Saturday, March 21, 2009

Status of Nauru's tuna fisheries assessed by SPC

One of the world's leading tuna scientists, Dr Donald Bromhead of the SPC Oceanic Fisheries Programme is in Nauru this week to finalise the Nauru National Tuna Fisheries Status Report (NTFSR).
As well as assessing these migratory tuna stocks across the whole regional ecosystem, SPC also advises its island member countries individually about the science behind the tuna fisheries within each Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Nauru's EEZ is about 320,000 square kilometres in area and on the map Nauru is just a tiny point of land (21 square kilometres) within this huge ocean area.

Don Bromhead (SPC) and Charleston Deiye (NFMRA CEO)
However, as Dr Bromhead explained, Nauru's EEZ is very well-situated in the path of the Tropical Convergence Zone - an oceanographic feature that sweeps eastwards and westwards through Nauru according to the state of the Southern Oscillation Index (El Nino - La nina) and carries with it the best tuna purse-seine fishing conditions in the Pacific.

These climate-driven fishing conditions are not predictable, but in a good year Nauru can earn over A$10 million from licencing foreign purse-seiners to fish in the Nauru EEZ.

However, there is a price to pay for the stewardship of this natural resource. Dr Bromhead explained that although skipjack tuna stocks are extremely healthy, you can't purse-seine for skipjack without catching yellowfin and bigeye tuna as well. And there are currently too many bigeye tuna being caught, both region-wide and in the Nauru zone, for the stock to replenish itself and maintain fishing at maximum levels of productivity. To make matters worse, although SPC has known for some time that many fishing vessel crews cannot reliably tell the difference between small bigeye and yellowfin tuna, and have probably been inadvertently reporting some of the bigeye they catch as yellowfin, it has just been discovered that this misidentification problem is more widespread than feared.

All of this means that the countries of the region, Nauru included, need to reduce the catch of bigeye tuna, particularly small bigeye tuna, as a matter of urgency if the fishery is not to be damaged. The good news is that it may be possible to reduce the unsustainable catch of bigeye without impacting sustainable catches of skipjack by reducing fishing on drifting Fish Aggregation Devices (dFADs). Most bigeye, in the Nauru zone at least, are caught around dFADs.  Nauru has already committed to this reduction and regulations are being prepared that will prevent foreign purse-seine vessels from fishing on dFADs in Nauru waters in August and September of 2009, along with a suite of other industrial tuna catch-control measures that will take effect from January 1, 2010.

The Nauru National Tuna Fisheries Status Report is a comprehensive up-to-date compilation of all the available scientific information about the role of Nauru's EEZ in the Western Pacific regional tuna fishery. It has taken over 12 months for SPC to compile and the final report will be submitted to the Nauru Fisheries and Marine Resources Authority in a month's time.

Dr Bromhead's visit to Nauru to discuss and present the main findings of the report was made possible by the AusAID/Nauru Fisheries Management Institutional Strengthening Project.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Safety at sea kits to be delivered to Nauru

The NFMRA Fisheries Management Institutional Strengthening Project (ISP), funded by AusAID, has ordered fifteen "Safety at Sea" kits to help Nauru small-scale fishing boats avoid accidents and reduce the risk of being lost at sea.

Tim Adams, the NFMRA ISP Adviser says "We're hoping for these kits to arrive on the April cargo boat, but since the items in the kits come from suppliers in three different countries we can't be sure that they'll all be delivered to Brisbane at the same time."

He explained that there are of course more than 15 small fishing boats on the island, but the project can not afford to give a personal kit to every single boat owner since electronic beacons are expensive. "But we estimate that there are usually not more than 15 boats fishing outside the reef at any one point in time. These kits will be managed by the Nauru Fishing Association and lent out to Association members, when they request them, for the duration of each trip."

"We'll be supplying different kinds of kits for outboard-powered boats and canoes," he added.

Even the relatively high cost of these safety kits is less than the $200,000 that it costs the Nauru Government to hire aerial surveillance when someone goes missing at sea, but of course the value of a life is incalculable.

