Catch and harvest – Managing fishing methods
The countries of the WCPO regulate the methods used to catch tuna and other highly migratory oceanic fish so that populations can be kept at self-sustaining numbers.
Policy and Rules
Policies and rules govern how tuna is caught
Conservation and management measures (CMMs) describe binding decisions on how the tuna fisheries of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) are managed. They include rules on how tuna may be caught and how the catch is measured. CMMs are agreed on by the members and cooperating non-members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) at its annual meeting. These two groups and a third, participating territories, are known collectively as CCMs. Among the members are the 14 small island developing states (SIDS) of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
CMMs direct the SIDS and other members’ policies and rules for managing tuna fisheries, including sustaining fish stocks.
2009-02, The application of FAD closures and catch retention on the high seas
- Defines a fish-aggregating device (FAD) as any object or group of objects, whether in use or not, floating on or near the surface of the water that fish may congregate around. Examples are buoys, floats, netting, webbing, plastics, bamboo, logs, and whale sharks.
- During the period when FAD use is prohibited, no purse-seine vessel, or any of its fishing gear or tenders, may operate within one nautical mile of a FAD
- The operator of a vessel will not use the vessel to aggregate fish, or to move aggregated fish. This includes prohibition of the use of underwater lights and churning.
- Vessels shall not operate together to catch aggregated fish
- FADs cannot be retrieved during the closure unless:
the FAD (or associated equipment) is kept on board the vessel until it lands, or until the closure ends; and
the vessel does not set lines or nets for 7 days or within a 80-km (50-mile) radius of the point where the FAD was retrieved
2009-02, The application of FAD closures and catch retention on the high seas
- During fishing, any fish being released because it is unsuitable must only be released before the net is fully pursed and half the net has been retrieved
- Fish that are unfit for human consumption are those that have been enmeshed or crushed in the purse-seine net, damaged by sharks or whales, or have died and spoiled in the net. This rule excludes fish that are considered unmarketable, or that have spoiled or become contaminated because of an act or omission by the crew.
- If there isnt enough space on board for all fish caught during the final set of a trip, the fish may only be discarded if they are alive and released promptly, and no further fishing occurs
- Fish cannot be discarded until an observer has estimated the species composition
- Vessel operators need to report all details of discarded fish within 48 hours to WCPFCs executive director and the WCPFC observer on board
2008-04, Prohibit the use of large-scale driftnets on the high seas in the convention area
- These points refer to the high seas inside the area covered by the convention
- Using large driftnets is prohibited. These are gillnets or other nets, or a combination of nets, that are more than 2.5 km long and are used to trap, enmesh or entangle fish by drifting on or in the water.
- Fishing vessels are not to be configured to use large driftnets, or to own these kinds of nets. Any that do will be deemed to have used them.
- Some fishing vessels inside the convention area may be authorised to use large driftnets in waters under national jurisdiction. These vessels may carry driftnets and related fishing equipment on the high seas in the convention area, but they must be stowed or secured so that they cannot be used for fishing.
- Countries will report annually on their monitoring, control and surveillance actions.
Catch and harvest strategy, data collection, and reporting
2014-06, Establishing a harvest strategy for key fisheries and stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean
- Harvest strategies are to be developed for review in 2017 in response to continued fishing of tuna stocks beyond sustainable yields, and in response to UN commitments
- Harvest strategies are to cover these tuna species: skipjack, bigeye, yellowfin, South Pacific albacore, Pacific bluefin, and northern albacore
- Harvest strategies are to include monitoring and evaluating for effectiveness
2013-05, Daily catch and effort reporting
- An accurate log must be kept of every day spent on the high seas in the convention area.
- Consistent reporting frameworks are to be used
- The measure sets out the minimum data to be recorded, and when
- The master of the vessel is to provide an accurate, unaltered report within 15 days of the end of the trip or transhipment, and keep a copy on board the ship during a trip
2009-10, Monitor landings of purse-seiners at ports so as to ensure reliable catch data by species
- Ensure accurate reporting on catch size and composition, particularly of bigeye tuna
- Work with non-members to get data on the species caught and size of fish caught in the convention area
Extra rules apply in PNA waters
Article 4 of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (signed in 1982 and amended in 2010) states that the eight member states need to establish particular procedures and administrative arrangements for catching and harvesting tuna and other stocks in PNA waters. These cover the exchange and analysis of:
- statistical data about the catch and effort of fishing vessels in the fisheries zones
- information about vessels and fleets.
