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: Yellowfin stocks look good in WCPO – Sealord aim to keep it this way


According to the article in Scoop (300 million+ Yellowfin tuna in Western Central Pacific); fisheries scientists find Yellowfin Tuna stocks are in good shape in the WCPO.

Science from the experts in the Western Pacific shows Yellowfin stocks in the area Sealord sources its tuna are at healthy levels.

According to Stu Yorston (General Manager of Marketing at Sealord), there is confusion about Sealord Yellowfin tuna which is not fished in New Zealand but from a healthy stock with more than 300,000,000 fish.

The fisheries data shows Yellowfin stocks are healthy – there are hundreds of millions of fish in the area. The experts are warning though, that there should not be increased fishing of this stock in this area. Sealord understands this. We have reduced the amount of Yellowfin tuna used in our products and around 84% of Sealord tuna is made from Skipjack, the region’s most abundant stock.”

Yorston adds:

So people who enjoy Yellowfin should continue to eat it – we are sourcing it carefully and working closely with the experts to understand any changes or concerns.”

Jumping yellowfin tuna. Photo by Bradford Martin

Jumping yellowfin tuna. Photo by Bradford Martin

As many of you may remember, Sealord has been the brunt of a lot of Greenpeace sensationalism.

This Greenpeace attention, unfortunately is primarily driven from the undeniable fact that Sealord are the only seafood company in New Zealand that is involved in the canning of tuna… for this they have become a target and a symbol of fisheries malpractice.

This could not be any further from actual reality… But hthen it is Greenpeace we are talking about here.

Sealord’s responsible and sustainable sourcing practices and policies

Over the years Sealord have initiated a number of formal commitments to adhere to both a sustainable and a responsible sourcing policy. They deserve our support.. because supporting responsible and sustainable sourcing helps set global best practice… doesn’t it?

The rationale [as I see it anyway] is this …

If companies that develop and implement responsible and sustainable sourcing  practices and policies, receive reward from the market in the way of product sales, ahead of other companies who have not introduced equivalent practices and policies… Those other companies, in order to attain sufficient market share will also have to institute those responsible and sustainable sourcing practices and policies. Eventually it will be the norm to source responsibly and sustainably – This is how best practice is set…

So rather then obliterating Sealord yellowfin tuna or any other other kinds of tuna from your shopping regimen, simply because Greenpeace has told you to, you should deliberately add it… and be vociferous – You are doing it because Sealord have undertaken to source responsibly.

Something Fishy (Source PR Watch)

Something Fishy (Source PR Watch)

Part of Sealord’s responsible sourcing approach is it’s commitment to reduce bycatch to no more than 1% of catch by 2015. Sealord is trialling FAD-free Yellowfin from July this year, as one of the ways of achieving this. When catch and by-catch information becomes available, it will select the best fishermen, and whether they use FADs or are FAD-free.

New Zealanders eat less than 0.5% of the world’s canned tuna, which is why Sealord works with groups such as the International Sustainable Seafood Foundation (ISSF) to increase its influence on this massive market.

According to Stu Yorston:

Being a member of the ISSF means we can punch above our weight and benefit from the combined influence of the world’s largest group of industry, environment groups and scientists.”

Sealord has also recently signed the WWF Tuna Conservation WWF Tuna Pledge.

Sealord also launched the first New Zealand tuna that has the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) eco-label. For more information here please see my posts in this blog:

Stu Yorston succinctly sums up Sealord’s sustainable sourcing  approach:

Our commitment is to source tuna from the best fishermen in the world and we know we will have to continue making improvements. Sourcing overfished stocks is not the way our people operate.”