NFMRA thanks the Coastal Fisheries Programme of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) for their assistance in putting together these kits. SPC has contacts with an extensive list of suppliers around the region and has long experience of the reliability of different items, to ensure best value for ISP money. The kits that have been made up for Nauru include items from New Zealand, Hawaii and Australia.

SPC has also been promoting safety at sea for small fishing vessels for several years. The SPC Nearshore Fisheries Section publishes a wide range of training and awareness materials and will also be sending one of their Fisheries Development Officers, Steve Beverly to Nauru to show members of the Nauru Fishing Association how to use the various items in the kits, and to provide some general sea-safety training.

Putting to sea at the Gabab Channel
Smaller versions of the sea-safety kits will also
 be available for canoes

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Chief Executive Officer of the Nauru Fisheries and Marine Resources Authority, Charleston "Denu" Deiye, is representing Nauru at a meeting in Palau this week between the United States of America and member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency.

This is a routine annual meeting to administer the "Treaty on Fisheries between the Governments of Certain Pacific Island States and the Government of the United States of America" - otherwise known to regional fisheries people as the "US Multilateral Treaty" - which governs access by US tuna fishing vessels to Pacific Island waters.

Under the 22-year old treaty, the USA has essentially bought access to all FFA Pacific Island Member Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) so the vessels in the US tuna purse-seine fleet can range freely across the region, provided they abide by the provisions of the treaty and national laws. Other fleets from outside the islands region must buy EEZ fishing licences from each Pacific Island separately.

The USA thus has a special relationship with the Pacific Islands. The only other vessels which benefit from multilateral EEZ access licences are purse-seine vessels flagged and based in certain Pacific Island countries themselves, under the FSM Arrangement.

NFMRA CEO Deiye is currently the Chair of the "Parties to the Nauru Agreement" - usually known as the "PNA" - and since the PNA countries EEZs are the main attraction for the US purse-seine fleet, the PNA Chair plays an important role in this consultation.

When we asked Mr Deiye if he could talk about the meeting he said "This is a confidential negotiation. However it's no secret that the PNA is looking to change the way we do business with all the tuna vessels fishing in the region."

He explained that the PNA member countries (Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu) have already agreed to move away from limiting tuna fishing effort by capping the number of licences issued to purse-seiners to fish in PNA waters, and are now limiting fishing effort by setting a cap on the number of days fishing that is allowed in each EEZ.

The US Treaty is still organised according to vessel numbers, not fishing days.

"The Vessel Days Scheme", he said "gives us a much finer level of control over fishing than the licence cap. And nowadays, when some of the tuna species they are catching are reaching their limits of sustainable exploitation, we need to control the fishery much more carefully".

He added that the meeting also reviews any incidents that may have occurred during the course of the year involving US vessels in Pacific Island EEZs, and seeks to resolve them. "But to date it has been a very harmonious arrangement, and has led to many beneficial innovations that have since been applied to other arrangements, such as being the first country to include the regional "Minimum Terms and Conditions" for foreign fishing vessel access that are now built into all access agreements."

NFMRA CEO Charleston Deiye

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Nauru improves tuna vessel monitoring

The Nauru Vessel Monitoring System (usually known as VMS) is receiving attention at the moment.

The national VMS Officer, Mr Murin Jeremiah, is in Honiara on attachment to the Forum Fisheries Agency and the Solomon Islands Fisheries Division for two weeks.

Each of the foreign vessels that is licenced to fish in Nauru waters must have an Automatic Location Communicator (ALC) installed and switched on. This electronic device transmits the vessel's position by satellite to the regional VMS node run by the Forum Fisheries Agency in Honiara. From there it can be monitored by Nauru's VMS system and checked out for compliance.

Nauru is in the process of developing agreements with other Pacific Island countries to allow VMS data to be shared, so vessels can be tracked across the whole region, providing an early warning of which vessels are about to enter Nauru waters.

The VMS is not much use in monitoring vessels which turn off their ALC, but if there is region-wide monitoring it is easy to check if a VMS trace suddenly disappears and to ask why.

The Nauru VMS computer is currently housed at the Civic Centre, close to the main internet feed, but will be moved to NFMRA headquarters when the Oceanic Fisheries database and network is upgraded next month.

