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.”

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