Three regional organisations provide the basis for managing tuna in the WCPO
The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) facilitates regional cooperation to manage the sustainable use of tuna. FFA was established in 1979. It helps member countries manage the fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile (320-km) exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It also develops the capacity of members to sustainably harvest their fishery resources.
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) was established in mid-2004 under the Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. It operates across the EEZs and the high seas of all waters in the Convention area.
The WCPF Convention seeks to address problems in managing high-seas fisheries, including those related to catch and harvest. These problems include illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, excessive fleet capacity, insufficiently selective fishing gear, unreliable databases, and insufficient multilateral cooperation to conserve and manage highly migratory fish stock.
The Oceanic Fisheries Programme (OFP) of the Pacific Community (SPC) assists the WCPFC and FFA with catch-and-harvest management of tuna fisheries. It develops and maintains databases and monitoring programs, conducts research, provides advice, and builds the capacity of small island developing states (SIDS).
A sub-regional agreement, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, controls fishing in the EEZs of member countries.
Harvest strategies mean more responsive management of fisheries
The WCPFC has agreed to adopt a harvest strategy recommended by SPC. The strategy will cover all four major tuna species in the region: bigeye, skipjack, South Pacific albacore and yellowfin. It will allow fisheries managers to make decisions about fishing limits more effectively. These should see the Pacific fisheries managed better, so that fish stocks can remain healthy. SPCs Graham Pilling explains (1.26 mins).
PNA’s Vessel Day Scheme controls amount of fishing
The amount of tuna that can be caught in PNA-controlled waters is governed by two vessel day schemes. One is for purse seining and the other for longlining. The schemes limit how many days vessels can fish in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of PNA member countries each year.
The PNA members manage the rules for fishing effort and fishing licences through the Palau Arrangement of the PNA. Each vessel day scheme is managed by a committee, which meets once a year to consider any changes needed.
Vessels need to register for licences through the PNA Office.
The Vessel Day Scheme is the cornerstone of the PNA
The Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) is one of the success stories of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). The eight countries that have signed the agreement use the scheme to manage how much tuna is caught in their waters.
There is one arrangement for managing purse-seine fishing, and another for managing longline fishing.
The arrangements detail how the PNA members manage tuna stocks sustainably while maximising local incomes. They set out the operating rules for these two types of fishing vessels, and cover vessels flagged to PNA members and vessels under other flags.
Under the rules, the PNA members sell a limited number of fishing days in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the PNA states.
The VDS applies to vessels:
Operating under a valid licence issued under the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) arrangement, adopted in 1995 fishing in waters outside of their own EEZ.
Vessels operating under the VDS are allocated a maximum number of fishing days in a management year. Once this maximum has been reached, a vessel must immediately stop fishing outside its EEZ.
A fishing day is calculated according to how long a vessel is in the area, its fishing activity, and the size of the vessel:
- If a purse-seine vessel is in an area outside its EEZ for 24 hours and undertakes any fishing activity for any length of time = 1 day.
- If a vessel is outside its EEZ for only part of a day and fishes for only part of a day = part day.
- If a vessel is in an area outside its EEZ for 24 hours and undertakes no fishing activity = 0 day.
- For vessels smaller than 50 metres, 1 fishing day = 0.5 fishing days.
- For vessels 5080 metres long, 1 fishing day = 1 fishing day.
- For vessels longer than 80 metres, 1 fishing day = 1.5 fishing days.
For longline fishing, a fishing day is calculated according to:
- the actual time spent fishing in the waters of any of the PNA members (but not at port)
- if a vessel is 40 metres or shorter, 1 fishing day = 0.8 fishing days
- if a vessel is longer than 40 metres, 1 fishing day = 1.6 days.
