Chinese Subsidies threaten survival of Western and Central Pacific Seafood Industry!


According to Michael Field, China is using vast subsidies to threaten the survivability of the fishing industry in the Western and Central Pacific – which includes New Zealand.

In an article in the Dominion Post, China threatens survival of fishing industry (published Tuesday 14 may 2013) Michael Field writes:

An international agency has warned that China is using vast subsidies to threaten the survivability of the fishing industry in the Western and Central Pacific – which includes New Zealand.

The alarm has been sounded in a briefing paper written for the 17-nation Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), which says that unless something is done at a high level, non-Chinese fishing operations are in trouble.

The paper, presented at a meeting this week at the FFA headquarters in Honiara, Solomon Islands, said there is deep concern about growth in the Chinese fleet and the high level of subsidies Beijing gives its deepwater fishing boats.

It is the official Chinese government policy to assist in the growth, expansion and modernisation of its (deep water fleet) DWF fleets and to use subsidies and incentives to achieve this aim,” the paper said.

The extent and magnitude of the subsidies was significant and likely to provide the Chinese DWF with significant cost advantage over unsubsidised fleets.

Chinese spending on its fleet is growing with new tax incentives being introduced.

The subsidies make all other nations’ fleets economically unviable due to their cost disadvantage.

The Chinese are increasing catch levels and forcing down the allowable catch rates of other nations, the paper warned.

Without governmental intervention in this issue and broad and active affirmative support of (Pacific Island) governments, the prospect for the survival of domestic non Chinese flagged vessels in the (Western and Central Pacific) would be extremely challenging.”

It said China plans to increase its DWF to 2300 vessels by the end of 2015.

It has a large array of subsidies including tax breaks to fishing companies, direct subsidies on fish caught, fuel offsets and favourable loan rates. Even provincial governments in China pay the access fees Chinese boats have to pay to fish in the South Pacific.

Environment organisation Greenpeace says the subsidies threaten Pacific tuna boat operators in particular.

These subsidies fuel the plunder of South Pacific albacore and are now leading to localised depletions and declines in catch rates across the fishery, jeopardising the livelihoods of locally owned small-scale tuna boat operators in Pacific Island countries,” said Greenpeace Australia Pacific oceans campaigner, Duncan Williams.

China Asia Typhoon


Tuna Tales: Interests of Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs) v the Interests of Pacific Island Countries (PICs)


This is one of those perennial topics that surfaces and subsides; surfaces and subsides…

I bring this up because in my tracking through the plethora of articles I came across an interesting that alleges that the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) were subject to the whims of the big business that resides in many of the distant water fishing nations (DWFNs).

This article from Islands Business (Big Tuna Business Interests Clash With PNA Goals published on 15 Jan, 2013) didn’t seem to fit its publication being pitched squarely on the left side of the field,  lead off with an eco-socialist statement from PNA chairwoman Nanette Malsol:

“It is the big fishing nations of the EU, US, Japan and Asia that have historically overfished bigeye tuna. It is their long-line fishing vessels that are responsible for much of the catch of adult bigeye tuna which is still fished 40% over the sustainable level.”

The article, Tackling Big Interests (Jan 2013) continues onward in the same eco-socialist vein

“In every issue that affects the world adversely in any substantial way, it is invariably the interests of wealthy, organized big business that stands in the way of the greater good of the world. Be it land, air or sea environment, their varied but unique ecosystems, rare and endangered species, peaceful relations between the common people of nations and regions or even the health of humans themselves, the interests of big business organizations always take precedence.

Big business owners and shareholders ultimately get their way with national governments, world organizations, financial institutions and politicians of every hue falling to their entreaties and kowtowing to their solely profit-driven motives, succumbing to their effective use of both power and pelf.

This is the reason why wars continue to happen despite all sorts of efforts to prevent them from happening. It is also the reason why the world is unable to come to any substantial agreement on what to do with climate change despite its effects staring us in the face and threatening the livelihoods and lives of millions of people in low-lying and developing countries around the world.

It is also the reason why the world, particularly the poorer nations are being overwhelmed by lifestyle diseases, which was never their lot throughout history, while their traditional foods are being consigned to oblivion. And, of course, big business greed is why the global financial crisis exploded on the world. Despite all that widespread suffering since the crisis unfolded, that same greed which drove the crisis in the first place is now coming in the way of finding a solution to put the world’s economies back on track.

No matter how economists, financial wizards and so-called experts rationalize and try to explain away with their mostly specious casuistry and spurious arguments, there is no denying that greed and big business interests are at the heart of much of the world’s problems today.”