VMS has proven to be a powerful tool. Even without an oceangoing patrol boat to physically arrest vessels in the EEZ (Nauru port facilities are too limited to host a patrol boat) VMS data can be used to confront fishing companies and the governments of the countries where the offending fishing vessels are registered, to improve compliance with the law. VMS data can be used as a trigger for further investigation, cross-checking the logsheets and zone entry and exit reports for inconsistencies.

Murin is gaining hands-on experience with the regional VMS system at FFA, and experience boarding and investigating active vessels alongside his Solomon Islands government counterparts, and NFMRA is extremely grateful to the Forum Fisheries Agency and the Solomon Islands Fisheries Department for making this attachment possible. We're looking forward to a significant increase in the detection of offshore tuna fishing violations, when he returns to work on 18th March.

Nauru VMS Officer Murin Jeremiah at the airport
FFA staff demonstrate vessel inspection procedures to workshop participants from several Pacific Island countries.
This is a tuna-spotting helicopter on the top deck of a purse-seine fishing vessel in Honiara harbour.

This attachment exercise is part of the Nauru Fisheries Management Institutional Strengthening Project, funded by the Australian Government as part of its programme of bilateral cooperation with Nauru.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Nauru Fisheries Management Institutional Strengthening Project under way

The AusAID-funded Nauru Fisheries Management Institutional Strengthening Project is now entering its most active phase.

The project aims to develop the capacity of the Nauru Fisheries and Marine Resources Authority (NFMRA) to manage, conserve and develop Nauru's fisheries and marine resources.
This first year of the project concentrates on strengthening NFMRA's capacity for management, monitoring, control and surveillance of industrial tuna fishing in the Nauru Exclusive Economic Zone.

Running from October 2008 to September 2009, this first phase is managed by Fisheries Management Institutional Strengthening Specialist Dr Tim Adams under a PACTAM contract administered by Australian Volunteers International (AVI). Tim was previously Director of the Fisheries Programmes at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and before that was Director of the Fiji Fisheries Division.

"We've got a lot of work on our plate at NFMRA this year," says Adams. "We're completely upgrading the fisheries computer systems, and installing a network and dedicated server to handle the tuna fisheries licencing and catch-data, with linkages to regional networks at the Forum Fisheries Agency in Honiara and SPC's Oceanic Fisheries Programme in Noumea."

"In addition, NFMRA has divested its former commercial arm and is now concentrating on the main business of a government fisheries authority - regulation and the provision of an enabling framework for the private and community sectors." The project will be helping to strengthen all of these activities, including reviewing the legislation, providing safety equipment for small-scale fishers, and training and expert advice for NFMRA staff and others, as well as advising senior management.

Adams points out that the offshore and nearshore fisheries sectors are extremely important to Nauru, and Nauru is probably now amongst the top three most fisheries-dependent countries in the Pacific Islands region, if not the world. A large proportion of the revenue that goes into the Nauru Government budget comes from licencing offshore foreign tuna fishing vessels, and a large proportion of the protein eaten by ordinary Nauruans comes from nearshore small-scale tuna and coastal pelagic fisheries.

"Phosphate is coming back as a source of revenue with the recent increase in world price", he says, "but if NFMRA is able to continue to manage tuna fisheries effectively, and Nauru is able to continue to play its part in the regional agreements that control tuna fishing at optimum levels, the revenue from fisheries will continue to flow sustainably into the foreseeable future. And that is what we're trying to secure here."

The second and third phases of the project will move the emphasis to improving local food security from nearshore small-boat fisheries, and to reef fishery rehabilitation.

Adams warns "we're going to be doing the hard part next year. Regional tuna fisheries are in good shape, and the main task is keeping them that way in the face of increasing pressure from outside. But the reef around

Nauru has a very small area for the number of people who want to use it, and it will be a major task to restore it. Traditional systems for managing reef fisheries are greatly eroded in Nauru, and it's a lot harder to ask your own citizens to cut back than it is to say 'no' to foreigners."

The Nauru Fisheries Management Institutional Strengthening Project is funded by the Australian Government as part of its programme of bilateral cooperation with Nauru.

NFMRA coastal patrol boat

Fishing outside the reef is becoming increasingly
important to Nauruans