State of Yellowfin Stocks in the Western Central Pacific Ocean

According to the WCPFC Stock Assessment of Yellowfin Tuna In The Western And CentralPacific Ocean:


8. For the most plausible range of models, the fishing mortality based reference point Fcurrent /~FMSY is estimated to be 0.56 –0.90 and on that basis conclude that overfishing is not occurring. The corresponding biomass based reference points Bcurrent/~BMSY  and SBcurrent/~SBMSY  are estimated to be above 1.0 (1.25 – 1.60 and 1.34 – 1.83, respectively) and, therefore, the stock is not in an overfished state. The stock status indicators are sensitive to the assumed value of steepness for the stock-recruitment relationship. A value of steepness greater than the default value (0.95) yields a more optimistic stock status and estimates considerably higher potential yields from the stock. Conversely, for a lower (0.65) value of steepness, the stock is estimated to be approaching the MSY based fishing mortality and biomass thresholds.

9. The western equatorial region accounts for the most of the WCPO yellowfin catch. In previous assessments, there have been concerns that the stock status in this region (region 3) might differ from the stock status estimated for the entire WCPO. A comparison between the results from the WCPO models and a model encompassing only region 3 yielded very similar results, particularly with respect to stock status. Nonetheless, there appear to be differences in the biological characteristics of yellowfin tuna in this region that warrant further investigation.

10. The estimates of MSY for the principal model options (480,000 – 580,000 mt) are comparable to the recent level of (estimated) catch from the fishery (550,000 mt). Further, under equilibrium conditions, the predicted yield estimates (YFcurrent) are very close to the estimates of MSY indicating that current yields are at or above the long-term yields available from the stock. Further, while estimates of current fishing mortality are generally below FMSY, any increase in fishing mortality would most likely occur within region 3 — the region that accounts for most of the catch. This would further increase the levels of depletion that is occurring within that region.

The International Sustainable Seafood Foundation (ISSF) (Referred to in the Scoop article) summarised the stock assessment in the ISSF Stock Status Ratings Report (Status of the World Fisheries for Tuna (ISSF Technical Report 2012-04B | December, 2012))

The last yellowfin assessment was conducted in 2011 and reviewed by SC7. While the model was similarto the previous (2009) assessment, there were revisions to various data sets (e.g. longline CPUE indices, catch and size data, purse-seine catch and size data, and the modeling of the Indonesian and Philippines domestic fisheries).

 The results were generally more pessimistic than those from the previous assessment and indicated that (Figure WCPO-6):

      1. The yellowfin stock is not in an overfished state as spawning biomass is above the BMSY level (Bcurrent/BMSY = 1.47, range between 1.14 and 1.92).
      2. The ratio Fcurrent/FMSY is estimated to be 0.77 (range between 0.54 and 1.15), indicating that overfishing is not occurring.
      3. MSY is estimated to be 538,800 (range 432,000-645,000) tonnes.
      4. The optimistic estimate of overall stock status should be tempered by the patterns estimated at a sub-regional level. The western equatorial Pacific, from which most of the catches are taken, is at least fully exploited with no potential for a substantial increase in catches to be sustainable.
Figure WCPO-6. Temporal trend in the ratios Bcurrent/BMSY (x-axis) and Fcurrent/FMSY (y-axis) for yellowfin tuna in the WCPO, 1952-2010. The white dot represents the current (2006-2009) situation. Colors are taken from WCPFC reports and do not necessarily correspond to the colors used for ratings in the ISSF Stock Status Report (ISSF Stock Status Ratings Report (Status of the World Fisheries for Tuna (ISSF Technical Report 2012-04B | December, 2012))

Figure WCPO-6. Temporal trend in the ratios Bcurrent/BMSY (x-axis) and Fcurrent/FMSY (y-axis) for yellowfin tuna in the WCPO, 1952-2010. The white dot represents the current (2006-2009) situation. Colors are taken from WCPFC reports and do not necessarily correspond to the colors used for ratings in the ISSF Stock Status Report (ISSF Stock Status Ratings Report (Status of the World Fisheries for Tuna (ISSF Technical Report 2012-04B | December, 2012))

So as you can see… Sealord are ‘bang on’… Yellowfin in the WCPO are not only managed well, they are within management targets. 

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