“Big business owners and shareholders ultimately get their way with national governments, world organizations, financial institutions and politicians of every hue falling to their entreaties and kowtowing to their solely profit-driven motives, succumbing to their effective use of both power and pelf.”

Although this article reads a little like the musings of someone who is still waiting for a ‘decent suck of the sauce bottle;’ beneath all the leftist political-economic rhetoric,teh issues presented are very worthy of some pause. Are they right? Do you think? I guess the answer to this question depends on one’s position on the political-economic fence.

Personally I don’t think that asymmetric distribution is the principle driver behind wars, lifestyle diseases and the inability to reach agreement on things like climate change… But that said, it would seem to me that asymmetry is highly unlikely to give rise to positive buoyancy.

Albacore (Thunnus alalunga). Source:

Bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus). Source: Big Tuna Business Interests Clash With PNA Goals (see

The article continues on its eco-socialist tirade, but brings in WCPO governance, in particular the Western and Central Pacific Commission (WCPFC) and its relationship with the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA):

“The world’s inability to take the bull by the horns, that is, to tackle the greed of big business interests, is clearly what stands in the way of finding lasting solutions to these problems. The latest example of this brazen greed was seen in the Pacific Islands region early last month at the Western and Central Pacific Commission (WCPFC) meeting in Manila in the Philippines.”

The article informs us that:

“The WCPFC annually brings together the Pacific Islands nations and the big fishing nations to meet and decide the rules for fishing of tuna throughout the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest tuna fishery and often regarded as the last significant repository of the world’s tuna. The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which is one of the more successful Pacific Islands regional initiatives of recent years and which manages the world’s largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery, says the big fishing nations have yet again failed to cut their overfishing, potentially threatening fish stocks in Pacific waters.”

And finally the nature of the issue; the alleged overfishing of Bigeye Tuna by DWF fleets, or conversely the lack of agreement by the fleets of DWFNs to accept catch reductions significant enough to foster recovery:

The PNA, which manages half of the world’s skipjack tuna, the most commonly canned tuna species, is fished at sustainable levels. But bigeye tuna, a popular sashimi fish, is overfished. This is primarily caused because of the catching of juvenile fish around Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) and long-line fishing vessel catches by the big fishing nations such as the members of the European Union, big fishing corporations from the United States, Japan and other Asian nations.

Though it is well documented that bigeye tuna is overfished to the extent of more than 40 percent, the big fishing nations like Korea and Taiwan committed to cutting their bigeye tuna catches by a mere two percent at last month’s meeting, while China agreed to a 10 percent cut. Unfortunately, this year’s meeting concluded with only a temporary measure that allows big fishing nations to continue to overfish bigeye tuna, the PNA said in a communiqué released after the meeting.

This ‘blocking’ of sustainability measures by the fleets of DWFNs is not a baseless accusation. There are a myriad of articles out there that denote a lack of consensus at the WCPFC and even accusations of actual ‘blocking’:

  • High Seas Drama: Pacific Islands Question Need for Tuna Commission: 07 February 2008 … Pacific Islands countries have questioned the need to include foreign nations in the Tuna Commission after they failed in a dramatic fashion to agree on ways to conserve their highly migratory tuna stocks in the high seas.
  • Big nations block curbs on tuna overfishing: 07 December 2012 … Efforts to curb overfishing of tuna in the Pacific were blocked by big countries that refused to cut their catch at a meeting of tuna-fishing nations in the Asia-Pacific, delegates said.
  • Int’l groups call to stop tuna overfishing urged: 10 December 2012 … WCPFC strongly suggested to the Phil­ippines to adopt pragmatic measures to di­minish, if not stop, overfishing in the region’s oceans.
  • Tensions high as tuna meet nears: 24 November 2012 … Tensions are high as Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting in Manila draws closer.This comes as powerful fishing nations across the globe like the US, Japan, European Union, Korea and Taiwan prepare  to face […] the Parties to the Nauru Agreement(PNA) and Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).
Environmental activists hold banners as others depict a school of tuna during a rally outside the South Korean Embassy in suburban Taguig, south of Manila, Philippines on Nov. 29, 2012. Efforts to curb overfishing of tuna in the Pacific were blocked by big countries that refused to cut their catch at a meeting of tuna-fishing nations in the Asia-Pacific. Photo: Aaron Favila

Environmental activists hold banners as others depict a school of tuna during a rally outside the South Korean Embassy in suburban Taguig, south of Manila, Philippines on Nov. 29, 2012. Efforts to curb overfishing of tuna in the Pacific were blocked by big countries that refused to cut their catch at a meeting of tuna-fishing nations in the Asia-Pacific. Photo: Aaron Favila