Rules for tuna caught by purse-seine vessels
The third arrangement for implementing the PNA states that all bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tuna taken by purse-seine vessels need to be kept on board until they are landed and transhipped, except for fish that are clearly unfit for human consumption, or excess fish caught in the last set of the trip that cannot fit on the ship.
The same arrangement states that no vessels are to deploy or service fish-aggregating devices (FADs) and associated equipment, or to fish by purse-seining vessels on floating objects, between 0001 GMT on 1 July and 2359 GMT on 30 September each year. The only exceptions are when there is deemed to be an unfair burden on a Party and or its domestic fleet.
It also defines the areas of the high seas that are closed to fishing.
Research and Training
SPC catch and harvest data supports research and management
The Oceanic Fisheries Programme of the Pacific Community (SPC) holds and manages all the data that is collected from commercial fisheries and from observers on board when fishing vessels are active in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. It provides not only data, but also scientific analysis and advice, to its members to help them manage their fisheries.
The data is stored in TUFMAN 2, a web-based tool for entering and checking data. The data collected includes logsheets for longline, purse seine and pole-and-line vessels, unloading information for longliners and purse-seiners, and port sampling and position reports for longliners. Data is available to SPCs 21 member countries when they:
- use TUFMAN 2 to access their own databases
- use the online tool DORADO to link with TUFMAN 2s data, which is stored on the internet
- formally ask SPC to send them summaries
- access their own countrys data on the SPC Member Countries Tuna Fisheries website.
To get access to the members website, a login and password is needed from Emmanual Schneiter at SPC.
SPC researcher Steven Hare explains the benefits of using the website over older methods of recording data (51 secs).
Data management is described in detail in the FFA report, Baseline study and performance indicators for the Pacific Islands Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (section 7.4).
SPC also runs training for fisheries officers
The Oceanic Fisheries Programme also provides training for SIDS fisheries officers, observers and others to help them collect data, and monitor and report on catches and harvests. As well as using the data collected in TUFMAN 2, it may include the different kinds of electronic reporting being used to manage fisheries.
SPC researcher Andrew Hunt explains the benefits of TUFMAN 2 and the training SPC does on how to use it (1.37 mins).
An app called Tails is being trialled as part of the OFMP2 project. It electronically records data from vessel captains at port. Andrew Hunt explains the app and its benefits (59 secs).
Young professionals gain career experience in SPC placements
SPC supports the career development of young professionals from member countries by providing 12 month work placements in the organisation.
Lucy Joy from Vanuatu Fisheries joined the Oceanic Fisheries Programme in 2017. She worked with Andrew Hunt. Hear what Lucy has to say about the benefits of her placement (3.11 mins).
Hear what Andrew Hunt has to say about the benefits of having Lucy work in the team (1.17 mins).
European Parliament-funded research points to stricter control of FADs
The European Parliament commissioned research on the use of fish-aggregating devices (FADs) in tuna fisheries, and published a report on the findings in 2014. FADs are deployed to improve fishing effort (the amount of fish caught for the effort put in). The report covers tuna fishing globally; about 60% of that catch comes from the WCPO. A summary of the findings is shown below.
How FADs affect tuna populations and fisheries
About 60% of the global catch of tropical tunas is made by purse-seine fishing, and nearly 65% of the purse-seine catch is made by fishing on floating objects, which are known as fish-aggregating devices (FADs). From the 1990s until 2014, purse-seine fishing grew at about 2% a year; in the same period, the use of FADs increased by 70%.
By 2014, purse-seine fishing using FADs was about 50% more productive (in tonnes caught per single fishing operation) than free-school fishing for the three tropical tunas in combination, and about twice as effective for skipjack tuna. (Free-school fishing occurs without the use of FADs.)
For yellowfin, the relative efficiency of FAD fishing is about the same as for free-swimming schools, although the size of yellowfin caught using FADs is much smaller than in free schools.
For bigeye, the use of FADs makes fishing 10 times more efficient than free-school fishing, although FAD-caught fish are much smaller.
