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Federated States of Micronesia, Fisheries, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu

Pacific tuna fishery gets eco certification, but concern remains over bigeye stocks

Skipjack tuna caught in waters managed by the eight Pacific Island Partners to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) has been certified as sustainable. This means 30% of the skipjack caught in the PNA fishery, and 16% of the skipjack caught in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission convention area is eligible to bear an ecolabel.

The certification has been awarded to the PNA Western & Central Pacific skipjack tuna fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council. It covers licensed purse seine vessels operating across the EEZs of Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. Their catch is sold to Europe and North America, normally as canned tuna.

“Today, the PNA fulfils its aspiration of being the world’s largest independently certified, free school purse seine tuna fishery,” says PNA Director, Dr Transform Aqorau.

“With MSC certification of the PNA’s free school skipjack operations, our customers can be confident that the free school tuna caught in our waters meet the highest standards for well managed and sustainable fisheries. Our MSC-certified tuna will be traded and marketed under the brand name Pacifical, appealing to consumers that want to support us in our endeavours to protect our tuna, our oceans and our Pacific way of life.”

“We did it even though we are small nations facing the powerful, and even though we were shut out of the global tuna industry through our place in history, in our geographic isolation and in the global economy. Now we are players in a major global industry, as I like to say when the Pacific talks tuna, the world listens,” Dr Aqora says.

The PNA free school skipjack catch reaps an annual harvest of 275,000 metric tons with a retail value of approximately US$1.3 billion.

The fishery has undergone rigorous assessment in order to be found that “the skipjack tuna stocks it targets are healthy, that its free school fishing practices have minimal impact on the marine eco-system and that overall the fishery’s free school operations are sustainably managed.”

As part of the certification requirements, some improvements have been agreed to by the PNA, including the development of more effective harvest control rules and developing l information about the fishery’s interaction with protected species.

“Increasingly consumers, and the seafood supply chain itself, are seeking out tuna products that can be verified as coming from a sustainable source. By gaining MSC certification for its free school operations, the PNA skipjack tuna fishery has put itself in a good position to capitalise on this growing movement, and we expect demand for their certified tuna products to be high,” says MSC Pacific Fisheries Manager, Bill Holden.

“The Western and Central Pacific skipjack stock hold about 20 per cent of the world’s tuna stock. This is the largest tuna fishery to have achieved MSC certification, a standard that will help ensure this valuable fishery can achieve a healthy state,” says Mark Schreffler, Fisheries Policy Officer, WWF Western Melanesia Programme.

“The challenge now is the implementation of robust harvest strategies and reference points by the WCPFC in partnership with the PNA.  WWF believes effective, sustainable fisheries management of the Western and Central Pacific tuna stocks must also occur at the Commission level as well as within the waters of the PNA,” says Scheffler.

Meanwhile the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) says overfishing of bigeye tuna continues in the western and central Pacific tuna fishery.

The SPC’s 2010 tuna fishery assessment report states that while the species is not at risk of extinction, and is never likely to be, the assessment found that bigeye fishing effort needs to be reduced by at least 32% from the average levels for 2006–2009 to ensure long-term sustainability.

“Overall, the fishery is in the best shape of all the tuna fisheries in the world”, says John Hampton, SPC’s Oceanic Fisheries Programme Manager. “On a scale of 1–10, we estimate it as 6–7, a green traffic light tinged with orange.

“But there has been an upward trend in total tuna catch for many years, mainly due to increases in purse-seine fishery catches, which accounted for 75% of the 2010 catch.”

Bigeye represents just 5% of the fishery’s total tuna catch. Most of the bigeye catch is taken in equatorial areas, both by purse seine and longline. The purse-seine fisheries and domestic surface fisheries of the Philippines and Indonesia take large numbers of small bigeye.

‘The western and central Pacific tuna fishery: 2010 overview and status of stocks’, is available at http://www.spc.int/oceanfish

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About Samantha Magick

Journalist and editor

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