The reason for this ability to essentially block measures because states parties are able to exploit the voting rules that are provided for in the WCPFC convention. Simply the convention requires:

  • Consensus and voting: Universal agreement, or consensus, is the general rule for decision making by commission members during their annual meetings. What’s more the Commission is divided into two voting blocs – FFA members who form one block in the commission (consisting of Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, & Vanuatu); the DWFNs of Canada, China, Chinese-Taipei, European Commission, France, Japan, Korea, Philippines and the United States form the other bloc. Consequently the WCPFC is plagued by disagreement and an inability to reach consensus.
  • Voting and mediation: If consensus cannot be reached, voting, grounds for  appealing decisions, conciliation and review are all part of the decision making process, as described in Article 20 of the Convention. Voting on issues can only be done by member countries and they have to vote in person, not by proxy, on the issue of contention.

So as you can see the governance framework throws down significant challenges for effective resource management from the get go.

The article (Big Tuna Business Interests Clash With PNA Goals) continues on with its eco-socialist rhetoric, cynically asserting that the measures where consensus was reached where simply concessions or “sops”:

[…] [A]s is usual in the case of such high profile meetings, big business interests concede a little by way of sops in the interests of public relations and their own image management—and of course to take the bite out of conservationist organizations’ activism. Last month’s meeting did notch up a success or two and one of the measures agreed upon has been hailed by fisheries authorities as having possible far reaching implications on the positive side of the ledger.

The ‘sops’ the author was referring to are:

(1) A conservation and management measure on tuna, which will be applied until the end of 2013, which included the banning of setting nets on whale sharks in the waters from 20 degrees South to 30 degrees North.

 (2) A ‘flick the switch’ measure was passed which will allow greater transparency between vessels fishing in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of PICs. The measure provides for the monitoring authorities of the PICs to be able to see all fishing vessels in their territorial waters that are on the commission vessel monitoring system, Thereby effectively closing one loophole for IUU fishing. The closing of this IUU loophole is significant because in the past vessels moving from water beyond any national jurisdiction (the high seas) to jurisdictional waters of WCPFC PICs were no longer monitored. Because the WCPFC could no longer track these vessels and advise the member countries where they were, they were essentially giving the vessels unfettered access to the marine resources within the EEZs. This ‘flick the switch’ measure essentially removes this unfettered access.

The article finishes somewhat divergent from where it began… as the reader I felt like the article started out in a tantrum, and as a consequence of a cathartic outpouring of eco-socialist rhetoric the fire in the author’s pen subsided. The article calmly finished:

“The regional fisheries authorities must be congratulated for last month’s achievement. Continuing on this track, they must do everything they can to rein in the big fishing nations to cut their bigeye fishing targets to sustainable levels as prescribed by marine scientists’ research.”

What’s My Point?

In my opinion, this inability for RFMOs (Regional Fisheries Management Organisations) like the WCPFC to agree on the hard stuff is problematic.

DWFNs that are home to large fisheries markets like Japan, Taiwan and even distant Spain, wield a lot of economic power vis-à-vis smaller states that supply the resource for market, because (quite literally) the buck stops with them. So this explains their control of the supply into the market… but what of the demand? I am talking about the demand that will come from any of those markets when supplies quieten and subside? Or when suppliers stop supplying to those markets due to sustainability concerns? Will they control the price then?

Fish is the most traded commodity of earth… there is no shortage of trade stories… and since many of these involve the lucrative tuna trade… there is no shortage of tuna tales.

Greenpeace: Saving tuna fisheries that don’t need saving?


I have been keeping up with the very public war between Greenpeace and Tuna of Tomorrow.

I mean look at this….

And this…

What are they warring over?

Favourable Public Perception is my answer…  

For a few years now Greenpeace have been actively campaigning against Tuna fishing globally, and recently have stepped up campaigns in the Pacific Ocean, with one recent one (which is one of the subjects of this Blog Post – called “Defending our Pacific“), and for  a number of years Tuna for Tomorrow have been actively against Greenpeace’s campaign against Tuna fishing on.

On the Tuna for Tomorrow website, this war with Greenpeace is characterised:

Tuna for Tomorrow is a campaign to combat misinformation about sustainable stocks of tuna fished by the America’s leading canned tuna brands. Radical environmental activists have for years distorted the true status of tuna stocks worldwide claiming overfishing of species that are not overfished in order to further their own goals.

According to a consensus of scientists, stocks of [tuna] are plentiful and being fished sustainably to ensure that future generations of families enjoy canned tuna too.

