Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Implementing the full VDS

The Nauru Fisheries and Marine Resources Authority has changed the basis of its purse-seine fishery licence fee structure for 2012.

Instead of permitting foreign vessels to fish until the limit of Nauru's total annual allocation of vessel fishing-days is reached in return for a fixed licence fee - the so-called "Olympic" allocation - NFMRA is now allowing purse-seine fleets to purchase exclusive vessel-days fishing opportunities. These can only be used in the Nauru EEZ in 2012.

Under the previous system the Nauru EEZ had to be closed to most classes of purse-seiners when the Nauru zone allocation was reached. Under the new system vessels will be able to pace their fishing, and use their fishing days entitlements in Nauru at any point throughout the 2012 season.

The minimum price for a single purse-seine fishing day in the Nauru EEZ in 2012 is US$5,000, and NFMRA has put 1200 of these vessel-day fishing opportunities up for sale to any vessel-owner or fleet association that pays the access fee for a purse-seine fishing licence, and is willing to abide by the conditions of the licence.

The first block of days was sold yesterday to a fleet which has been increasing its effort in the Nauru EEZ in recent years.

An additional number of 2012 Nauru fishing days - over 400 - are being held in reserve for development purposes. NFMRA will control the use of these days and the disposition of the 12,000 tonnes of tuna that are are likely to result from them.

NFMRA will be inviting interested vessel-owning companies to become partners or contractors in harvesting and marketing Nauru fish caught under this development arrangement, and more details will be released later in December.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

NFMRA withdraws invitation to Spanish purse-seiners to fish in Nauru after refusal to abide by high seas closure

Yesterday NFMRA withdrew the invitation that it had offered to Spanish tuna purse-seiners of the OrganizaciĆ³n de Productores de Grandes Atuneros Congeladores (OPAGAC) to fish in Nauru waters in 2012. 
The Nauru Fisheries and Marine Resources Authority has invited all purse-seine fleets with a history of fishing in the Nauru EEZ to purchase vessel-days from the limited pool of fishing opportunities in the Nauru EEZ in 2012. However, any purse-seiner that fishes in Nauru must abide by the laws of Nauru, and one of these laws - which reflects a formal agreement by all PNA* countries that they will not licence purse-seine fishing vessels that fish on large areas of the high seas - apparently stuck in the throat of the Spanish fleet.

Following informal enquiries by OPAGAC asking, in effect, if Nauru still intended to uphold the PNA agreement prohibiting fishing on the high seas, NFMRA withdrew its offer to OPAGAC to bid for fishing days.

The Chairman of the NFMRA Board of Directors, Mr Jesaulenko Dowiyogo said, "This decision to withdraw the offer to the Spanish fleet has my full blessing. We are tired of foreign fleets using their economic leverage to undermine conservation actions by Pacific Island countries." 
Chairman Dowiyogo went on to point out that Nauru can afford to do without the Spanish fleet because other fleets already have the capacity to purchase and use all of the purse-seine vessel-days fishing opportunities available in the Nauru EEZ for 2012. 

He said "Because of the PNA Vessel Days Scheme, we can maximise the revenue from our zone without needing to resort to licencing every last fishing vessel out there. Pacific tuna fisheries have reached the limit of their expansion. Any more and they will be overfished, and then we will all lose out - foreign fleets as well as Pacific Island economies. Nauru has learned many lessons about the sustainability of natural resources over the past few years, and we are determined that our tuna resource should not go the same way as some of our other resources. With sound national management and effective PNA cooperation there is no reason why the regional skipjack tuna stock should not be fully sustainable, at present levels of catch, into the foreseeable future."

The main purse-seine fleets fishing in Nauru in 2011, in decreasing order of days spent in zone, are 
  • the FSM Arrangement (comprising vessels fishing on behalf of other PNA members)
  • USA
  • Taiwan
  • Korea
  • Vanuatu
All other fleets spent less than 100 days each in the Nauru Exclusive Economic Zone in 2011.

*PNA - the group of Pacific Island countries that are Parties to the Nauru agreement - is a regional fisheries institution that collectively aims to secure the long-term sustainability of tuna fisheries in the western tropical Pacific, and to obtain maximum economic benefit within those sustainability limits for the member countries whose waters are fished.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nauru closes EEZ to purse-seiners

The Nauru Fisheries and Marine Resources Authority today issued a notice to the purse-seiners of China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Vanuatu fishing under bilateral access agreements with NFMRA, that the limit of allowable purse-seine fishing effort for 2011 in Nauru under these arrangements has been reached.

