new aerial surveillance programme that we are now rolling out, which will provide two aircraft directed by FFA to provide continuous surveillance of the fisheries waters of Pacific Island countries.

This will greatly strengthen our ability to detect illegal fishing across the huge extent of their fisheries waters.

BAPNG: PNG is planning to build half a dozen more tuna canneries, and it is providing incentives for foreign fishers to process tuna onshore. Will other Pacific countries follow suit, or even use the PNG canneries?

JM: Papua New Guinea is certainly leading the way in terms of developing onshore processing of tuna generating thousands of new jobs.

The Frabelle cannery in operation in Lae, PNG.

The new system of rewarding tuna canneries and loining plants for the volume processed within the country will allow incentives to directly benefit the companies that help to meet the government’s objectives of building up this industry.

Several other countries have plans to expand or develop their processing industries; but not every island country can provide the requirements for a viable cannery.

The challenge is to provide benefits to the other countries to encourage them to direct fish from their waters to be processed in these ‘hub’ countries.

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