Unfortunately, despite all the scientifically driven data to the contrary, radical activists, like Greenpeace, are campaigning to save tuna that don’t need saving. Apparently motivated by their own budgeted obligations — which include a $32 million yacht and operating expenses running nearly $700,000 per day — we believe that Greenpeace has fabricated a crisis for fundraising purposes.

Among their tactics is a campaign to eliminate purse seine (or net) fishing that uses Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs); Greenpeace is compelling grocers to sell canned tuna from FAD-free sources or from pole and line fisheries. The presumed threat is a mobilized boycott and protest against retailers who don’t comply. Pole and line fishing, though fun for weekend anglers, is woefully inefficient when it comes to meeting the nutritional needs of a nation. Last year, Americans purchase 50 million cases of canned tuna. Pole and line could only supply 4 million cases worldwide.

If Greenpeace has its way, not only would canned tuna disappear from grocers’ shelves, the paltry supply that gets to market would cost a lot more. Aside from its great taste and all of its nutritional benefits, canned tuna is also affordable (at least for now). If supply shrinks and demand stays the same, millions of consumers will be denied — be it by choice or by cost.”

In addition to Tuna for Tomorrow’s media centred public relations campaign. Greenpeace have been running one of their own… Greenpeace’s anti-tuna campaign is arguable far more sophisticated, and far more successful…

Greenpeace’s Kangnam Style approach of a younger commited dynamic, attract a younger committed dynamic… something I imagine Tuna for Tomorrow will never be able to do.

I mean this video is current… and totally entertaining

Greenpeace, through their public relations machinery, have been able to publically portray their fighting of “the good fight.” One such example of Greenpeace’s ‘good fight’ were the recent 2012 Ocean Expeditions:

Yes I know…

These “expeditions” (9-week expedition through the Indian Ocean’s fishing grounds completed by the Rainbow Warrior; and a 3-week expedition in Pacific Commons Area 1 and the EEZ of Palau undertaken by the Esperanza) were seen as ‘fishing operations’ fact finding and IUU fishery spotting missions as far as Greenpeace were concerned… Yet from the Summary of Findings documents on the Greenpeace website… I deduce that they were little more than footage finding and fishing interruption expeditions…

Both expeditions assert that they documented fishing operations; you be the judge… Here are summaries of their findings [just click on the pictures for a copy of the PDF].

Greenpeace. Defending our pacific summary

Greenpeace. Indian Ocean

The mainstream media has swallowed the ‘good fight’ rhetoric hook, line and sinker.  They fully responsive to the Greenpeace PR machine… To the extent that public perceptions are shaped that much more with programmes produced by the eNGO or its partners being guaranteed the requisite airtime… to cement understanding of an issue from their point of view… This may not seem much… but public airtime is gold.

TVNZ aired Karli Thomas and The Raiders of The Last Tuna on 04 Dec 12 on TV ONE. As you can see it is still available on demand.

This video before features Karli Thomas (Greenpeace Ocean Campaigner), talking about her embarkation on her Defending the Pacific 2011 expedition.

Below is the summary of findings document – produced by Karli’s expedition….

Greenpeace. Defending our pacific

The findings include slaps on the hands for Taiwanese long liners and the use of FADs by purse seiners. Simply put there is nothing new in any of these documents. But that is their appeal; their brand strategy… A brand strategy of constant messaging, delivered with a media savvy that is the envy of any public relations organisation…

However the question remains are their messages true and accurate? Well that is the question. The answer according to Tuna for Tomorrow… NO! 

What is my view?… Well I think Greenpeace don’t allow themselves to be too troubled by truth and accuracy.


Catching those Tuna: The challenges of purse seine versus longline tuna fishing


Today I was reading an older but still relevant highly relevant editorial in FIS news that got me thinking about the two major tuna fishing methods: tuna long lining and tuna purse seining in a totally different way.

The editorial article the challenges of purse seine versus longline tuna fishing (FIS 10 May 2012) looks at the differences between the two methods from the point of view of product destination.

This is a novel approach, as in my experience, the distinction is usually made (by eNGOs) with reference to performance of the gear type against the marine environment by highlighting by-catch rates and species types likely to be caught in addition to the target tuna species. For example contrast between the two gear types has often be demonstrated by captures of dolphins in purse seines or captures of turtles on longlines. Recently this contrast has been clouded with the plight of pelagic sharks being the new causes célèbre by global  eNGOs, and sharks feature in all harvest methods to varying degrees.