Individual vessels may however continue to fish in Nauru if they are able to purchase additional fishing days from the Office of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement. These entitlements would have to be transferred from the zones of other Parties to the Nauru Agreement with under-used fishing effort allocations and who are willing to transfer vessel-days for fishing in Nauru.

“The trouble is, there aren’t many underused allocations this year,” said the NFMRA Chief Executive Officer, Charleston Deiye. “PNA has really tightened up the vessel-days system after getting some criticism from certain quarters in the USA and Spain. They said we were not able to fully control foreign fishing effort being transferred from the high seas into EEZs after the high seas closures came into effect in 2010. Although we dispute that – the baseline estimate of high seas effort doesn’t take into account the full extent of previous high seas fishing by the Philippines, and it doesn’t take into account the fact that the US purse-seine fleet has doubled its purse-seine effort since the baseline was drawn up – the PNA countries are going to make very sure that we don’t lay ourselves open to similar accusations in future”.

“Nauru had to close its zone to purse-seining in October in 2010 as well,” says Mr Deiye. “In fact we have never had any unused days left at the end of the year for the entire period of operation of the PNA Vessel Days Management Scheme. This indicates to us that the Nauru EEZ is one of the best purse-seine fishing areas in the Pacific. We need to keep this fishery under tight control because there is a higher density of fishing in Nauru, in terms of number of purse-seine sets per square mile of EEZ than any other Pacific Island EEZ”.

Although the fishing is always good in Nauru, there are however variations. These variations are not seasonal, but are linked to the El Nino/La Nina phenomenon.

As Mr Deiye explains, “with a La Nina event under way for the past few months, most of the purse-seiners have been operating further west, in Papua New Guinea and the southern part of the Federated States of Micronesia. In fact if this had continued we might have made it through to the end of the year with the few Nauru fishing days we had remaining.  However, last week a lot of boats suddenly came back to Nauru, and our remaining days were quickly used up. We had to close the door at short notice”.

 Tracks of Nauru-licenced purse-seine fishing vessels during a La Nina event

The oceanographic event which has pushed the purse seiners westward during the last two months has also apparently had an effect on the supply of purse-seine fish to Pacific Island processing plants towards the east of the region. 

“Some are blaming the 3-month (July-September) FAD closure for reducing the supply of fish to certain processing plants recently,” said Mr Deiye, “but our data – for Nauru waters at least – shows that average skipjack catch rates during the FAD closure in 2010 were the same as catch rates outside the FAD closure, and yellowfin catch rates were even higher. Of course this may have just been because the FAD closure in 2010 coincided with a period of very good fishing in Nauru waters. We’re still waiting on the analysis for 2011.”

The main point of the FAD closure was to selectively reduce the catch of bigeye tuna, because overfishing is occurring on that species, and the catch of bigeye around FADs is 600% higher than from free-school sets. In this it looks to be succeeding, as was reported at Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meetings recently. Most of the overfishing on bigeye is likely to be removed if current measures, particularly the FAD closure, are continued.

Skipjack stocks remain healthy and robust. However NFMRA feels that the time to decide limits is BEFORE fish stocks get into trouble. Reduced expectations are much less painful than bankruptcy.

The fact remains that zone-closures by PNA countries toward the end of each year, if they continue, are going to have an impact on processors, particularly small Pacific Island processors who cannot afford to build up large freezer reserves to buffer major fluctuations in supply. Mr Deiye however points out that when all PNA countries start allocating vessel-days by vessel, rather than managing the whole zone allocation as a unit, these year-end closures will be no longer necessary. Vessels will be able to pace their fishing across the entire year, knowing that they hold firm title to a guaranteed number of fishing opportunities.

Following Papua New Guinea’s lead, Nauru plans to introduce a VDS allocation system next year and move away from the current “Olympic” (first come, first served) system. This finer-grained system has been made possible by the PNA Office in Majuro sponsoring the extension of the Vessel Days Management software pioneered by the PNG National Fisheries Authority to the entire PNA membership.

“The next couple of months will be interesting”, said Mr Deiye. “We’ll see how much purse-seine fleets are prepared to bid for guaranteed allocations of vessel-days fishing opportunities in the Nauru EEZ in 2012. We already know what the reserve price is. US$5,000 per purse-seine fishing day. This has already been agreed as the minimum by PNA Fisheries Ministers through a binding regional resolution. The landed value of the fish caught by the average purse-seiner in a day is up to US60,000 at current world tuna prices, so the cost of access to fish in our zones is not unreasonable. And the price of skipjack can only go higher as conservation and management limits kick in around the world. It’s a win-win situation for foreign fishing vessels and for small-island state economies, so everyone should be happy. Except perhaps the US and EU consumers who buy most of the final product, since the price will continue to increase. But even they are likely to be happy if the Pacific Island tuna they are eating is guaranteed to come from a sustainable source.”