It was estimated that, in 2013, more than 700 large-scale purse-seiners were using FADs. Most were authorised to fish in the Pacific. The number is approximate because of the lack of monitoring. FA management plans, which would permit the monitoring of FAD launches and usage, are not yet operating in most cases. It is estimated that about 91,000 FADs are deployed each year.
About 93% of the recent tropical tuna catch, mostly skipjack, came from healthy stocks. Most were caught using FADs. There is no strong evidence that the use of FADs necessarily leads to overfishing of the tunas, although harvesting large amounts of some small tuna (e.g. bigeye, yellowfin) can lead to an overall decline in the condition of these stocks, which are also affected by other fisheries (e.g. longline).
Some stocks are close to being fully exploited (fished at the limits of their capacity to reproduce), and increases in fishing pressure could well put them in decline. Unabated, the continued growth of FAD fishing for tropical tunas at the pace witnessed over the past few years would increase overall fishing pressure on these stocks.
Resources relating to the catch and harvest of WCPO tuna
You can find news stories, popular articles, opinion pieces and blog posts on the catch and harvest of tuna in the WCPO on the Catch and harvest news and views page.
- Manual on anchored fish aggregating devices (FADs): An update on FAD gear technology, designs and deployment methods for the Pacific Island region, Pacific Community, February 2020. This manual builds on technical information in a 2005 edition, Manual on fish-aggregating devices: Lower-cost moorings and programme management.
- Fishing for tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean: purse seine and longline fishing, FFA, May 2019
- Catch documentation scheme, WWF. Monitoring the catch is important to ensure compliance with management measures.
- The ideal purse-seine vessel: a guide to demonstrating best practices and meeting ISSF conservation measures, International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, 2015
- Harvest strategies: the next phase of fisheries management (PDF), Pew Charitable Trusts, June 2015
- Handling seafood in the Pacific Islands: information sheets for fishers, vendors and consumers (PDF), Pacific Community and WorldFish
- Ensuring the sustainability of Pacific tuna: Palau & FSM arrangements, WWF Pacific, 2011. Another version of this fact sheet contains slightly more information.
- Report on analyses of the 20162020 PNA FAD tracking programme, report of the WCPFC Scientific Committee by Lauriane Escalle, Berry Muller, Steven Hare, Paul Hamer, Graham Pilling and the PNA Office, WCPFC-SC16-2020/MI-IP-14
- A snapshot of the large-scale tropical tuna purse-seine fishing fleets as of June 2020, ISSF
- RFMO vessel monitoring schemes: a comparative analysis to identify best practices, ISSF, 2020
- Environmental versus operational drivers of drifting FAD beaching in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, by Lauriane Escalle and others, Scientific Reports, 2019
- Regional connectivity and spatial densities of drifting fish aggregating devices, simulated from fishing events in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, by Joe Scutt Phillips and others, Environmental Research Communications, 2019
- The Western and Central Pacific Tuna Fishery: 2018 overview and status of stocks (PDF), latest report (number 19), Pacific Community (SPC). Older reports can also be downloaded.
- Stabilising cooperation through pragmatic tolerance: the case of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) tuna fishery, in Regional Environmental Change, volume 18, 2017
- The Parties to the Nauru Agreements Vessel Day Scheme: Accounting for the rare success of an international agreement, Lauren D. Bernadette, in Chicago-Kent Journal of International and Comparative Law, 2014
- Making the Vessel Day Scheme work, United Nations University, 2007
Posters and videos
- Pacifical: The people of Pacifical & their tuna, video (4.21 mins). Pacifical is tuna marketed by PNA countries.
- An introduction to purse seine fishing in the central and western Pacific Ocean, video (19.27 mins), SPC, September 2012
- Purse seine fishing: different methods, video (3.16 mins), International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, July 2012
FFAs Hugh Walton talks about the importance of tuna to SIDS and effective management for sustainability at an OFMP2 project forum (2.17 mins).
PITIAs John Maefiti talks about the domestic tuna industry and regional overcapacity at an OFMP2 project forum (1.09 mins).
PNA members market tuna under the brand Pacifical. In this video, they introduce the company and its people (4.21 mins).