The article demonstrates the importance of both major methods (longlining and purse seining); not only because they target completely different fish, but because they have different socio-economic functions. This approach contrasts heavily with the eNGO ‘effects of the fishing gear’ approach which concentrates almost exclusively on the negative aspects of long line and purse seine gear deployment. A target based approach (as used this article) has a direct application to managing the sustainability of the target species.

The article separates the market:

“The tuna industry can be split into a sub-industry of high-priced fresh fish market (particularly of sashimi) mostly supported by longliners and one of low-priced canned tuna mainly supplied by purse seiners.”

“As the demand for canned tuna has been expanding very rapidly, the purse seine fleet has also expanded rapidly, according to Dr Peter Miyake of the Organisation for the Promotion of Responsible Tuna Fisheries (OPRT)”.

Dr Peter Miyake is a leading tuna researcher who has worked for many international tuna fisheries management groups, including the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). He now participates in the scientific meetings as a visiting researcher at National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries of Japan.

Miyake explains that purse seine fishing is is the most economic fishing method; arguing that the deployment of the fish aggregating devices (FAD) saves considerable fuel.

“But if companies were to catch all tuna only using purse seiners, the total catch which can be sustainable would be much lower, and without a longline fishery, there would be no tuna available for sashimi consumption and the reduction in total economic yield would be considerable”.

An important difference between the two harvest methods can be seen in the composition of the catch.

“Purse seiners catch abundant relatively inexpensive young small-sized tuna, while longliners catch much less of very high-quality expensive large-sized fish.”

Miyake points out that:

“A cohort [statistician speak for fish that are from the same place and same year] of tuna gains mass until a certain size/age and thereafter mass will decline (i.e. natural mortality loss is greater than growth gain). This critical point is about 40 kg in yellowfin tuna and 70 kg in bigeye tuna, which correspond to captures by longliners.”

“Therefore, the total weight of fish which can be sustainably harvested by purse seiners alone would be much less than those caught only by longliners. In fact, the current maximum sustainable yield (MSY) of bigeye tuna taken by longline and a greater number of purse seine fisheries in the Pacific Ocean has been almost halved compared to the level 20 years ago when bigeye tuna were caught by longline alone.”

TUNA CATCH IN METRIC TONNES IN THE WCPO.Tuna have been caught for centuries in the Pacific Islands.  This was usually from canoes and often using handlines, troll gear, or pearl shell lures. Starting in the early 1900s larger scale tuna fishing gear was introduced into the region. Today four types of gear produces the vast majority of the tuna catch in the Pacific Islands region:  purse seine, longline, pole-and-line and trolling (see

Tuna have been caught for centuries in the Pacific Islands. This was usually from canoes and often using handlines, troll gear, or pearl shell lures. Starting in the early 1900s larger scale tuna fishing gear was introduced into the region. Today four types of gear produces the vast majority of the tuna catch in the Pacific Islands region: purse seine, longline, pole-and-line and trolling (see

Miyake points that harvesting tunas (e.g. big eye, yellowfin and skipjack) by longline alone would more than likely increase their maximum sustainable yield (MSY) [MSY is the sustainable yield of natural capital that can be extracted without reducing the base of the natural capital itself]. But that such a measure would have profound socio-economic effects on the tuna canning industry.

As you know I am a huge advocate of the venn diagrammatic (Rio 20+) definition of sustainability [where sustainable use is based on three equally considered environmental, economic and social components]. Where it follows that any sustainability decision based on one component at the expense of the others is destined to fail.

Therefore the social impact of such a sustainability decision would potentially devastate the global canning industry due to the severe shortage in tuna and an exaggerated price of the line court fish that are available. This state of affairs would undoubtedly have an economic response. The exaggerated prices and shortage of canning quality fish would initiate a boom, which would result in a speedy substantial increase in longline vessel capacity.

Big Eye PNA

Bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus). Source: Big Tuna Business Interests Clash With PNA Goals (see

This is happening now. 

The Taiwanese are exploiting the lacuna in the market created by the market’s disdain for large mechanical longline vessels and the use of FADs  by purse seiners [in addition to the market’s better treatment of fresh sashimi species] and are deploying thousands of small highly mobile vessels, that with snap freezing ability, and by virtue of the american longline technology they use, are able to land catches of up to 120+ t per annum.

In an article in published in the SPC Fisheries Newsletter (January/April 2012 #137) ‘OPRT study echoes PITIA concerns over rapid increase in small tuna longliners’. This article provides the results of a study by Japan’s National Resource Institute of Far Seas Fisheries which were presented at OPRT’s fourth annual seminar in Tokyo on 10 February 2012 by Jiro Suzuki. Suzuki argues that the real status of the small-scale longline fishing industry is currently not well understood by regional fisheries management organisations. Suzuki estimated that:

“Up to 5,400 small longline vessels could be operating globally, with 1,800 of these operating within the waters of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. An additional 50–60 Taiwanese small longline vessels with onboard super-refrigeration status are reportedly currently under construction in Taiwan.”