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Nauru calls for closure of Pacific high seas enclaves to longline fishing

At the Technical and Compliance Committee meeting of the WCPFC this week, Nauru has asked for serious consideration to be given to closing high seas pockets in the Western Pacific to longline fishing. Currently these areas are closed only to purse-seine fishing.

This is the high seas pocket that Nauru is proposing should be closed to all tuna fishing

The WCPFC (Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission) is the intergovernmental body that is responsible for managing the high seas of the region, and provides a forum for fishing countries and fishing grounds-owning countries to meet and agree region-wide precautionary limits on tuna fishing.

CEO of Nauru Fisheries and Marine Resources Authority, Charleston Deiye, is skeptical of claims that flag states are completely in control of their longliners operating in the high seas pocket bordering the Nauru zone. "The vast majority of these longliners do not have an observer aboard, and since we gained access to the WCPFC vessel monitoring system (VMS) for the 100 nautical mile high seas "buffer area" outside the Nauru exclusive economic zone, we have seen that there are many longliners operating just outside the limits of Nauru jurisdiction. In some cases they are entering our zone for brief periods in the middle of movements that looks suspiciously like fishing patterns".

The Commission is not yet in a position to control the activities of these vessels. "We saw at this WCPFC TCC meeting that flag states will go to great lengths to avoid any agreement that restricts their 'freedom to fish' on the high seas, particularly in the inconclusive discussion on what action these vessels should take if their automatic location communicators fail", Mr Deiye said. "We want to see the Commission given full powers to control fishing on the high seas of the region, but until that day comes the only effective protection is to entirely close the high seas pocket that borders the Nauru zone".

"It is not as if they will not be able to fish", he continued. "After all they are fishing for highly migratory species - the fish will come to them. And it is not even as if the high seas are the best fishing grounds. We would prefer that they do their fishing in areas where their activities can be monitored and subject to the effective rule of law".

Thursday, March 3, 2011

NFMRA wants to protect Reef Fish Spawning Aggregations

The Nauru delegation at the biennial Pacific Islands Heads of Fisheries meeting yesterday supported a regional consensus to protect “SPAGs”.

To the cynical this may sound like a movement to protect a culinary delicacy, but “SPAGs” actually ARE a culinary delicacy for most Pacific Islanders. The acronym “SPAGs” stands for reef fish “Spawning Aggregations”.

Although only recently studied by fishery scientists and reef ecologists, Pacific Islanders have known for centuries about the tendency of many species of reef fish to gather together at particular spots on the reef during the breeding season. This “nightclubbing” strategy improves both breeding success and protection from natural predators.

Unfortunately, modern fishing techniques, particularly SCUBA and torch spearfishing, have turned human beings into much more efficient predators than anything faced by reef fish for millions of years. And SPAGS make particularly tempting targets.

A 2005 underwater survey of Nauru reef fish by NFMRA, with assistance from SPC, showed that although Nauru has a small reef it has a relatively high biomass of reef fish per unit area, when compared to most other Pacific Island countries. This is because most of the available reef area in Nauru is “fore-reef”. It is highly productive compared to the lagoon and back-reef -dominated coasts of many other Pacific Islands.

The Nauru fringing reef is relatively narrow, oceanic & energetic
This sounds good, but when we look at the species that make up the majority of that biomass, things are not quite so rosy. Put simply, the Nauru reef doesn’t have many big fish on it. The species assemblage is now dominated by small species, particularly surgeonfish and triggerfish.

The bigger species – the groupers, snappers, coral trouts and cods – are highly sought after and also tend to be species which temptingly gather into spawning aggregations at certain times of year.

The International Coral Reef Initiative meeting in Samoa recently made some recommendations about how Pacific Island fisheries departments might help protect their SPAGs. With support from the Society for the Conservation of Reef Fish Aggregations and the Coral Reef Initiative for the South Pacific, these recommendations have just been put before Pacific Island fisheries managers at the SPC Heads of Fisheries Meeting (HoF) that is currently taking place in Noumea.