Furthermore and more sobering, according to Mr Suzuki, is the impact of the burgeoning of small-scale longline vessels raises concerns about the sustainability of bigeye and yellowfin stocks [and as I have heard from New Zealand sources skipjack stocks as well].

Suzuki maintains that the sudden increase in Taiwanese small, mobile long line capacity stems from:

  • The exploitation ‘indigenous aspirational development’ clauses within WCPFC agreements. With the use of economic aid, Taiwan is able to secure the accommodation of additional fishing in various Pacific Island countries (PICs), in conjunction with the PICs growing drive to develop their tuna fishing industries;
  • Former Taiwanese shark-finning vessels are converting to albacore vessels due to prohibitions introduced on sharkfin fishing which has adversely affected the profitability of these vessels targetting sharks for their fins;
  • Vessel construction and operation of small- and medium-sized longliners is far more economical than operating large-scale longliners, which by comparison are in decline; and
  • traditional refrigerated carriers are being gradually replaced with more versatile individual super refrigerated (-60°C) cargo containers, which are well suited to accommodating small catch consignments; super-refrigerated storage capacity has also been developed on vessels.

Given the economic and social ramifications of purely biological based potential management options [Dr Peter Miyake] concluded that:

“The best alternative is to seek a point of compromise through a fair balance of social, economic, environmental and biological factors. Scientists must come up with an unbiased and transparent way to achieve a balance among these various factors, without being affected by prejudiced propaganda, money or political pressures.”

I must say I do agree.

Menhaden fishing - purse seine boats encirclin...


What is a purse seine? What is  longlining? Are there any other methods used to take tuna?

Purse seine


Pole and Line

tuna troll

These images are from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) website. For more on tuna harvesting methods see

Finally a viable tuna farming option: The Oceansphere™ (Really?)

The Oceansphere™

I was taking a superficial look at tuna farming oceans… understanding of course that the very concept of tuna farming is fraught with issues… and I came across the video [below]…

This video is copyright Hawaii Oceanic Technology, Inc. Honolulu, HI 2007-2011

The Oceansphere™ was designed by Hawaii Oceanic Technology as a way to domesticate seafood production in the open ocean, which uses the latest technology and robotics. It is claimed that it is environmentally friendly and economically viable. Hawaii Oceanic Technology warrant that one Oceansphere can produce up to 2,000 tons of seafood depending on species. This depiction is of of twelve planned Oceanspheres that are to be deployed off the Big Island of Hawaii. The plan is to deploy all twelve Oceanspheres within a one square kilometre ocean column. With respect to there state of the art fish rearing sphere, Hawaii Oceanic Technology claims:

Our patented design includes innovations that pertain to robotics, geostatic positioning, inertial navigation telemetry and environmentally responsible fish rearing. By leveraging such breadth of expertise and intellectual property, the Oceansphere™ is able to support a self-sustaining deep water environment nearly twice as large as any contemporary tethered cage. The massive scale and deep water operation of this technology affords many benefits, all of which combine to provide an economically viable and environmentally sustainable method to meet society’s ever-growing demand for seafood.

Pretty Impressive in my view… by their numbers, I estimate this that all twelve sphere could produce a total yield of 24,000 tons. But my question is a yield of what? Sea Bream? Tuna? Bluefin tuna perhaps? I would wager that sustainable tuna is what the market requires.

It seems that the Oceansphere™ has all the technical aspects sorted. Is it this easy?

According to the Euronews article Breakthrough in Bluefin Tuna farming it is not easy at all. According to Robert Vassallo-Agius, a biologist at the Malta Aquaculture Research centre, Bluefin tuna are very difficult to raise for a number of reasons:

“Bluefin Tuna use light and temperature to know when to reproduce.  They are also very sensitive to water-quality.  But that’s not all. Bluefin Tuna poses another problem; it is a very big and delicate fish. So because of its size we can’t handle it, we can’t check it, we can’t see what maturation stage it is at, like we do with sea bream, for example. And for this reason it causes another problem which is logistics; how to collect the eggs.”

“We ensure that the fish have perfect living conditions.  Also we ensure that every care is taken to avoid any kind of problem during the eggs-laying period.”

Harvesting even small quantities of farmed eggs is extremely difficult because Bluefin Tuna need special care all year round.