Yesterday, HoF accepted and endorsed these recommendations, and Nauru spoke in support of the consensus. Monte Depaune, the head of the Nauru delegation, pointed out that in order to implement these regional recommendations at a local level it would be very helpful to have some regional assistance in training NFMRA underwater survey teams in identifying and assessing SPAGS.

He also drew attention to the fact that the Nauru National Sustainable Development Strategies (NSDS) were recently updated and a national goal of establishing, through community consultation, Marine Protected Areas has been set in Nauru. It would make sense for the boundaries of some of these protected areas to enclose or include significant reef fish spawning aggregation sites, and it will thus be necessary to present information about these sites to Nauruan communities.

National efforts to achieve this NSDS goal will involve collaboration between the Nauru Fisheries and Marine Resources Authority (NFMRA) and the Department of Commerce, Industry and Environment (CIE), as well as directly consulting and involving Nauru people. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nauru is now a discard-free fishing zone

The problem of regulatory discards – of fish being thrown away at sea after being caught because of catch quotas or size limits – is a major global topic of concern at the moment, especially in Europe.

In the UK, the celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has led a campaign against the “unethical and wasteful practice” of discarding fish at sea through a hard-hitting series of TV documentaries. Today, the EU Fisheries commissioner, Maria Damanaki, unveiled a plan to amend the EU Common Fisheries Policy and reduce discards

Well, the Nauru Fisheries and Marine Resources Authority wants to make an announcement: 

Nauru is already a discard-free fishing zone.
There are two main fisheries in Nauru’s 320,000 square kilometres of fisheries waters:
The artisanal fishery, with Nauruans operating small boats within territorial waters close to shore, is a discard-free fishery simply because Nauruans do not waste fish. Everything is taken home. Some is sold. Some is given to the extended family and friends, and the rest is consumed directly.

The tuna purse-seine fishery operating offshore within the exclusive economic zone is a much larger fishery. Fish that were too small to fetch a good price at market used to be occasionally discarded in favour of larger fish (a process known as “highgrading”). But since the start of 2010 Nauru, along with the other Parties to the Nauru Agreement, has required that all catch be retained on board and landed and has required a Pacific Island observer to be aboard each purse-seine vessel at all times to ensure that this, and other national regulatory measures, are followed.

In short, the small island developing nation of Nauru is moving towards the head of the pack when it comes to applying “best practice” in oceanic fisheries management. Perhaps this is the result of small size – small administrations in small nations have fewer layers insulating the people from top-level decision-makers, and are relatively quick on their toes. Or perhaps it is the result of the excellent service that Nauru receives as a result of sharing and pooling marine management and assessment advisory and support services in partnership with its small-island neighbours.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Regional fisheries heads provide direction for European Union development projects

NFMRA Director of Operations Monte Depaune discusses pole and line
 skipjack fishing prospects with colleagues from Niue, Kiribati and Fiji

The conference room at the headquarters of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in Noumea is the venue for the regional Heads of Fisheries Meeting - a wide-ranging consultative process that covers coastal fisheries and aquaculture as well as oceanic fisheries science.
Day one of the meeting provided an opportunity for most of the SPC membership to convene as a steering committee covering three major regional fisheries projects funded by the European Union's Economic Development Fund under the Cotonou Agreement.
The EU currently funds more Pacific Island regional fisheries projects than any other single donor - a reflection of the importance that Pacific Islands place upon the fisheries sector, and the importance that the EU places upon sponsoring sustainable development.
Monte Depaune, the head of the Nauru delegation, was thanked by the Chairman for constructive and helpful suggestions during a discussion on how the EU projects could help in improving the monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) of tuna fisheries.
Tuna fisheries law enforcement - the control of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing - is a major issue on the regional agenda at the moment. Purse-seine fishing vessels are now required to have a Pacific Island observer aboard at all times when in Pacific Island waters, but cases of observer maltreatment by foreign fishing vessels appear to be on the increase.
NFMRA is considering making a proposal at the next MCS Working Group meeting in Honiara, at the end of March, to seek support for a new addition to the regional "Harmonised Minimum Terms and Conditions for Foreign Fishing Vessel Access". A new condition that would lead to a vessel being struck off the Regional Register of fishing vessels if it is judged to have mistreated a Pacific Island observer. If this is agreed it would prevent that vessel from obtaining a licence to fish within any Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency member country's fisheries waters, until it regains "good standing".
Loss of good standing on the Pacific Islands Regional Register would be grounds for IUU-listing with the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which would then effectively prevent the vessel legally fishing anywhere in the world.