[…] “We have achieved the reproduction of Bluefin Tuna in captivity. So now that we have shown that is possible, the next hurdle is breeding Bluefin Tuna larvae [and ensuring their survival], and that will require a special effort.”

Last year scientists managed to keep some of them alive for more than 70 days. Now they are hoping that some of them will grow to at least a kilo, which is a challenge given that there are problems like stress and cannibalism to overcome. According to Aurelio Ortega, another biologist, from the Instituto Español de Oceanografía: “

“Bluefin Tuna grows very fast. This is why tuna have very high nutritional requirements. It needs a lot of energy, much more than other species that we are farming. So we have to give them very high-energy food compared with the food that we give to sea bream or seabass, for example. But this is also a fish that lays eggs in salt water rather than fresh, so it needs very high quality water with high concentrations of oxygen.”

I have a feeling that the Oceansphere™ has the larval problem sorted. But what about the high nutritional and high energy requirements? Afterall the sphere also claims that it promotes “environmentally responsible fish rearing”.

My next question is How? I think I still have to give this one some thought… I am not sure where I sit on this yet.

 Related articles

Provocation: The use of imagery by some eNGOs to obtain an appropriate responses from customers

SASSI Provocation


I found this image today on the Ads of the World webpage. The ad was produced by WWF-SASSI (SASSI = South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative). This add also sits pride of place on the Freshly Vegetarian, Treehugger and Eccorazzi websites.

As ads go, this is a very good one. From a marketing point of view I think it’s impact is colossal, in that it reaches its brief of being extremely provocative (shocking even) – while keeping the messaging simple. Leading with the head of a dolphin is genius (the most charismatic or all charismatic mega-fauna). Also building the composite with the body parts of other recognisable charismatic fauna, that are the foundations of many eNGO causes célèbre is also extremely clever (I personally am very fond of turtles)Furthermore the carving out of only a small portion of the composite image and clearly indicating that small portion as tuna, is also not only very intuitive and intelligent design, it is very affective at providing us with the the intended message.

This ad provokes in me the requisite response; and I am sure it does in others. However I know it is both factually false and deliberately misleading.

The caption reads “Only a portion of the catch in long line tuna fishing is actually tuna.” however on the Ads of the World website the caption below the image read “Only a tenth of the catch in long line tuna fishing is actually tuna.”

This caption is categorically untrue.

Unfortunately as is the case of all statements, once the dye is cast… the clean up afterwards is always a difficult undertaking; and in my opinion a waste of time. Unfortunately, Government and industry have no option other than to counter these often baseless and vexatious allegations with evidence; eNGOs are free to come back again unfettered by fact and/or context. I am sure WWF-SASSI know this.

It goes like this – where Governments who are subject to voters, are held to the best available scientific information and are statutorily, administratively and constitutionally obliged to report facts to those voters; and where the Seafood Industry whose rights to harvest and utilise marine resources are subject to Government legal and regulatory regimes, are required to demonstrate compliance (such as accurate catch and by-catch recording and catch and by-catch reporting, lawful landing of catch (and by-catch), lawful processing and providing provision for government observers on board vessels etc); eNGOs in contrast are comparatively free to ‘drum their own beat‘ and do what they want, unfettered by any legal obligation to be ACCURATE (other than of course civil legislation).

In short eNGOs can say and do what they like. Represent things any way they like.

All they have to do is identify a perceived problem. DEVELOP the nature and scope of that problem. REPRESENT and MARKET the problem as a REAL problem (e.g. this image). And sell their ability to solve that problem. I should point out that there is no requirement to solve the “problem”. 

Below the image in smaller text it reads:

“Most commercial fishing gear is not completely selective. As a result many endangered sea animals are also captured.”

These two sentences are for the most part true. If only this message of ‘teh need for gear improvement and innovation to reduce protected species captures’ was the leading message instead of the misleading headline or the commercial messaging at the very bottom:

“To ensure the fish you buy is caught in a way that is environmentally friendly, text our fishms number (079 499 8795) with the type of fish and you’ll receive an sms back as to weather it’s in the red, orange or green category. Sassi”

Where can I find robust information on tuna by-catch?

For those of you who are interested in tuna long-line by-catch and the state of global tuna fisheries; and would like to read more. May I suggest an IUCN paper by E Gilman and C Lundin,  Minimizing Bycatch of Sensitive Species Groups in Marine Capture Fisheries: Lessons from Tuna Fisheries.

UntitledThis paper is produced by IUCN. The IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) is an IGO (made up of  more than 1,000 organizations, as well as 10,000 scientists and experts structured in six Commissions rather) than an NGO that drums its own beat. The IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization, is in my opinion a good authority, and good place to start.

Another good paper is one produced by ISSF, Bycatch in the World’s Tuna Fisheries: An Overview of the State of Measured Data, Programs and a Proposal for a Path Forward. This white paper is another good start. It is problem based and goal orientated, and is an easy short read.

ISSF (International Seafood Sustainability Foundation) is a global coalition of scientists,  seafood industry leaders and environmentalists. ISSF features an independent Scientific Advisory Committee, an Environmental Stakeholder Committee, a By-catch Project Scientific Steering Committee, a Vessel Committee. ISSF’s undertakes science-based initiatives for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of tuna stocks, reducing by-catch and promoting ecosystem health. ISSF are another good place to start.

Record Price for a Bluefin Tuna: A Lesson in Interpretation and Representation


When I saw the below video clip I just had to share it. It is a shining example of the ‘tail wagging the dog’ type of news that is too often presented (or should I say represented) as being a legitimate and unbiased public interest news story in New Zealand.

The enclosed clip was shown on the 6:00pm NZ TV3 News, on Friday 6 January, 2012.

Swank sushi: Tuna fetches record US$736K in Tokyo – Video – TV3 News.

What did you get from this TV3 article? This is what I got from it. These Japanese guys are perverse for paying such obscene amounts for a bluefin tuna. And although this is not representative of the price yet – it is representative of an increasing price trend. And what is casing this increasing price trend? Overfishing.

The clip included remarks from Charles Hufflett, but split his comments into tid-bits in order to place commentary into parts of the story where such commentary was required; i.e. the Japanese auction price v current price of tuna in New Zealand, and then later for a tiny part where Charles referred to the status of the stocks.

I love it how TV3 were able to sedgeway in Greenpeace commentary –

“The tuna owner who owns a chain of sushi restaurants admits that the price is a symbolic gesture intended to liven up Japan after last year’s devastating Tsunami, but Greenpeace says the showpiece is a symbol of the destruction of the species.”

A text book segue. Beautifully done!

Bluefin Tuna. Photo by Chris Park

Then TV3 included comment from Greenpeace oceans campaigner Carmen Gravatt whose commentary made up the thrust of the story – that the obscene price was representative of ‘increased demand’ as a consequence of ‘decreased supply’. With Ms Gravatt stating:

“This basically celebrates over-fishing. It says we are running out of this fish, therefore its going to be more valuable. You know, its starting to become like ivory from elephants.”

The report ends with the poignant point that New Zealanders are beginning to eat more tuna.

My response to this report is – poppycock!! Firstly, I have been fortunate to meet Charles Hufflett on a number of occasions – and I know that I can take for granted that his point before editing was a sustainable one. Secondly, this report is nothing more than an opininated comment on the periphery of the facts, masquerading as a news story.

Now have a look at the clip below that was posted in Thursday’s (5 Jan) Washington Post. The same topic – but so totally different.

So this particular tuna was caught within the Japanese EEZ (in northeastern Japan in the vicinity of Tsunami destroyed Pacific coast of Tohoku and Sendai).  The price of a record 56.49 million yen ($736,000USD or ~$1 million NZD) has more to do with the celebratory and ceremonial atmosphere that surrounds the first auction of the year at the famous Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. This is quite unequivocally put by Kiyoshu Kimura, the President of Kiyomura Co. (a company that owns a chain of sushi restaurants).

“With the Tsunami things were tough last year. Japan needs to regain its strength – so I bought the tuna. I think I overdid it, because I bought the most expensive one.”

also according to the report…

“He wanted to keep the tuna in Japan as a Hong Kong restauranteur had grabbed the share of last year’s first fish.

So the price of the fish is not environmentally and economically significant at all – as the TV3 report would have us believe. The price of the fish instead has socio-cultural significance. It is simply a little dab of weberian social glue. The price is a representation of a number of factors including where the fish was caught, and the fact that it was the symbolic first fish of the new year, and it being a single gesture of optimism by a man for his nation following a bleak year for Japan.

Kiyoshu Kimura, the President of Kiyomura Co with his record Bluefin Tuna

Kiyoshu Kimura, the President of Kiyomura Co with his record Bluefin Tuna

Now after seeing the Washington Post report – have a look at the TV3 report again. Is the TV3 report accurate? Does it want comment from Greenpeace? Is it greenwashing? I think it is. Things are not always black and white. Sometimes we just need to step off the gas a little, step back and look at things in their context. Wild resource utilisation in New Zealand is such a stark polemic. I wish it wasn’t. We really need to lighten up. And more importantly we really need to find a middle way.